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.

Pessimistic part of the state

I said the other day that I wanted to look more deeply at a poll done by the Washington Post last week, and my focus is on how the outstate areas that overwhelmingly supported Governor Larry Hogan compare with the rest of the state on these issues.

For example, the right direction/wrong track polling showed statewide respondents had a 48-40 opinion that the state was on the right path, but those who answered from outstate were the most pessimistic by a 36-55 margin. It was eight points down from any other group.

Yet those who voted for him from the hinterlands were still not sold on Hogan’s efforts. Their 43-24 approval of Hogan’s performance was almost identical to the 42-24 statewide numbers. On the other hand, they were slightly more confident in his ability to turn things around, believing he would by a 61-30 margin compared to the statewide average of 58-33.

Tellingly, the number of outstate repliers who believed the state should be governed more conservatively was several notches above the average, with 44% agreeing we need a more conservative direction as opposed to 36% overall. Only 22% favored more liberalism among outstaters compared to 28% as a whole.

And when the polling turned to the performance of General Assembly Democrats, the 49-43 favorable margin among all voters melted down to a 36-58 disapproval outside the I-95 corridor. The strong disapproval of 35% from those polled outstate was by far the highest. Outstate voters also differed from the norm as they believed the hot issue the General Assembly needs to work on was the state economy (21%) followed closely by public education and taxes at 20% each. Overall, Maryland picked public education at 26%, with taxes at 18% and the state economy at 16%.

We on the geographic fringes also didn’t fondly recall Martin O’Malley, giving him a 37-57 approval-disapproval number compared to 49-43 for the state at large.

There was also a tendency to see particular issues in a more conservative way, which is to be expected from the regions of the state which aren’t urban or suburban. In general, the Post lays out its geographic regions to specifically cover Prince George’s, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, and Howard counties, along with Baltimore City and its suburbs. The rest of us are lumped into the “rest of state” category, which covers a wide swath of the state from border to border in both directions.

One thing the Post did not poll on was the Phosphorous Management Tool, the enactment of which Hogan delayed within hours of taking office last month. Naturally, counties where this was sold as another tactic to clean up Chesapeake Bay would likely be against this change, which the rest of the state (particularly the Eastern Shore) may be solidly behind Hogan’s action.

If you ever wanted real proof that there is more than one Maryland, this poll is a pretty good indicator of the differences.

A quick score for the good guys

January 21, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A quick score for the good guys 

Facing a 4 p.m. deadline today, in the first few hours after Larry Hogan was sworn in as Maryland’s 62nd governor he found a few minutes to inform the Maryland Register that the proposed Phosphorus Management Tool regulations should be pulled from Friday’s edition. However, Phil Davis of the Daily Times notes there is some question about the legality of Hogan’s move, with the lack of precedent cited as a concern. I would rate the chances of a legal challenge from one or more of the state’s environmental groups as good, although Timothy Wheeler of the B’More Green blog noted yesterday:

According to an opinion issued last month by then-Attorney General Douglas Gansler, the rules can be withdrawn or simply held up by preventing them from being published in the register, which is printed and posted online every two weeks.

Naturally that doesn’t mean new Attorney General Brian Frosh wouldn’t side with environmentalists, but it sounds like Hogan has the legal leg to stand on.

So the attention now will turn to the General Assembly, where it’s expected legislation with the same goal will be introduced in the next few days. Because of the way regulatory language is written for the Maryland Register, it’s relatively easy to translate to bill form. And as the Eastern Shore delegation only makes up 9 House seats and 3 Senate seats, their objections mean little when suburban Montgomery County has 24 Delegate and 8 Senate seats by itself. (Out of 124 Democrats in the General Assembly, that county makes up over one-fourth.) Few, if any, of those General Assembly members have been on a working farm – for the most part, their impression of the Eastern Shore seems to be that of knowing where all the speed traps are on the way to the beach.

But just taking the delegations from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City – areas which range mostly from urban to suburban, with little in the way of agriculture – gives that side a bloc of 63 House members and 22 Senators, meaning that prospective PMT legislation has a very good chance of passing. Add in the fact that the relevant committee chairs and vice-chairs mainly represent the three areas in question, with the fourth from a similarly suburban section of Baltimore County, and the skids are probably being greased right now. The Democrats aren’t going to let Larry Hogan get away with an opening victory that easily; it’s in that spirit of bipartisanship that they’ll demand these rules be enacted, you know.

Since word came down on this Hogan action late in the day, the environmentalists didn’t get a chance to formally react but some took to Twitter.

I look at it as withdrawing overly punitive rules when we haven’t even figured out yet whether the last set had an impact. When the entity that grades the Bay also solicits donations based on its assessment, we’re not exactly dealing with an honest broker.

