monoblogue music: “Breathe Air” by Plastic Yellow Band

April 5, 2014 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

'Breathe Air' from Plastic Yellow Band

If you were to summarize the debut effort “Breathe Air” from South Carolina’s Plastic Yellow Band in one word, it would be “eclectic.” But since I have a review to write, allow me to explain just how I arrived at that conclusion for this month-old release.

The twelve songs on “Breathe Air” fall into a number of different categories, and while the band likes to bill itself as “new classic rock” it’s obvious that songwriter, producer, and vocalist Gerry Jennings got his major influence from John Lennon, particularly his post-Beatles era with Yoko Ono. Instead of the Plastic Ono Band, it became the Plastic Yellow Band. Two of the tracks, Nervous Stuff and Climate Change, were even mastered at the Abbey Road Studios.

To me, that Lennon influence shows most clearly on the 17 1/2 minute three-part epic composition Sunshine that closes the album. For the most part keyboard-driven, the trilogy exists as a storyline of darkness and redemption, with the hopeful revelation coming in the upbeat final portion.

The interesting choice to open the album, though, is the ballad Lonely Place. Ballads have a strong showing on this effort, with other heartfelt tunes being Nowhere and the duet I Want To Feel Your Love with female vocalist Dana Rideout. The latter has the strongest chance at crossover appeal, as does the touching violin of She Let It Down. And if you liked the AOR format of the 1970s Alone (It’s Hard) would probably be the song of choice, since it reminded me of that era.

Those who like more rollicking tunes, though, would be the biggest fans of the album’s second track She’s My Woman, with its southern-fried slide guitar. To me that was the strongest song; one that makes me want to tip my longneck PBR.

Yet Jennings also makes his political feelings known, fretting about the state of the planet. Take as an example this song, Climate Change. The message is pretty obvious, huh?

Yet this outcry tends to make for some interesting music, such as the distortion of Oil Kings, which was also one of my favorites, or the lyrics of Nervous Stuff. Intersecting politics and music isn’t anything new, of course, but in this era of formulaic, play-it-safe pop music lyricism guaranteed not to offend, at least we know Jennings stands for something and has a little passion about it.

Speaking of playing it safe in the music industry and catering to the homogenized mass taste, it’s worth pointing out that Jennings doesn’t have the voice which would get past the initial rounds of “American Idol” or “The Voice.” While he certainly can carry a tune, his voice is just a little bit thin, and that shows up somewhat on the ballads. But the songs he’s written are more or less tailored to those limitations.

Something else worth pointing out is that the band talks about “the tradition of an era when music wasn’t considered authentic unless it was composed and played by musicians.” To that end, they have made some of these songs available in a “play along” format where one instrument track is edited out, allowing aspiring musicians to learn to play those missing parts. Not only is that good for beginning musicians, it makes for an interesting marketing strategy.

At this time it appears Jennings is focusing more on promoting its album via video than through touring, and given the structure of the band itself (three core members plus a host of “guest” musicians who perform on various tracks) that may be the prudent course for the time being. But don’t just take my word for it – you can judge for yourself if he should get the band together and go out on the road.

Spreading the wealth around

April 4, 2014 · Posted in Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comment 

I had to do a double-take at my e-mail last night, and perhaps John Wagner at the Washington Post did as well. I thought I was seeing double, with Bob Ehrlich at two separate fundraising events for two different candidates for his old job. Only about an hour separated the two announcements, with David Craig’s April 14 event in Bel Air hitting my mailbox just before Ron George let me know about his April 22 affair in Glen Burnie. It got me to thinking: didn’t Larry Hogan have an Ehrlich event, too? Indeed he did back in February.

Ehrlich may only have a 1-2 record in gubernatorial contests, but he remains a popular fundraiser for a number of state and local Republican candidates. However, the common denominator seems to be the interest for Ehrlich in promoting his 2013 book, America: Hope for Change. Since it’s languishing at #800,039 on the Amazon best-seller list, obviously Bob may have a few dozen copies laying around, and each of these events features (or featured, in Hogan’s case) a book signing from Bob. At this point, the only Republican gubernatorial candidate who hasn’t solicited Bob’s help is Charles Lollar – then again, Lollar doesn’t have the same political connection to Ehrlich as the others do.

It’s also interesting that the maximum amount for each fundraiser is $250. Some may well pay more to see and be seen with Bob Ehrlich, but it also neatly matches the maximum donation allowed for a match from public campaign financing. Giving $251 would do no good in that regard.

But I also have to wonder if writing this book was part of a larger Ehrlich plan. If you look at the Republican party and the prospective 2016 presidential candidates, there are a number of governors who could play a role. Yet a guy like Chris Christie who hangs his hat on being able to appeal to the middle because he was elected (and re-elected) in a deeply Democratic state has the baggage of Bridgegate to deal with in contending for a 2016 run, not to mention he still has to run his state for another three years. Ehrlich could argue he’s cut from the same cloth, but happened to run for re-election at a time when the overall GOP brand was at its nadir due to the press-created unpopularity of President George W. Bush. (By the way, look who some in the party and punditry are trying to foist on us – yet another member of the Bush family.)

At 56 years of age, Ehrlich should be in the prime of his political career, and he has a reasonable resume at the state and federal levels. Bob would be the darkest of horses for a 2016 run, but is it possible he may be angling for a Cabinet post in a future GOP administration? To me, it would be another reason why Bob hasn’t endorsed anyone in this Maryland race – why alienate possible supporters for a favorite son bid to pump up a national profile?

I guess it would have helped, though, if America: Hope for Change was number 39 on Amazon’s list rather than 800,039. Nevertheless, if supporters of Craig, George, or Hogan are willing to shell out a couple Benjamins for a picture and signed book from our last GOP governor, more power to them. Heck, somewhere I have a photo of Bob and I from 2006 at a Perdue Stadium event so it’s not like I’ve never done the same (although it cost me much less.)

So if reading is your thing, you have another reason to attend. (Or you can read mine and save about 240-odd dollars.) Say what you might about his four years at Maryland’s helm, but Bob Ehrlich is still somewhat of a draw and he’ll take advantage of it.

Shorebird of the Week – April 3, 2014

April 3, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Delmarva Shorebirds, Sports · Comment 


What better way to begin your professional career than to be selected as Shorebird of the Week? Okay, I suppose being in the opening day lineup in the Show could top this, but nonetheless Drew Dosch will be given this distinction before ever playing a regular-season game for pay.

