Will Maryland join a Convention of States or an Article V Convention?

By Cathy Keim

The push for an Article V Convention is growing nationwide, and it is coming from both sides of the political spectrum. The citizens are aware that they are not being heard and they are looking for ways to correct this.

An Article V Convention or Convention of the States is one of two ways to amend the Constitution of the United States. In case you’ve forgotten, here is Article V:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, (emphasis added) or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate

All previous amendments have been through Congress. However, the Convention of States method has been utilized to put pressure on Congress to act. For example, the states wanted to have direct election of their senators but Congress would not oblige – so the states began the process of calling for a convention of states. Once they got within one state of achieving the two thirds needed, Congress acted rather than losing its prerogative. (This led to the Seventeenth Amendment.)

Maryland has legislation under consideration now which states:

Applying to the U.S. Congress for an amendments convention called under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that affirms every citizen’s freedom to vote and restores free and fair elections in America.

This bill is filed as HJ2 by Delegate Sheila Hixson and is cross-filed with SJ2 by Senator Paul Pinsky. It was introduced last session also, but did not come to the floor for a vote. (Editor’s note: The Senate version from 2014, however, passed committee 9-2 with all three Republicans on the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee voting yes.)

Reading the bill summary left me perplexed. Who thinks we need an amendment to restore free and fair elections? My mind thought of voter fraud, but who would want to amend the Constitution to fix that issue? After some phone calls to Delegate Hixson and Senator Pinsky’s offices, though, the confusion was cleared up.

This bill is the result of the work of Get Money Out of Maryland (GMOM) and its allies. They claim to be bipartisan, but the groups in the allies list lean distinctly progressive.

The bills have a total of sixty-nine sponsors of which two are Republicans, so I suppose that makes it bipartisan.

GMOM states:

The Citizens United v FEC decision by the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for unlimited campaign expenditures in elections, which corporations and the extremely wealthy have used with devastating impact in the last few elections. This misguided decision reversed decades of campaign finance regulation at the state and federal level, turning our public elections into private auctions. With regard to voting rights, Supreme Court justices in the Bush v Gore decision declared that there is no individual right to vote in the Constitution and in its aftermath, there has been a concerted attack upon the right to vote across the country. These legal travesties require remedy if we are going to preserve representative democracy and create a more perfect union. (Emphasis in original.)

According to Senator Pinsky’s spokesman, the principal point of this amendment is that there is too much money in politics since the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates. GMOM wants the Citizens United ruling reversed so the only option is to exert pressure on Congress via an Article V Convention to amend the Constitution. Their expectation is that Congress will act if the states approach the two-thirds approval level as happened with the direct election of senators.

GMOM states that Vermont, California, Illinois, and New Jersey have already passed the “Democracy” amendment and several other states, such as Maryland, are considering the bill now.

Working from the opposite side of the political spectrum is the group Citizens for Self-Governance which states:

Citizens concerned for the future of their country, under a federal government that’s increasingly bloated, corrupt, reckless and invasive, have a constitutional option. We can call a Convention of States to return the country to its original vision of a limited federal government that is of, by and for the people.

They also add:

Rather than calling a convention for a specific amendment, Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG) has launched the Convention of the States Project to urge state legislatures to properly use Article V to call a convention for a particular subject—reducing the power of Washington, D.C. It is important to note that a convention for an individual amendment (e.g. a Balanced Budget Amendment) would be limited to that single idea. Requiring a balanced budget is a great idea that CSG fully supports. Congress, however, could comply with a Balanced Budget Amendment by simply raising taxes. We need spending restraints as well. We need restraints on taxation. We need prohibitions against improper federal regulation. We need to stop unfunded mandates.

Both sides of the debate assure their followers that the Article V Convention cannot spiral out of control and rewrite the entire Constitution once they convene. Their main defense against this is that any amendment that comes out of the convention still has to be approved by three quarters of the states, thus giving ample room for rogue amendments to be stopped.

You may want to keep an eye on how Maryland’s effort plays out this legislative session – although from the progressive side, it still illustrates the discontent that is growing as citizens realize that their overlords in DC are not listening to them. It is striking (and terrifying) that the progressives feel that President Obama is not doing enough to reach their goals, while the conservatives feel attacked and denigrated by their weak and ineffective leadership under Speaker Boehner and Senate Leader McConnell.

Perhaps the only people happy with the current system are the politicians that are in power and the wealthy elites and crony capitalists that consort with and fund their campaigns. Outside that narrow group, there is a battle brewing.

monoblogue music: “Damaged” (single) by Liz Graham

March 14, 2015 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comment 

As a single release, you would think that Liz Graham’s song Damaged would get a brief review, and it will.

But if you consider it a stepping stone on a long, winding path toward redemption of a musical career it hopefully makes for a more interesting review. And it will.