So Larry Hogan’s initial major action as governor was a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a moratorium on these environmental regulations so we can evaluate the effectiveness of what we already have and see if dealing with the sediment that periodically leaches out of the pond behind the Conowingo Dam will make a difference.

The big engine that needs to

January 6, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The big engine that needs to 

It was somewhat lost during the holiday week, but Larry Hogan made the case to the Baltimore Sun that the city of Baltimore needs to take its place once again as Maryland’s economic driver, rather than “declining.

I know that many, many people around here consider the city of Baltimore an economic sinkhole that sucks up an outsized proportion of our state’s tax money, and to some extent that is true. But once upon a time – just a generation or two ago – the city of Baltimore was thriving while the capital region of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were still sleepy, relatively rural backwaters. Baltimore City was the state’s largest jurisdiction until the late 1980s, but now that distinction belongs to Montgomery County while Baltimore City is fourth. Combined, the capital region of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties is now nearly 30% larger than the combined Baltimore city and county.

Yet what made Baltimore grow was that people made things there, shipped them around the country and world from its railroad hub and its port, and settled in the region as middle-class workers who could raise families without necessarily securing a college education. In other words, it was a blue-collar city much like Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, or other Rust Belt towns. On the other hand, the fuel to the capital region’s growth is an ever-expanding federal government and some of its associated suppliers and contractors. While Baltimore took a lot of things and added value to them in some way, too much of the work done by denizens of the capital region amounts to pushing paper, metaphorically digging holes here to fill them up there.

I doubt that we will ever get to a point where thousands of Baltimore citizens are “makin’ Thunderbirds” as the old Bob Seger song goes – or even the GM minivans they cranked out there for over two decades at the former Baltimore Assembly plant. But with the right conditions, marketing, and incentives (but not subsidies) I think it is possible to put a lot of that region’s workforce back into positions where they add value, using the relatively inexpensive energy produced in the region to aid the process. I was also pleased to see that Larry Hogan was looking to revisit the weak charter school laws which saddle Maryland’s educational system, but there needs to be an emphasis placed on vocational and technical education to create the type of workforce needed to make things efficiently in the way a liberal arts major just can’t. These reforms can go hand-in-hand.

I’ve already suggested that we jumpstart business in Maryland by doing away with the corporate income tax, which only provides for a small piece of the budget and could help create an environment where the returns from other taxes and economic activity from those who find work in the state could easily justify the “investment” in our businesses. But why not try another experiment?

As a general rule, unemployment is higher than the state average in Baltimore City, the Eastern Shore, and the western counties of Maryland. All of these areas could use an economic shot in the arm, but the influence of Big Labor is felt most in Baltimore City. I think it would be a good idea to write a bill creating “right-to-work zones” in these three areas of the state that have higher unemployment than the state average, with the law being written in such a way that it sunsets in ten years – unless it works so well that it could be expanded to the rest of the state and made permanent, as I’m confident it would. Think of it as at least a small temporary incentive for employers to create jobs in these areas, based on the success right-to-work states have in attracting industry.

All of Maryland should be putting out the impression that we are open for business, but it’s only natural that with its existing transportation infrastructure and available industrial land, Baltimore can lead the effort. Too much of our state’s money falls into the category of wealth transfer as opposed to wealth creation. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and in order to create a more economically viable Maryland I agree: we need to get Baltimore’s economic engine back on track.

Baltimore keeps their bags (at least for now)

December 4, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on Baltimore keeps their bags (at least for now) 

Back in November I informed you about the bag tax in Baltimore that turned into an outright ban. Well, the same folks who alerted me to the ban let me know that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake vetoed the measure, a veto which is expected to survive a Council vote.

I do have to comment about my PR friends’ assessment of the situation, though:

It was outrageous for the Baltimore City Council to think it could play games behind the scenes and pass a bill without any public input. Thankfully, this abuse of power did not go unchecked.

I suspect if they were a cloth bag maker, though, this ban would have been just hunky-dory. Regardless, the needs of Baltimore grocers and retailers will continue to be served in part by Novolex, the plastic bag supplier who hired the PR firm. It’s likely many of those bags come from one of Novolex’s 12 plants, with the closest being in the central Pennsylvania hamlet of Milesburg. With the exception of one Novolex plant in Canada, you’ve got to like that American manufacturing.

Yet the question has to be asked: why does a plastic bag company need a PR firm aside from having to deal with these ill-advised bans and taxes?

