The cooling-off period

At one time I planned on writing a rebuttal to all the Trump items I put up this week yesterday, but after all the events of the convention I decided it was better to hold off for a week or so and let emotions simmer down a little bit. It also gives me a chance to attend two of my meetings and gauge the mood of the electorate, so to speak – so perhaps after all that I will pick up that baton and share my thoughts on both Marita Noon’s commentary regarding Trump’s energy policy and the entire Art of the Deal series. Right now, emotions are too high and points will be missed.

It’s no secret I didn’t support Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, nor will I be backing the Clinton/Kaine ticket. (Hell, the guy doesn’t even know our part of Maryland exists because he thought Virginia shared a border with Delaware.) Yet I still have an interest in the downticket races, and this year I will be following the advice of Ted Cruz and voting my conscience. (Or, if you prefer, Ivanka Trump, who said, “I vote based on what I believe is right for my family and for my country.” So will I.) But the combination of the Democratic convention taking over the news cycle and my general fatigue with the Presidential race means I may look at some other stuff for a little bit.

One thing I was asked to look at by my friends at the Patriot Post for this week was the prospects for Republicans in the downticket federal races. (If you get their “Weekend Snapshot,” the article is prominently featured there as well.) But I find a little bit of fault with my editor because my original concluding sentence was, “The next four years could be the most interesting and unpredictable times our nation has ever known.” My thought in that sentence was to invoke the old adage “may you live in interesting times” as we seem to be cursed into a choice leading us toward them. To me, this may be the election where more people vote against someone that affirmatively vote for a candidate.

(To that end, can we install the “none of these candidates” option like Nevada has? I could see factions in all four parties on the ballot in Maryland who would love a do-over: Republicans who are anti-Trump, Democrats who backed Bernie Sanders, Libertarians who would like a more doctrinaire candidate than former Republican Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein of the Green Party who would happily move aside for Sanders, too.)

Just think about Congress for a moment. In poll after poll it’s shown to be one of the least popular institutions in the country, but voters send all but a small handful back term after term until they decide to retire. Maryland is a good example of this, with the longest-tenured Congressman being Steny Hoyer (17 terms), followed by Elijah Cummings with 10, Chris Van Hollen and Dutch Ruppersberger with seven apiece, John Sarbanes with five, Donna Edwards with four (plus a few months), Andy Harris with three, and John Delaney with two. Since Edwards and Van Hollen both sought the Senate seat, those districts will open up – but thanks to blatant gerrymandering, they are likely to be gravy trains and “lifetime appointments” for Anthony Brown and Jamie Raskin, respectively.

Aside from the one term of Frank Kratovil here in the First District as a “blue dog” Democrat carried on the Obama wave in an otherwise GOP-dominated area, you have to go back almost forty years to find a handful of one-term wonders that Maryland sent to Congress. Both our current Senators came to the job after serving multiple terms in the House, as would Chris Van Hollen if he wins the Senate seat. Kathy Szeliga, on the other hand, has served just a term and a half in the Maryland House of Delegates – although compared to other GOP Senate candidates in recent years that almost qualifies as “career politician,” too.

Yet while our GOP candidate supports Trump and has an uphill battle to win, she was criticized for skipping the convention as well:

Some (GOP convention) delegates who wished to remain anonymous to avoid antagonizing another party member privately expressed discontent and disappointment with Szeliga’s and Hogan’s absences in Cleveland at a time when unity is a key goal of their party after a fractious primary season.

Of course, Andy Harris was there in Cleveland, but he’s in an R+13 or so district with far less to worry about. It was better for Szeliga to be in Crisfield meeting voters with her opponent there.

So while I will talk about the convention in at least one piece I’m considering – and my invited guests may decide on their own to look at the Presidential race – I’m going to step back from it for a little bit. It’s the pause that will refresh me.

Regulatory reform comes to Maryland

I harbor no illusions that my post from the other day regarding the declining optimism of Maryland business owners goaded him into action, but today Governor Hogan announced the formation of a Regulatory Review Commission (RRC), charged over the next three years with “(f)ixing our burdensome antiquated, broken and out-of-control regulatory environment in Maryland.” The ten members of the RRC are volunteering their time to “focus like a laser beam on these issues”, said Hogan.

It’s interesting that the Democrats are claiming the Augustine Commission (which was created in the waning months of Martin O’Malley’s second term) was intended to address these issues and saying Hogan shouldn’t need three years to address the problem. How soon they forget that Larry’s Change Maryland organization was convening business summits over the last three years to gain the business perspective, not to mention the fact it was their administration which put out a number of these job-strangling regulations in the first place.

To me it’s just sour grapes. Ask yourself: had Anthony Brown won, would curtailing regulations be a priority? Thought not. The Augustine Commission report would have been filed and ignored.