Liz Graham was once a up-and-coming name to be reckoned with in the musical world. In the mid 1990s she appeared at Lilith Fair, won several local awards in the New York area, and released an album that she says sold over 100,000 copies “with virtually no promotion behind it.” Had this all happened 15 years later, it would be considered a huge success but this was a time before the internet and social media helped define our culture. So with the turn of the millennium, Liz was more or less forgotten.

Yet for some reason this year of reviews has featured a number of performers who have been on the shelf for a long time, even some who released material recorded decades ago. In Liz’s case, though, Damaged is actually the second in a series of singles I’m presuming will be featured on a follow-up to her self-titled album she released last year. This single is actually scheduled for release on April 10, following another single called Charcoal On A Canvas she put out earlier this month. But the Damaged video is already out on YouTube so here’s your shot to listen for yourself.

Indeed, the song is firmly placed in the adult contemporary ranks she’s aiming herself toward. But after listening to some of her other songs on her ReverbNation site and home website, I’m convinced Damaged is just a little bit of a weaker track than the others – in particular, Charcoal On A Canvas and Climb On My Walls (from her first CD) are better songs. Musically it’s fine but I’m just not feeling the lyrical angst from Damaged.

One thing I can say about her prospects, though, is that she has a unique way of promoting herself, even promising online concerts streamed from her kitchen (“coming soon.”) Obviously she has her own way of doing things and that may have led to a self-imposed obscurity.

But as she tries to work her way back she will need a little bit stronger material than this single. To get to the level of success she had, you know she was capable of better so I look forward to seeing if her upcoming songs meet that expectation.

The steep learning curve

Over the last few months I’ve given a little bit of attention to the campaign Ben Carson is running for President. He was one of the earliest informal entrants, in part because of a grassroots campaign that began after he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013.

But his cause has been sidetracked by something he said on CNN the day after he announced his exploratory committee. It was in regard to same-sex marriage, which Carson opposes, but what came out of his mouth had to make all but the most ardent Carson supporters cringe. I wrote about the original comments in the Patriot Post last week. In that article I predicted that Ben’s vow to drop the issue wouldn’t last long; sure enough, he took to social media to again revise and extend his remarks.

Being a political neophyte, he doesn’t know that this will now be his defining issue, and that’s a shame. Odds are, though, that not only will this question dog Carson through the remainder of his campaign – however far it goes – but it will become a hot topic at any and all GOP presidential primary debates. As I point out at the Patriot Post, you won’t catch them asking Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton about the poorly-performing inner-city schools or any of a number of other failures of the present administration, but any time they can set up a social issue “gotcha” question they will take the opportunity. Consider how Maryland Democrats tried to trap Larry Hogan on social issues in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign – Hogan eluded their efforts and won.

What’s funny about all this is that, for the most part, I agree with Carson’s stance on the gay marriage issue. Civil unions are just fine with me, but when you co-opt the term “marriage” that becomes a problem. I still define marriage as between a man and woman, but insofar as the legalities of being “married” I think civil unions can easily be made equal. Yes, it should be a state issue, but the problem is that most states have been browbeaten into accepting gay marriage by the courts and not necessarily a groundswell of support – look how close the General Assembly vote in Maryland was and ask yourself if there was broad, overwhelming support for the issue. It took a politically motivated change of heart from Barack Obama and presidential election turnout to push the issue over the top – had the referendum been on the 2014 ballot it may well have repealed the law.

Yet we went through all that to pass a law which has affected fewer than 30,000 people based on this assumption:

The 23% increase in the number of marriages between 2012 and 2013 (to 40,456) is thought to be largely attributed to the legalization of same-sex marriages that went into effect on January 1, 2013 in Maryland.

Using my public school math, that’s about 8,000 same-sex marriages performed in 2013, with likely a somewhat smaller figure in 2014 as the most dedicated couples probably tied the knot right away. How many would have gone the civil union route if it were available?

Here’s the problem as I see it, with Maryland a significant microcosm of the nation as a whole. It’s been said by John Adams that:

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

While it is the Creator’s job to judge and not mine, I think I have a pretty keen sense of the obvious that we are in a society full of “human passions unbridled by morality and religion.” More recently, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined a term for this decline: “defining deviancy down.” In either case, the question about whether we are indeed “a moral and religious people” is getting more and more open by the day when you consider that, at the time Moynihan wrote his piece, the question of gay marriage wouldn’t have come up because it was such a fringe concept. (That was barely two decades ago, by the way.)

But the genie is out of the bottle now, and standing for a Biblical-based morality on many subjects is considered out of step to opinion leaders in the press. Those who appeal to values voters should expect the same sort of trap questions as they continue on with their campaigns.

Further humiliation?