At the risk of dating myself, I came of age before the question of “paper or plastic” ever came up, and long before the paper bag became a rare commodity. In my youth, those paper bags were filled by the pockmarked teenage bag boys who took the items from the checkout lady who keyed in the prices (stamped with ink onto the can or box) in rapid-fire fashion on her cash register. That bag boy also took the paper bags out to your car.

So I remember how skeptical people were about the plastic bags because they were so small and it took four or five to hold what it took a couple paper bags to handle – not to mention the fact the bag boy was rendered obsolete. But you rarely had to worry about a plastic bag tearing apart, and while there were lost opportunities in creating book covers and having a handy supply of bags for the burn barrel (yes, we lived in the country) we eventually found plastic bags were much more useful. Moreover, for every plastic bag which ends up polluting a stream or blowing down the street, there are probably twenty to fifty which were recycled or disposed of properly.

But my original question still remains: with the crime, poor schools, and lack of opportunity in Baltimore, why is a plastic bag ban even taking up the time of their City Council? Rest assured they will try it again in a year or two, as will the Maryland General Assembly even with a pro-business governor. Liberals never seem to take ‘no’ for an answer.

So I suspect that Edelman will keep my name on their mailing list and let me know of any other local threats to their plastic bag-making client. Cloth bags just aren’t my style anyway.

Bagging the plastic

November 11, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on Bagging the plastic 

In a proposal that’s wrong on so many levels, the Baltimore City Council passed a surprise measure to ban plastic grocery bags beginning next April, according to the Baltimore Sun and their reporters Yvonne Wenger and Luke Broadwater. Perhaps most interesting to me was the fact they were originally going to slap a nickel fee on each bag but changed their mind based on election results:

Baltimore Councilman James B. Kraft, the bill’s sponsor, said he backed off the idea of charging a fee for plastic bags after last week’s election. He noted the victory of Gov.-elect Larry Hogan, a Republican who frequently criticized Democrats for passing too many taxes and fees.

“Last week’s election around the country showed us two things: People care about progressive issues; and they do not want to pay any more taxes or fees. We got the message,” Kraft said.

Naturally, the ban would induce an additional cost on businesses because paper bags are more expensive than plastic ones.

I actually heard about this a week or so ago. I’m on the mailing list of a company called Edelman Digital Public Affairs, and one of their clients is a plastic bag manufacturer, Novolex. They’re a little behind the times with this page, but apparently the proposed ban caught a lot of people off guard.

Yet a bag tax isn’t unprecedented in the region. Washington, D.C. put a nickel-per-bag tax out in 2010, and Maryland legislators considered this same measure shortly afterward. There wasn’t a push to ban them outright until now, though.

Can plastic grocery bags cause unsightly litter? Yes. But on balance they are far more useful than paper bags and more sanitary than reusable bags that have to be washed occasionally. (Frugal people like us haven’t bought a liner for our little wastepaper baskets in years because plastic grocery bags work just fine, so we are recycling.)

To me, it’s just another intrusion of the nanny state, and an indication that Baltimore City Council has its priorities wrong: with joblessness, crime, and failing schools plaguing the city, you’re worried about plastic bags? Yet with its margin of passage in this reading, even an expected mayoral veto would do no good.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail next week, but I’m not holding my breath.

Team players

I’ve heard a lot of talk about nominees who are RINOs and sitting out the election because so-and-so won the primary and they don’t want to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” and it always amazes me because this doesn’t happen on the other side. Here’s a case in point from a fawning AP story by Steve LeBlanc about Senator (and potential Presidential candidate) Elizabeth Warren.

Now, Warren is continuing her fundraising efforts, with a planned Monday event with West Virginia Democratic Senate hopeful Natalie Tennant. Tennant, West Virginia’s secretary of state, is vying with U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito for the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Capito is favored and holds a hefty cash advantage.

Capito’s campaign has also been quick to target Warren, calling her “one of the staunchest opponents of coal and West Virginia’s way of life.”

Warren has conceded that she and Tennant — who, like (Kentucky Democrat Senate nominee Alison Lundergan) Grimes, has criticized Obama’s plans to limit carbon emissions from the coal industry — don’t agree on everything, but can come together on economic issues facing struggling families.

So it’s obvious that the Democrats have their own 80/20 rule, but unlike some on our side they don’t take their ball and go home based on the non-conformance of the 20.

We had our primary, and at the top of the ticket there were 57% who voted for someone else besides our nominee – many of those live here on the Eastern Shore, where David Craig received 49.6% of the vote and carried seven of the nine counties. There can be a case made that Craig’s running mate, Eastern Shore native and resident Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, was a huge factor in his success here, but the fact remains that this area I live in was one of the two areas Hogan was weakest (the other being southern Maryland, where Charles Lollar resides.) These are votes Hogan will need, and surely many will migrate his way because he’s the Republican nominee.