But I hope the RRC has the latitude to go beyond just regulations and into other areas like taxation and, more importantly, looking into where other states succeed. Take a state like Texas, where hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created (as a net gain over jobs lost, not as a one-for-one swap) over the last decade. What attracts these entrepreneurs and leaders, and what assets can Maryland use to emulate their gains? Granted, a good portion of the Lone Star State’s gain came from abundant energy resources that Maryland can’t match, but there are other areas we may be able to do as well or better if we make that a goal. Unfortunately, over the last eight years our state took its cues from states like California and New York, places where capital and population have been fleeing.

Another question is just how cooperative these Democrats, who are already trying to take credit for the little bit done in 2015, will be to the RRC’s agenda as they submit their findings.

Take the “rain tax” as an example – a Democrat introduced the vastly watered-down bill that eventually passed, so they will surely henceforth try and take credit for ending the “rain tax.” But the mandate for affected counties to have a watershed protection and restoration fund did not go away (page 4 here) – it’s just up to the county to fill it, and most will likely retain some version of the “rain tax.” The actual repeal of the “rain tax” on this Hogan-sponsored bill was killed in committee by the Democrats therein on a straight party-line vote. (I used that vote as one of the committee votes on the monoblogue Accountability Project.) So it’s a fairly safe bet the Democrats are only paying lip service to the issue of regulations now because to them more is better – that’s how they’ve run Annapolis for most of the decade I’ve lived here and probably my whole life before that.

So the RRC can’t just exist in a vacuum. Now that Larry Hogan has experienced the way Democrats in the General Assembly basically gave the finger to his mandate, he will need in the coming months and years to take a page from the Reagan handbook and go straight to the people. Democrats may claim the last election was about “divided government” but the motivation was clearly behind a more conservative direction for the state.

While I would have preferred a more rapid formation for the RRC, this is a definite feather in the cap for Larry Hogan. Let’s hope that it’s not just for show but instead gives us an agenda even the Democrats can’t stop.

Maryland enters the fray

Yesterday we had the spectacle of Martin O’Malley using the Baltimore skyline as a backdrop for the announcement we figured would eventually come the moment the 2010 Maryland gubernatorial election was called for him. Color me unsurprised that he’s running for president in 2016.

But Baltimore’s recent events created even more baggage for O’Malley, who led Maryland through a recession that is still lingering for those portions of the state not within commuting distance of Washington, D.C. That forgotten region includes the city of Baltimore, where the unemployment rate is usually among the highest in the state. In general, Maryland’s better-than-average jobless rate is a result of the federal workforce – take that away and you might have numbers more in tune with struggling states like West Virginia or Nevada.

Granted, if you look at politics through a liberal lens you may see a lot to like with O’Malley. With a friendly and compliant General Assembly backing practically every move, in his first term O’Malley won his prized environmental initiatives with bills like the Clean Cars Act and EmPOWER Maryland utility mandates, increased sales and income taxes while expanding Medicaid, and legalized casino gambling. In his second term he doubled down with the passage of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and same-sex marriage, beating back spirited efforts at the ballot box to rescind them in 2012. He also championed wind power and a scheme to help with EPA compliance in cleaning up Chesapeake Bay.

That last initiative, officially called the “Stormwater Management – Watershed Protection and Restoration Program,” eventually was boiled down to two words: “rain tax.” It, along with his mismanagement of the state’s Obamacare insurance exchange, proved the demise of Anthony Brown’s campaign to replace O’Malley from his lieutenant governor’s chair, and coupled with this spring’s Baltimore riots may perhaps have become the legacy of Martin O’Malley.

In comparison to his Democratic opponents for the Presidential nomination, though, he and Lincoln Chafee (who is planning to announce his entry next week) are the only two with executive experience, and O’Malley the only one to win re-election. On the GOP side you can cite a number of two-term governors (among them Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal as a partial list) but in terms of governing experience on the Democratic side O’Malley is above the rest.

Yet a record works both ways, and Maryland is arguably the most liberal state in the country. The advocacy group Change Maryland began pointing out the O’Malley economic record shortly after its founding in 2011, and state conservatives can quickly rattle off the key facts: 6,500 businesses lost, 31,000 residents leaving the state with $1.7 billion in net income out-migration, and – most importantly – 40 tax increases. That won’t play in Peoria.

For those of us who have been bruised and battered by a recession without a recovery, Martin O’Malley’ paean to populism rings hollow. He may talk about how crooked Wall Street is, but his prescriptions for the problems with Main Street will only enrich those who stroll along Pennsylvania Avenue.

As a meme making the rounds this weekend implies, those former residents of Maryland who fled the state’s punitive taxation and regulation during the O’Malley years won’t have anywhere to go if he becomes president. While Larry Hogan hasn’t necessarily been the answer here, job creation has bounced back since he took over and he has worked to address the state’s structural deficit without the usual O’Malley answer of a tax increase. Why should America dig itself a deeper hole with Martin O’Malley?

Meanwhile, last night on the other side of the Transpeninsular Line residents of Delaware were stunned to learn of the passing of Beau Biden.