March 12, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comment 

When Barbara Mikulski announced she wouldn’t seek another term the other day, one thing I pointed out was the effect on downticket races for Congress. Sure enough, we already have two members of Maryland’s Congressional delegation signaling their intent to run – Eighth District Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Fourth District Congresswoman Donna Edwards have indicated they are in, although in Edwards’ case she’s looking to expand her reach as a Senator.

Edwards’ gaffe-tastic logo error may be a sign of how things will go in the race to succeed her, particularly as the man who “ran” the weakest statewide Democratic race in recent memory decided he wants in on the race. Yes, Anthony Brown has his sights set on a Congressional seat to replace Edwards.

I will grant that running in a Congressional race in one’s home county is a much easier push than running a statewide race with no real political record to speak of save eight years in the House of Delegates and eight years riding on the coattails of Martin O’Malley. But Brown took a race that was all but conceded to him at the beginning of 2014 (and even after the primary in June) and imploded thanks to a poor campaign and woeful lack of accomplishment. In Democratic circles, though, that’s a resume enhancement so one would have to make Brown an odds-on favorite.

Yet there is also the matter of a $500,000 loan to his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign by the Laborers’ Political League Educational Fund as well as over $30,000 in other unpaid bills Brown owed as of his last financial report. I’m definitely not an expert on campaign finance, but ask yourself: would you give a campaign contribution to a guy who’s racked up so much debt needing to be repaid?

Fortunately for Brown, for all intents and purposes the Democratic primary is the election in that district - Edwards won both general elections in the current Fourth District with over 70 percent of the vote. But he will certainly have to fend off a number of challengers to make it through the primary and job one for the other challengers will be to remind voters how Brown gacked up a shoo-in gubernatorial race by running an incompetent campaign.

It would be a lot harder for Brown to lose the Fourth District race to a Republican, but losing to the GOP is something with which he has familiarity. I would be very surprised if establishment Democrats in that district back Brown.

‘Death with Dignity’: compassion or dispatch?

March 11, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · 3 Comments 

By Cathy Keim

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The House Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committees held a joint hearing last Friday on HB1021, the Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer Death with Dignity Act. Yesterday the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee held a hearing on the cross-filed SB676.

The arguments that were offered at the House committee hearing on March 6, 2015, were exactly what were expected. The two sides are clearly divided here. The culture of death has no room for the culture of life. The desire to rule one’s own fate does not leave room for compassion or suffering, which are both elements of the human condition.

The siren call of death takes the guise of “fairness.” It is only “fair” that a person that is terminally ill should be able to end his suffering. Without a doubt, we all tremble at the thought of pain, dependency, loss of mental capacity and/or bodily functions. We all desire to be healthy and happy, but to equate the loss of our health with the right to die is a dire step.

Let’s run through some of the arguments that opponents of the bill put forth.

Maryland has outlawed the death penalty for anyone, no matter his or her crime. However, the same drugs that Maryland will not allow to be used to execute murderers are the drugs that will be prescribed for a person to die with dignity.

Physicians are not trained to kill their patients. It will inevitably change the doctor/patient relationship if the doctor is expected to offer death as an option.

People that are given a diagnosis of a terminal illness with six months to live will most likely respond by being depressed. They could kill themselves in a state of depression because there is no provision for a mental health professional to evaluate them in the current bill.

Physicians cannot tell with accuracy who has six months to live. Plenty of people live for years after they are told they have six months to live, but we will never know if they kill themselves out of despair. Amazingly, about 20% of the people that receive hospice care actually leave the hospice instead of dying.

Palliative care is available for patients in pain. We are not condemning our loved ones to endless, unrelenting pain.

Many of the most poignant cases that are presented as deserving a death with dignity are those afflicted with Alzheimer’s, ALS, or Parkinson’s. However, by the time they would want to die, they would not be able to self administer the drugs, so this bill would not “help” them anyway.

Handicapped people already feel pressured because they are using medical resources at a steeper rate than healthy people. This bill would increase the pressure on the handicapped to not use more than their fair share of medical care.

Do you see how the subtle pressure works? Especially once the government is in control of health care, there will be the pressure to manage care from an organizational, cost-effective perspective, not a personal case-by-case perspective.

An effective way to save on costs is to encourage the elderly, the handicapped, and the sickest patients to stop their suffering (and ours) by removing themselves. It does not even have to be said aloud, but the pressure will build on our weakest, most vulnerable citizens.

It is time now to stop and count the cost of this type of public policy. Our country was established with a Judeo-Christian foundation of which the keystone is that each individual is created in the image of God. This is the concept that gave birth to Western Civilization, which resulted in our Declaration of Independence proclaiming, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Already we are seeing breaches in the wall protecting our weaker brothers. Abortion claims the lives of many babies because they are deemed defective (the vast majority of Downs Syndrome babies are aborted). Sex-selection abortions claim many female babies even here in the United States. Abortions are performed for trivial problems that could be surgically corrected like a cleft palate or even more troubling for the convenience of the mother. The absolutely logical next step after abortion on demand is the removal of the handicapped and elderly.

