Harris hears the hullabaloo, Salisbury edition

Back in March Congressman Andy Harris hosted what could be described as a contentious town hall meeting at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. It was believed that yesterday’s event would be more of the same, but a disappointing fraction of that traveling roadshow of malcontents came down to Salisbury in their attempt to jeer, interrupt, goad, and otherwise heckle Andy Harris for the entire hour-long event.

There were a couple other departures from the Wye Mills townhall, one being the choice of moderator. In this case, we had Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis acting as the questioner and doing a reasonable job of keeping things in order.

Interestingly enough, the people at these “progressive” group tables outside have our Sheriff – the same one they were castigating for his “divisive rhetoric” a few weeks ago – to thank for their continued presence there.

As one would expect, the Harris campaign wasn’t cool with the presence of these tables outside and had asked them to leave, but they were overruled by Lewis. This was an event open to the public and not a school function, Lewis told me, so as long as they did not create a disturbance or block access or egress they were free to be there. The table on the left was run by volunteers for Democratic challenger Michael Pullen and the one on the right by “nonpartisan progressive grassroots volunteer organization” Talbot Rising. The latter group was there two hours early when I arrived.

The other departure was the lack of a PowerPoint presentation to open the townhall meeting, slated for an hour but lasting a few minutes extra. Harris rolled right into the questions, which were divided into tax-related questions and everything else.

Outbursts were frequent, but Lewis only had to intercede a couple of times. There was also a staged incident where a man dressed as Rich Uncle Pennybags thanked Harris for his tax cut, with two helpers holding a fake check – all three were escorted from the premises.

Speaking of tax cuts, this was to be the main emphasis of the program. It was the part that drew the sea of red sheets from the crowd.

(By the way, there was a young man there who passed red and green sheets to everyone. I was too busy writing and trying to follow to use them much, though.)

Now I will warn you: the rapid-fire way of getting questions in, coupled with the frequent jeering interruptions from the crowd (which was closer to me than the loudspeaker was) made it tough to get a lot of quotes so my post is going to be more of a summary.

I can say that Harris said the “vast majority” of the middle class would get tax cuts, and that was President Trump’s aim – to have them “targeted to middle income.” This was one of the few slides he showed.

He added that there were now competing House and Senate versions of the bill, with key differences: for example, the Senate bill has the adoption tax credit the House bill lacks, but the House has the $10,000 real estate tax deduction where the Senate bill still has the full elimination of state and local tax deductions. “We know they are areas of concern,” said Harris. Another area he worried about was losing the deduction for medical expenses, which he believed “we should retain.” He noted, too, that “my office door has been knocked down by special interests” who want to keep a particular deduction or credit intact. Later, he warned us this was the “first part of a very long process,” predicting nothing will be final until next spring at the earliest. (Remember, Trump wanted it for Christmas.)

Andy also contended that passing business tax reform would help to increase wages, which would increase productivity. That assertion was ridiculed, of course, although it would be interesting to know just how many of those objecting actually ran businesses and signed the front of paychecks.

At one point Andy was asked about the $1.5 trillion deficit figure that’s been bandied about by the Left in reaction to the GOP tax package, to which Harris asked the folks who applauded the question whether they applauded the $1.3 trillion in deficits Barack Obama ran up in his first year in office. (I thought I heard someone behind me say something along the lines of “but that did more good,” and I had to stifle a laugh.) Essentially, that $1.5 trillion figure assumes no economic benefit from tax reform, said Harris. That echoed his one concern about passage: “We need the economy growing now.”

And, yes, trickle-down does work, Andy added, and no, George W. Bush did not do trickle-down with his tax cuts because they were only for individuals, not businesses. We have had a stagnant corporate tax rate since the 1980s while the rest of the world went down. “If we don’t give relief to American corporations they will go offshore,” said Harris. (In one respect, the “progressives” are right on this one: Harris left out the salient point that corporations are over-regulated, too.)

Over the years, Andy continued later, he’s found out that Washington cannot or will not control spending, so they have to grow the economy to achieve the balanced budget he’s working toward. (Tax cuts have worked before – ask Coolidge, Kennedy, and Reagan.)

Toward the end, someone else brought up the estate tax, which Andy naturally opposes and these “progressive” folks, like the good Marxists they are, reflexively favor. Andy pointed out the examples of family farms and small businesses that work to avoid the estate tax that the opposition claims won’t affect them, but then Andy cited the example of a car dealer who spends $150,000 a year to avoid estate taxes. Someone had the audacity to shout out, “see, he’s helping the economy!” I really wish I had the microphone because I would have asked her: how much value is really created with that $150,000? If there were no estate tax the dealer could have used that to improve his business, hire a couple employees, or whatever he wanted.

