Dealing with facts in Senate District 38 (second of four parts)

Today’s second part of a four-part series goes over the 2016 monoblogue Accountability Project (mAP) and the votes where Mary Beth Carozza and Jim Mathias have parted company. 2016 turned out to be the final year I included committee votes in the 25 that made up the annual assessment of the Maryland General Assembly; however, Jim could have voted on a bill in his Finance Committee that the House voted through but he missed the opportunity by being excused from the vote. (It’s worth pointing out that neither Carozza nor Mathias were absent from an mAP vote this term.)

In 2016 Mary Beth Carozza reached her all-time high score of 76 on the mAP by being credited with 19 correct votes and just 6 incorrect ones. Meanwhile, in the Senate Jim Mathias plummeted to a score of 12 on the mAP by making just 3 correct votes and 21 incorrect plus the excused vote, which goes down for my record as incorrect but not penalized.

As a bit of foreshadowing, Jim’s low score is representative of his last three sessions as the partisan lines have hardened in the Maryland General Assembly – that score of 12 ties for his highest score in the last three sessions. It’s reflected in his scores over the years: while he scored out to an average of 16 in the House from 2007-10, his last three sessions there drove down a reasonably centrist average established in his first two sessions (2007 Regular and 2007 Special Session.) His initial opposition to Martin O’Malley’s radical policies melted down to compliance by the end in MOM’s first term, and Jim followed the same trend in MOM’s second: a 36 score in 2011 eroded to 34 in 2012, 24 in 2013, and 19 in 2014. (By comparison, Jim’s shotgun 2014 opponent thanks to gerrymandering of the local districts, former Delegate Mike McDermott, had respective scores in that same term of 88, 88, 82, and 80. Talk about a missed opportunity!)

In a case of blind squirrel, Jim’s three correct votes were also Mary Beth’s correct votes. And since none of the six committee votes between the two were common votes, it leaves a total of 13 votes where Mary Beth voted the right way and Jim incorrectly.

We already discussed the “travel tax” yesterday in the 2015 review, but I added the veto vote to 2016’s total. It created a bit of confusion on my chart as the SB190 designation was also given to the FY2017 budget voted on in 2016 – both voted incorrectly for the overly generous budget in that case.

One theme in 2016, though, seemed to be a partisan reining in of the executive branch. It began with a measure – sent to voters in a slightly amended form – dealing with the replacement of the Attorney General, Comptroller, or United States Senator mandating he or she represent the same party as the departed official (HB260). Voters approved the change to Attorney General and Comptroller succession in 2016, but as I noted at the time, “It’s amazing how these types of bills come up when there’s the slightest chance someone other than a Democrat could be placed in a statewide position.” If it were truly an issue, where was it in 2012 or 2014? Similarly, the two parted ways on a bill (SB973) placing a prohibition on certain types of political donations on behalf of departmental secretaries (who are appointed by the Governor.) It wasn’t an issue before Larry Hogan arrived?

A more important front on the war against Larry Hogan, though, were multiple bids to increase mandated spending. In the mAP’s case, it was requiring additional capital spending on schools with increased enrollment (HB722/SB271), expansion grants for preschools (HB668/SB584), shelter and transitional housing facilities for homeless individuals (HB1476/SB797), additional debt or a toll increase to replace the U.S. 301 bridge over the Potomac River in Charles County (SB907), college early commitment programs which duplicate private-sector efforts (SB1170), and two new programs: a new Maryland Corps program based on the federal Americorps (HB1488/SB909) that immediately secured about $2 million a year for state funding, and a second (HB1402/SB1125) that established a $7.5 million annual fund to expand school time into off-hours and the summer but required local matching grants. All these may be worthy efforts and many were already well-funded on a discretionary basis, but Jim Mathias voted to tie Larry Hogan’s hands and Mary Beth Carozza did not.

There were also environmental bills that seemed to be overly restrictive yet broad-based: a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides (SB198) that was based on a theory they were eradicating bee colonies was one such bill, while the state’s market-bending renewable energy portfolio (read: solar energy-promoting boondoggle that, in practice, fattens state coffers) came up as HB1106 – both were supported by Mathias and rightly opposed by Carozza. In the latter case, in 2017 Mathias voted to override Governor Hogan’s veto of the bill while Carozza tried to sustain it.

Businesses were basically spared in the 2016 session, but one provision the Big Labor-friendly Mathias supported over Carozza’s opposition was on significantly increased liquidated damages for employers who, in the parlance of the bill, “reasonably should have known” it was a (so-called) “prevailing” wage job (yeah, that’s a clear statement there) yet fail to pay that wage (HB689/SB1009). It was funny to see that the employee would get the wage shortfall but the state gets the damages, even though they weren’t harmed.

They always say the third year of a General Assembly term is the one that has the most ambitious agenda from members seeking election, and 2017 was no different. I’ll look at that in tomorrow’s third series installment.

Odds and ends number 88

As you might guess, the mailbox groans with new items when it’s election time. So this is a fresh edition of stuff I can deal with in a sentence to a few paragraphs.

I regret not bringing one of these items up a few months back when it came out, but as we get ready for state elections there are two key pieces from the Maryland Public Policy Institute that voters should not miss.

First of all, you all know that I have done the monoblogue Accountability Project for several years, with this year’s intention to wrap up that work.** While it doesn’t evaluate individual voters or bills like my evaluation does, their 2018 Annapolis Report is a useful, broad look at the overall picture and where it can stand some improvement in the next term, It’s nice work by Carol Park and our own Marc Kilmer.

It seems like a new Democrat strategy (besides cutting and running to Virginia) to combat Larry Hogan’s effective campaign is to talk down the state’s economy, but Park puts the lie to that in a more recent piece. Notes Park:

(I)t may be more helpful to look at Maryland’s future economic prospects than to focus on the historical figures to assess the validity of Jealous’s claim. After all, 2015–2017 was a period of strong growth nationally, so it may not be fair to attribute every aspect of improvement of Maryland’s economy to Hogan, nor may it be fair to criticize him for perceived shortcomings relative to other states.

There are a number of indicators that macroeconomists consider important for predicting a region’s long-term economic growth prospects: wage, entrepreneurship, innovation, and income inequality. We can look at these figures one-by-one to assess whether Maryland is in fact faring poorly compared with other states in the Mid-Atlantic region under Gov. Hogan.

It turns out Maryland isn’t doing so bad after all according to the selected figures. Now I know the whole deal about lies, damned lies, and statistics, but if you ask almost any Marylander whether he or she is better off than they were four years ago, the answer would likely be yes – unless you work for the federal government, in which case times may be a bit difficult. If – and this is a really, really big if considering we are over two years out – the Republicans can maintain their grip on Congress for the next two cycles and President Trump is re-elected – we may see a significant rightsizing of government that will likely put Maryland into recessionary status given our addiction to the federal crack pipe of taxpayer money and government jobs. (I’ve said it before – if not for the federal government, Maryland would be *pick your chronically high unemployment state.*) It will be painful, but it is necessary.

The MPPI also pointed out that small businesses will be able to take advantage of a modest tax break made necessary by the adoption of paid sick leave. (I say modest because it’s a pool of $5 million – as originally envisioned, the pool was far larger and assisted more employers. Both those provisions were killed or watered down in committee.)

Sliding over to another campaign, Dr. Ben Carson called him “a true patriot who has served our nation and made personal sacrifices for its well being.” But before he debated his two most prominent foes for the U.S. Senate seat on Sunday (more on that in a few paragraphs) Tony Campbell had one simple request: Pray.

This campaign is David vs. Goliath.  As a dear friend of mine told me this week, our job is to be in position to take advantage of God’s providential miracle.  Your prayers are crucial for our campaign’s success.