We are seeing the complete inversion of our thinking. Compassion used to mean caring for those that needed help. Now compassion is making sure that you can have a lethal dose of drugs to end your life. We have moved from compassion to dispatch, but in an Orwellian turn of the phrase, we still call it compassion. Then to keep up the farce, this bill would require the doctor to lie on the death certificate and list as the cause of death whatever terminal illness the patient had rather than suicide by overdose.

This Death with Dignity bill is a lie from start to finish. The true dignity would come from all of us rejecting this manipulation of our emotions and comforting our family and friends when they need comfort, not helping to finish them off.

Once again, I am aware of the pain, emotional and physical, that is present as we watch a loved one or ourselves move towards death, but this is part of the human condition. We do not make ourselves more human by rushing life out the door. We cannot create life, so let us not be over eager to take it away.

Local Democrats make big claims to receive handouts

Fresh off a shellacking where their statewide standard-bearer had his doors blown off locally by 30 points and only two of their eleven state race contenders won - one by just 30 votes locally and the other in an ostensibly non-partisan race – the Wicomico County Democratic Party finds itself in somewhat desperate financial straits. So in order to raise a little money, the party is making some claims which have to be seen to be believed – and I’m going to show you.

Let’s go through this a little bit at a time, shall we?

Maryland voters decided to “Change Maryland” last November, with the election of Larry Hogan as Governor. However, with only a month in office, Hogan is already proving himself to be just another Tea party Republican.

Perhaps the idea was to indeed elect a TEA Party Republican, rather than four more years of the O’Malley/Brown debacle? We certainly were due for a change.

And as far as the TEA Party goes, it’s worth recalling that TEA is actually an acronym that stands for “Taxed Enough Already.” We heard for three-plus years about all the tax increases put in place by the O’Malley/Brown administration so people naturally decided enough was enough.

But they continue:

Here are just a few of his first actions:

  • Slashing education funding – $1.9 Million from Wicomico County alone
  • Recklessly raiding over $2.5 Billion from our Transportation funding
  • Eliminating programs that help to keep the Bay clean

Apparently I’m supposed to take their word about these so-called cuts, since there’s no context or backup information provided.

I will not profess to be an expert on the state budget; however, I did look under public education and on all three line items I found for Wicomico County:

  • “compensatory education funds to local school systems based on Free and Reduced Priced Meal Eligibility counts” goes from $37,322,878 actual in 2014 to $38,615,082 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $1,292,204.
  • “additional support for students with limited English proficiency” goes from $3,092,879 actual in 2014 to $3,407,287 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $314,408.
  • the automatic supplement to counties “which have less than 80 percent of the statewide average wealth per pupil” goes from $3,670,117 actual in 2014 to $4,579,323 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $909,206.

By my count that’s an increase of $2,515,818. It appears the Hogan administration is well taking care of those things it needs to, prioritizing at a time when the state had to address a $750 million structural deficit.

I still haven’t figured out where the $2.5 billion “raid” to transportation funding is – the repeal of the automatic gas tax increase would save consumers nearly $1.56 billion over the next five fiscal years. We know Democrats own tax increases, so perhaps they bemoan that “lost” revenue to the state.

As for the elimination of programs for the Bay, I’d like to know precisely what they are referring to. They’re getting the PMT regulations so they should be happy.

Anyway, let’s continue.

And the story is the same in Wicomico County where Larry Hogan’s Tea Party partner, Bob Culver, is becoming the anti-education County Executive by refusing to fund a new building to replace the clearly antiquated West Salisbury Elementary School and scraping (sic) completion of the Bennett High School athletic complex.

Obviously the WCDCC has little concept of debt service. It would be one thing if the county could reach into its pocket and fish out $40 million for a new elementary school but the idea of pulling out the county’s credit card to put yet another multi-million dollar expenditure on it doesn’t appeal to the new County Executive. Just like they did in electing Larry Hogan, county voters wanted a change in direction from the former administration.

Instead, the county will improve the school in the areas where the need is greatest, with the list compiled through a consultation with experts and school officials. It may not be the “new” West Salisbury Elementary, but it will be an improved one. Perhaps that approach would have saved the county a lot of money with the former Bennett High School.

As for the Bennett Middle situation, completion of the athletic fields would not be “scrapped” (as the letter should have said) but simply placed in a different area of the site. The former Bennett Middle would be repurposed for office space, allowing the opportunity for the county to consolidate some of its operations. The change still needs the approval of County Council.