Drew was the Orioles’ seventh round pick last year, but instead of following his draft class to Aberdeen he had to recover from knee surgery. So the post-draft portion of 2013 was scrubbed and Dosch came into camp looking for a gig with a full-season team to get caught up – looks like the 21-year-old from Canal Winchester, Ohio (near Columbus) achieved that goal.

Dosch starred at Youngstown State University, basically being the best player on a very mediocre team. Over three years at YSU he hit .325 in 151 games, collecting 11 home runs and 83 RBI in the three seasons before being drafted as a junior. In his final season Drew hit .338/3/30 in 54 games, playing third base for the Penguins.

Of course, missing that time at the tail end of 2013 means Drew will be getting adjusted to pro life with Delmarva, although being from Ohio means he’s used to playing in cold weather. He’s also played in the Cape Cod League, which means a little bit of wooden bat experience as well, so the transition may not be as abrupt as perhaps other players may endure. Normally Delmarva gets a player or two each season who’s starting their professional career above the rookie league, and this year that guy is Dosch.

A change in tastes

April 2, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · 2 Comments 

What inspired me to write this piece was the recent demise of the Salisbury Famous Dave’s location, which closed up shop after only about a half-decade in business. It’s the second significant restaurant in that area of town to close in the last year or so, with the locally owned Zia’s eatery folding its tents in January 2013. That site was rumored to be the location for a much-desired new Cracker Barrel and the Zia’s building was torn down, but now it’s just an empty lot. In the case of the former Famous Dave’s, reportedly the lease will be taken over by the Greene Turtle – of course, that may mean another empty storefront in that area of town as there’s already a Greene Turtle just down the road in a nearby strip shopping center.

Of course, that’s not to say that end of town is dying – new apartments and shops are being built and other formerly vacant storefronts are being occupied. But I thought this case study would be interesting on three levels.

First of all, the story on the closing of Famous Dave’s noted that about 45 employees would be affected. Was one factor in the decision to close up shop the prospect of thousands more in overhead costs thanks to a higher minimum wage and continuing enactment of Obamacare? Probably not, but the already thin profit margin for some restaurant owners is bound to become even skinnier with these changes. Areas with borderline economic indicators like Salisbury may see more turnover than most.

But I also pondered the thought of whether tastes themselves were changing, and if America’s love affair with barbecue was passing its peak. (Not here, though: if you follow me on Facebook, you know I like my ribs.) When I think of how the eatery business has its cycles, I often think of the rise and fall of Chi-Chi’s. Now maybe this was just a Midwest phenomenon and bypassed this part of the country, but for about a decade a quarter-century ago it seemed like every “casual dining” restaurant wanted to be like Chi-Chi’s. I happened to work next door to one and that place was always packed – lunch, dinner, you name it. But by the end of the 1990s the chain was already in decline and it was gone by 2004. Surely the death blow was a hepatitis outbreak traced to one of their restaurants, but Chi-Chi’s was already in trouble because diners’ tastes had changed. Chi-Chi’s was simply passe – they were flocking to other similar chains like Chili’s or Applebee’s, both of which have tried to change their menu and outward image over the last decade in an effort to stay relevant. The way I look at it, they learned from the mistakes Chi-Chi’s made.

Finally, I took a look at Salisbury itself. I really owe you all a post given the amount of ink used on me a week or two back, but in this case the thought occurred to me that, while Salisbury seems to be doing okay on that side of town despite the inordinate amount of business turnover – and don’t forget the Salisbury J.C. Penney store will be a casualty of that mainstay’s woes by next month – we seem to have a laser-like focus on restoring the downtown area. But as long as the local economy is stagnant or even slowly shrinking, any success downtown will likely be damaging to other commercial centers like the north end of town. Obviously downtown lost its luster when the original Salisbury Mall was built in the late 1960s, and commerce shifted to the east side of town near the old mall – only to move again to the northern edges when the Centre of Salisbury was completed in the late 1980s, (The former Salisbury Mall is no more, razed a few years back for a mixed-use development which never materialized.) We didn’t grow the local economy enough to allow all three to thrive, so they cannibalized each other in turn.

The key to making Salisbury a success is growth. If an area doesn’t grow, it dies – and if it gets complacent and stops competing, it doesn’t grow. I’m sure Famous Dave’s thought it had their niche pretty much sealed up, but either they stopped marketing it or they quit trying to please the customer. Multiply that by Zia’s, J.C. Penney, the owners of the Salisbury Mall – you get the picture?

It’s hard to think a couple decades ahead, but we have to do that. Consider the market for chicken – will people still have a taste for it in a generation? Maybe dark meat will become the new sensation, and all those who centered their marketing around the chicken breast will have to go back to the drawing board. I heard a lot of talk about Wallops Island in the recent NAACP forum, but what was it twenty years ago but a remote outpost – the real space action was in Florida. Perhaps in two decades it will be the terminal for space tourism, or it may all be a mirage of abandoned facilities because someone found it more advantageous to fire rockets someplace else.

In other words, I think a push in the proper direction is a must for any of these situations. And to me, resting on our laurels, or worse – turning up our nose at development for fear we’ll become another Columbia – is a surefire way to make our area look like a rural version of Detroit. We must do better than that.

No foolin’ – really?

I know a fair number of people will consider this a cheap shot, but is this something a legitimate candidate would cite?

As I pointed out yesterday, I get a lot of e-mail from candidates asking me for money. But in building his case for his campaign, Larry Hogan made the following statement:

My campaign for Governor has a commanding lead in the Republican primary. In fact, a recent poll shows that we garner more support than all the other candidates combined, with over 50 percent of voters supporting us. We can win this race!

Really? You’re citing the Red Maryland poll, which even the authors admit isn’t scientific and is backed by a website which endorsed you before you even formally entered the race? How low of information voters do you think you’ll reach?

Granted, I’ve made news before from a Larry Hogan poll of my own but at least at the time I fessed up to the fact it wasn’t a scientific poll.

And maybe it’s not Larry’s fault, since the e-mail itself traces back to a firm called SalientMG. But it is a little deceptive to say you already have over 50 percent primary support when no reputable poll puts you over 20 percent at the moment.