Now before the anti-“thoughts and prayers” crowd has a cow, they need to explain to me what harm comes from prayer. If it’s in the Lord’s plan to give Maryland a far more sane representative than that which we have now, why not give encouragement that thy will be done?

From calling on the Lord to calling out larceny: that’s the segue I make for the next item.

One minor topic that takes up a couple pages in my forthcoming book on the TEA Party is a look at the “scam PACs” that started up in the wake of Citizens United, conning well-meaning small donors into supporting the lavish consulting fees of companies related to the overall PAC rather than the candidates or causes they purported to support. A three-part series from the Capital Research Center called Caveat Donator delves into that topic as well, and is worth the read.

Back to that Senate debate. I have found my way onto Neal Simon’s mailing list, and his spin doctors were ready:

Throughout the one-hour debate, Simon focused much of his criticism on Cardin’s lack of leadership in moving forward legislation that focuses on Maryland’s interests. Simon went on the offensive right out of the gate, painting a picture of a career-focused politician focused on placating the party leadership and cow-towing to establishment donors in order to keep his job. Cardin’s voting record is the most partisan of all current sitting senators as he has voted with Chuck Schumer more than 97 percent of the time.

When referring to the numerous internal threats and dangers facing America today, Simon said, “I’m not sure which is most dangerous, Trump’s Twitter feed or Ben Cardin’s rubber stamp.”

As I watched the debate, I noticed it was Simon who was the more aggressive toward Cardin, which is to be expected because he really has to swing for the fences now. There’s a month to close what’s a 40-plus point deficit between him and “our friend Ben” (who’s no friend of common-sense voters.) To that end, Simon is emphasizing Cardin’s fealty to Democrat leadership based on voting record.

But we need to pray for Tony to get another bite of the apple because his debate performance was “meh…” Whoever prepped him needs to step up his or her game because there were a couple “deer in the headlights” moments for Tony – on the other hand, while Simon seemed scripted he was very personable. Cardin was his normal low-key self, almost like “okay, I have to do this debate, let’s get it over with.” But he was more or less prepared for what he would get.

The best possible scenario for this race involves Republicans staying loyal while slyly inviting their Democrat friends to send a message to Cardin by voting Simon – after all, what Republican ever wins in Maryland? I don’t care if it’s one of those 35-33-32 deals: as long as our guy has the 35, he has 6 years to build up the next campaign.

You may remember in the last Presidential go-round that the most centrist of Democrat candidates was onetime Reagan administration official Jim Webb of Virginia. While his campaign didn’t gain much in the way of traction, Jim landed on his feet nonetheless: he now draws a paycheck from the American Petroleum Institute and advocates for offshore energy exploration, to wit:

The United States can increase these advantages (in energy exploration) through renewed emphasis on safe and technologically advanced offshore exploration, which is increasingly in use throughout the world. Ninety-four percent of federal offshore acreage is currently off limits to energy development. The Trump administration’s National Offshore Leasing Program for 2019-2024 would change that by opening key areas off the Atlantic Coast and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Recent advances in safety solutions, plus improvements in business practices and tighter government standards, guarantee that offshore exploration can be safe, targeted and productive.

Maybe that’s why Ben Jealous had the commonwealth on his mind the other day. But that’s the place I’ll use to bring this post home, and I have an old friend of mine to credit. My old “Rebeldome” cohort Bob Densic spied this in the Daily Signal and knew I’d be interested – it’s a piece on the current state of the TEA Party in Virginia.

So that will (almost) be a wrap for now. I might get enough to do another one before Election Day, but we will see.

**I’m thinking of getting the band back together, as it were, for a limited engagement. To me, it may be a useful exercise to maintain the Maryland edition of the mAP, but restrict it to the three districts (36, 37, and 38) on the Eastern Shore. Anyone else can do their own research on their members of the General Assembly.

Is the answer blowin’ in the wind?

Of late I’ve heard a lot of talk about energy in various forms and how they will be affecting this Eastern Shore of ours. While I write mainly on political items, longtime readers know I have an interest in energy-related issues as well.

So if you read social media, you’ll find that one thing I enjoy doing is setting those who inhabit the left side of the political aisle straight on the reality of the situation – particularly when it comes to energy. I’m going to borrow something as not letting good writing go to waste and then build from that, since there are other facets I’d like to explore, too.

This was something I wrote to Congressional candidate Allison Galbraith – say what you will about her politics, she is well-engaged on social media. Galbraith recently linked a story from WMDT about a proposed offshore wind study, to which I most recently responded:

You’re making a giant leap of faith that we as mankind can slow down sea level rise. As for having houses underwater, that’s a risk one takes for having waterfront property – just like those who build along a hurricane-prone coastline.

My point is that, based on their merits as far as reliability goes, wind and solar are not ready for usage on a large scale. If one wants to invest their money in solar panels for their house or a windmill out back, great – have at it. (Personally, I don’t think these sources should be mandated, but the issue is properly a state-level issue and in our case that’s where it was determined – my beef is with Annapolis, not Washington. I don’t like ethanol subsidies either and that was a different story, dictated from on high.) But the problems come in being tied to the overall electrical grid, which is already a balancing act due to the vagaries of weather and usage.

If some smart entrepreneur wanted a good problem to study, she or he would figure out a way to level out the output gained from these systems so that solar power could be used at night and wind power on humid, still days. (Notice there are few windmills in the Deep South.) We advance technology insofar as the actual turbines and collector panels, but don’t consider that storage aspect of it as much – therein lies the benefits of fossil fuels, which are a vast storehouse of the energy we need that’s been sitting there for eons until extracted for our use. On a day like today wind would be good but there’s not much demand; meanwhile, those with solar panels are hurting because the weather is so bad.

We have been blessed with abundant resources, so why keep them in the ground?

In looking at my response, the ethanol “subsidies” are actually carveouts – the EPA mandates a certain amount to be blended into the gasoline supply each year. Be that as it may…

The electrical grid aspect was something I hadn’t really considered until recently, when I did my most recent “odds and ends” piece. Thanks to a series of posts by the Capital Research Center, I learned that one key problem with renewables is their effect on the electrical grid. Since their output isn’t as predictable as that of standard power plants, there’s often a problem with mobilizing the most efficient resources. Certainly a bright, sunny summer day is great for solar power production but that also means a natural gas plant has to be temporarily put offline, then restarted once the sun goes down. However, the next day could prove to be one which suddenly turns stormy, meaning yet another cycle of starting and stopping a fossil fuel plant. Obviously, the advantage of fossil fuels comes from the constant supply, with the X-factor only being the price paid for each megawatt-hour. Wind power presents a similar problem: you can have times when the wind is just right for a constant portion of the supply, but they are few and far between, and unpredictable. While their trade association begs to differ, the fact is that there too few breakdowns in conventional sources (not to mention a critical dependence on the carveout of a federal tax subsidy specifically for these projects) for wind to be more than a bit player – certainly not to the extent some states attempt to mandate it.

(Another great source of energy industry writing I carried for a time were the columns of Marita Noon, including this one on the wind industry. She’s since remarried and retired from the writing game. It turns out my loss was the city of Lubbock’s gain – Marita’s current avocation is something she’s long been interested in, rehabbing houses for resale.)

Essentially, Allison’s job as of late has been to be the loyal opposition to our Congressman, Andy Harris. He listened to the concerns of Ocean City regarding their tourism and repeated their case that the offshore wind project the state of Maryland has tried to site off Ocean City is close enough to mar the natural beauty of the beachfront view. While the industry and its supporters contend the windmills will be too small to clearly see, they’ve never contended the lights on the turbines would not be visible overnight. (Hint: they would be – a sea of red lights flashing on the horizon. This may be true at 26 miles as well.)