Picking back up, with the sad trumpet appeal for funding:

This isn’t the change I voted for in November, and I know you didn’t vote for this, either. We need your help to fight back. We cannot elect more Democrats in 2018 without your support over the next four years. Every dollar you donate to the Wicomico Democratic Central Committee goes to funding our efforts to recruit and help good local candidates.

Most importantly, your donation goes to helping us communicate our party’s values to the voters… personal responsibility, educating all of our children, cleaning up the Bay, protecting our agricultural community, equality for ALL, supporting local businesses, and protecting the Middle Class… and we need your support!

Actually, I did vote for some of this change. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change enough members of the General Assembly to make the total difference that’s needed – although my personal representation in the House of Delegates got a whole lot better.

But if the WCDCC wants to elect more Democrats in 2018, those Democrats can’t be in the tax-and-spend, socially liberal mode. Not in this county.

And after reading that Democrat screed, I realized it’s really conservatives who advocate for all those things the Democrats claim to stand for. That’s not to say a Democrat can’t be conservative but they are fewer and further between, even in this area.

So how would I, as a conservative, respond to their letter? I’ll go through what they claim to represent.

We believe that personal responsibility begins with keeping more of the money you earn by taking advantage of the opportunities a capitalist system creates.

We believe that money should follow the child so you can choose the best educational opportunity for your children, whether in public or private school or through a homeschooling regimen.

We believe in cleaning up the Bay through a balanced approach, beginning by addressing a proven detriment in Conowingo Dam and not punishing farmers who have been trying their best to address the issue.

We believe in protecting the agricultural community by allowing farmers the option to do as they wish with their land, not arbitrarily shutting off development options to them.

We believe in equality for all, not discriminating for or against anyone. But we also know our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values which have stood the test of time.

We support local businesses by allowing them more freedom to do what’s productive and less time to have to deal with governmental edict and regulation. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we want to encourage them to grow and prosper for the community’s sake, not as a cash cow.

We want to protect and grow the middle class – not at the expense of the upper classes, but by allowing the conditions where those on lower rungs of the economic ladder can climb their way up through hard work and ingenuity.

The jury is still out on this, but I think all the Democrats have is rhetoric. We will have to keep an eye on the GOP to make sure they deliver the results their philosophy should yield.

So if you are a local Democrat who received this letter, there’s only one thing to do: go to the Board of Elections and request the change of registration form to become a Republican. It may be your best chance to influence election results in the future.

Jeb goes the wrong way on energy

The Washington Times headline said a lot: “Jeb Bush: Federal wind tax credit should be renewed for short period of time.” But there’s more to the story if you read between the lines Seth McLaughlin wrote.

Of course, I noticed this because I’ve written quite a bit about wind energy and its advocates the American Wind Energy Association of late. Fortunately, the weather has finally moderated so I’m not writing in the midst of a cold snap as I’d often done when writing about the AWEA and their single-minded approach to promoting wind energy with the federal Wind Production Tax Credit as a sweetener incentive.

In this instance, though, you need to know the situation: Jeb and others were speaking before the Iowa Agricultural Summit, which as the Times notes is “hosted by Bruce L. Rastetter, a major GOP donor.” And it can be argued that Iowa is to wind power what Texas, North Dakota, or Alaska are to oil: according to the AWEA, in 2013 Iowa ranked first in the nation in the amount of its electricity produced by wind power at 27.4%. It also has the third-most installed capacity in the country behind Texas and California, which are far larger states in both population and geography.

So you might get the idea that telling Rastetter and others that the Wind Production Tax Credit should be renewed is a way to meet with their approval, even though Jeb conceded it should only be a three- to five-year extension because wind is “now competitive.” Wait a minute – if it’s “now competitive” why is the tax incentive needed again?

Naturally, the bad news on energy didn’t stop there. Iowa is also ground zero for the Corn Belt, which means anyone who competes in that state either supports ethanol subsidies or risks the wrath of farmers who don’t care whether their crop goes in your gas tank or your stomach as long as the price stays profitable. And Jeb had good news for them too, noting, “So at some point we will see a reduction of the RFS need because ethanol will be such a valuable part of the energy feedstock for our country. Whether that is in 2022 or sometime in the future, I don’t know.”

Ethanol will be a valuable part of our energy feedstock? We are now the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas, and those who set ethanol policy based on a belief that we were past the point of “peak oil” have been thoroughly discredited. It’s a horrible case of pandering when the news to Rastetter and others should have been that it’s time for farmers to adjust to a post-ethanol world as that failed experiment of making food into fuel is coming to a close.

Fortunately, it’s possible to win the presidency without winning Iowa. But it’s a state with outsized importance in the electoral sweepstakes thanks to its early caucuses, so we have to pay attention to what they want. (To illustrate this point: if Maryland were first, people would be tripping all over themselves to make grandiose promises to clean up Chesapeake Bay whether they benefitted – or bankrupted – the rest of the country or not.)