On the other hand, Anthony Brown got a majority of the Democratic vote and carried all but a few counties. Those three on the Eastern Shore, plus Carroll County, aren’t places Brown would expect to win in November anyway – except perhaps Kent County, which was the lone county Heather Mizeur won and which only backed Mitt Romney by a scant 28 votes in 2012.

The path to victory for any statewide Republican candidate is simple, because Bob Ehrlich did this in 2002 – roll up huge margins in the rural areas and hold your own in the I-95 corridor. Ehrlich won several rural counties with over 70% of the vote in 2002, and got 24%, 38%, and 23% in Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County, respectively. When that formula didn’t happen in 2006, he lost.

Granted, demographic changes and other factors may not allow Larry Hogan to pick up 65% of the vote in Anne Arundel County, 61% in Baltimore County, or 56% in Charles County, but it’s possible he does slightly better in Prince George’s and may hold some of those other areas. Turnout is key, and we know the media will do its utmost to paint Anthony Brown as anything other than an incompetent administrator and uninspiring candidate – as the natural successor to Martin O’Malley, who has done a wonderful job further transforming this state into a liberal’s Utopian dream at the expense of working Maryland families, one would have expected Brown to have picked up at least 60% of the Democratic primary vote.

Yet you can bet your bottom dollar that even the most diehard Mizeur and Gansler supporters may hold their nose but will still push that spot on the screen next to Anthony Brown’s name. They may have several points of contention with Brown on key issues, but the other side will push those aside to maintain power.

Perhaps Natalie Tennant over in West Virginia had misgivings for a moment about inviting Elizabeth Warren for a fundraiser, but she realized that there is a segment of her would-be supporters who would gladly contribute more to her campaign to meet Senator Warren, despite the fact they are on opposite sides of a particular issue. To Warren, the end goal of holding that seat in her party’s hands and maintaining a Democrat-controlled Senate was more important than conformity with the one place where Tennant may go against leftist orthodoxy.

If we’re to upset the apple cart here in Maryland, we have to deal with the obvious flaws in Larry Hogan’s philosophy and platform at the most opportune time – when he takes office.

The great debate

Last night (because by the time I finish this it will be Sunday) the four Republican gubernatorial candidates got together at Salisbury University to discuss their vision for the state, an event which was televised locally and will be made available statewide at a future time.

With only one hour to discuss issues, a 2-minute time limit on answers, and questions written by the local Chamber of Commerce – the event was moderated by their executive director, Ernie Colburn – the questions were somewhat predictable given the bread and butter of these campaigns deals with their perception of the state’s sluggish economy. The time constraints only allowed for five questions after a two-minute opening statement and prior to a 70-second close. The five questions had to do with the tax increases and structural deficit, creating a business-friendly tax code, addressing the challenges in attracting jobs, a seat at the table for the Eastern Shore, and restoring highway user funds. I would have liked one more directly addressing agriculture, but we didn’t get the opportunity to write the questions.

One other weakness with the format of the debate is that the candidates were placed in alphabetical order, which is fine, but initial responses were not properly rotated. Charles Lollar either answered questions first or last, as did David Craig, while Ron George and Larry Hogan had the benefit of hearing at least one answer. In this narrative, I will discuss the candidates in order of their opening statement, which happens to be alphabetical order beginning with the Harford County Executive.

First of all, David Craig perhaps had the best-organized presence there, which included running mate Jeannie Haddaway. Some of Craig’s blue-clad staff were there, but many others had Craig lapel stickers advocating his support of concealed carry. They all sat in one section of the audience, a section which I sat immediately behind. They also had an event close by the University beforehand, so David made a day of it.

In his opening statement, Craig made sure to mention his running mate and her ties to SU, from which she graduated. “Jeannie and I are very much alike,” said Craig, referring to their respective families’ long history in Maryland. “I want the twelfth generation (of Craigs) to still live in Maryland,” said David.

He stressed his experience in balancing nine budgets when addressing the structural deficit, pointing out that he had reduced taxes and cut spending during his tenure. Craig would not kick pension or health care benefits down the road as he implied the current administration has done, instead proposing more “paygo” projects funded from existing revenues rather than bonding, specifically noting casino proceeds as one source. (It bears noting that it would take a legislative act to do so, as casino proceed percentages are set by the General Assembly and the plurality of nearly 50 percent is supposed to go to education. So this could be construed by others as “cutting education.”)

In adopting a more business-friendly tax code, David pointed out we shouldn’t be taking the dollars in the first place. He proposed slashing the business tax rate from 8.25% to 4% in stages, but also explained that many businesses such as S-corps use a personal tax form to report their business income. He also wanted to address the sales tax, gasoline tax, and tolls.