In many respects Hogan’s statement is like bragging about winning a straw poll, which a fellow candidate has done on a couple occasions only to be mocked for doing so. Then again, we can be far more certain those running the straw polls probably weren’t in the tank for the winner. The Red Maryland poll wasn’t quite like the Crimean referendum, but it was sort of close.

I’ll be more interested to see the fundraising reports in a couple weeks. If Larry Hogan has raised over 50% of the Republican money then maybe I’ll see him as a more legitimate front runner – right now I think it’s still anyone’s race. Some have a lot more work to do than others, but we still have almost three months.

My perfect record

March 31, 2014 · Posted in Campaign 2014, National politics, Politics · 1 Comment 

I just have to have fun with these sometimes.

While I think more about the state financial reporting deadlines, we’re coming up on a federal quarterly deadline tonight. (Is this year already 1/4 over? Sheesh.) So since I’m on the mailing list for both sides, I got this the other day from Jordan Kaplan, who needs 14 people in Salisbury:

Michael –

We’re coming up on the first major fundraising deadline of 2014, which means that I’m spending an unhealthy amount of time looking at spreadsheets to figure out if we’re going to be able to give Democratic candidates the resources they need to continue building their campaigns.

Now, Michael, my eyes are pretty bleary, so I wanted to check in: Is this a mistake?

YOUR ONLINE SUPPORTER RECORD (click here to update)
NAME: Michael
EMAIL: (redacted by me)
SUPPORTER ID: xxxxxxx758087
2013-2014 DONATIONS: $0

Nope, Jordan, your eyes are perfectly fine, even if your taste in employers is quite questionable. The only mistake would be if there were any number higher than zero. Although, then again: don’t I give Democrats enough? After all, they’re running this state and nation into the ground while taxing us to death, especially here in Maryland.

However, it’s not like I give the GOP a whole bunch of money either, aside from the couple hundred dollars I pay for registration to our conventions and my Lincoln Day Dinner ticket. (Both are reported to the Board of Elections.) Being a struggling writer means my checkbook generally has to stay shut, which is too bad because we have some great candidates.

Yet if you are like me, you are being bombarded with a lot of requests from federal campaigns. Obviously they’re trying to look good for their reporting even though the money would do them practically as much good donated April 1st as it would March 31st.

And I must say: Democrats are the whiniest bunch. They love to make bogeymen out of the Koch brothers despite the fact that most of the top donors are Democrats – the Koch brothers don’t even rank in the top 50. But they sound eeeeeeeevil.

So they haven’t given me any reason to break up this perfection. Almost everyone with any common sense has long since left the Democratic Party – but do you notice that when they come this way to speak, they generally try to sound like the second coming of Ronald Reagan? I look forward to those explanations in coming days.

Pockets lined, no blame assigned

So after six months of saying things are fixable, the state of Maryland is finally throwing in the towel on its online health exchange and using the technology which supposedly works for Connecticut? And it only cost us $125 million that we will likely never see again? But that’s not all – according to the Washington Post story by Mary Pat Flaherty and Jenna Johnson:

It was not immediately clear how much more money Maryland may have to invest to get a fully functioning system, according to the two individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the changes.

Can anyone say blank check? I think gubernatorial candidate and Delegate Ron George might be able to:

We cannot allow the O’Malley/Brown administration to get away with wiping this scandal under the rug and forget that over $260 million taxpayer dollars were doled out to large corporate special interests in exchange for a broken website. The Maryland Health Exchange never stood a chance because the administration approached the Affordable Care Act as a pile of federal money they could convert into favors for political allies and donors. We have been taken to the cleaners by these vendors.

I ask the Attorney General to take the primary contractors, including prolific O’Malley/Brown donors Maximus Inc, to court to win back our wasted tax dollars. As a sitting delegate, I call on the Department of Justice to appoint a federal prosecutor to begin investigations into how these vendors contracts were procured and at what stage these vendors knew the exchange was never going to effiectively operate. The citizens of Maryland deserve a full and thorough investigation into the collapse of our state exchange.

Not to be outdone, the Larry Hogan campaign chimed in:

The O’Malley-Brown administration was one of the first and most vocal proponents of the new healthcare law, touting itself as a national model for the Affordable Healthcare Act. Lt. Governor Brown, the O’Malley administration’s point man on the rollout, was eager to take credit for prior to the rollout. Yet the news out of our state since the day the exchange opened has been nothing short of embarrassing and now, Lt. Governor Brown and the rest of the administration has done nothing but seek to evade accountability.

After learning of the state’s plans to scrap its exchange entirely (the only state to do so), the Hogan-Rutherford campaign urges that the Lt. Governor should have no further dealings with the exchange, that all of Lt. Governor Brown’s and the administration’s correspondence with those in charge of the exchange be made public, and that an independent, thorough audit of what happened in this horrible failure be conducted immediately, the findings of which made available to the public prior to the November election.

Unfortunately, the chances of a “full and thorough investigation” or “independent, thorough audit” are roughly equal to the probability of the glue factory reject winning the Preakness. This guy named Anthony Brown is having those skids greased for his ascension to the Maryland political throne, which is odd because one would think his opponent, the Attorney General Doug Gansler, could take advantage of such an investigation. He sure seemed to go for the headlines in many previous cases.

But let’s say the state somehow manages to prevail in court. All that will do is tap out the liability insurers the vendors use, and of course they will either have to raise their rates for all small businesses or come hat in hand to the government, or both. Welcome to the modern America.

So we ask again: while you can’t say everything was perfect back then, just what was irretrievably wrong with the system circa 2008? It’s pretty obvious the 2014 system isn’t working all that well.

And then you have this video:

Let’s see if it can go viral.

2014 Wicomico County NAACP forum draws county candidates (part 2)

On Friday I discussed the portion of the forum dealing with the aspirants for County Executive, so today I turn my attention to those running for the seven County Council seats. A total of 15 people are running for these seats, and 13 of them stated their case on Thursday night. Just as a reminder, the forum was hosted by the Wicomico County NAACP and its president, Mary Ashanti, and moderated by Orville Penn, a veteran of these affairs.

I’ll begin with the four who are running for two at-large seats – in order of presentation they are John Cannon, Laura Mitchell, Matt Holloway, and Muir Boda. They dealt with a little different set of questions, being queried about the prospects of funding the Chipman Center where the forum was held, the merits of an elected school board, an increase in the minimum wage, and thoughts on a race relations commission.