For all the Left’s wailing about the Bushes being in the pocket of Big Oil, they certainly haven’t done any favors to our energy situation. Father George H.W. Bush increased the gas tax by a nickel a gallon (a healthy 56% increase) to balance the budget back in 1990 – breaking his “read my lips” vow - while George W. Bush signed the bill that put the Renewable Fuel Standard in place in 2005 and expanded it in 2007. It looks to me like Jeb is cut from the same cloth.

The Salisbury incumbent protection plan?

I was reading in the Salisbury Independent last night and came across an item that piqued my interest. As some of you may know, the city of Salisbury has revamped its electoral system over the last few years.

Step one was moving its elections from the spring to the fall as well as synchronizing the terms of all elected officials to finish at the same time – those who were elected in the spring of 2013 only won terms of slightly over 2 1/2 years.

Last year the new leadership in City Council scrapped the old two-district system where one member was elected from a majority-minority district (District 1] while the other four came from District 2 and redrew it into five separate Council districts, with two having significant minority populations. Going to five single-member districts allowed the city of Salisbury to more closely reflect a minority population of about 2/5.

All that I could live with; in fact, I had encouraged the five-district idea for many years (even asking the opinion of candidates on the subject at a 2011 NAACP forum.) And while you run the risk of a complete turnover in government by having all seats elected at once, this reflects the system we live with in Wicomico County and in Maryland as a whole. So far we’ve not turned over anything close to the whole General Assembly and have managed to keep at least a couple incumbents on County Council.

However, aside from the likelihood of multiple incumbent participants being in the same district this cycle, the blurb I read leads me to think there will be an incumbent protection program in place this fall.

City Council, led by its President Jake Day, is floating a proposal to do away with the city’s primary election and simply place all comers on the November ballot. On the surface it makes sense given that the 2013 primary only eliminated one contender out of eight who ran for office. (Ironically, that one person was later appointed to City Council.) Certainly it’s a taxpayer-friendly proposal as well since only one election would be necessary.

But imagine, if you will, a situation where four or five are on the ballot with a somewhat unpopular incumbent. Each of those challengers will take a share of the vote, and knowing how some voters may go with the name they know it means an incumbent may win re-election with just 20 or 25 percent of the vote. At least with a primary culling the field down to two (at least in most cases, barring a tie for second as we had in 2013) we’re assured the victor has a majority of the vote. It can give voters the opportunity to amass support behind a single challenger.

Even so, there is opportunity in adversity given that City Council is expected to put this proposal into place. But it would take a meeting of the minds between all the conservative groups in town who may want to back a particular horse in a city race.

Since I happen to live in the same district as my friend Muir Boda, I’ll use him as an example. Let’s say I had a scintilla of desire to run for City Council (which I don’t) and that Muir also got in the race, along with a liberal incumbent who wasn’t doing his job. Seeing that Muir and I are both in a conservative mindset, it’s likely we would split the vote against the incumbent and allow him to win because there’s no primary to eliminate one of us and unite the opposition.

This idea goes a little bit against the grain for me, but there may be merit in having the proverbial (or literal, depending on who’s involved) smoke-filled room to decide which prospective candidate to back. Even though it’s a non-partisan race, it may be a good idea for the GOP to endorse a candidate beforehand. With the last election yielding a 5-0 Democrat majority on City Council as well as a Democrat mayor, it’s obvious our procedures heretofore weren’t very good.

Day contends that the new districts will produce a smaller number of candidates for each district, and he may be right. But if the residents of Salisbury want to take the city in a more conservative direction, we don’t want to split the vote by having several conservatives canceling each other out.

monoblogue music: “Ghost Town Girl” by Echo Sparks

March 7, 2015 · Posted in Music Reviews · Comments Off 

If you happen to have the money and a free evening – assuming you read this on the date I put it up – it’s possible to hop on a plane to SoCal and check out the release party for this 10-song compilation by California-based Echo Sparks, a group which describes itself as a “mashup of folk, rockabilly, old Mexico, blues and 1930s jazz.”

The group’s newest release is, at its heart, a relatively simple composition. The trio doesn’t rely on heavy instrumentation; for the most part the songs are done with two guitars and an old-fashioned double bass that creates a relatively unique bottom end with much more of an acoustic echo (almost a beatbox-style thump) which you wouldn’t get with an electric bass without resorting to lots of fancy effects. This video of the title track gives you an idea of how “Ghost Town Girl” essentially works - although there are drum parts added on the actual recording, they aren’t very complex.

What I noticed most about this album is the vocals. Echo Sparks is a band which relies heavily on harmonies to carry their songs. With the exception of the bluesy Torch Song, where the harmonies are held in check until the latter part of the song, the tracks work within the parameters of the interplay between their two vocalists, guitarists CC Kinnick and DA Valdez. Generally this works well, although I found it was a little bit weaker on Rolling 60s and End of the Line than some of the other songs, such as the knockout Mexican Moon, leadoff track Broken Arrow, and Small Change.