From a political aspect, though, and despite his health issues, the younger Biden was the odds-on favorite to be the Democrats’ nominee for Delaware governor next year after an eight-year run as the state’s Attorney General. Now the race on the Democratic side has opened up and those who were quietly considering a run due to Biden’s condition may step out of the woodwork after an appropriate mourning period. The most likely candidates may be Congressman John Carney, who ran in 2008 only to lose to current term-limited Governor Jack Markell, and New Castle County Executive Thomas Gordon.

Whether this loss will affect Joe Biden’s 2016 plans is unknown; however, he hadn’t planned to announce anyway until late summer at the earliest.

Irrelevant?

As I relaxed after a long Mother’s Day weekend with family, this story from the Washington Times piqued my interest. Here’s Jeb Bush, who most consider the “establishment” Republican candidate, trying to make believers out of the religious Right as the graduation speaker at Liberty University. You may recall LU is where Ted Cruz kicked off his own 2016 campaign, and the school founded by the late Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell seems to be a popular stop on that circuit.

Yet I contrast this to the idea, popularized by some and echoed by that s0-called “establishment,” that the only path to victory is to moderate or even capitulate on some social issues, particularly gay “marriage.” Where are the Republican presidential candidates who are choosing to cater to this crowd? I think the answer is simple: there’s not enough voters there to really matter.

Something I’ve seen over the years, in many elections, is that it’s rare that a Republican can succeed by being Democrat-lite. I will grant that the most recent Maryland election could be seen as a case where the avoidance of social issues – despite the bait continually laid by desperate Democrats – may have assisted in a GOP victory. Or maybe it didn’t because there was only a tiny percentage of Maryland voters who are militantly pro-abortion or fanatical in their support for gay “marriage.” Regardless of whether the issue were brought up or not, most of those would have supported Anthony Brown. I can even turn the question on its head and ask those who are in a group like Millennial Maryland: let’s say Larry Hogan had come out against abortion and for traditional marriage. Would you, as nominal Republicans, have still supported Hogan?

You see, this is the question those who are considered “values voters” continually have to ask themselves when we see an otherwise conservative candidate fall all over themselves trying to pander to various centrist groups who would rather not see social issues be prominent campaign issues. I think most who are social conservatives realize it’s the economic message that carries the day overall, but having an evangelical candidate could be the difference between maybe just voting for the candidate (with the risk these discouraged voters may stay home or just vote down-ballot races) or being active in knocking on doors, making phone calls, and opening the checkbook.

Until someone can prove to me that there are millions who will beat down the doors to the GOP if they would just throw the values voters under the bus, I think I would lay my money on a conservative nominee who can stand on all three legs of the conservative stool – fiscal, social, and national security – and appeal to values voters. Is it not worth pointing out that Falwell’s Moral Majority was an early supporter of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election? I think he did pretty well for himself.

It seems to me that this part of the Republican Party needs to find its voice and make sure it nominates a clear alternative to the morally bankrupt policies of the political insiders. Yes, we call that Judeo-Christian values.

Further humiliation?

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

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.

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.

Maryland’s top prize

I have to admit I was shocked as anyone else to hear Barbara Mikulski was not seeking re-election. Although I figured she was closer to the end of her tenure than the beginning, I would have thought she would privately anoint a successor. In that respect it would have been a good landing spot for Martin O’Malley if Anthony Brown won the governorship, giving O’Malley a leg up on the 2016 Senate race once it became clear his Presidential bid was going nowhere fast. Sadly for the former governor, Larry Hogan won.

But among the blizzard of reaction from mainstream state news outlets and other political commentators, there are several things to keep in mind. First of all, this opening in a statewide race would favor those with plenty of money and a team in place. It doesn’t have to be a person who has run statewide, and because this election allows members of the Maryland General Assembly to “run from cover” because their seats aren’t involved in the election, it’s very possible a few may take a shot.

Secondly – and perhaps more importantly from a “bench” standpoint – if you assume that at least three or four sitting Congressmen decide to make a run for the seat, the same rules apply. Consider, if you will, an Andy Harris run on the Republican side – how many local elected officials would be interested in that seat as it suddenly opens? You could imagine Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio taking a shot, along with politicians from the other side of the Bay in Harris’s district. Multiply that by three or four Congressional districts and the prospect for several changes in the General Assembly for the second half of Larry Hogan’s term is significantly higher.

Yet in any of these cases, the decisions will have to be made early, probably no later than June. And that’s not just for the Senate seat, but those who may see themselves on the lower rung of the ladder in the House. Once those dominoes begin to fall, there’s no telling how far the stack could reach because it will all depend on who wins the respective primaries.

But just as the 2014 election proved to create a tremendous shakeup in the House of Delegates, the 2016 election may be cataclysmic for the state’s Congressional delegation. Even if just three or four run for office, the effect would be huge given that no more than two seats of the ten have changed hands in any recent election. The effect may be similar to 1986, when Mikulski first won office and several other Congressional seats picked up new faces (however, that was also a state election year, unlike 2016.)