On another front in the progressive ranks, opposition has sprung up to a natural gas pipeline that would run through the Eastern Shore of Maryland from north to south. As described by the Delmarva Pipeline Company when the project was announced last year:

The project will provide these regions and their residents, who have historically been without access to natural gas and the associated benefits, with access to affordable, clean-burning, and abundant natural gas supplies to help meet the growing environmental need for cleaner fuels for power generation for industrial and commercial customers. In the future, local distribution companies will be able to provide home heating, hot water, and other domestic uses.

The proposed pipeline would tie into an existing pipeline near Rising Sun, Maryland, head east for a short distance, then run southward right along the border between Delaware and Maryland before terminating at a point in Accomack County, Virginia. At this time the only natural gas pipeline access on this part of the Eastern Shore are small areas from downtown Salisbury and the town of Berlin in Worcester County northward into Delaware along the U.S. 13 and U.S. 113 corridors, respectively. On the Mid-Shore there is a branch line that runs westward from Bridgeville, Delaware to serve Easton, Maryland. Aside from that, there’s nothing south of the I-95 corridor serving the Eastern Shore. (Delaware has the three feeder pipes that terminate in Maryland to serve Sussex County.)

According to news reports, it’s a $1.25 billion private investment that will finally open up natural gas service to areas not served on the Eastern Shore. So what’s not to like? Well, apparently there is a group against it.

While their comment about possible leakage falls a little flat because it’s a gas pipeline and not oil, their real argument is served up by a sentence from a release by Blue Wicomico, which is a slate running for the local Democratic Central Committee. “If we invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure projects like this pipeline,” they whine, “it will discourage investment in the future like renewable energy projects that will bring much-needed jobs and economic growth to the region.”

Look, if you want to invest in green energy, there’s nothing stopping you. The fact that few will do so without the government goosing the system, though, tells me that the rewards aren’t enough for the risks.

And about that job creation? As Paul Rich, the Director of Project Management for U.S. Wind, testified before the Maryland Public Service Commission:

Due to the nascent stage of development of the U.S. Offshore Wind Industry, much of the highest technological components will have to initially be imported from manufacturing facilities in Europe. Components such as turbine generators, manufactured blades, and transmission cables will be most economically sourced from existing facilities in Europe.

If you’re counting on that job creation for the Eastern Shore or for Maryland in general, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

So let’s get to work building that pipeline, which is slated for completion in late 2020. Give those who don’t have it access to another reliable energy source.

Odds and ends number 86

As I culled the vast number of possible items I had in my e-mail box down to a manageable few for this latest excursion into stuff I can handle in anything from a couple sentences to a couple paragraphs, I took a break – then promptly forgot I’d started this and let it go for several weeks. Sheesh. So, anyway…

The election season is here, and it’s blatantly obvious that the Maryland Republican Party feels local Senator Jim Mathias has a vulnerable hold on his position. One recent objection was the vote to both pass and overturn Governor Hogan’s veto on House Bill 1783.

If you want a cure for insomnia you could do worse than reading all 53 pages of the House bill. But what I found interesting is the vast difference between the amended House version and the Senate version that never made it past the hearing stage. The bills were intended to codify the recommendations of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission, but the House bill added two new wrinkles: eliminating the input of the Board of Public Works by upgrading the current Interagency Committee on School Construction to a commission and adding to it four new members (two appointed by the governor and two by the leaders of the General Assembly) and – more importantly for the fate of the bill – adding an appropriation to prevent it being taken to referendum. All those amendments came from the Democrat majority in the House Appropriations Committee, which meant that bill was put on greased skids and the other locked in a desk drawer.

Yet there wasn’t a Democrat who objected to this, and that’s why we have government as we do. It also proved once again that Senator Mathias is good at doing what the other side of the Bay wants – obviously since I have done the monoblogue Accountability Project since the term Mathias was first elected to serve in I know this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

But the fair question to ask is whether anyone else is listening? Results of a recent poll tended to be a little disheartening to me. According to the Maryland Public Policy Institute:

Marylanders support spending more money on school safety and career and technical education, according to a new statewide poll. But they are less enthusiastic about expanding pre-kindergarten or paying teachers more if those initiatives mean higher taxes or reductions in other services.

(…)

Broad majorities oppose paying more in income or property taxes to expand pre-K. Voters are against making cuts to roads and transportation (70% total less likely), public safety (70% total less likely), or children’s health insurance (77% total less likely) to afford expansion of pre-k education.

They should be opposing universal pre-K in general. Far from the days when kindergarten was optional and getting through high school provided a complete enough education to prosper in life, we are now working on taking children as young as 4 or even late 3 years old and providing schooling at state expense for 16 to 17 years – pre-K, K through 12, and two years of community college. This would be more palatable if public schools weren’t simply Common Core-based indoctrination centers, but as the quality of education declines quantity doesn’t make up for it.

For example, a real public school education would teach critical thinking, exhibited in these facts about offshore drilling and steps the industry is taking to make it safer. After all, logic would dictate they would want to recover as much product they invested in extracting as possible – spills benefit no one.

Interestingly enough, my friends at the Capital Research Center have also embedded a dollop of common sense into the energy argument.

This goes with the four-part series that explains the pitfalls of so-called “renewable” energy – you know, the types that are such a smashing success that the state has to mandate their use in order to maintain a climate that, frankly, we have no idea is the optimal, normal one anyway. (For example, in the last millennium or so we’ve had instances where vineyards extended north into Greenland – hence, its name – and times when New England had measurable snow into June due to the natural cause of a volcano eruption.)

Solar and wind may work on a dwelling level, but they’re not reliable enough for long-term use until storage capacity catches up. The series also does a good job of explaining the issues with the erratic production of solar and wind energy and the effect on the power grid.

On another front, the summer driving season is here and we were cautioned that prices would increase by the American Petroleum Institute back in April. Oddly enough, a passage in that API piece echoed something I wrote a few weeks later for The Patriot Post:

But while it isn’t as much of a factor on the supply side, OPEC can still be a price driver. In this case, both Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC Russia have put aside their foreign policy differences and enforced an 18-month-long production cut between themselves – a slowdown that has eliminated the supply glut (and low prices) we enjoyed over the last few years. And since those two nations are the second- and third-largest producers of crude oil (trailing only the U.S.), their coalition significantly influences the market.

Finally, I wanted to go north of the border and talk about 2020. (No, not THAT far north – I meant Delaware.)

Since Joe Biden has nothing better to do these days and needs to keep his name in the pipeline for contributions, he’s organized his own PAC called American Possibilities. (He’s also doing a book tour that comes to Wilmington June 10, but that’s not important for this story.)

A few weeks ago his American Possibilities PAC announced its first set of candidates, and so far they’re uninspiring garden-variety Democrats. Supposedly they were suggested by AP members, but we have two incumbent Senators in vulnerable seats (Tammy Baldwin and Jon Tester both represent states that went to Donald Trump), current freshman Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida (another Trump state), and challengers Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey.

As of this writing, all are still in contention; however, this comes with caveats. Baldwin and Tester are unopposed in their upcoming primaries for Senate seats, Houlahan and Kim are unopposed for nomination as well, and Murphy has token opposition. The one race that will test Biden’s “pull” is the NJ-11 race, where Sherrill is part of a five-person race on the Democratic side to replace retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a GOP moderate. All three House challengers Biden is backing are trying for GOP seats, as a matter of fact – no insurgents here. We’ll see in November if he fails.