Craig also remarked that Harford County had gained 8,000 jobs at a time the state was losing them, but his focus wouldn’t be so much on bringing jobs in as it would be keeping them here. “Just 25 percent of businesses are hiring” right now, said Dave, and he would address this by getting a more proactive Department of Economic Development and expanding broadband capabilities. We would not be Silicon Valley, said Craig, but we could be “Silicon Bay.”

In terms of giving the Eastern Shore a seat at the table, Craig played up his decision to secure Jeannie Haddaway as his running mate. “The Craig-Haddaway ticket is going to have someone (from the Shore) who will always be on the second floor, not just at the table.” He continued by saying Haddaway gave up a safe seat in the House of Delegates to try and benefit her region.

Craig also vowed no money to the Red Line or Purple Line and promised that counties will get their highway user funds back in the first year of a Craig administration.

He closed by taking a subtle jab at opponent Larry Hogan, saying that we didn’t need to change Maryland, “just change what’s on the second floor.” Between him and Jeannie Haddaway, they were 14-0 in beating Democrats, he concluded.

Overall, I thought Craig gave a solid, steady performance. He rightfully played up the presence of Haddaway on the ticket, although I suppose if you were watching from other parts of the state it could be seen as pandering to some extent. Yet of all the running mates, she’s probably the most qualified to succeed David if the unthinkable should happen.

Ron George was blunt in his opening statement: “This is about the economy…the other side has not solved one problem.” The facts were ominous, as he told us about 73,000 unemployed Marylanders and a manufacturing sector “still stuck in the recession.” He was a working man, with a career and business he interrupted to serve his fellow citizens.

Ron would address the structural deficit by combating waste through independent audits and putting together a Spending Affordability Commission that doesn’t paint such a rosy outlook – they predicted 4.5% GDP growth in FY14 and 6% next year. “These rosy forecasts have got to stop,” said Ron. He would also address the state’s bond situation, where debt service costs the state over $1 billion a year.

But he was realistic enough to realize “I can’t go in there as a king,” meaning he can’t just change government overnight. But what we could change, he would – “I’m guaranteeing you the things I’m saying,” said George. Yet he made an excellent point about the challenges to attracting jobs by asking why we look down on the tradesman, instead emphasizing the four-year degree? There’s no focus on that sort of education, Ron added. Being a guy who has an interest in “made in America,” this was one of the two highlights of Ron’s night insofar as I was concerned, with the other coming in the next question.

After Ron talked about the Eastern Shore being “in my blood,” he addressed such items as more state money for tourism (with a proposed slogan – “the Maryland Eastern Shore: life as it should be” – bringing back the canning business, protecting farms, expanding broadband, and reducing sales tax on this side of the Bay. But the best idea went back over 50 years, to a time when each Eastern Shore county had its own State Senator. “I think we need to have a Constitutional Congress in this state and go back to something that makes it fair for the Eastern Shore and the rural areas,” said Ron. And while I said 48 Senators (two from each county) I still think it’s an outstanding idea.

Ron used the highway user fund question a little differently, making the case that he would be “a governor for all of Maryland” and that helping Baltimore City would assist the rest of the state. But he would repeal the automatic increases in the gasoline tax and instead of a “reactive” transportation plan his would be proactive.

He concluded by promising to be a “hard worker” as governor and to treat all fairly, while also mentioning a little about running mate Shelley Aloi, who was also at the event.

Something I’ve observed about Ron, though, is that he comes across as ill at ease in a public speaking situation. He also rattled off a lot of numbers in his presentation, and perhaps sealed his image as a policy wonk because he’s also the only candidate who wears glasses. I noticed him looking down reading a lot, instead of looking at the camera. He also had very little presence at the event, which led to his only getting a smattering of applause after questions rather than a rousing ovation. I have no doubt he would be a hard-working governor – and as a policy wonk type myself I loved a few of his ideas and goals – but he’s going to have to overcome a lot to get there.

I was surprised that Larry Hogan didn’t have a larger presence there as well. In his opening he alluded to three recent visits to Salisbury University before settling into the familiar bromides of not desiring to be something, but to do something and being fed up with politics as usual. He also brought back the oft-repeated refrain of the state being on the wrong track and the emphasis on jobs, the middle class, and restoring the economy.

Of course, in the first question Larry brought up the $9.5 billion in new taxes, but pointed out that he worked for an administration which finished with a cash surplus that’s now once again a structural deficit eight years later. He would cut spending first, then roll back taxes where he could. Recently, Hogan added, he put out a plan to address $1.75 billion just by enacting existing recommendations.