Now for some of the other topics. First was a question on net neutrality. The crowd seemed to favor government regulation but Harris preferred to “leave the internet to prosper on its own.” (A lot of mumbling about Comcast was heard after that one.)

This one should have been a slam dunk, but even it was mixed. Harris pledged to allow people to keep and bear arms for whatever reason they wanted, and when some in the crowd loudly objected Andy reminded them his parents grew up in a communist country where the people had no guns but the government did. That doesn’t usually end well.

And after the recent Sutherland Springs church massacre, there was a question about the federal gun purchase form (Form 4473, as I found), because the shooter had deliberately omitted information on a conviction. Harris pointed out that he had asked then-AG Eric Holder that very question about how many people he had charged with lying to the government on that form and he said 10, because he had higher priority items. Okay, then.

There was a question asked that I didn’t really catch about the student savings program being extended to the unborn, and before Andy got real far into his answer someone behind me got in a way about this being a trick to “establish personhood” for the unborn. I thought they already were. This actually relates to a question asked later about the Johnson Amendment, which is generally interpreted as a prohibition on political activity from the pulpit so churches maintain their tax-exempt status. Harris called the Johnson Amendment “ridiculous,” opining that a church should be able to tell its parishioners which candidates have similar political views without fear of the IRS – much to the chagrin of the traveling roadshow.

This one was maybe my favorite. A questioner asked about a lack of women in leadership positions under Trump, but when that questioner was asked about Betsy DeVos – a woman in a leadership position as Secretary of Education – well, that didn’t count. “This President is going to appoint people who do the job,” said Harris. (Speaking of women seeking leadership positions, among those attending was state Comptroller candidate Angie Phukan. She was the lucky monocle returner.)

There was another questioner who asked if anything was being done in a bipartisan manner, to which Harris pointed out the House cleared a number last week. “Watch the bipartisan bills being passed on Monday,” said Harris.

Since I had time to kill before the event, I wrote a total of four questions to ask and it turned out three made the cut. Here were the three and a summary of the answers.

What are the factors holding back true tax reform? Is it a fear of a lack of revenue or the temptation of government control of behavior that stops a real change to the system?

The biggest factor Andy cited was the K Street lobbyists, which I would feel answers the second part of the question better than the first, Note that he had said earlier special interests were beating down his office door. He also said he would really prefer a flat tax.

We have tried the stick of forcing people to buy health insurance through Obamacare and it didn’t do much to address the situation. What can we do on the incentive side to address issues of cost control and a lack of access to health care?

For this question, Andy gave the state-level example of the former Maryland state-run health insurance program, which acted as an insurer of last resort. And when someone yelled out, “it went bankrupt!” Andy reminded her that the program was profitable until Martin O’Malley raided it to balance a budget. Then there was some shouting fit over how bad the program was from someone who was a social worker, but then could you not have that same issue with the Medicare for All these people want (and Andy says “is not going to work”)? After all, both were/are government programs.

On that same subject, Andy said the American Health Care Act that died in the Senate “would have been good for Maryland” if it had passed.

The recent election results would tend to suggest President Trump is unpopular among a certain segment of voters. Yet the other side won simply because they ran against President Trump, not because they presented an agenda. What agenda should the GOP pursue to benefit our nation going forward?

This one had a short, simple answer I can borrow from a Democrat: it’s the economy, stupid. Get tax cuts passed so we can keep this accelerating economy going.

Lastly, I get the feeling I’m going to be semi-famous.

Given the fact that probably half the audience was rabid left-wing and/or open supporters of at least one of his Democrat opponents were there, I’m thinking the camera belongs to them. So if you stumble across any of the video, I’m the guy sporting the Faith Baptist colors up front.

Seriously, I was shocked at the lack of a media presence there. I gathered the Daily Times was there and they will spin it into more proof that Harris is unpopular. Maybe the Independent, the Sun, and the WaPo were too. But don’t let it be said that Harris was afraid to face his opposition. “This (townhall) is what America is all about,” said Andy near the end.

Personally, I get the frustration some on the Left feel about being in this district since we on the Right feel that way about the state. There was actually a question about gerrymandering asked, and while Andy properly pointed out it’s a state-level issue he also added that Governor Hogan has attempted to address this without success. They may also be frustrated because I know there were at least a couple cards in the hopper trying to bait Andy into answering on the Roy Moore situation, which Andy already addressed.