That’s not to say all the songs sound just the same, though. A little flavor is added to Shallow Water (the one song written by bassist Cindy Ballreich) with the inclusion of piano, and I found the guitar work on the final track I Think It’s You to be a highlight as well. The lyrics of Princess of Fresno made me smile - it’s one of many songs with California references, whether in place names or items associated with the state. In that respect, the band pays a great deal of homage to their roots.

I noted above that, at times, the band sounds a little uneven with its harmonies. But this also gave me the thought that it may best reflect how Echo Sparks would sound live. Certainly they don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on making sure everything sounds just so with nary a note or pitch out of place, but having that sterile studio sound may make one wonder what happened when you see the band live. With a steady schedule of shows around their SoCal base, I’m betting this album sounds quite a bit like they would sound live if they had a drummer for those shows.

All in all, “Ghost Town Girl” conveys the fact that Echo Sparks occupies a rather unique niche. Perhaps it won’t lead to overwhelming commercial success, but you almost have to think they may not mind so much if it means they can stay true to themselves. Don’t take my word for it, though: go ahead and listen for yourself. If you move quickly enough you can still catch that release party.

Democrats ignore voters, keep rain tax in place

According to published reports, Annapolis Democrats ignored the will of the voters and opted to maintain the state’s dreaded “rain tax.” More formally, the House Environment and Transportation Committee rejected HB481 by a 14-7 vote – all 14 Democrats on the committee voted to kill the bill, while all seven Republicans voted to send the bill to the floor.

Because it was a party line vote, it’s easy to note who voted for and against:

In favor of maintaining the rain tax were Delegates Barve, Beidle, Carr, Fraser-Hidalgo, Frush, Gilchrist, Healey, Holmes, Knotts, Lafferty, Lam, McCray, Shane Robinson, and Stein. Twelve of the fourteen represent some part of Baltimore, Montgomery, or Prince George’s counties, with one from Baltimore City and one from Anne Arundel County. Basically they represent the I-95 corridor.

Voting properly to kill it off were Delegates Anderton, Cassilly, Flanagan, Jacobs, O’Donnell, Otto, and Szeliga. Three of these represent the Eastern Shore, two have districts in Harford County, one comes from Howard County, and the other from southern Maryland. (Anderton and Otto represent portions of the Lower Shore.)

Governor Hogan is quoted in the WBAL story by Robert Lang as stating:

No issue resonates as strongly and no tax is as universally detested as the rain tax. Passing a law that forces only a handful of counties to raise taxes on their citizens – against their will – is wrong, unfair, and it needs to end.

Marylanders have spoken loudly and clearly on this issue. The overwhelming majority of voters across the state are strongly opposed to it, and some counties have already taken steps to repeal this burdensome tax. Considering the surge of opposition to the current law, I am confident that the General Assembly will still move forward with a repeal of the Rain Tax.

Apparently there is another measure in the General Assembly which will weaken the rain tax but not suspend it entirely. But this is a blow to a relatively robust Hogan agenda, and shows once again the entitlement mentality Democrats in the General Assembly have as none of them broke ranks to vote in favor of repeal. This despite the fact all fourteen Democrats represent counties which are forced to pay it.

On the other hand, just three of the seven Republicans represent “rain tax” counties, although two communities which have adopted a similar tax, Salisbury and Berlin, lie within the districts of Delegates Anderton and Otto, respectively.

While the Change Maryland group vows “the fight is not over,” it’s fairly likely that no bill repealing the rain tax will be passed this year. And now that we got yet another reminder of how bipartisanship works in Annapolis – it’s a one-way street because only Republicans are expected to be bipartisan, such as on the so-called “death with dignity” bill – perhaps it’s time for Republicans to consider Maryland’s answer to the “nuclear option” and begin to petition administration bills to the House floor.

You see, it’s only political junkies like me who pay much attention to committee votes, and chances are that most people have no idea which committees their particular member of the General Assembly sit on. In most cases, Democrats who control committees determine which bills will get votes and which ones will stay in their desk drawer after a hearing. The more damaging a bill could be to their special interests or to vulnerable members, the greater chance a bill never sees the light of day. Yes, fourteen Democrats had to take a hit on this one but being a Democrat on the Environment and Transportation Committee probably means approval from Radical Green groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation or League of Conservation Voters so they are probably safe from voter wrath in three years.

But if Republicans band together and use their power to petition bills to the floor, things get a little more uncomfortable for the Democrats because they can’t as easily control the process. Seeing this key piece of Hogan’s agenda being defeated, along with the bush-league antics surrounding the Democrats’ reaction to the State of the State address, tells me that it’s time to embarrass the other side into action. Don’t let Democrats get away with painting Larry Hogan as a do-nothing governor without putting them on the spot and making them go on the record.