Another familiar Hogan theme was that of our state being 41st of 50 in business-friendliness. Our corporate tax rate was “not competitive,” personal taxes were too high, and regulations too stringent. He would eliminate the hostile attitude and vowed “Maryland will be open for business again.”

After another regular reprisal of those things we’ve lost in terms of businesses, Larry made the case that there’s been “no discernible response” from Annapolis. He asked how an administration could be pro-jobs yet anti-business?

As far as the Eastern Shore goes, Hogan called the current administration “openly hostile” to the Shore, adding that he spoke to Jim Perdue, who told Larry he “feels like they are attacking our business.”

“There’s been a war on rural Maryland,” Hogan added.

Larry then made a statement some have already jumped on, saying “I agree with David; I think Jeannie (Haddaway) is terrific. I actually appointed Jeannie to the legislature and if I’m lucky enough to be governor then I’d think she’d make a terrific ombudsman and maybe liaison for the Eastern Shore.” He then added that the Shore is “not the only place neglected.”

In that respect, Larry is probably correct because each area of the state has needs not being addressed, But as a whole our part of the state is the poorest and tends to have higher unemployment. It could easily be argued we’re already in a recession.

He then promised to restore the highway user fund cuts that were “devastating” to local governments, perhaps by chopping away at the 53% of transport dollars spent on mass transit.

Hogan warned in his close that this was the “last chance to turn this state around,” this being “a fight for Maryland’s future.”

As a whole, Hogan’s performance came across to me as “meh.” The problem is that I’ve heard it all before, and this particular debate format and questioning lent itself to Hogan’s perceived strengths. Yet he never hit anything out of the park.

Although he appeared a little tired and troubled, Charles Lollar spoke with the most passion, generally motioning with his arms as he spoke. (Since I couldn’t watch the feed, I don’t know if this was seen at home.) Once he made the case that the state is going in the wrong direction, he mentioned that even the Democratic strongholds of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City believe “the course is wrong.” He claimed his economic plan had the approval of Dr. Arthur Laffer and his health care plan won favor from Dr. Ben Carson, but vowed to “aggressively look for non-partisan solutions.”

So when Lollar stated that spending had jumped 36% over the last eight years (including $2.3 billion this year), he announced his intention for a taxpayers’ bill of rights (or TABOR) law to hold spending in check and to phase out the income tax in five years. “How would you love to wake up in five years, in 2019 in Maryland, and not have a personal income tax that you have to pay?” he asked.

He repeated the Laffer endorsement in his next answer, as well as the TABOR reference, but added that our legislature and governor doesn’t understand business. “We have a governor who hasn’t had a job in 28 years,” Lollar quipped. But he also dropped a bombshell on the group by proposing term limits. “It’s time for us to get rid of the career politicians,” he opined. Me? I love the idea, but it also has to come with the discipline of keeping the non-elected regulatory state in check.

Lollar pledged his running mate, Ken Timmerman, would address the challenge of attracting jobs by using his investigative skills to focus on waste and the 84 new taxes and fees. He also made the case that the biggest challenge to business is simply staying in business.

Charles wanted to “make the Eastern Shore a priority,” noting that we don’t get a good return on our tax dollars and would rather just be left alone by regulators. They’re “tired of being picked on,” said Lollar. He also brought up the Hudson lawsuit.

As for the highway user funds, Charles promised to stop the Red and Purple Lines, which were enacted under “reckless leadership.” He also wanted an “enforceable lockbox” over the funding.

Lollar got the last word in the debate, saying the job calls for real leadership. So he urged voters to “think this thing through” and that he had “found nonpartisan solutions…and already has ‘Democrats for Lollar’ organizations in Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Baltimore City.”

I’m sure Charles may have gained himself some converts around the state with his performance, which was surprisingly strong. Unlike Ron George or even Larry Hogan, Charles seems to thrive in a debate format such as this because he is a passionate speaker. He did fall into the Hogan trap of repeating some points several times, but overall it was a strong, compelling performance.

However, there were a few issues with Lollar’s day today. I happened to be sitting amid a few Lollar backers and they were disappointed by the lack of local support at his earlier gathering. Others I spoke to earlier today bemoaned his campaign’s lack of direction. But he’s the only one who has brought concepts like a TABOR and term limits into the conversation – these are broad-based conservative points of view, as is lowering the income tax to extinction.

So as for who “won” the debate, I would say it’s Lollar and Craig who did best, with George and Hogan lagging behind. But now I’m a little closer to determining who I will endorse and it will probably be made public in one week.