Overall, now that I’ve experienced the phenomenon for myself, it seems to me that our friends on the Left can complain all they want about their Congressman not listening. But every one of us there had the right to ask questions and common courtesy would dictate that we get to hear the answers whether you like them or not. So maybe you need to listen too.

Oh, and one other question for my local friends on the Left: are you going to clamor for Senators Cardin and Van Hollen to have a town hall here like you did for Harris? I know I would like one.

2017 Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner in pictures and text

October 30, 2017 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on 2017 Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner in pictures and text 

This time around it will be fewer pictures and more text. It’s not like I haven’t done this for many years at the same venue. But you may recall I took a hiatus from party politics for awhile, meaning this was the first such event I’d attended in two years.

So I was greeted with mainly open arms, although many people thought I had already moved to Delaware. (Not quite yet.) Regardless, the feel of the event was such that I felt right at home – the only difference was that we were supposed to begin an hour earlier to accommodate our speaker. As it turned out, we got underway about 45 minutes late (or 15 minutes early by our “normal” schedule), so I who was there at 5:00 for a 6:00 dinner had plenty of time to commiserate and hear the band play.

One of the new folks I got to meet was the lone statewide candidate to attend. She is definitely having fun on the campaign trail.

Angie Phukan (a.k.a. “MsComptroller”) is, as the tagline would suggest, running for the GOP nomination for Comptroller. To date she’s the only candidate to file against incumbent Democrat Peter Franchot, who likewise has filed. She hails from Ocean City, so she’s a statewide candidate in our backyard.

I had actually conversed online with her a few weeks back when she was trying to figure out her yard signs. I suggested simpler is better, and assured her last night she need not worry about separate signs for primary and general elections. “Your job right now is to build name recognition,” I told her.

Of course, most of our local contingent of folks were there as well. One I want to point out is Mary Beth Carozza, Delegate from District 38C. Here she’s between County Council member from District 5 Joe Holloway and his wife Faye. (Holloway is once again my Councilman since we moved.)

The reason Carozza is important to the story is she’s making a “special announcement” next month in Ocean City.

The speculation is rampant this will make formal what’s been rumored for awhile: notice how much Jim Mathias is on social media these days? If Mary Beth indeed decides to try for the promotion, she would join Democrat-turned-Republican Ed Tinus in the race, although Tinus could then decide to seek the open Delegate seat.

As always, we began with a visit from our 16th President and the event’s namesake.

I had some fun with the photo since it demanded an oldtime look. As he always does, Lincoln waxed eloquent with tales from his life, this time focusing on the time he was a young man who studied voraciously to tackle new opportunities that came his way, such as surveying or winning his first elective office at the age of 25. (Oddly enough, the Whigs of the day had to contend with voters who were ineligible because they didn’t live in the district or weren’t yet citizens.) Observing today’s political landscape, he noted that there seemed to be no survey plan to drain the swamp.

As I was driving around to find a parking spot before the event, I spied a well-dressed man who seemed like he was looking for the door to get in. I thought it was David Bossie and it turned out I was right. He may be our Republican National Committeeman and entrenched as a confidant for President Trump, but he was still baffled by the setup of Salisbury University’s Guerrieri Hall.

But when it was Bossie’s turn to speak, there was no confusion. First of all, he asked how many in the room thought a year ago that Donald Trump would win. When a fair number went up, he said “Liars,” adding “I didn’t raise my hand.”

“I’ll tell the President that he had a room full of people who knew he would win,” added Bossie. He only figured it out as he was feeding information to the soon-to-be President on Election Night.

David had met Trump several years earlier through a mutual friend who believed Trump would be willing to lend the use of his golf course for a charity event Bossie was organizing. The main reason for Bossie’s interest in that cause was his then-six month old son, who had several medical issues that piqued his interest in fighting against Obamacare in the belief it would damage our medical system that was aiding his son.

Bossie’s role in the campaign and eventual transition was “a humbling experience,” although for a time it greatly diminished when Paul Manafort was hired. Manafort “froze him out,” so when Trump “thankfully…(got) rid of Manafort” Bossie helped lead the comeback from a low point after the GOP convention.

So the day after Trump shocked the world, they realized there was no formal transition plan. In part, that was superstition from Trump, an avid sportsman who had the belief – like many athletes who compete regularly do – that considering the transition would be a departure from routine and would jinx his campaign. Shortly after the victory, though, David was selected as the Deputy Executive Director of the transition.