John Cannon served on the County Council as an at-large member from 2006-10 before an unsuccessful run for state delegate pushed him off the political stage. He agreed job growth and restoring our economic base would be “important goals to set,” believing that the pieces, such as the local universities and Peninsula Regional Medical Center, were in place and would be “the one tide which would raise all boats.”

Obviously John was kidding when he told moderator Orville Penn that “we’ll give you the Taj Mahal here” when referring to the Chipman Center, but he used that question as a springboard to state the case that the state had “absolutely ripped our budget” over the last few years through reductions in highway user money and passing along teacher pensions, among other things. We would have to figure out how to raise money on our own, continued John, and job growth was key. “We’re not going to increase taxes,” said Cannon, but if we can improve the economic situation we can “look after citizens as a whole” and try to find resources for needs such as the Chipman Center.

“I would like to see an elected school board,” said Cannon. He respected the Board of Education’s work, but would like to see more accountability because he was concerned about their audit. Moreover, while spending for the rest of government was perpetually on the chopping block during his previous tenure on County Council, he “never felt as if the school board was really on board to make the same cuts that they should have been doing.”

As for the minimum wage, Cannon asserted that at least one of two things would occur if the minimum was raised, if not both: overall price inflation and cuts in hours and jobs. He reminded the audience that the CBO predicted at least 500,000 jobs lost nationwide if the national minimum was increased to $10.10 an hour and that only 19% of the individuals below poverty level would be helped. The alternative, John continued, was an increase in the earned income tax credit, whether at the state or federal level.

A commission on race relation “would be a great idea,” Cannon said. He advocated “asset building,” where all local resources are brought together to address the issue. He concluded his remarks by noting that serving on the Council heightens awareness and is like getting a “master’s degree in all areas.”

A current elected official in a similar office is seeking a Council seat as well. Laura Mitchell was elected to Salisbury City Council in 2011 and is running from the cover of that seat for a county post. But in addressing those who believe government should be run like a business, she said, “really, you don’t, because businesses are there to make a profit, and we don’t want our government to make a profit. They should do exactly what their mandate is.” She’s tried to instill that in the city and wants to bring it to the county.

“There is a role for the county to play” in restoring the Chipman Center, said Laura. It could be the “connector” for funding and volunteers, but she agreed there is some responsibility for the city and county.

Regarding the school board, Mitchell told those assembled that “as far as I would be willing to go is a hybrid” school board with both appointees and elected members. Rather than being more accountable, she thought those elected would be more beholden to their donors and not the students. She argued that there’s a balance with an appointed board, and that members who serve at the pleasure of the Governor could be more easily removed as opposed to conducting a recall election.

Laura was in support of a minimum wage increase, asserting many who would be helped were single mothers; furthermore, “minimum wage needs to keep pace with inflation…it would be at about $10.40 had it kept pace.” As for employers, “this is one of those costs of doing business,” said Mitchell, lumping it in with other costs such as materials. She argued that it would be better to raise the minimum, otherwise “it’s more beneficial for them to sit home and collect a check (because) they can’t afford to go to work.”

A race relations committee was a great idea, but the need was larger than just a committee would provide. “It is our job to start that conversation,” she added. But with several different organizations chasing the same goal, an “asset map” would be helpful in determining a course of action, although the existing Safe Streets program is already working in that direction.

After remarking how she loves learning new things, Mitchell concluded that while she loves what they’ve been able to do at the city level, she’s run into some “stumbling blocks” on the county side – we needed more partnerships between the county and municipalities.

Of the two current at-large members of County Council, only Matt Holloway is seeking re-election as Bob Culver is running for County Executive. He originally ran in 2010 to provide a perspective from the agricultural community, stressing property rights. In the time since he’s come on board, he’s become the “bridge builder,” believing the relationship with the County Executive “is stronger than it’s ever been,” as is our relationship with the state. Matt also touted his membership on two governor-appointed committees, the Sustainable Growth Commission and the Critical Areas Commission. “I bring a lot of things to the table,” said Matt.

Restoring historic buildings was one of the county’s functions, remarked Matt regarding the Chipman Center, much like the county has an interest in keeping up the Pemberton estate and the old courthouse, which is in need of renovations. County government “could play a role” in resoring Chipman.

Matt also favored an elected school board, touching on Mitchell’s objection because he felt it would be a good thing if members felt like they owed someone. “They would feel like they’re responsible to the taxpayer,” said Matt. “It’s about accountability.” He was okay with a hybrid board as an interim step.

In discussing the minimum wage increase, though, Matt conceded the county has little role. But an increase “could be very detrimental” to the climate they were trying to create with recent tax reforms. “I don’t think the time is right,” said Matt.

Matt argued that many of the current committees formed by the Council were already diverse, but before establishing a citizens’ race relations committee, we should get the key players together and “come up with a game plan first.” He concluded in his closing remarks that he had helped the minority community by improving education, law enforcement, and business.

Muir Boda is no stranger to the ballot; this is his fourth run for elective office after bids for Salisbury City Council in 2009 and 2011 and Congress in 2012.

But he saw they key issues as a three-legged stool, with curtailing crime, providing educational opportunity, and improving the economic climate being the three legs. “All three have to work,” said Boda.

In restoring the Chipman Center, Boda would support a partnership between the county, city, and Community Foundation – they would be “the avenue we could go through first.” They could help raise the appropriate funds.

While Boda also preferred an elected school board, he also had a stipulation for a hybrid model where appointees would be determined locally rather than by Annapolis, which has no local accountability.

Since Muir has a position where he works with a lot of younger workers who make minimum wage, he could point out that there were a lot of things they could not legally do, such as run machinery. They were only useful in certain positions. Small businesses would cut positions and hours, he argued. “We have to understand what entry-level positions are to companies,” added Boda.

Boda returned to his three-legged stool analogy in describing his thoughts on race relations, citing the High Point initiative as well. “Everything has to be seamless…if you have skyrocketing crime rates, it’s going to affect companies that want to come here and invest in our community,” said Muir. “This (commission) is one piece of the puzzle.” He got to buttress his points because he gave his closing statement immediately after his answer to the previous question.

Compared to the lengthy segment dealing with the at-large Council candidates, the district races were quite brief.