So rather than try and predict the parlor game of who will run, the point of this piece is to remind people of the importance of a strong political bench. You have one seat that is a six-year term with no term limits and (quite honestly) not a lot of responsibility when you compare it to the governor’s chair. The last time this opportunity came up was 2006, but that was a year when state office holders had to weigh the odds of emerging from a crowded field against the certainty of re-election – not so a decade later.

The question isn’t so much who, but how many. It wouldn’t surprise me if the 2006 total of 28 aspirants isn’t surpassed in 2016. Most of them will be no-names or perennial candidates with no shot, but there will be some turnover in our Congressional delegation because of this sudden opening.

Hostility to cuts

It’s been a little while, but the political hijinks of Cecil County return to my site via a dispatch I received from Bob Willick and their Campaign for Liberty chapter. The purpose of the dispatch was to relay the open hostility from a couple members of their pubic school faculty, making the point that:

Apparently, even though you and I have funded the local school system millions above the maintenance of effort level for years—we are still “slackers.”

Thomas went on a public rant last week writing a post on her new blog demanding that citizens fork over whatever outrageous increase CCPS asks for this year.

You see, Cecil School Superintendent, D’Ette Devine, is lobbying the County Executive and County Council for a taxpayer funded $8 million dollar spending hike over last year’s budget.

This when CCPS has been fully funded and given millions in extra funding for years.

Regardless of this fact, some CCPS teachers are showing their disdain for the hard working folks that pay their salary.

These attacks are coming from a government sector employee who receives competitive pay, sick days off, vacation time, summers off and a pension.

Thomas knows that this type of angry rhetoric will motivate the employees of the largest employer in Cecil County (CCPS) to pressure local government to once again award them with more tax payer funds.

Aside from the oversimplification that teaching is a nine-month profession given some of the training they may have to receive during the summers, there is a lot to be said about the Campaign for Liberty’s point. How many government agencies are protected by law against cuts in such a way that Maryland public schools receive thanks to “maintenance of effort” laws? The state dictates how much money counties have to fork over in order to match their goals, and whether the county can afford it or not (or passed a revenue cap as Wicomico County did a decade ago) does not matter to the state – if the county doesn’t comply the state treasury will hijack the county’s allotment of state money and make sure the schools are paid what the state thinks they are due. It’s a ridiculous constraint on county budgets.

Whenever conservatives take over in government, the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Left is all but intolerable. Listen to them whine about cuts to education in the state budget and you’d quickly forget that the allocation to education (both pre-K to 12 and state-funded colleges) increased for the Hogan FY2016 budget – just not as much as the education lobby expected or demanded. Structural deficit be damned, they aren’t satisfied with any less than the massive increase they assumed they would get when Anthony Brown was elected.

The same holds true locally. Hours after being sworn in, County Executive Bob Culver announced he wasn’t going to borrow for a new West Salisbury Elementary School, triggering outrage in the local community. But after a January tour of the building by experts in the construction field as well as Wicomico Board of Education members and administration, it’s been quietly determined that spending $2 million would be enough for most of the desired upgrades. (The cynic in me thinks the folks at West Salisbury just took too much pride in maintenance and didn’t let the building go far enough to pieces, as opposed to the former Bennett schools.)

More recently the alarm sounded when Culver brought up the idea of keeping the old Bennett Middle School, which is being replaced by a new building away from the current Bennett High School site, as an office complex for the Wicomico County Board of Education. The Bennett community was outraged as the old middle school is supposed to be torn down for athletic fields to complete the planned three-phase replacement of the old Bennett Middle and High Schools with a new high school building and facilities on the existing Bennett site and a middle school built near Fruitland. (The middle school is slated to open next school year.) Proponents have taken to social media to make their case.

But perhaps the better question no one is asking is why more office space is needed? Over the years claims have been made that county government is very lean, but I question that assessment if the BoE needs more room for administration. The county has already bonded millions for the Bennett construction (among other projects, big and small) so debt service is a concern at our level as well as for the state.

It’s a problem because increasing debt load doesn’t help citizens in any way but takes money from needed services, such as snow plowing and otherwise maintaining roads. (I say that because the plows just went by here.) It doesn’t matter which county you are in, citizens feel they have enough taken from them by government but the public sector demands more. Martin O’Malley’s solution of tax increases and additional debt was bad for Maryland, so the new approach promised by Larry Hogan is in the process of being enacted. It’s not our fault the schools aren’t thrilled about the prospect of making do with less. Welcome to the real world.

The Democrats’ house of cards starts a-tumblin’

February 8, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

I hope you enjoyed my fellow contributor yesterday; I’ve had mostly positive reviews. But I’m back in the saddle and look forward to Cathy’s next post.

You may have seen this piece in the Baltimore Sun by Michael Dresser; a tome which claims that much of Larry Hogan’s agenda is DOA. In it, House Speaker Michael Busch is quoted as saying, “No matter how many times (House Republicans) stood up, you couldn’t count to 71.”