The problem with Lollar

There are a lot of people who are sticking a fork into Charles Lollar’s gubernatorial campaign. Some have been doing it for several months, while others are more recent converts. Assuming the latter piece by Jackie Wellfonder is true – and there’s no real reason to believe that it’s not – it’ll be interesting to know who will pay for Lollar’s pre-debate event tomorrow.

But there is something I want to bring up regarding how Charles has conducted his campaign; not in a financial sense but the target audience. There have been several occasions where I’ve heard Lollar talk about the locations he’s campaigned, and they’re not Republican strongholds. Places like Baltimore City or Prince George’s County, where the minority populations rarely hear a GOP viewpoint because they’re areas written off by the strategists. Yet we often hear that on certain issues, particularly school choice, the minority audience is very receptive to the GOP viewpoint – unfortunately for Republicans they tend to reflexively vote Democrat.

There are many who feel that Lollar has wasted his time in such areas, but I think he’s provided a good service to the party as a whole. Certainly he’s probably not in a position to secure the GOP nomination because he’s not going to reach many voters with a positive message when all the news about him seems to be bad, but it behooves us to act in such a manner to keep him on the team if he loses. I have no idea how well David Craig, Larry Hogan, or Ron George get along with Charles, but hopefully it’s well enough to both to allow him to remain unified with the eventual primary winner and keep the Lollar supporters on the Republican team in an election where all hands are needed on deck. Unfortunately, I keep hearing that if one particular candidate wins, a fair number will stay home or leave the gubernatorial ballot blank in November. Remember, it’s very likely that our nominee will be elected by plurality based on polling results.

When the smoke clears on June 24, there will be three losers and just one winner when it comes to the nomination. Everyone believes they have a path to victory, but in reality it’s probably a two-man race at this point. As always, the trick with contested primaries is to make sure the losers stay unified with the winners. If the supporters of the losing Democrats want to take their ball and go home, that’s up to them, but I want to win as many elections as possible in Maryland for the conservative team.

So Charles should be commended for his work taking the message to places where it’s not normally heard. Win or lose, I hope he keeps on doing so.

The O’Malley/Brown legacy: debt

September 30, 2013 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The O’Malley/Brown legacy: debt 

At the most recent Wicomico County Republican Club meeting last Monday, gubernatorial candidate Ron George briefly mentioned that our state’s debt was cycling from a five-year payback to a fifteen-year payback, thanks to the desire of Martin O’Malley to keep annual debt service down and appear to balance the budget without further vast tax increases. George further expanded on this point in a release Thursday morning:

Delegate Ron George opposes Gov. Martin O’Malley’s increase in the state’s bond limit.

“I agree with Comptroller Franchot that we cannot afford more bond lending,” George remarked. “O’Malley is shifting today’s debt onto our children. He cannot fund the budget with existing revenue so he has backfilled the budget with bond bills.”

Delegate George also noted that it was the O’Malley/Brown administration who extended our debt service from 5 years to 15 years thus creating ever increasing future structural deficits.

The “out of left field request” for $750 million additional bond debt was made last Monday at a hastily-called Capital Debt Affordability Committee meeting, which also ran afoul of public meeting notice requirements – not that anyone else called O’Malley out for this violation, excused with the weak pabulum of “we overlooked that.” (Some seem more interested in $1,600 a particular Republican candidate is fighting over with the state.) Granted, $750 million over 15 years will not break the state’s $37 billion-plus annual budget, but we don’t yet know what they will spend it on.

At least Ron has room to talk: with the exception of Martin O’Malley’s very first budget – which was opposed by just five House GOP members – George has been a steadfast opponent of state spending over the years.

But the more important pieces of the puzzle come in the fact that it’s the piece of our property tax we turn over to the state which pays these bills, and unlike our local government’s revenue cap the state has no barrier to raising property taxes at any rate they wish. Currently, the state rate is 11.2 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, a rate which has remained constant since fiscal year 2006. Since the state’s property tax was reformed in the 2000 legislative session, the rate has varied: 8.4 cents from FY2002-2003, 13.4 cents from FY2004-2005, and 11.2 cents since. For the owner of a home valued at $200,000, the state’s take is $224 a year – overall, the state derives around $750 million in revenue from property taxes.

By comparison, residents here in Wicomico County endured a county rate increase this year alone of 6.82 cents per $100 valuation, or $136.40 more from their pockets for a $200,000 home. In 2010, the rate was 75.9 cents per $100, now it’s 90.86 cents – in three years, the county’s increase has been higher than the state’s overall rate and is the largest increase from 2009-2013 in Maryland at almost 20 percent, despite the revenue cap. So it’s a sure bet the state can justify a nickel jump by stating it’s less than some counties fluctuate in a year’s time; this despite the fact four counties (Allegany, Baltimore City, Carroll, and GOP opponent David Craig’s Harford) have decreased their rate over the last half-decade while an additional seven have held the line.