Shifting sides on the political pendulum, here’s some good political news from our friends at the Constitution Party:

We received great news this week! The Constitution Party effort to gain ballot access in North Carolina exceeded the required number of registered voter signatures to qualify for ballot access in 2018 and 2020.

To do this they needed 11,925 valid signatures in a timeframe that stretched about five months – so far they have over 16,000 total signatures and 12,537 have been declared valid (at least until the NCGOP sues to deny them access because it will be deemed to hurt their chances – see the Ohio Libertarian Party cases for examples of this.) If that development is avoided, it will be the first time the Constitution Party has had ballot access in the state.

Honestly, I believe the two “major” parties should be made to live with the same petitioning for access standards the minor parties do. If they are that popular then it shouldn’t be a problem, right? Once the 2018-22 cycle gets underway, perhaps the same thing should be tried in Maryland.

Lastly is a housekeeping note: in updating my Election 2018 widget, I’ve decided to eliminate for the time being races that are unopposed and focus on the primary races only. So you’ll notice it’s a bit shorter.

After seven weeks of interim, now you know the truth: writing delayed is not writing denied.

Democrat gubernatorial hopefuls invade Salisbury

There are eight candidates on the Democrat side of the ballot hoping to be the challenger to current GOP Governor Larry Hogan. On a gorgeous, almost summer-like day on the Eastern Shore, only four of them could be bothered to come to Salisbury University to address their would-be primary electorate.

Originally that was supposed to be five of the eight, though.

An empty table...sort of like their bag of new ideas.
The lineup as originally intended: Alec Ross, Krish Vignarajah, Rushern Baker, Jim Shea, and Richard Madaleno.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker was slated to be there, but informed the event organizers 15 minutes beforehand that he had an “emergency” and could not appear. According to his Twitter feed, he had begun the day campaigning in Baltimore City but the trail grows cold afterward. Yesterday evening there were Tweets and social media posts touting his previous endorsement by Congressman Steny Hoyer (who represents a portion of his county) and a piece touting his partnership for STEM training, but no mention of the forum or an apology for missing it. A Democrat friend of mine remarked afterward that “I know quite a few people who were definitely upset and said they wouldn’t vote for him now even if they had considered him before.” Unfortunately, that left us with a group of what would be defined as “second-tier” candidates who are polling in low single digits – combined they’re not Baker’s equal polling-wise.

On top of that, State Senator Richard Madaleno was a few minutes late, missing the opening statement but being allowed to make up for it when he answered his first question. Apparently there was an accident on the Bay Bridge, which was the topic of a subsequent question.

So the order was set, and placeholders were rearranged. This photo was taken once Madaleno arrived.

State Senator Richard Madaleno (right) answers a question as moderator Don Rush of Delmarva Public Radio (far left), Alec Ross (second from left), Krish Vignarajah (center), and Jim Shea (second from right) look on.

The Wicomico County Democratic Central Committee co-sponsored the event with the Salisbury University College Democrats, and aside from the horribly uncomfortable chairs we were forced to sit in for two hours the event was well-conducted for the 100 or so in attendance on this beautiful afternoon. I learned that a group of liberal Democrats can sit and listen attentively, so now I expect that same behavior at the next Andy Harris town hall that I attend. Moderator Don Rush instructed the audience early on to keep their reactions to themselves, and they complied.

I debated whether I wanted to handle this by candidate or by question, and decided that keeping the candidates’ answers together for each question would present a better, more comparative format. But first I wanted to mention something that was said by WCDCC chair Mark L. Bowen. (Just to be clear, this Mark Bowen is not Mark S. Bowen, the current Democrat Clerk of the Court for Wicomico County.) Bowen assured the gathering that “our work is being done for us…all we have to do is close the deal.” He was also the one who informed us that Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and former NAACP head Ben Jealous were absent due to “previous commitments.” (That would be their personally lobbying the state’s teacher’s union, which endorsed Jealous yesterday at their meeting. Perhaps endorsing Kamemetz or Baker would have been problematic for the teachers given educational scandals in their respective counties.)

So after an opening statement, the four remaining candidates answered questions on these topics:

  • New “economic engines” for the Eastern Shore
  • Balancing the interests of agriculture and environmentalists
  • Offshore wind energy development
  • How they would assist watermen and the Bay
  • Transportation priorities for our area
  • A new Bay Bridge
  • Their focus on education
  • Health care – a single-payer system?
  • Redistricting

But I want to begin with separate categorizations of their opening statements, and I’ll proceed in the order that they spoke. This means Alec Ross goes first and Richard Madaleno goes not at all because he was tardy.

You may recall that I spent a few minutes speaking to Alec at the Tawes event last year, when he informed me that he had a rather unique view on education for a Democrat, since he focused more on vocational education than college readiness. Obviously coming over here is something he cherishes, as he recalled childhood vacations spent in Ocean City and told the crowd his blood pressure comes down when he crosses the Bay Bridge as part of his opening statement.

His main point, though, was that “talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not.” And while “we are bringing new faces and new ideas to the Democratic Party,” Ross noted their voter registration numbers are trending downward.

I could have spent a couple minutes speaking to Krish Vignarajah, but I didn’t realize she was one of those waiting with me on the elevator to arrive. With her husband in tow and a young child, she could have been an interested observer. (She was also somewhat casually dressed.)

Krish came to America as a infant, emigrating from Sri Lanka with her parents. (A few years later, Sri Lanka would be embroiled in a civil war, so tensions were rising at the time.) She also painted a gloomy picture of Maryland, telling the audience that “opportunities are declining” but she would be “Larry Hogan’s worst nightmare” as a candidate. “We need to give people a reason to vote,” she exhorted.

Jim Shea used the Bay Bridge as an example of how infrastructure could help the economy. He was running to “invest in Maryland,” with a focus on three areas: education, transportation, and infrastructure.

Leading off the questioning was one about new economic engines for the Eastern Shore. All of them agreed agriculture was going to remain the primary driver, but they also wanted to add green energy to the mix in various ways.

For Vignarajah, the object wasn’t to attack “Big Chicken” but to address its environmental issues through research. She also touted the idea of tourism, both as part of an “outdoor economy” and “heritage tourism.” Shea stressed his belief that we need to bring the two sides of farmer and environmentalist together. Corporations want a good environment, too, he said, but “we need clarity on the regulations.” Jim also believed that we needed to grow our own businesses and not work as much at attracting those from other states.

Madaleno, after giving a brief introduction, talked about keeping agriculture sustainable, both environmentally and economically, but also brought up the idea of “eds and beds” – our educational institutions and tourism industry. Richard also pointed out the impact from Wallops Island and its space industry. He had one other point, but he joked that “I feel like the Secretary of Energy” because he couldn’t recall it. Later, he said Shea reminded him it was offshore wind – it was a byproduct of seeing each other so much and knowing their talking points, as Shea mentioned later: “(Madaleno) did the same thing for me at another forum.”

Perhaps Alec’s drop in blood pressure stemmed from the produce he’s purchased at an Eastern Shore roadside market. As the produce was bigger and better than ever at his last stop, Ross asked how they did it. “Precision agriculture,” the stand owner beamed. Agriculture in the state needs to continue to evolve, he added, the combination of analytics and agriculture would allow that to happen. And to help small farmers, Ross was proposing a billion-dollar investment in a “green bank” model – a model already in place in New York and Massachusetts. (In looking this up, perhaps Ross misspoke: I found programs in place in New York and Connecticut as a way to promote “clean energy.” What Ross proposes may have a slightly different focus.)

So how do you balance agriculture and the environment? Would you add restrictions to the poultry industry?

