Ireton makes a splash

 

Photo credit: Ireton for Congress via Twitter

A comparatively modest gathering stood by Salisbury City Councilman (and former mayor) Jim Ireton as he embarked on his quest to unseat current Congressman Andy Harris in Maryland’s First Congressional District. And his opening salvo naturally was critical of the incumbent:

I’m here (in Crisfield) today because the 1st District needs a Congressman who won’t just say no and vote no. In just 6 years in Washington, Andy Harris has done nothing for the people of the 1st District.

Crisfield, the southernmost city in Maryland, was chosen by Ireton because it was hit hard in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy, with Ireton contending it has not recovered. Jim chastised the incumbent because “he voted against $9.7 billion in hurricane relief.”

So I did a little research. It turns out the $9.7 billion bill Harris voted against was a measure to extend the borrowing authority for FEMA. Harris later voted against the overall supplemental appropriations bill but supported a substitute which would have offset $17 billion in approved aid by making other cuts (making it budget-neutral.) He ended up voting for a different appropriations bill that improved the original but did not clear the Senate. You may recall many were concerned about the budgetary impact in that era of sequestration.

Ireton went on about how Harris doesn’t support farmers and voted multiple times to repeal Obamacare before stepping boldly into Jim Crow territory.

He wants to return us to the days of insurance companies legally discriminating against Americans. Just like landlords in the 1950s could tell a black family no, and do so legally, Andy Harris wants to give insurance companies the legal right to say no to people with pre-existing medical conditions.

I think Jim forgets that insurance companies are like any other business as they need to be profitable to survive. Then again, that can be expected of a mayor who enacted the “rain tax” in Salisbury and decided landlords shouldn’t charge what he considered excessive rent.

And in the department of “it takes two to tango”:

From here on, it’s going to get ugly – Andy Harris will make sure of that. He will attack me as a person, and attack the issues you care about. He will issue dire warnings about taxes, even though I have a record of cutting fees as the mayor of Salisbury. He will issue dire warnings about crime, even though Salisbury’s Part I Violent Crimes dropped every year I was in office, and dropped almost 50% over my 6 years as mayor. He will try and scare farmers, even though the Wicomico River is now healthier than it’s been in decades due to the work of the city while I was in office.  And I can only imagine what he will make up to say about me personally. (Emphasis mine.)

I noted back in October when the rent stabilization program was bounced out of City Council that Ireton is in a catbird seat of sorts. During the next 9 1/2 months, assuming he wins the primary – and he is the prohibitive favorite given the field – Ireton can take credit for all of the city’s successes by saying that he initiated them as mayor, yet any failures will see Jake Day thrust in front of the nearest Shore Transit vehicle. I figured that Jim was simply using the office to cool his heels for a later political run, but my error was in assuming that he’d have the decency to at least wait until the results became official before jumping into his next campaign, not spill the beans on election night. (Had he upset just 33 of his prospective voters enough to make them change their minds. he would have had a lot more time to run.)

Harris now has a challenge from both the Democrat and Republican sides, with both being uncommonly well-known entities. It’s the first time he’s had elected officials against him since he took office in 2011. And it already is ugly with push polls and charges of not doing his job, so we’re already on the glide path to a nasty campaign.

AC Week in review: August 17, 2014

August 17, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2014, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

I put together a few things this week, and what’s apparent to me is that the political world doesn’t really take a break in August.

Take for example the late-session attempt to promote “Buy American.” Does it really have a chance in Congress before the session ends? Probably not, but it keeps Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown in the headlines and the favor of his friends in organized labor.

But labor should be more concerned about some of the points brought up by my AC cohort Ed Braxton in two articles this week, particularly if his assertion that manufacturing is moving beyond labor is correct. But he also contends that American-made is gaining credibility again in the global marketplace.

On the other hand, we seem to have an Environmental Protection Agency which is bound and determined to drive jobs back overseas. Coal miners and their allies came out in force to recent EPA hearings in Pittsburgh, driven by a proposed standard which they contend would all but wipe out their industry. As a buttress to their contention, it was also revealed that a separate EPA effort to reduce ozone standards to as low as 60 parts per billion (from a current level of 75 parts per billion, established in 2008) would cost the American economy dearly. Perhaps the worst thing is that the EPA doesn’t even know itself how compliance can be attained.

Having sat down and written a couple pieces for next week, I can tell you trade will be on my radar screen. As is often the case, politics will play a role there but you’ll have to wait and see how I interpreted it.