In District 1, two of the three contenders came to discuss the issues.

McKinley Hayward was making his second try at the District 1 Council seat, having lost in the 2006 primary to current seatholder Sheree Sample-Hughes. If elected, he said, “I don’t want to be a political figure, I want to be a working figure for Wicomico County.”

When asked what the three biggest challenges to Wicomico County were, Hayward cited four: “empowering our community through jobs, education, housing, and employment.” Creating a good job which would enable workers to invest in their own homes was his goal, and Hayward saw high-tech jobs as the ticket. “I want Rick Pollitt to hear this – we need to invest in our future,” Hayward said. “Fruitland had a vision,” he continued, but what about the Mardela end of the county? Thousands go to Ocean City every weekend, but “we don’t get a dime of that money.”

The key to doing that would be encouraging vocational education and on-the-job training. “You could be a barber and be successful – every man in here has to get a haircut,” exclaimed Hayward.  He went on, “Every kid that graduates from high school should graduate with a resume.”

As for the idea of a race relations committee, McKinley didn’t know if that would solve the problem. He saw it as something more deep-seated.

“I run a playground during the summer at Lake Street,” he said. “My kids see a policeman, they run from him…the only time a black kid sees a policeman, he thinks he’s coming to arrest someone.” It’s a “stigma” we need to get out of in Wicomico County, added Hayward. But if he wins, “no one’s going to be safe” in government because he would do what he feels is best for the county.

One of two opponents for Hayward, Ernest Davis, cited his experience with the Maryland State Police and two businesses he’s created, along with his belief that “I’m a working person” as part of his calling card. His key issues were education, economic growth, and agriculture. This worked out well with the next question, where Davis expanded on these issues, particularly in agriculture. He warned that phosphorus regulations could hurt the local agricultural industry, leading to dire consequences. We also needed to promote our county’s educational institutions and proximity to Wallops Island. “That thing is growing leaps and bounds,” Davis added.

Davis also advocated bringing all the parties to the table in dealing with race relations, rather than pulling in several different directions.

But returning to his three main points for his close, Ernest believed that, “Wicomico needs to start tooting its own horn (and) standing on its own two feet.”

The third candidate in the District 1 race, Marvin Ames, was absent from the forum. Similarly, District 2 candidate Kirby Travers missed the affair, giving Marc Kilmer an opportunity to go through his first forum without any opposition.

So Marc got to speak about those things he wanted to accomplish in making the county better for his two young children: education, having a safe community, and jobs.

The District 3 race had all three contenders, and drawing first blood for them was former County Council member Larry Dodd, who served there from 2002-06. Since 2009 he’s been a member of the Wicomico County Board of Education. It was in that vein he noted, “I’m here for your kids and the future of Wicmico County.”

In discussing job creation, Dodd made the case that “I believe in smaller government,” but maintained that education, crime control, and economic development were indeed legitimate functions of government. He praised the local vocational programs and the efforts in place to control crime, but the key was keeping kids in school.

Common Core was an issue which was brought up, but Dodd conceded it can’t be scrapped because “it’s state mandated.” But “we are working to make it better and usable,” said Larry.

Dodd chose to close in part by thanking current District 3 Council member Gail Bartkovich for her service, touting his experience and skills and pointing out “I’m invested in this community.”

In contrast, Josh Hastings was making his first run for office. His background is mainly in the land protection and environmental fields, including the Rural Maryland Council and a stint in the office of the chair of the Maryland Senate’s Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. “I’m here to protect our farms and our rural industries,” said Hastings, who would build on relationships across the state and the Shore.

Hastings didn’t believe it was the role of government to create jobs; rather, it’s the council and executive’s job to use dollars wisely and efficiently. But he felt they should have a say in how an area looks and grows.

He also admitted he didn’t know enough about Common Core to have an opinion, but would listen to the teachers.

Josh concluded that it should be possible to be the number one county in the number one state for education. We also needed to build upon what makes us special and unique, and he would “continue to build the relationships” to assist in that.

After two unsuccessful runs for County Executive, Tom Taylor decided to try for the legislative branch this time. To begin, he claimed that he “wanted to represent the largest minority in Wicomico County – the individual.” People needed to realize that Annapolis is taking our local representation away – “things are getting out of your control…we have to get control of these things.”

Taylor had an interesting take on job creation as well. “It’s not the role of government to make sure everyone has a job,” said Tom. “The role of the government is to protect individual rights and property, and protect people so they can create these jobs.” Just give businesses the opportunity to create jobs by minimizing government intrusion, said Tom.

When it came to the core curriculum, Taylor was blunt. “I don’t like my son and his education being an experiment in social engineering.” Instead, we have to rubber-stamp everything which comes from Annapolis. His goal was to maximize classroom spending.

If elected, concluded Taylor, he vowed to fight for our Constitutional and property rights. “I’ve taken it to Annapolis before,” Tom said. “I’m more of a pit bull than the lovable person you see here.” We should accomplish our goals without the fear of government intrusion.

Our final segment combined both Districts 4 and 5 because District 4 Council member John Hall is unopposed for a full term.

Hall assessed the current situation thusly: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and my job is not to extend the length of the tunnel.”

The first question for the group was on racial disparity in jobs and housing, and Hall agreed “we have racial and economic disparities.” While we could have committees and asset maps, “education is going to be the key.” There should be more opportunities for the 36% of Wicomico County residents who are minorities. And when asked how the Board of Education could be more efficient, Hall advocated for an elected board.

But in his conclusion, John conceded “we’re living in a difficult time.” He also asked people to be “role models, not roadblocks.”

Representing District 5 since 2006, Joe Holloway reminded us that “we started in the recession.” And among those tough decisions to slice up the financial pie, finding out about the Board of Education audit was “very disappointing.” He even was surprised to agree with the Daily Times assessment of the situation as a “financial failure.”

Assistance in getting jobs back would come from reducing the impact fees, which now seems to have the County Executive on board because much of that housing growth was going to Sussex County, Delaware. As for raising the minimum wage, “I have a little problem with raising the minimum wage.” It’s a “training ground,” he continued. Moreover, the salaries of those who make a little bit over the minimum would have to go up as well. “I see a big jump in unemployment,” Joe said. He hoped that $10.10 was just a negotiating ploy and a lesser amount would be acceptable.