Madaleno, Shea, and Vignarajah all touted the Community Healthy Air Act, a measure Madaleno sponsored during the last General Assembly session, and one that Shea said “made sense.” (It did not get beyond the hearing stage.) Alec and Krish also brought up the Phosphorus Management Tool, with Krish calling it a “win-win.” She also proposed to “empower” farmers with a Farmers Rights Act.

Ross wanted all sides to play by the same rules as well, saying that neither side thinks they are lying when it comes to the facts.

Needless to say, all of them were supportive of wind energy development. Madaleno said they “will make a lot of sense,” believing the won’t impact the viewshed and be the basis for job growth. They can “drive the economy ahead,” added Shea; however, he was concerned that there was no way to store their energy. We need to invest in that technology, he added.

Ross and Vignarajah were just as aggressive, with Alec comparing areas that don’t “embrace the future” through wind to the coal country he grew up in and assuring us that windmills would not keep them from the beaches. Vignarajah promised 2,000 megawatts of wind power in her first term and chided Larry Hogan for not being proactive. We are exporting our dollars and importing their pollution, she said regarding the current situation.

This question also provided a couple of shout outs: Madaleno praised fellow Senator Jim Mathias: “No one fights harder for the Eastern Shore – I have some of the scars.” Alec Ross said of Salisbury mayor Jake Day. “I like the work (he) is doing as mayor.”

When it comes to watermen and the Bay, the answers were again rather similar because they focused more on the Bay, with some expressing the recovery of the oyster population as one positive development. It’s a “win-win” to support the oyster industry, said Vignarajah, but don’t forget the tributaries to the Bay like the Choptank, Potomac, and so forth. Shea warned that it’s “too soon” to harvest oysters as watermen are pleading with Governor Hogan to allow.

Madaleno, though, expressed the opinion that the Bay’s recovery was evidence that “government can do and does good things.” And while he joked that being a member of the General Assembly meant he had to become an expert in crabs, oysters, and chicken, he added that cleaning the Bay has to be a multi-state effort. Richard also pledged to give waterman “a voice at the table.”

And while Ross would do “whatever it takes” to accomplish this difficult and expensive work, he spent part of his time noting that “when you drive into Maryland, you should be entering The Resistance.” Chiding the “abhorrent” leadership at the EPA, he wanted a set-aside to sustain watermen. Shea temed a similar concept as an “investment” in the needed vocational training for the “social costs of our advancement.” On the other hand, Vignarajah expressed the “unpopular” view of crediting Larry Hogan with trying to protect Chesapeake Bay funding.

As far as transportation priorities for our rural areas are concerned, there was no real shock in their answers. Krish led off by saying “let us try to be innovative,” making the investment in our economy of extending the MARC system to Salisbury and Ocean City as “an attraction” to provide “more mobility.” Jim Shea agreed that the Eastern Shore has a lack of mass transit.

Madaleno and Ross blasted Larry Hogan’s transportation plan, with Ross calling it “a press release” and “not realistic” because it mainly focuses on DC and Baltimore. Hogan was “one of the luckiest politicians around,” said Madaleno, who noted that the Purple Line was “placed on a credit card” while the gas tax Hogan criticized was now being used for highway widening. Richard would invest in “smart mass transit,” meaning on demand.

Shea was more realistic, calling transportation “anathema” for career politicians because projects take so long. He termed the high-speed rail project backed by Hogan “pie in the sky” and would vet his plan with citizens around the state.

Most telling to me was part of Alec’s answer, where he called widening U.S. 50 “looking backward” and mass transit “looking forward.” So I wasn’t shocked by their answers to the next question, about a third Bay Bridge.

At least Jim Shea was honest enough to answer “I don’t know what the correct answer is.” (Hint: look at how close Dorchester and Calvert counties are.) His bigger issue was funding education. Madaleno was more worried about whether the current bridges survive, as the Hogan toll reductions “restrict the decision” on these bridges, which Madaleno would replace there.

Alec and Krish were even more blunt. “People need investments in them,” said Ross. High-speed connectivity and schools were a higher priority in his eyes, with another Bay span “way down the queue.” Vignarajah echoed the sentiment: “A lot of priorities are ahead in the queue” over the Bay Bridge, adding “we have a 1950s budget in many respects.” She would spend money on universal broadband, too, noting 1 in 12 Maryland residents don’t have high-speed internet access.

Since it had been hinted around at, the focus shifted to education. Education “will be the centerpiece of (a Madaleno) administration,” said Rich, and “this is why (Ross) is running for governor,” he said, but all of them were ready to give free stuff out: universal pre-K and community college were most mentioned.

Madaleno touted his membership on the Kirwan Commission, while Krish advocated for a “cradle to career” educational policy, including “hot and healthy meals.” Shea’s “bold and comprehensive” plan (which he mentioned was there in full on his website) included as well what he called “wrap-around services” and “funding solutions.”

One thing I did like about Alec was his advocacy for vocational education, rather than the “terribly elitist” idea all kids have to go to college. He promoted an online academy to assist rural students in receiving services not otherwise available to them and advocates for universal computer science education.

We also waited until nearly the end to learn about their proposals for health care, and whether it included single-payer?

Of course it does, but not everyone is as honest as Jim Shea, who, while he told the audience that “a single-payer system is something we will eventually move to,” it wasn’t practical for a single state to adopt. That push had to be at a federal level, but we could control costs locally through a collaborative approach.

Otherwise, it seemed the consensus was that Obamacare was just a start, or a “strong start” in the words of Vignarajah. For her, “health care is a basic human right” and she advocated for a public option to lead to single-payer. Madaleno insisted that Obamacare “has worked to reduce costs” and brought Maryland down to 6% uninsured. He warned the gathering to not fall for the “trumped-up theory” that the ACA has failed. The fight was against insurers and Big Pharma to cut costs. (This also gave Madaleno a chance for a second Mathias shout-out: he was a “hero” as a voice for rural health care.)

Alec called on us to “resist the evil that is coming out of Donald Trump’s Washington.” While he admitted that “we have to continue to play defense,” he gave an example of something he would do differently: because of the waiver system Maryland was benefiting from, Medicare for All wasn’t possible – but Medicaid for All as a public option was.

I was honestly surprised by the final question, which had to do with redistricting. Had there been five participants, the health care question would have likely been last.

Only the American system allows for politicians to pick their voters, said Krish, but it was a “problematic” issue that had to be addressed at a national level. Shea disagreed, saying that while gerrymandering had polarized us, it wasn’t a federal problem – but the solution wasn’t (as he called it) “unilateral disarmament” here in Maryland. It needs to be “fair and smart,” Jim added, but he warned there’s no such thing as a non-partisan group.

Madaleno admitted that the gerrymandering “got out of hand” during the O’Malley administration (but failed to mention his lack of objection at the time.) Going with the theme that “the Koch brothers have bought the Congress they wanted,” Rich wanted to reform as part of a multi-state compact.

Alec saw the issue as part of the “damage to democracy,” which has led to both far-right and far-left factions in Congress. “We need representatives to engage with everyone in the district,” he said.

It should be noted that Vignarajah used part of her answer time to express her disappointment that no question was asked on opioids. “We need action” on both the over-prescription and treatment aspects of that problem.

In conclusion, Jim Shea said Democrats needed to unite as a party. “We’re going to pull together because we are a great party and take the governor’s seat back.”

Richard Madaleno contended that the GOP of Donald Trump is “in the process of imploding.” Yet since there will be gridlock in Washington, it make the governors more important, and Maryland has one of the most powerful chief executives in the nation. “It matters who the governor of Maryland is,” he continued, and “this is the time to have serious experience in office.” That was a nod to his years in the General Assembly, but his goal was to “move the state in a progressive way.”