The quest for energy security – and sanity

It’s been awhile since I wrote about the energy industry but things are always happening there and I decided to take a peek because of some items I’ve spied in daily updates I receive from the American Petroleum Institute. I like to know what’s going on in important growth industries which profoundly affect our daily lives.

As one might expect, API CEO Jack Gerard is a leading spokesperson against what he calls Barack Obama’s “irrational” energy policy. It makes sense when you consider that the United States is now the world’s leading producer of both natural gas and oil, thanks in large part to recent advancements in fracking technology which have revitalized the once-moribund American energy industry. Speaking before an audience in New Orleans, Gerard noted:

The choice before us is whether we pursue an American future of energy abundance, self-sufficiency and global leadership or take a step back to the era of American energy scarcity, dependence and economic uncertainty.

It is that simple.

There’s a clear benefit to having the abundant resources we do. I was only nine years old when the first oil crisis hit in 1973, but I remember the long gas lines and jump in prices. If you consider the long-term effects in policy and marketing, such as the adoption of fuel economy standards and the push toward smaller cars, ask yourself what may have happened if we hadn’t become so dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Would we have had the resulting mid-1970s recession?

Obviously we have recessionary conditions now in spite of the current oil boom, but there’s a valid argument that opening up the spigots (so to speak) and allowing more extraction would push the economy into more consistent growth.

Another example of an irrational energy policy is our continued ethanol mandate, about which API is asking for another cutout of a mandated increase. The EPA decided not to change the allotment for this year, but needs to finalize the rule.

To me, there are two telling facts about this story: one is that API has given up on legislative relief from Congress and appealed directly to the EPA, which speaks volumes about the transition of our supposedly limited government into a fiefdom unto itself.

The second is the sheer volume of interests on the side of eliminating the mandates entirely – everyone from motorcyclists who complain about ethanol’s deleterious effects on their engines (as is the case for other small engines from boating to lawn equipment) to the poultry producers who have seen corn prices artificially propped up due to the amount of corn necessary for creating ethanol and even environmental groups who fret that the corn-based product is actually worse for the environment. Obviously the corn growers love the price support, though, and farmers have their own determined lobbyists who would love to see an even higher ethanol blend called E-15 allowed.

API and other ethanol opponents are hinging their future hopes on a more business-friendly Congress in the next term, though.

Irrational energy policy on the state level may occur after this fall in Colorado, a state which has taken advantage of the energy boom but may fall prey to the scare tactics environmentalists use to portray fracking in a negative light. There Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, sees his state’s energy success being threatened by a petition drive to place further restrictions on fracking on their November ballot. Hickenlooper is quoted in Bloomberg as pointing out, “(t)hese measures risk thousands and thousands of jobs and billions in investment and hundreds of millions of dollars in state tax revenue.”

I found this interesting because the proposed restrictions would prohibit drilling within 2,000 feet of structures, a change which energy companies complain would “effectively ban” fracking in the state. Their current restriction is 500 feet.

Now something which came out the other day to little fanfare was a draft report outlining some of Maryland’s proposed fracking regulations. The original recommendation, based on other states’ best practices by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory, was for a 500-foot setback from wells. That guidance was expanded by the Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Department of the Environment to – you guessed it – 2,000 feet. (Page 18-20 here shows the recommended DNR/MDE changes.) In short, these regulations are intended to “effectively ban” fracking in Maryland to the detriment of not just our far western counties, but any of the regions of the state (including the Eastern Shore) that have shale deposits underneath. Talk about an “irrational” energy policy!

So here’s the deal: Maryland wants to depend more and more on methods of generating electricity which lack reliability and increase cost to consumers. Yes, that’s sounds like “smart, green, and growing” to me – not too bright, costing more green, and growing the desire of businesses to leave the state to find a place where energy exploration and extraction is encouraged and rates therefore are cheaper.

I know the Hogan administration would want a “balanced approach” to energy in the state, but I would have to hope part of that balance is returning to the best practices suggested by UMCES and not the onerous restrictions which would effectively ban fracking in the state.

AC Week in review – July 13, 2014

July 13, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

I had a varied palette of posts last week at my Sausage Grinder blog, touching on such diverse subjects as immigration, business climate, and entitlements. Segregated from each other, they may not make as much sense to the whole but the idea behind the site is to look at regulatory aspects and how they affect the practice of “made in America.”

Let me begin by noting that my AC cohort Ed Braxton may have stepped on my toes a little bit, but his contribution was a nice look at the sheer volume of regulations businesses in our nation have to deal with on a federal level. One Congressman is trying to SCRUB all that away. (The bill text is here.)