“It’s no secret I support an elected school board,” continued Joe. And it was an issue where, despite the fact that those things the Board of Education was spending on were within their policies, Joe reminded us he had “caught hell” for bringing up these same problems five years ago. An elected school board would be a good “first step.”

And after picking on the school board, in his conclusion Joe decided “to pick on Annapolis a little bit.” He warned that “if we’re not careful, Annapolis is going to run the poultry industry off the Eastern Shore…we will be a ghost town.” Everyone in county government was on board with that, and while the idea of job creation was great we need to consider how to keep the jobs we have. “We’re not sitting up there twiddling our thumbs,” concluded Joe.

Ron Pagano had a different tack on many issues. As an job creator and advocate for the disabled, among other groups, he wanted to provide equal opportunity, better housing, and improved public transportation, which was a cause dear to him. He wanted to keep our kids here, as “our kids should always be part of our vision.”

Ron also vowed to “talk to anyone about job creation,” but differed from most of the others in supporting a “fair” minimum wage. “$7.25 an hour is not enough to raise a family, let alone doing anything outside buying bread and milk,” said Pagano. A smaller minimum also drives up the cost of the SNAP program, he argued.

He also took a moment to express his support of a “biracial commission,” recalling a similar organization existed in the days when U.S. 13 and U.S. 50 were built and that era’s “tearing apart of neighborhoods.”

Pagano agreed the Board of Education audit “isn’t pretty,” but wanted to see what the Sage Policy Group report had to say. But he defended the Board, stating “as an attorney, I always knew there was two sides to every story.” He was against an elected board, saying “the problem with an elected board is that no one wants to run,” particularly with the financial disclosure reports required. He also pointed out the “balance” between parties.

He summed up by revisiting job creation. “I want to focus on bringing jobs to this community,” noting that Wor-Wic Community College will customize training programs to various companies. Ron also sought to establish partnerships, particularly with NASA Wallops: “I personally will go to NASA Wallops and speak to the director there – I’ll speak to whoever wants to create jobs here.” Given that we have job creators like Jubilant Cadista – which, Ron noted, has created 300 local jobs in the last 7 years and is on track for 200 more – “obviously there is something about Wicomico County that appealed to Jubilant Cadista, and we can appeal to others as well. I will promise you I will bring jobs to the county,” Pagano concluded.

After 2 1/2 hours, the forum came to a close and the 60 to 70 people who crammed into the room went their separate ways. Among those offices covered in the event, the fields for county executive and County Council Districts 2 and 5 are set since only one from each party filed. District 1 will be decided in the Democratic primary since no Republican filed, and District 4′s John Hall is unopposed. Out of all those there, only one District 3 aspirant and one for at-large will be eliminated.

But the event was useful in staking out some positions, and there will likely be several more forums for candidates to attend in upcoming weeks.

monoblogue music: “Progtronica” by Gumshen

March 29, 2014 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

The 2014 release from Gunshen.

When you think of music from Seattle, it’s likely what comes to mind are grunge acts like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, or Soundgarden. The roots of Gumshen eminate from a band called Menthol James, which mined that hard-rock vein when they released their sole self-titled effort in 2007. So how did they evolve from that genre to the synth-heavy sound they exhibit on their most recent release “Progtronica”?

The way they tell it, a lineup change freed keyboardist and vocalist Ron Hippe to switch from bass to keyboards, although he still chips in with guitar work. But you’d never otherwise guess that the 2007-era Menthol James has become the 2014 Gumshen, putting together five- to seven-song EPs on a roughly annual basis in the interim. “Progtronica” is their seventh release and sixth under the Gumshen moniker.

Beginning with the seven-minute opening track Bell Ringer, there’s no doubt that the band has cast its lot with an electronic, beat-heavy sound. It takes a listen or two to warm up to it, but once you begin to peel the onion they begin to make you think of good comparisons. Gumshen considers their inspirations to be Pink Floyd and early Genesis, but I would add the first Rick Wakefield era of Yes to the mix. This is particularly true on the songs Stipulation and Fragile We Are Castles, which closes the CD. On the other hand, the Pink Floyd influence shines on Fine One to Talk.

Other songs defy comparison. Liquid is an odd romp through almost too-cute lyrics that seems to be the most aimless song on the CD, although it has by far the most Soundcloud plays. The playfulness works better on the track Bait & Switch. Despite there being just six songs, the EP runs over 32 minutes.

Besides the question of whether this would be accessible to the average listener, though, my question would be whether the group is willing to step outside its comfort zone in other ways. I don’t come to this with preconceived notions, since I’m not as intimately familiar with the group as I would be several of those who play in and around this East Coast region.

Since this group has shown a willingness to essentially scrap one musical style for another, one has to wonder if they will break away from their Seattle roots and travel to other places. Of course, in this day and age of instant worldwide access to music it’s possible to make a comfortable living making music for sale and feeding the appetite for new material by simply recording it and putting it out on a site like Bandcamp, and maybe that’s the lot they’ve chosen for themselves. These guys look realtively comfortable.

But this is the kind of release which can find a devoted audience – no, it may never sell out arenas like Pink Floyd or Yes did in their heyday, but if they can determine there’s a market for the music in other places it may be worth leaving their Seattle comfort zone to entertain the new converts. Every reasonably large city (and a number of small ones, too) has their share of bands which make people scratch their heads and wonder why they never went national. So why limit yourself?

If you can get through the one subpar track in the middle, “Progtronica” is a rather enjoyable listen from a band which could make up its own mixtape of rock genres based on its overall body of material. It makes you wonder where they will go from here, in more ways than one.

2014 Wicomico County NAACP forum draws county candidates (part 1)

Last night the Wicomico County chapter of the NAACP held a candidate forum in the historical Chipman Cultural Center near downtown Salisbury. I snapped this photo last night for Facebook and as you can see it was in close quarters.

Attendance was good at the NAACP forum.

The event featured most of those running for County Executive and the seven County Council seats, with a handful of exceptions I’ll note in my second part. What I’ve decided to do in part 1 is summarize what each of the County Executive candidates said, with a little bit of opinion as needed.

As has normally been the case, Orville Penn was last night’s moderator and he asked questions with an eye toward the minority perspective – in one case, asking the County Executive candidates for a specific commitment to placing minorities in paid policy positions.