Alec Ross told the local Democrats that it’s “more about ‘we’ than ‘me,’ but disagreed with Madeleno on one point: the GOP is not coming apart. “We’ve got to work for it,” he said. He also promised “no one will be more anti-Trump than me,” but warned the group they “can’t just resist,” they have to have an “aspirational agenda.” It was time for new faces and new ideas to come forward., Ross concluded.

“How do we beat Larry Hogan?” asked Krish Vignarajah. “No man can beat Larry Hogan, they say. Well…?” While Hogan “fakes left and moves right,” Vignarajah pointed out that 61% of those who toppled incumbent Republicans in this cycle were women. She pledged a “fiscally responsible. socially progressive” administration.

I’ve noted above that Jim Mathias was in the building, but there were a handful of other Democrats seeking local and state office there: Michael Pullen for Congress (who sat two seats away from me and never said a word), Holly Wright for Senate District 37 (who did introduce herself to me), Delegate 38A candidate Kirkland Hall, and county-level candidates Bill McCain (County Council) and Bo McAllister, who I had spoken to at last fall’s Good Beer Festival. (You would have known that had my old cell phone not crapped out the next day, before I could write the post.)

They did their thing and I did mine, but mine is done.

A jealous man can’t tell the truth

If it’s a date on the calendar, it must be a day when someone twists the truth about their political opponents. But this one hits us where we live.

Ben Jealous is one of several Democrats seeking to oppose Larry Hogan this fall, and as his latest salvo he’s accusing Hogan of pay-for-play. Pointing out a recent Wall Street Journal story about how corporate entities are using the respective governors’ associations (both Democrat and Republican) as a means to donate additional funding beyond candidate limits, Jealous claims that “Poultry industry gives $250,000 to help Hogan campaign…Gov. Hogan slashes chicken manure regulation, putting more chicken (stuff) in the Chesapeake.”

The WSJ story is now behind a paywall, but fortunately I have access to the pertinent part for my purpose:

In October 2014, the Republican Governors Association needed help in Maryland, where the gubernatorial race was tight. So it called Mountaire Corp., one of America’s largest suppliers of chicken products.

Companies can’t donate large sums to candidates in many states, including Maryland. But they can give unlimited sums to governors associations, which sometimes use the donations to support a company’s favored politician without any indication in the public record of the original source.

According to a then-RGA official, the RGA needed $500,000 for an ad campaign to help Republican Larry Hogan. Mountaire was facing tough new environmental regulations in Maryland, where it raises and processes millions of chickens every year. Mr. Hogan had criticized the regulations.

Mountaire sent $250,000 to the RGA on Oct. 31, according to filings from the Internal Revenue Service. It didn’t give its Democratic counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association, a penny that year.

On inauguration day, Mr. Hogan blocked the proposal opposed by the poultry industry. He later negotiated new rules that won some praise from environmental groups but also gave the poultry industry more time to comply. (Link added.)

Even the Washington Post noted that the Hogan regulations which were placed as a substitute – something Jealous obviously didn’t mention – were fine with the environmentalists:

Hogan won the support of environmentalists and Democratic legislators when he negotiated a revamped set of regulations during his first months in office. The plan phased in stricter restrictions over a number of years and allowed extensions for some farmers if major problems arise.

So Jealous is sort of hiding the truth, although I expect that out of a politician.

That’s not to say I was enamored with Hogan’s retreat on the issue, which was something I originally was happy to see him address so quickly. However, it also allowed the O’Malley regulations that were on the verge of passing the General Assembly to be pulled, and that was a good thing. But when people try to stir up sh*t by twisting the truth and distorting the record because they have nothing good to run on besides rewarmed old socialist bromides that would bankrupt the state and drive the producers away, I figure it’s time to speak out.

And here’s my question for Ben Jealous: are you going to refuse DGA money or assistance if you get the nomination? Something tells me he’ll be lined right up to receive that manna from heaven if he gets the nomination, so don’t try to sell us your story. You must want to be completely shut out on the Eastern Shore.

Odds and ends number 84

After resurrecting one long-dormant series over the weekend, today we make it two. It hasn’t quite been a year since I did an ‘odds and ends” and there’s not a year’s worth of stuff, but the creative juices are flowing anyway.

Let’s begin with some good news from our national pastime. If you recall, back in July the Shorebirds made headlines for playing the longest game in their 21-season history, spreading out the drama against the Lexington Legends over two days thanks to a storm that broke over the stadium after 20 innings were in the books. It took just one inning the next evening to settle Delmarva’s 7-6 defeat, but the contest was the Fans’ Choice for a MiLBY Award. It had (ironically enough) 21% of the vote among 10 contenders. (Alas, the actual MiLBY went to some other game.)

The other sad part about that story, besides the folks at the Minor League Baseball site misidentifying us as Frederick: it turned out that one inning of baseball would be all that was played that evening as another heavy storm blew through just at scheduled game time. (I remember it well because I was at work.)

The Shorebirds were also a MiLBY bridesmaid in the blooper department with their September “goose delay.

And while Astros-Dodgers didn’t have the same cachet as the Cubs finally breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat last season, the 28 million viewers of Game 7 completed a World Series where it again kicked the NFL’s ass (as it should, since football season doesn’t start until the World Series is over anyway.) And with the erosion of the NFL’s appeal thanks to the anthem protests and – frankly – rather boring games where fundamentals are ignored, the window of NFL dominance may be closing.

Speaking of things that are dominant, a few weeks back I detailed the effort to bring the sanity of right-to-work to Sussex County, Delaware. An update from the Daily Signal detailed some of Big Labor’s reaction when it came up again. And again I respond – having the choice to join the union is better than not having the job at all.

Delaware was also the subject of one of a series of pieces that ran over the summer and fall from my friends at Energy Tomorrow. They cleverly chose a theme for each of the 50 states and the First State’s July piece was on “the beach life in Delaware.” Now what I found most interesting was just how little energy they produce compared to how much they consume, given they have no coal mines and little prospect of fracking or offshore drilling. And I was surprised how little tourism contributes to their state economy given the beach traffic in the summer.

Maryland’s, which came out last month, is quite different, as it has a companion piece about prosthetics. It obviously made sense with Johns Hopkins in the state, but what struck me was the quote included from Governor Larry Hogan. He’s the guy who betrayed the energy industry by needlessly banning fracking in the state. Unfortunately, Larry seems to suffer from the perception that energy companies are solely interested in profit when the industry knows they have to be good neighbors and environmentally responsible, too.

That’s quite all right: he doesn’t need those 22,729 votes in Allegany and Garrett counties when he can have a million liberals around the state say, “oh, Hogan banned fracking” and vote for Ben Jealous or Rushern Baker anyway.

Regularly I receive updates from the good folks at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, which tends to look at state politics in a conservative manner. But I can’t say this particular case is totally conservative or for limited government:

If Maryland lawmakers want to get serious about combating climate change and reducing pollution, they can simply tax the emission of carbon and other pollutants, thereby encouraging lower emissions and greater efficiency. No one likes a new tax, but it is a much cheaper and more effective way to cut pollution and fight climate change than a byzantine policy like the renewables mandate. Besides, revenue from a carbon tax could be used to reduce other taxes and fund other environmental initiatives. Problem is, though a carbon tax would be good for the environment and human health, it wouldn’t funnel money to politicians’ friends in corporate boardrooms and on Wall Street.

Maryland’s renewables standard isn’t about the environment and human health; it’s about money.

The last two sentences are the absolute truth, but the remainder of the excerpt is a case of “be careful what you wish for.” If the state indeed enacted a carbon tax, businesses and residents would waste no time fleeing the state for greener (pun intended) pastures. You can bet your bottom dollar that a carbon tax would be enacted on top of, not in place of, all the other taxes and fees we have.