Well, I wouldn’t expect many Democrats to stand up, and truth be told most of the Democrats who might have are working elsewhere now because their electorates decided conservative-lite wasn’t good enough. Granted, 50 is not 71, but it’s better than 43 or 37 where we have been the last two terms.

In an enhanced edition of tit-for-tat, Senate Democrats decided to play political games with several of Hogan’s appointees. Ironically enough, two of the five appointees being held up were Democrats, although both had previously served under Bob Ehrlich. But it goes to show you: when you reach out the hand of bipartisanship to Democrats, many will rip off the arm and beat you with it every time. Once again, they are proving that their interest is in maintaining power and not helping the working family by granting a little bit of tax relief at the gas pump and in the property tax bill. And all the caterwauling about the budget Hogan produced reminds me of the 2012 budget fight where the budget “only” went up $700 million instead of the $1.2 billion they desired.

In short, Maryland Democrats are ignoring the election results and acting like Anthony Brown was elected instead of Larry Hogan. So it’s time to remind them just who they work for.

If you want a review of the State of the State speech Democrats are upset about, I briefly outlined his eleven points in the wake of the speech last week. To me, it sounds like the Democrats are having a cow about Hogan’s plans for repealing the “rain tax” and giving a tax break to specific retirees, and dumping the Phosphorus Management Tool regulations at the last possible minute. So we know what to push the recalcitrant legislators to do as the squeaky wheels get the grease.

Two people I really haven’t heard much from in the wake of the State of the State address are the local Eastern Shore Democratic delegation, namely Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes and Senator Jim Mathias. Given the counties they represent went heavily for Larry Hogan, I would expect them to be Democratic leaders in getting his agenda passed. While the extent will vary, the ideas Hogan promoted will benefit their districts as well. They need to be the leaders in getting the Hogan agenda to 71 and 24 in the House and Senate, respectively.

It’s what the state voted for, so let’s get this done.

A look ahead: 2015 in Maryland

While many of the fiscal issues that dogged the state in 2014 are still around – and have continued to worsen with each revelation of another revenue shortfall – the personnel in place to address the problem has undergone significant changes thanks to a wave election which pulled Maryland into its tide.

At this time in 2013 when I wrote the look at 2014, the election seemed to be the molehill Anthony Brown thought it would be as the Maryland GOP was divided and despondent. But Larry Hogan’s Change Maryland movement was enough to overcome the built-in advantage in Democrat voter registration; meanwhile, Brown ran a highly uninspiring campaign that led to the lowest Democrat turnout on record. The drag from the top of the ticket allowed Republicans to pick up seven House seats and two Senate seats despite the gerrymandered redistricting done by Democrats after the 2010 elections.

November was the easy part, though – now Hogan has to govern. Job one will be finding $420 million to squeeze from this year’s budget, while the gap for next year is an estimated $750 million. While that number is daunting, it should be pointed out that the FY2015 state budget was $1.886 billion higher than the FY2014 version. That’s a 5.1% increase, so being $420 million short equates to a 1.07% cut. Simply holding the line on the budget for FY2016 and keeping it under $40 billion (in essence, level funding) should cover a lot of the problem. In fact, holding the budget to $40 billion rather than another 5.1% increase to match last year’s would net a difference of $1.224 billion – more than enough to cover the shortfall.

I realize it’s not as easy as I make it sound, but the budget is in Larry Hogan’s hands. The other key is a bill normally introduced immediately after the operating and capital budgets each year called the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, or BRFA. This is where the mandated spending that makes up over 80 percent of the budget is tweaked, and this is the bill for which Larry Hogan will have to sharpen his pencil and will want to keep a close eye on. Generally it is introduced by the administration’s request in the body which considers the other budget items. Although a version goes to both the House and Senate, by tradition budget consideration alternates yearly and 2015 will be the House’s turn.

And starting it in the House is important because a significant number of members are freshman legislators, many of whom were elected by receiving the message that voters were looking for change and fiscal responsibility. Over half of the Republicans in the House are newly-elected, with at least one appointee as well to replace Delegate Kelly Schulz, who was tapped to lead the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. This process will be a sidebar story as two current members of the General Assembly have already been chosen for positions in the new administration (Schulz and Senator Joe Getty.)

On a local level, the entirety of Wicomico County will be, for the first time in memory, represented in the House by a delegation entirely made up by freshmen. A combined 83 years of experience among six members was wiped out by a combination of redistricting, retirements, promotions, and electoral losses, leaving the county with five freshman representatives – Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes all begin their tenures next week. It’s perhaps a situation unique to the state; fortunately, the combined legislative experience of the county’s Senators is 28 years (20 for Addie Eckardt in the House and 4 years apiece for Jim Mathias in the House and Senate.)