Those regulations, at all levels of government whether federal, state, or local, are chipping away at the perception business owners have about the local business atmosphere. For the third consecutive year, the website thumbtack.com partnered with the Kaufmann Foundation to gauge business friendliness – and the results were an overall disappointment. With states like Maryland and Delaware already shut down legislatively for the year, relief is nowhere in sight.

Meanwhile, with the number of Congressional calendar days for the 113th Congress dwindling to a precious few, there’s really not much action we could expect on the federal level; moreover, that time limit will also stop us from addressing entitlements like Social Security. I thought the “big, smelly elephant in the room” characterization was apt, particularly as we’ve let it linger for nearly a decade without a serious crack at reform.

There is an added bonus this week. I noticed two pieces I sent in over the Independence Day holiday weren’t picked up – not sure if my editor missed them because he was out or just what happened. (I do a lot of AC work on the weekends, so it should have been nothing unusual.) Since they actually relate with each other, and I don’t believe in letting good writing go to waste, I will post them – slightly modified for flow, of course – here this evening.

And don’t worry – my editor has three new pieces I wrote yesterday, on hot-button issues, to help fill the AC site. They should be up this coming week.

The new year

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am not a big fan of the holidays. Perhaps it’s because of other tasks I have to do in my life, but nearly seven weeks out of the year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is a lot of festivity to deal with all at once. (It seems to me more like about three solid months, what with some store getting out their Christmas stuff in early October.) Meanwhile, we sometimes lose sight of other important things when we let our guard down during that period.

I thought about calling this post “back to normalcy” but then I pondered: what is normal anymore? While the holiday season masked a lot of what was going on, the fact that a lot of bad law took effect at the stroke of midnight last night wasn’t lost on me. For example, the Obamacare taxes, by and large, weren’t on the fiscal cliff table.

And about that fiscal cliff: what kind of compromise is it when one side gets practically all of what it wants while the other gets hollow promises of something happening in the future? Let’s try it this way: make $1 trillion of annual spending cuts now and eliminate Obamacare, and we’ll discuss raising taxes later. How far do you think that would fly? They’re asking conservatives to sell out and why should we? Democrats lied to both Reagan and Bush 41 about making spending cuts (remember, they were in the House majority then and generally held sway in the Senate.)

Wouldn’t it be a refreshing change to come into a year not fearing the end result but confident things will get better? I sort of sense the same feeling those Baby Boomers among us who were struggling through the Carter era had among a lot of people today who weren’t yet in the workforce back then. (You can count me in among that group, since I was only 12 when Carter was elected.) We really didn’t come out of the Carter recession until about 1984 where I lived; fortunately that was just in time for Ronald Reagan to be re-elected easily. (He even carried Lucas County, my birthplace and home of union-heavy Toledo, by a slim margin. The county in which I was living at the time, GOP stronghold Fulton County, went 73% for Reagan. By comparison, it was only 55% for Romney this time.)

Yet look at what we now think is “normal.” Is 8 percent unemployment acceptable when we had under 5 percent a half-decade ago? Economic growth at 2 percent or less? Seems like the only governmental figure growing at over 5 percent annually is the national debt, as we tack another trillion dollars annually onto a toll now exceeding fifteen trillion dollars. By my public school math, then, that’s increasing at around 6 to 7 percent every year. Is that the new norm as well?

We can – and should – do better.

On Thursday we induct the 113th Congress, which will inherit the still-warm seats of the 112th Congress which seemed to be in no rush to get out of town. Next Wednesday legislators in Maryland will begin their annual session, one which promises higher taxes on working Marylanders who have to fill up their gas tanks, make a certain amount of money, or use tobacco products. It also promises more restrictions on counties and localities who already have their hands firmly tied by Annapolis.

Freedom lovers will also face an increasing headwind in the area of Second Amendment rights as “assault weapons” have become the scapegoat of choice for other societal factors leading up to the Sandy Hook massacre. It’s nothing for certain members of Congress and other lawmakers to wish to violate the Second Amendment in the best of times, but emotions are still running high in the aftermath of the Connecticut incident. Those who are more sane tend to point out that Connecticut was already one of the more restrictive states for gun control, but law didn’t save those murdered. (Isn’t murder against the law? Didn’t seem to stop the assailant, did it?)

So call my glass half-empty right now. I’ll do what I can to restore the country to greatness, but I can’t do it alone.

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