Now it’s time for a pop quiz. Can you guess who said this?

Soon, our states will be redrawing their Congressional and state legislative district lines. It’s called redistricting, and it will take place in 2021, after the next Census takes place. That may seem far off, but the time to get started on this issue is now.

This is our best chance to eliminate the partisan gerrymandering that has blocked progress on so many of the issues we all care about. Simply put, redistricting has the potential to be a major turning point for our democracy. But we need to be prepared.

Maybe if I give you the next line you’ll have the answer.

That’s where the National Democratic Redistricting Committee comes in. Led by Eric Holder, my former Attorney General, they’re the strategic hub for Democratic activity leading up to redistricting. In partnership with groups like OFA, the NDRC is building the infrastructure Democrats need to ensure a fair outcome.

Our former President is now involved in this fight for a “fair” outcome – “fair” being defined as gerrymandered like Maryland is, I suppose.

To be honest, we won’t ever have truly fair districts until the concept of “majority-minority” districts is eliminated and districts are drawn by a computer program that strictly pays attention to population and boundaries such as county, city, or township lines or even major highways. With the GIS mapping we have now it’s possible to peg population exactly by address.

And if you figure that most people with common interests tend to gather together anyway – particularly in an economic sense – simply paying attention to geography and creating “compact and contiguous” districts should ensure fair representation. To me it’s just as wrong to have an Ohio Ninth Congressional District (where I used to live) that runs like a shoestring along the southern shore of Lake Erie and was created so as to put incumbent Democratic Congressmen Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur in the same district – Kaptur won that primary – as it is to have a Maryland Third Congressional District that looks like a pterodactyl. When I was growing up, the Ninth basically covered the city of Toledo and its suburbs where we then lived but as the city lost population they had to take territory from the Fifth District that surrounded it at the time. After the 1980 census they decided to follow us and take the eastern half of Fulton County, west of Toledo – much to my chagrin, since my first election was the one Kaptur beat a one-term Republican. (She’s been there that long.) Since then, the Ninth has been pulled dramatically eastward along the lakeshore to the outskirts of Cleveland, connected at one point by a bridge.

Finally, I guess I can go to what one might call the “light-hearted stack of stuff.” Again from MPPI, when it came to the Washington Metro and how to pay for it, this was a tax proposal I could really get behind. I’m just shocked that it would make $200 million a year.

On that scary note we’ll see how long it takes before I get to the next rendition of odds and ends.

An interesting perspective on Harvey

This is going to be another one of those “unless you’ve just crawled out from under a rock” posts, because that’s about the only way you wouldn’t be submerged in coverage of Hurricane Harvey and its aftereffects on the Houston region in Texas. If you thought Noah was just a Biblical character and the story of the Ark simply a parable, imagine what 40 straight days and nights of rain could do…less than a week’s worth dumped over 50 inches on some hapless portions of Texas.

Anyway, there’s an estimate that Houston was bathed in nearly 20 trillion gallons of water, and if I recall my formula correctly a cubic foot holds roughly 7 1/2 gallons – thus, an area of 2.6 trillion square feet would have been submerged one foot deep. In turn, that works out to an area 1,632,993 feet on each side, which equals 309 miles – 95,653 square miles, to be exact. Imagine not just Maryland and Delaware under a foot of water, but all of Pennsylvania and the majority of Virginia as well. Put another way, under that same deluge all of Maryland would be drowned beneath about 10 feet of water.

What make this relevant is an article written by Jon Cassidy in the American Spectator that I came across. When people talk about planning it piques my interest for obvious reasons: architecture is my chosen profession, but I know just enough about land planning and civil engineering to be dangerous – one area I learned a little bit about in the position I have now (albeit when I had my first bite of the apple a decade ago) was the technique required for doing stormwater management and other civil work. Coming here from Ohio I found out stormwater management is a BIG f’ing deal in Maryland, much more so than in my home state.

This is important because the blame for the extreme flooding in and around Houston is being placed on the rampant growth and large amounts of impermeable surface in that area. But, as Cassidy writes, development is many orders of magnitude shy of being the primary cause:

The idea that pavement is to blame for Houston’s flooding is, to put it simply, idiotic, even comical. The daily journalists on their deadlines haven’t had time to realize how out of their depth they are, but the (Texas) Tribune has no excuse for its shoddy reporting. The committees that awarded those prizes should be ashamed of their inability to spot the obvious hole in the narrative, which has been there all along.

The turf surrounding Houston is not, in the words of the county official the Tribune singled out for abuse, a “magic sponge.” Yes, it absorbs some water. Yes, of course, impermeable surfaces produce runoff. But no, absolutely not, no way, no how, could the clay and sandy soil around Houston have absorbed this deluge. The poor absorptive capacity of our soil is a matter of record, but that didn’t really matter. Even if our turf had the absorptive capacity of the Shamwow, Hurricane Harvey would have overwhelmed it.

study by the Harris County Flood Control District, which focused on the same Cypress Creek region that interested the Tribune, found that a residential development with 50 percent impervious cover would indeed absorb less water, creating more runoff. To be precise, the development would absorb exactly 1.79 inches less rainfall than an undeveloped property. But we got hit with up to 51.88 inches of rain during Hurricane Harvey. That’s more than rainy Seattle got all last year.

So even if the Tribune had had its anti-development agenda fully realized, it would have made no difference. The soil would have absorbed the first couple inches of rainfall, and the next 50 inches still would have had to go somewhere. Back in 1935, when the area was almost entirely covered by natural wetlands, it still got flooded.

Cassidy has an unlikely ally in Charles Marohn, the creator of a website called Strong Towns. (It’s often cited by the mayor of Salisbury, who seems to be an advocate of so-called “smart growth.”)

Harvey is not normal times. We can’t look at this event the way we look at other flooding events. The devastation in Houston from Hurricane Harvey is not the result of the accumulation of many bad decisions. It was simply a huge storm.

The Texas A&M research I highlighted above suggests reckless wetland filling robbed Houston of 4 billion gallons of stormwater storage capacity. For context, the Washington Post is reporting now that Harvey dumped 19 trillion gallons on Texas—a large portion of that hitting the Houston area. That means that, had those wetlands never been filled, they could have accommodated at most .02-.1% of the water that fell in Harvey.

Exactly. Soil has a carrying capacity of drainage, and some soils drain better than others. If you’ve spent any amount of time in Florida, you’ll know it rains nearly every day but the soil drains quickly because it’s quite sandy. Places with a lot of clay, though, aren’t as fortunate. To manage stormwater, the common technique involves collecting the overflow from impermeable areas and placing it in retention ponds where it can be released for drainage in a controlled fashion. It’s why you often see bodies of water along roads, highways, and inside developments – they’re not necessarily there for looks, but as catchbasins.

Of course, not every area has managed stormwater and in times of extreme weather they flood. During Superstorm Sandy in 2012, a large part of downtown Salisbury flooded, causing damage to several buildings. Other parts of town are often under water after a heavy rainfall of 4″ or more, with one significant headache being the closing of Business Route 13 at its intersection with Priscilla Street, adjacent to a large pond.

But even the best techniques would fail under a deluge like Harvey, and that’s the point. We design for 10- and 100-year flood events, but it’s prohibitively expensive and, frankly, unnecessary to worry about 500- or 1000-year events like Harvey may have been. Those cases are truly acts of God and the best we can do for those is pray for minimal loss of life. We can rebuild a building, but we can’t get the 30-odd victims of Harvey back.