Yet the change in leadership in the state could make things easier on the counties as well, provided Hogan makes the right departmental selections. As I pointed out yesterday regarding Wicomico County, a change at the Department of Planning could make county-level tier maps become more suited for local needs rather than state mandates. (Certainly counties with approved maps should consider tweaking them to address perceived inequities.) Hogan has also promised steps to allow fracking in western Maryland, to consider a plan to clean the Bay by addressing the sediment trapped behind the Conowingo Dam, and will maintain strident opposition to phosphorus regulations which would affect poultry production on the Eastern Shore. All these endeavors can be assisted with prudent selections at the departments of Environment and Agriculture.

All through the state government there’s an exciting potential for reform – if the right choices are made. Hogan’s early picks have been of a bipartisan nature, which may frustrate GOP activists who saw the same practice help to undermine the Ehrlich administration, but could be argued to be necessary with the political reality that a lot of Democrat votes went to electing Hogan. (Statewide Democrats down the ticket, on the other hand, were selected by comfortable margins.) That also becomes the price to pay for having a majority-Democrat General Assembly.

Something else to watch in Maryland will be how much more Second Amendment erosion takes place under newly-elected Attorney General Brian Frosh. A gun grabber in the Maryland Senate, Frosh now takes a bigger role and it will be up to Hogan to prove his Second Amendment bona fides by championing the eventual repeal or overturn in court of the ill-considered Firearm Safety Act of 2013 – although the law may see its day in federal court first.

Another probable line of demarcation will be how to deal with the certainty of more illegal aliens thanks to Barack Obama’s policies of amnesty. With Maryland’s reputation as a sanctuary state, anything short of a localized get-tough approach will be a further drain on the budget and another headache for Hogan.

All this and I haven’t even touched on economic development or educational reform, which will also be items to watch in 2015 but currently have far too many known and unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase. On the latter, Hogan has made it known he’ll work to strengthen charter schools but true reform is probably some years away.

The story of 2015 in Maryland will be the story of how Larry Hogan leads after he takes the oath of office January 21. By then we’ll have some idea of what the priorities of the General Assembly will be as they’ll have already put a week of session under their belts and the hearing process should be underway on the highest-priority items. Success may be as simple as plugging the financial hole by tightening the state’s fiscal belt and the faster that happens, the more of the conservative agenda could be debated.

The straight-ticket election

Most newspapers will use their Sunday edition before the election to either make the most key endorsement, such as for governor or president, or summarize their endorsements into a ballot guide for voters.

I’m not a newspaper, but I have a news source. And I’m urging you (all of you, including the ten friends you drag to the polls) to march right into that ballot box, look for every Republican name on it, and check that box right next to it – making sure, of course, that the ballot summary agrees with your steady diet of Republicans and doesn’t show a “calibration error.”

Let’s begin from the top. Does this state really need a third term of Martin O’Malley? Thought not.

I will grant that Larry Hogan wasn’t my first – or second – choice for the GOP nomination, but I also have to admit as well he has run about as good of a campaign as a Republican can run statewide in Maryland and picked up national attention for it. Yes, I would like him to be stronger on the Second Amendment and I cringed when I heard him say no to addressing social issues, but the overall electorate in this state is still conditioned to believe that there’s a right to privacy and gay marriage is no big deal. They need a little work yet. Let’s at least get someone who won’t be completely hostile to those interests like Anthony Brown would be.

(And yes, I hear the Libertarians caterwauling in the corner. When you get to double-digits with a candidate, we’ll talk.)

Actually, though, I must say some bloggers have a point about the Libertarian candidate for AG, Leo Dymowski. But the election is about more than the failed “war on drugs” – although I agree with that particular assessment, I would also like the AG to fight on other issues. Unfortunately, the late start Republican Jeffrey Pritzker got means the chances are good that we’ll have to endure four years of gun-grabbing Brian Frosh; however, every vote counts and stranger things have happened.

For 2018, though, I think a county-level State’s Attorney needs to make that step up. It’s something Matt Maciarello should consider.

And we have a more than qualified Comptroller candidate in William Campbell. My main mission in two festivals was, every time I came across a Maryland voter from outside our county, to push the candidacy of one Bill Campbell. Everyone knew who Larry Hogan was but not enough knew of this fine gentleman. If Maryland voters have a clue they will choose Campbell.

And then we have local races. Frankly, I’m not too worried about Andy Harris although it would be helpful for Sixth District voters to add Dan Bongino to the GOP roster at the federal level. But there’s a lot at stake on the General Assembly front.

Try as we might, we had to concede the District 37A seat for this term to Sheree Sample-Hughes. If she gets more than single digits on the monoblogue Accountability Project I will be shocked. Otherwise in District 37, you know its a conservative district when even one of the Democrats is running on a platform of lower taxes and less government. But why have conservative-lite when the real thing is attainable?

Even if we sweep those three District 37 seats, though, we don’t really gain anything because three of the four representatives are already Republican. But in District 38 we can reclaim the Senate seat lost in 2010 to a liberal Democrat and take over a seat in the House of Delegates to bring us closer to that magic number of 47, where, as I understand it, we can work around Democrat-controlled committees. (A Hogan win may make that necessary more often.) Aside from that splotch of blue in our county we can work on for 2018, I’d like the Eastern Shore painted red, gaining the one Senate seat and one House seat we can contribute to the GOP effort statewide.