The evening began, though, with remarks and an invocation from local NAACP leader Mary Ashanti, who reminded us that the questions we submitted from the audience “won’t offend or insult the candidates.” This was an issue during last year’s municipal primary forum.

We heard from the County Executive candidates first, with both Bob Culver and incumbent Rick Pollitt there to answer questions. Since Culver spoke first, I’ll begin with him.

Culver, who currently serves on County Council in an at-large position and ran unsuccessfully for County Executive in 2006, make his case quite simply: “I feel like the county is (going in) the wrong direction.” While we didn’t need to replicate the successes of other counties, we did have two necessary items on the to-do list: maintain our status as the #1 agricultural county in the state and create jobs. “Teach young people how to work,” said Culver.

So when he was pressed about hiring minorities, Culver noted there had to be some effort on their part as well. Getting an education and showing a “desire to get ahead” were key. “Everybody should be valued on their knowledge and education,” Culver added.

Crime was an issue as well. Bob seemed to assign more blame to the victim of a recent shooting involving a Maryland State Police officer in Delmar, calling it “truly a shame,” but noting “you don’t go to a state police barracks with marijuana in your car.” He also conceded there will be bad people and “we can’t cure all the ills in the world,” even though we have an outstanding sheriff and State’s Attorney.

Turning to the subject of a recent audit of our Board of Education, Bob took Pollitt’s decription of it as “troubling” and added “troubling is not the right word for it.” Culver stated those who read the audit “will be appalled.” He advocated giving the Board no more than required for maintenance of effort until they managed their finances properly, but also wanted the children to be as technologically advanced as possible.

“We’ve got to get out and get jobs.” That was Bob’s initial answer to the question on the County Executive’s role in job creation. That gave Culver the opening to discuss his small business experience. He also stressed teaching kids how to work – perhaps in a WPA-style program – but he added the county is not here to create jobs, only to be an enabler in job creation.

Incumbent Rick Pollitt is running for a third term as the county’s first (and thus far only) County Executive. He pointed out the difference between him and Culver would be in their respective approaches. His was one of stressing relationships.

But since the office was created in 2006, the county has seen a severe recession which has “redefined the rules” and created “a new normal.” We needed to get out of the “silo mentality” and leverage other areas of government to succeed.

As far as minority recruitment, Pollitt stated his goal all along has been to have government “reflect the face of the county.” But it wasn’t just diversity in racial or gender terms, but also in geography as well. “We didn’t want to have everything in Wicomico County run by old white men who live in Salisbury,” said Rick. Pollitt added that he tries to recruit diversely, including in outlets tailored to minority readership, But in the most recent major opening for the Department of Public Works, no minorities applied. And when the question was continued to elicit a specific commitment, Pollitt pointed out “experience shows the pool can be shallow.”

On the whole, though, Rick was willing to create a context where diversity is encouraged.

When it came to crime, the current executive made the case that we have to deal with the root causes. We are not among Maryland’s wealthy counties, he added. One thing he was working on, though, was the rate of recidivism, trying to find “those people that could be saved.” There he was consulting with activist Ron Pagano, who you will hear from in Part 2 as a candidate for County Council in District 5.

As I stated before, Pollitt found the Board of Education audit “troubling,” but also believed many of the expenses were legitimate. “Clearly there needs to be a tightening up of the accounting,” conceded Rick. Pollitt added that an upcoming efficiency study report from the Sage Policy Group would be of great assistance in creating the FY2015 budget.

On job creation, though, Rick believed “it’s something we’ve got a pretty good record on.” He also thought that an “upside” of going through the recession is that “it’s given us time to step back and take a good hard look at who we are and who we want to be.” But the way out of the doldrums is through economic development.

Some of his successes in creating a positive business environment, though, have been to decouple the personal property tax rate from the real property tax rate so that businesses have saved money on their tax bills, eliminating the inventory tax over a five-year period, and making a manufaturer’s tax exemption automatic. “We are putting together the climate” for businesses to succeed, opined Rick.

In their closing statements, the two candidates played off each other, since they have known one another since the seventh grade.

Culver noted that while he disagreed with the means, he also thought he and Pollitt had several points of agreement, too. He pledged to help Wicomico County grow and expand it to the next generation.

Pollitt thanked Culver for generating more interest in the office, and noted he was approaching this like a job application. Philosophically, Pollitt said “my basic pattern is gettting people engaged.” He reminded those in attendance that his job was the result of people losing confidence in their leadership and seeking a new alternative. It wasn’t just “rights” as citizens, though, but there were duties and obligations incumbent upon us as well to be involved. Finally, Rick saw the seeking of “collaborative dialogue” as the key difference between himself and Culver.

Since I have a post already set for tomorrow, I will look at the County Council hopefuls on Sunday.

Local TEA Party welcomes ‘Betrayed’ author

It’s been quite awhile since we’ve had a local TEA Party event in Wicomico County, but the hiatus appears to be ending – not with a typical rally, but with an author who’s advocating a more robust military. From Greg Belcher, who is organizing the event:

Billy and Karen Vaughn are the parents of fallen Navy SEAL Team VI member, Aaron Carson Vaughn. The downing of a chopper (call sign Extortion 17) carrying thirty fearless American warriors was the day Aaron’s life ended and the day their lives began again.

As Billy and Karen began searching for answers their eyes were opened to vile atrocities being played out on America’s military. They’ve now become advocates for our war fighters, exposing the criminal Rules of Engagement, which have unnecessarily cost so many American soldiers their lives. Billy has authored the book “Betrayed” detailing the days, weeks and months after his son’s death, as he began compiling this devastating information.

The Vaughns spend a considerable amount of time on Capitol Hill, and have shared their story on countless local, state and national radio outlets. They’ve made many appearances on Fox & Friends, as well as Beck TV, The Huckabee Show, Hannity’s America, The Today Show, The Andrew Wilkow Show, The Willis Report, The Kelly File, Geraldo at Large, and more.

Their mission statement: Our defenders deserve to be defended. The burden of their covering rests on us, the patriots of this nation. It is imperative that we stand together and demand change. “Let them fight or bring them home.”

Billy Vaughn will be making the appearance at Adam’s Taphouse Grill (most people still know it as Adam’s Ribs) on Fruitland Boulevard in Fruitland on April 1 at 6 p.m.