Back to routine: Here at this residence, we’re getting set for one last school year. With the distractions of summer over, it will finally be time for me to get serious about writing once again. While it’s looking more like a wrap by the middle of 2018 rather than the spring, I’m still thinking I have a good start on The Rise and Fall of the TEA Party, and with recent developments there may be an entirely new hook to expound upon as I increase the word count.

So I haven’t forgotten. However, I also want to get a little bit into the 2018 campaign and perhaps get back to doing this blogging more often than a couple times a month. We will see.

But the year of my discontent seems to be closing – not that I miss being politically active, but going forward I’m not going to studiously avoid it, either. (I will miss the WCRC Crab Feast, though, but only because my grandson’s first birthday is being celebrated that day. Family first.) If nothing works its way onto my calendar for that Saturday I might make the Lincoln Day Dinner in October.

So that’s a brief update. All those impatient because I do other stuff besides politics may get their wish as baseball season winds down.

The mid-Atlantic may be getting back into the game

This is one of those posts it took me a few days to write as life intervened, but it turns out to be a happy accident in this case.

While I’m certainly not been the biggest fan of Donald Trump as President overall, he has had his moments. Today he’s given Radical Green a conniption fit just by announcing he will make a formal declaration on whether we will remain in the Paris Climate Agreement tomorrow afternoon. It’s expected he will decide to withdraw, but there’s also a school of thought that believes it’s just a negotiating ploy to give America a better bargain than Barack Obama negotiated.

In the meantime, it looks like another of those moments may be the rebirth of something that was strangled in the crib during the last administration when they overreacted to the comparatively rare Deepwater Horizon disaster by eliminating the prospect of oil exploration off the mid-Atlantic coast.

In order to get to that point, though, a necessary step is to do seismic surveying. Remember when the environmentalists had a cow awhile back because they were talking about doing this for oil exploration, and it got everyone’s knickers in a wad all up and down the coast? Well, it turns out doing this can serve a lot of other interests as well, at least according to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke:

“Seismic surveying helps a variety of federal and state partners better understand our nation’s offshore areas, including locating offshore hazards, siting of wind turbines, as well as offshore energy development,” said Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. “Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people. This will play an important role in the President’s strategy to create jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign energy resources.”

The last G&G seismic data for the Mid- and South-Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OSC) were gathered more than 30 years ago when technology was not as advanced as today. Aside from providing data on potential offshore oil and gas resources, seismic surveys are also used to site offshore wind structures, locate potential seafloor hazards, locate potential sand and gravel resources for beach replenishment activities, and locate potential archaeological resources. Data from seismic surveys also assists the Department in determining Fair Market Value of offshore resources.

It was also over 30 years ago that a series of exploratory oil wells were drilled and capped off the New Jersey and Delmarva coastline, with the closest to us being about 80 miles ESE of Ocean City. At the time it was determined this was essentially a dry hole, but the exercise was useful as a study of the ocean floor and substrate below. So if the same is true now, I wonder why the environmentalists are so afraid of exploratory drilling and seismic surveying? Maybe because they know as well as I do that there’s a significant amount of oil out there, and it would keep the price of oil affordable enough to undercut the subsidies needed to keep renewables competitive?

And last week’s update from Energy Tomorrow was doubly interesting because not only did it have the release regarding the seismic surveying, it also had a small news item that pointed to a new, soon-to-be-released (and peer-reviewed) three-year study that concluded fracking has no effect on groundwater. (Are you listening, Larry Hogan? There’s still time to reconsider your foolish ban on fracking in this state before your election next year.)

Of course, the study authors did have a caveat to their findings:

In contrast to groundwater samples that showed no evidence of anthropogenic contamination, the chemistry and isotope ratios of surface waters (n = 8) near known spills or leaks occurring at disposal sites mimicked the composition of Marcellus flowback fluids, and show direct evidence for impact on surface water by fluids accidentally released from nearby shale-gas well pads and oil and gas wastewater disposal sites.

Now I know the Radical Green folks will be going “SEE! SEE! I BET YOU CAN LIGHT THAT WATER ON FIRE!!!” However, it seems to me one could easily have the same contaminating type of effect from a sanitary sewer overflow, underground tank leak, or EPA incident. The key words are “accidentally released,” and companies that want to stay in the business have a duty and legal obligation to be as careful as possible.

But this blows away one key argument from fracking opponents, not that they are much for using logic anyway.

With the right mindset and private-sector infrastructure investment, this region of the country could finally be energy self-sufficient on its own. The job created could be yours.

Backtracking on fracking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts on renewable energy and handouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good week for American energy (and American jobs)

I was sitting on some stuff from my old friends at API for awhile, but I decided it was getting a little too stale and broomed it. Luckily for both of us, events and more concise blogging make for a far better analysis, to wit from the Energy Tomorrow blog and Mark Green:

President Trump’s executive orders clearing the way to restart the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are welcome indeed. Both projects represent great opportunity for U.S. jobs, consumer benefits, economic growth and strengthened energy security.

At the same time, the significance of the White House’s action goes beyond a pair of important energy projects. It’s a signal that long-needed energy infrastructure will once again be able to advance in this country – under regular-order reviews and approval processes – providing broad benefits to millions of Americans. That’s huge.

Both projects had become political footballs, with political agendas trumping science, factual analysis and careful, lawful governmental review.

Keystone XL was reviewed five times by the U.S. State Department, which said the pipeline and the Canadian oil sands it would deliver to U.S. refiners would not significantly impact the environment. It enjoyed strong, bipartisan support from the American public, which saw the privately financed project as a job creator and economy grower. The builders of Dakota Access followed regular permitting and approval processes – only to see politics prevail over the rule of law – with the 1,172-mile pipeline just 1,100 feet from completion.

President Trump’s executive orders allow both projects to get on track again. API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“We are pleased to see the new direction being taken by this administration to recognize the importance of our nation’s energy infrastructure by restoring the rule of law in the permitting process that’s critical to pipelines and other infrastructure projects. Critical energy infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL and the Dakota Access Pipelines will help deliver energy to American consumers and businesses safely and efficiently.”

I find it amazing just how little of the DAPL was controversial: it would be like driving from here to Key West to stay free at a Gulf-front cottage for a week only to find the last bridge is out and no repairs are scheduled for the month.

While I’m sure the folks in the media work hard to keep a sharp eye out for pipeline mishaps in this day and age, the fact that there’s a “dog bites man” quality to these stories means that they’re a pretty safe way to get oil and natural gas from one place to another. To hear Radical Green tell it, we should have totally contaminated Gaia ten times over by now, so the fact that we haven’t means either we do a good job of keeping environmental damage to a minimum (which, in the long run, pays dividends for these energy companies) or Mother Nature does a pretty good job of healing itself. (Consider the Deepwater Horizon from the more immediate perspective to that of more recent vintage, when those studying had to speculate on mental health of residents because the seafood coming from the Gulf was deemed safe.)

There won’t be a whole lot of jobs from DAPL now (since there’s less than 1/4 mile remaining to be built) but there will be jobs with Keystone. More importantly, this commentary from API reflects their optimism that the Trump administration will be more amenable to their interests, something that was missing over the last eight years despite the industry’s relative prosperity.

Closer to home, here’s hoping that streak continues: there’s been a full-court press on the Radical Green side to keep Democrats in line regarding Governor Hogan’s veto of the “sunshine tax” but also, more behind the scenes, there’s a call for a permanent fracking ban in Maryland. For that I have two words: big mistake. Our options should remain open, particularly since the regulations are being finalized.

America has abundant energy in many places, so if you have it you may as well use it for our good. No need to keep it in the ground – that’s the place for the pipelines to go. Let’s get to work.