And then we have Wicomico County, which needs a strong leader in Bob Culver. We’ve done eight years with the affable bureaucrat Rick Pollitt, but those eight years have seen our county backslide economically. We can blame the national economy to some extent, but other surrounding counties seem to be succeeding – so why haven’t we?

Unfortunately, the problem Culver has is that two of the Republicans who will likely be on County Council are already stabbing him in the back. With one Democrat assured of victory in Council District 1, it makes the County Council races very important. We know District 5′s Joe Holloway is a conservative who will win and Marc Kilmer in District 2 has an excellent chance to join him, but the John Cannon vs. Laura Mitchell race is a key along with Larry Dodd vs. Josh Hastings in District 3. Both Democrats are trying to convince voters they’ll be fiscal hawks, but don’t be fooled. We need the 6-1 Republican majority to have a potential 4-3 conservative majority behind Bob as he tries to right the ship. Finding good local candidates is a priority for 2018 as well.

As for the issues on the ballot, I’ve already urged a vote AGAINST Question 1 because it’s a weak excuse for a lockbox and Maryland taxpayers deserve better: send it packing and insist on a 3/4 majority provision to be voted on in 2016. On Question 2, I think on balance it’s a good idea but it will also demand vigilance, as Election Integrity Maryland’s Cathy Kelleher points out in a Sun editorial opposing the question.

Lastly, I must say this is the time for conservative voters to shine. The fact that early voting had as many Republicans as Democrats by percentage statewide and by raw numbers on the Lower Shore (despite a registration disadvantage of about 10 percent) indicates the GOP is more keenly interested in this election. But I want to run a few numbers, with the photo below telling the tale.

For this exercise, I used the voter proportions illustrated in the recent Gonzales Research poll, which is probably a fairly realistic model. I assumed undecided voters would remain in proportion with their trend (as opposed to breaking for the challenger) and left 1% for other candidates, write-ins, etc. (I also didn’t figure in the 50,000 or so registered to minor parties – if they vote they’ll not influence the result significantly.)

The sheet on the left is my calculations using a Bob Ehrlich Republican turnout from 2002, 68% of Republicans.

The sheet on the right is the same calculations for Democrats and the unaffiliated, but assuming a turnout like we saw in the Presidential election two years ago, when 78% of Republicans came out – even though Maryland was considered a lost cause for Mitt Romney.

Indeed, we turn from crushing disappointment to “winner, winner, chicken dinner” simply by getting an extra 1 in 10 Republicans to turn out.

If Republicans turned out like that for an election which was an almost foregone conclusion in this state, hopefully this simple calculation will provide the incentive to Maryland Republicans to come out in a gubernatorial election where they have a shot to sneak away with a close victory!

Early voting numbers were encouraging, but Tuesday it will be time to finish the job.

Update: Hey, I missed a key set of races. It’s not a partisan race, but M.J. Caldwell is a far more qualified jurist than the guy Martin O’Malley picked based on his last name. And speaking of O’Malley picks, there are two others on our ballot who we can remove from office and perhaps allow for the first crop of Larry Hogan appointees. So vote “no” on continuance in office for Kevin Arthur and Andrea Leahy.

Troubling ethics charges in county race

This letter was sent to me by incoming Central Committee member Dr. Greg Belcher. His concern was an e-mail sent out by Tamara Lee-Brooks, the county’s Public Information Officer, to her county e-mail address list.

**********

Wicomico County residents should be informed about recent events involving the County Executive and his staff.

It has come to my attention that on October 17 the Wicomico County Public Information Officer sent an e-mail message to various persons announcing a joint press conference to be held by Anthony Brown, Rick Pollitt (Brown’s local campaign manager), and the mayor of Salisbury to criticize Brown’s opponent, Larry Hogan. In her e-mail Ms. Lee-Brooks stated that she “was asked to forward” the announcement but did not identify by whom. However, Mr. Pollitt is her superior, in essence if not directly.

It is my understanding that such a communication is a clear violation of the County’s ethics law by Ms. Lee-Brooks, and more significantly the supervisor who ordered it, reasonably assumed to be Mr. Pollitt or another member of his staff. Using public resources (and personnel) for partisan political purposes is strictly prohibited by the law.

Other conduct by Mr. Pollitt and/or members of his staff deserves the voters’ consideration, as well. It has been reported that County vehicles are being used for personal matters, including visiting a local bar and grill. And – in response to Freedom of Information requests – it has been disclosed that Mr. Pollitt has used his County credit card to buy personal groceries on more than one occasion and pay for meals at restaurants. Such conduct is unacceptable, even if Mr. Pollitt promptly reimbursed the County. This, too, is a likely violation of the County’s ethics law.