Congressman Harris, we are waiting!

By Cathy Keim

The failure of Congress to hold President Obama accountable for his increasingly aggressive executive overreach is about to make them irrelevant. They have reneged on their oaths to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. The protection against a tyrant that our Founders put into our Constitution was the separation of powers. Congress has abdicated their responsibility to resist and stop illegal actions by this president particularly by the power of the purse.

Back on January 6, 2015, in response to pressure from many angry constituents over his vote to re-elect John Boehner as Speaker of the House, Andy Harris posted the following on his Facebook page:

In November, Speaker Boehner was re-nominated by the Republican House Conference without a single opponent stepping forward. That was the appropriate time for an alternative to step forward and be considered by House Republicans. Today’s vote on the House floor was simply whether Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner was going to be Speaker of the House. I hope that we can now move forward and work with the Senate to pass common-sense conservative policies. If Speaker Boehner does not deliver on his promises, a Republican House Conference can be called by 50 members and I would join in that call. (Emphasis mine.)

I have no problem standing up for conservative principles to the Speaker and Republican leadership, such as my vote against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, as well as my votes against the Ryan-Murray budget deal and debt ceiling increases. Please know that I will continue to fight for conservative values and Maryland’s First District in the 114th Congress.

So, I am asking, “Congressman Harris, Speaker Boehner has clearly failed miserably at stopping the executive amnesty overreach. What are you going to do about it?”

The loss of jobs to illegal immigrants, the cost of welfare benefits, Social Security payments for older people that have not paid into the system, tax credits from the IRS for the previous three years amounting to thousands of dollars, etc. etc. The costs are extremely high both in taxpayer dollars expended and in stress to our citizens that cannot find jobs.

Congressman Harris, the damage from this illegal amnesty is far reaching. Again, I urge: please tell us what you plan to do about it.

P.S. Governor Hogan, our state budget is already in the red. This amnesty is going to cause additional drains on our taxpayers. Maryland joined in supporting the executive overreach prior to you being sworn in, but I cannot find any statement from you to say that you disagree with the amnesty.

In a “friend of the court” brief filed Monday, attorneys general from 12 states and the District of Columbia threw their backing behind the president’s executive actions, which could help nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants who currently live in the U.S., allowing them to seek work without fear of deportation.

Officials from 12 states – Washington, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Vermont – and the District of Columbia filed the brief Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

In fact, according to WorldNetDaily, your press secretary ducked questions on the subject when asked.

A resurrection

March 5, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Personal stuff · Comments Off 

Once in awhile I’m wrong. Maybe it was bad information, and maybe I just misinterpreted what I heard. But I was glad to be incorrect in this case.

A few weeks ago I posted on what I thought was the demise of Pork in the Park. But since we celebrated National Pig Day this week, I’m very, very happy the report of its demise was premature!

Instead, the annual festival was retooled and scaled back to a two-day event to be held on Friday, April 24 and Saturday, April 25 – the dates the now-shuttered Salisbury Festival would have fallen on. After the ill-fated move by Pork in the Park to Mother’s Day weekend last year (thanks to Easter occurring on its usual April weekend) the closure of the Salisbury Festival in favor of a fall event gives Pork in the Park a little better weather potential.

Other big changes immediately apparent are the serious reduction in admission prices from last year’s $7 to a much more affordable $3. When you factor in the food costs, families didn’t seem as willing to shell out the money to get in. You may not have the ambitious entertainment schedule of recent years, but as long as there are ribs to eat most will be happy to have the same sort of bands we usually hear for most of the fall festivals. (You can bring back Smokin’ Gunnz for me.)

It’s most likely the cost came down once the decision was made to broom the wing eating contest that comprised most of the Sunday entertainment and the national recording acts on Friday and Saturday nights - although I haven’t seen an updated entertainment scale yet the promotions are for the Eastern Shore Wing War (a people’s choice contest), the cornhole tournament, and pig races. (No wagering, please.)

Last year had to be a disappointment for the county’s tourism board, with the number of competitors way down from previous years. The trick will be getting those who passed on the event last year to place it back on their contest calendars. I think if they can get back to around 80 to 100 competitors that will be a success. It’s likely the cyclical nature of the food business has weeded out some of the weaker, less serious competition teams as barbeque is not necessarily the “in” thing right now so doubling the number who participated last year would be a good goal.

As for us, I am pleased to see the event come back. It may not be as ambitious as it was before, but at least the organizers conceded they reached a dead end and decided to give it another shot on the scale we were accustomed to. I’m sure I’ll be there, so hopefully I’ll have a goodly amount of company.

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