While this was going on, Bossie remained at the helm of Citizens United, which he described as “focused on the President’s agenda like a laser beam.” The problem with enacting it, continued David, was that our government was “dysfunctional and out of touch.” Since the House and Senate were elected on the same issues as Trump was, their reluctance to cooperate was an affront to President Trump. “He’s a pissed off dude, isn’t he?” said Bossie about the President. “Get something done and the temperature goes down,” he added, referring to the Senate and relations between them and Trump. If they do, there’s a “good opportunity to pick up Senate seats…really good math for us.” Bossie mentioned races in Ohio and Missouri as strong possibilities for pickups and welcomed the changes in Arizona and Tennessee with the retirements of Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, respectively.

(Interesting to note: the mentions of Flake, Corker, and John McCain drew boos and hisses from some in the crowd.)

We needed, though, to put aside the things of a year ago. Remember, “if Hillary Clinton wins, the nation as we know it is over,” said Bossie. But since Trump won, things have taken shape with our economy: the Dow is “out of its mind” and as far as regulations go, Trump promised to eliminate two for every new one. “Do you know how many he’s done?” Bossie asked, and someone in the crowd you may know well said, “Sixteen.”

“Who said sixteen?” he asked. “Showoff.” Indeed, the Trump administration is mowing down regulations at a frenetic pace.

But the economy is missing one thing: a “robust” tax reform package; one that Bossie described as “generational.”

“Shame on us if we don’t get it done,” Bossie said, and the sooner the better: if enacted by year’s end and made retroactive for 2017, the boost in the economy will kick in around next summer and make the 2018 election a pocketbook balloting. If done in the spring, the effects won’t be nearly as great, argued David.

While Bossie apologized in advance for not being able to stay too late, he did answer a few questions.

The first one required him to put on his National Committeeman hat, as he was asked “what can we do on the Eastern Shore?”

Our focus, said David, should be first on winning the needed five State Senate seats to sustain Governor Hogan’s vetoes. Of course, that also meant we had to turn out for Hogan as we did last time so he could defeat the “worst group of Democrats” in the country.

He was less optimistic when asked about what we could do about Ben Cardin. “There’s lost causes, then there’s lost causes,” said Bossie. That may be news to Sam Faddis, who is the only Republican with an FEC account in that race so far. (No one has formally filed, save three Democrats not named Cardin who are hoping the incumbent retires or keels over.)

Someone else asked whether GOP money was going to Donald Trump. Their investment is “behind the scenes” right now, assured Bossie, although Trump already has a 2020 re-election account as well. The RNC is “stockpiling” money with a large advantage in fundraising over the Democrats at the moment.

Turning to foreign affairs, a question was asked about our relationship with China.

Trump was focusing on the Chinese president, David said. “No one wants war,” and by dealing with China – which is the main trading partner of North Korea – Trump is dealing with an entity that could “suffocate” North Korea if they chose. It’s a combination of tough talk and diplomacy, he added.

Finally, it was asked about the governors not supporting Trump. Bossie argued that their agenda was better off with Republican governors whether they agreed with President Trump on everything or not. And even though our governor didn’t support the Trump bid, it was “vital” he be re-elected anyway, concluded Bossie.

With that, he was off to see his family before an early morning gig on Fox News, so the conclusion of the event was the introduction of a number of elected officials, club officers, and 2018 candidates, along with the drawing of raffles from both the Wicomico County Republican Club and the College Republicans. As it turned out both grand prizes were donated back to their respective organizations, so the WCRC can once again give away a $1,000 Dick’s Sporting Goods gift card and the College Republicans netted $280. Wicomico County GOP Chair Mark McIver also announced that there were 130 people in attendance, making this a successful event that grossed better than $8,000.

Just like in the beginning, there are people who stay around and gab the night away. In this case, it’s Delegate Charles Otto (left) with Joe Schanno of the Department of Natural Resources (center) and Dwight Patel (right), who annually makes the trip from Montgomery County to show his support. We finally cleared out about 9:30, although there was an impromptu afterparty offsite some chose to enjoy.

It was nice to be remembered, and as I had pointed out to me by County Councilman Marc Kilmer, now that I’m a “free agent” I can pick and choose my events. Trust me, I’m still on the mailing lists.

But writing this was like riding a bicycle – you don’t forget how to do it even after awhile away. It was fun.

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