A complaint is being filed with the County’s Ethics Commission asking for appropriate sanction for matters discussed above. That body should investigate the charges and act appropriately in advance of November 4.

**********

This is the text of the e-mail sent by Lee-Brooks, who added she was “asked to forward for your attention.”

FOR ADVISORY PURPOSES
Friday, October 17, 2014
Contact:
Jerid Kurtz: 443-297-7702
JeridKurtz@AnthonyBrown.com

Press Office: 240-478-6488
Press@AnthonyBrown.com

FRIDAY: Anthony Brown, Rick Pollitt, Jim Ireton to Hold Press Conference on Harm Larry Hogan’s $450 Million Cut to School Construction Would Cause to the Eastern Shore

Hogan’s “Savings Plan” includes a $450 Million Cut to School Construction Funding that Would Threaten Projects – like Bennett Middle School- Throughout the Eastern Shore

Upper Marlboro, MD – On Friday at 11:00 a.m., Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt, and Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton will hold a press conference to discuss the harm that Republican Larry Hogan’s $450 million cut to school construction would have on the Eastern Shore.

These cuts are contained in Hogan’s so-called savings plan — a plan whose numbers the Baltimore Sun noted “don’t add up.”

Hogan’s proposed $450 million cut to school construction could put projects like the construction of Bennett Middle School out of reach for many communities along the Eastern Shore. For the next four years, counties across the Eastern Shore have requested millions in state funding for repairs and renovations in order to modernize their classrooms and deal with overcrowding. But school construction cuts could put all of these local projects at risk.

What:
Press Conference to discuss the harm Larry Hogan’s $450 million cut to school construction would cause to the Eastern Shore’s public schools.

When:
Friday, October 17th at 11:00 a.m.

Where:
Outside of Bennett Middle School
523 South Division Street, Fruitland, MD
Click here for a map.

It’s worth pointing out that the State Ethics Commission has already deemed this letter improper, but for some strange reason none of the local media is very interested in that fact.

In response, county Republican Party Chairman Dave Parker has today asked the county attorney to investigate:

I am deeply concerned that recent actions by elected and appointed Wicomico County officials were in direct violation of §37, the Wicomico County Ethics Law – and likely also the Maryland Ethics law.

The Brown/Ulman gubernatorial campaign recently scheduled a “press conference” in Salisbury claiming “to discuss” Hogan’s alleged plan to make a $450 million cut to school construction on the Eastern Shore. That alleged cut is clearly part of the political dialog which typically occurs during campaigns for office, and as such is clearly more a scare tactic than a reliable statement of fact. At best it is a partisan political disagreement.

However, as the attached email indicates, Tamara Lee-Brooks, the Wicomico Public Information Officer, honored a request (from an unnamed source) to forward the announcement of Brown’s press conference, and Matt Creamer, the Wicomico County Council Administrator, further forwarded this request (as a media advisory). Members of the media consequently reported this so-called press conference, apparently actually attended by Brown. Regardless of the number of individuals to whom this request was forwarded, the County time and other County resources consumed are what are what I believe were unethical.

As I understand the law, because these were obviously partisan political actions in support of the Brown/Ulman campaign, using County Offices, County email, and County employee time to forward Brown’s announcement were are all violations of ethics laws. Because County Executive Rick Pollitt is not only ultimately responsible for supervising Tamara Lee-Brooks but because he also serves as Brown’s local campaign manager, an investigation will likely identify others who used County resources to promote the Brown/Ulman campaign.

Accordingly, with this letter I am, in accordance with instructions I received from your office by telephone, herewith submitting to you a formal ethics complaint for you to deliver to the Wicomico County Ethics Commission for their action. Moreover, I’m requesting that the Commission first thoroughly investigate, then determine and publicly identify and announce both what ethical violations have taken place (and by whom) and what corrective measures will be taken to prevent similar violations in the future.

On the other hand, if overt partisan political activity using County time and resources is not a violation of law, then please so inform me, in writing, that this is the case, citing the appropriate legal authorities.

It’s highly unlikely at this late date that any resolution will occur before Tuesday, but this is just another example of shoddy ethics in Wicomico County government.

Yet these scare tactics from local and state Democrats – in lieu of a record of success from nominee and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown – are par for the course. Sensible voters know Bennett Middle School will be finished and other projects will probably get their funding. It’s worth pointing out as well that there may be some cost savings on individual projects which could make a big difference that Larry Hogan could – and should – get behind, such as eliminating the need to comply with LEED Silver standards and prevailing wage for school construction (as Ohio did some years ago.)

Of course, the real change which should be made in Maryland education creates a prospect that scares the living bejeezus out of Maryland Democrats and their wholly owned subsidiary, the Maryland State Education Association. That would be a program of money following the child regardless of schooling situation, forcing public schools to compete on a level playing field with charter, for-profit, and faith-based educational institutions as well as making homeschooling more affordable.

So it’s not a surprise that Democrats circle the wagons around school construction because it’s not the buildings that are being threatened, it’s the power structure.

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