Obviously Vaughn will be discussing the book, but there are other insights which can and should be gleaned from this appearance.

First of all, we can determine if  there is still interest in the Afghanistan conflict, which for our part is being wound down as we speak. Once it was the “good war” all those who were opposed to our excursion into Iraq thought we should be pursuing, but it’s apparent that was just a smokescreen. Once Barack Obama spiked the football of Osama bin Laden’s demise (at the hand of many of those killed on Extortion 17) the question was: how useful were those guys? The conspiracy theorist could posit that having a lot of heroes who could point out just how uninvolved Barack Obama really was cast their die for them.

This may also show where the libertarian, Ron Paul wing of the TEA Party movement – the one which believes we shouldn’t be involved in the affairs of far-off countries with little to no national interest at stake – might not play well with the element that believes the battle against radical Islam is truly the Long War I’ve occasionally written about, a battle without clear borders or defined enemies.

But as the rebirth of the local TEA Party, this could be a good kickoff. Most indeed believe America should have a strong defense which fights to win, not to not offend local populations. As the Vaughns ask:

Don’t you want to know what went so terribly wrong in our military strategy that the single largest loss of life in Naval Special Warfare HISTORY came at the hands of a 14 year-old Afghan farmer? AND…the SECOND largest loss of life in Naval Special Warfare HISTORY ALSO came at the hands of a young Afghan goat herder. The dialogue MUST begin.

One of the upcoming points for that dialogue will be next Tuesday in Fruitland. And for my friends up Cecil County way, Billy Vaughn will be the guest at the Cecil County Patriots meeting on Thursday, April 3rd. That meeting will be held at the Cecil County Administration Building in Elkton starting at 7 p.m.

Local teachers seek local control

March 26, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · 2 Comments 

It’s not just frustrated and disgruntled members of the public who are looking to bring their government to a local level closer to the people, rebelling against what they consider outsized influence from Washington and the various state capitals. In the case of the Wicomico County Education Association (WCEA) – a bargaining unit representing teachers and various other school employees in this semi-rural outpost of the Eastern Shore of Maryland – their aim is to break away from the much larger Maryland State Education Association (MSEA), making the case in an open letter from WCEA president Kelly Stephenson to the MSEA and community that:

In the years I have been representing WCEA, several things have become clear for all to see. First, many school employees believe MSEA has not represented them properly over the last decade and find it ironic that your people only show up when the $537,000 dues money is at risk. It is clear that you and your people on the “other side of the bridge” have a different agenda from those of us on this side of the bridge. Wicomico County, to most of us, is like a family – WCEA will work out our problems for the betterment of all – not just for the betterment of the Annapolis elite. In short, WCEA Board has heard repeatedly that your organization’s presence is not seen as a plus for our community.

And those fighting words serve to buttress one point: MSEA representation is expensive for the average teacher in Wicomico County. Depending on salary and position, annual dues can range from $197.28 to $598.50. Supporters claim the WCEA proposal would shave up to $260 off that cost.

But controversy has been brewing for several years, and heads were turned in 2012 when it was learned that an embezzlement case in adjacent Worcester County was handled internally by MSEA and the local association rather than alerting authorities at the time of discovery back in 2009 – the thefts occurred over a three-year period before that. Meanwhile, complaints began to pile up in Wicomico County about ineffective representation services, a lack of support in negotiations, concerns about the political direction and activities of the state union – which endorsed Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown a year ahead of this November’s election and commissioned polls to tout his lead – and constantly increasing dues, particularly when union leadership was making far more than the average Wicomico County teacher.

Exasperated, WCEA members started a petition drive to change the local unit’s bylaws and remove the provision requiring concurrent membership in the MSEA and National Education Association (NEA), citing the concern that membership rolls were dwindling because many potential members simply could not afford the dues. Local leadership has been careful to stress that WCEA members may still be members of MSEA/NEA if desired – although apparently the MSEA begs to differ:

It is difficult to understand why the MSEA leadership has suggested they would not welcome you in the future to be a member of MSEA if WCEA chooses to disaffiliate when the information on the MSEA website tells a different story. From the MSEA website under FAQs:

“Q: How do I join MSEA?

A: If you are employed in professional education work for any school district in the state of Maryland, are a student or retired educator, or work for an accredited institution of higher education, you are eligible to become a member of MSEA as well as your local association and NEA.”

The WCEA goes on to say that many of its benefits would continue even without MSEA membership – and in some cases, strictly local representation can provide members a better deal, particularly when it comes to legal representation and similar services. The WCEA also reminded its members that they are the legally recognized bargaining unit for the teachers and staff, soliciting a local attorney to verify that there is no legal connection between the WCEA and MSEA – only the membership requirement in the WCEA bylaws.

All this back-and-forth is leading up to a vote of the WCEA membership slated for April 28-29; a balloting which is expected to be close and rather divisive. Some opponents of the change are skeptical that a WCEA which “goes it alone” would be powerful enough to stand up to the local Board of Education, which by state law is appointed by a representative of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and thus holds a 4-3 Democratic majority. The current teachers’ contract, which was signed last year, runs through June 30, 2016; however, health insurance coverage and other fringe benefits can be revisited on an annual basis if both sides agree.

But even if the opponents of the bylaws change prevail, it’s obvious that there are serious misgivings between the Wicomico County rank-and-file and the state union, just as there’s a great deal of skepticism from the residents of the state’s Eastern Shore about the goings-on within state government in general. Chesapeake Bay is much more than a body of water dividing the state geographically; it also seems to separate the two sides in politics and their all-around attitude towards life. Politically, the Eastern Shore sends a significant share of the state’s minority Republicans to Annapolis and most of its counties are dominated by the GOP; moreover, the denizens of those areas east of the Chesapeake seem to take a perverse pride in being what one former governor called the state’s outhouse. (The actual term was more, shall we say, descriptive.)

So this election should be closely watched as a test case. If the local Wicomico County bargaining unit can convince their teachers that breaking away from the MSEA is to their benefit, it may encourage a number of the other counties in the state to consider a similar move, perhaps costing the MSEA several million dollars in dues they would otherwise collect. While $537,000 may not be a lot when it comes to a union’s budget –  the county’s dues only cover four “average” MSEA employees – it can still be spread around to a host of state and federal elected officials, and it’s that political purchasing power MSEA worries most about losing.

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