So while Martin O’Malley can’t run a deficit in this state, he has the power to bond our children into submission and he appears to be using it to keep today’s bills paid.

Since it was Ron who brought up the subject of property taxes, perhaps a good question to ask is how he will reconcile this promise

Grow the tax base in Baltimore, allowing other jurisdictions to keep their money home for infrastructure and education needs.

…with the fact that Baltimore City has a property tax rate over double that of any other jurisdiction in the state, even as it’s decreased slightly over the last few years. Indeed, bringing it back to parity with other jurisdictions would be a major achievement but you can bet your bottom dollar Stephanie Rawlings-Blake would scream bloody murder and demand a state handout to make up the difference. But if I’m looking at property in Baltimore proper vs. suburban tracts, the taxes alone would be discouraging for urban development.

Then again, we know what “solution” the Democrats have in mind, and it involves more from our wallets.

Common sense on Common Core

July 1, 2013 · Posted in Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Education, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Common sense on Common Core 

I haven’t featured a whole lot from the draftee into the gubernatorial race, Charles Lollar, but I thought his brief commentary on Common Core was worth delving into. Here’s what he wrote:

What I always find interesting is if we conservatives oppose a certain program, liberal interest groups and politicians attempt to distract and dissuade the public on the real issue at hand. Take for instance the Common Core agenda for education that Maryland recently adopted. On the surface it appears to focus heavily on the positive educational outcomes in the areas of math and reading for our children. But in reality, as much as we all want to have strongly positive educational outcomes for all of our children, we know that this system will not work. When we oppose this potentially failing agenda for our children, we are instantly labeled as either racist, not caring for children, or any other form of hatred they can think of.

We don’t rely on platitudes of promises and false educational standards that the current O’Malley/Brown administration adhere to. No, we conservatives rely on history and experience of the failed promises of a “one-size-fits-all” government. We’ve tried this before, both as a state and a nation, but we know that it never works. We tried No Child Left Behind and we are trying Race to the Top, but have you visited the schools in Baltimore City or Prince George’s County lately? How are these programs working out for those precious children and their hard working parents?

No, we shouldn’t continue down this road of failure because we should learn from our experiences. What we should try to do is reward teachers whose students comprehend the subject matter. We should give more local control to teachers and parents, while taking it away from the educational bureaucracy. We should allow parents to choose the schools they want to send their children to and not punish them for doing so. We should allow a stronger voucher program offering them the chance to compete with public institutions. We conservatives want what’s best for all of our children and have learned from experience what we shouldn’t do. Having blanket standards in a “one-size-fits-all” approach is NOT what we should do.

I can name that tune in four notes: money follows the child.

Think about this: for all that Charles pointed out about the failure of federal programs which provide a small fraction of the money invested in education – most funding in Maryland comes from the state, with counties spending a varying fraction followed by the federal government – they sure seem to have an outsized role in calling the tune. Unfortunately, local districts are so hooked on money from higher government sources that they can’t resist its siren song, regardless of the strings which are attached.

If Baltimore City, Prince George’s County, or hundreds of other failing public schools truly had to compete on a level playing field with parochial schools or homeschooling, they would be forced to adapt or perish. Why do you think parents in the District of Columbia annually jump at the chance for Opportunity Scholarships to send their children to parochial schools?

Nearly a year ago, I made many of the same points Lollar did in one chapter of my book. But I went farther, noting that the idea of for-profit schools made sense because they could reward teachers appropriately:

(I)t’s my contention that if we can get money to follow the child we would also solve another issue which bedevils the educational world. Teachers who are really good at their craft would have more demand placed for their services; theoretically it could be possible for them to create their own cottage industry blending the best aspects of homeschooling and school-based education by becoming independent contractors. In fact, using this concept I could easily see a private or charter school attracting the best teachers in a particular area, or even teachers becoming entrepreneurs by leasing their own space in a larger school building where the teacher could educate in a way they see fit while reaping full rewards for their excellence.

Imagine a news story along the lines of a star athlete signing a new deal, but instead it’s your state teacher of the year making headlines by signing a long-term big-money contract with some charter school. Even a public school could do something like this, but it would likely take a complete streamlining of administration and decertification of the union that bends over backwards to have teachers treated equally regardless of ability or results. I realize this free market idea that doesn’t rely on a large union is a stunning concept, which is why the National Education Association and other teachers unions fight against these sorts of proposals tooth and nail.

The problem with Common Core isn’t just the wretched educational failure it’s sure to become, but the idea that all of us can be taught in the same way, to regurgitate the same platitudes about whatever the politically correct mantra of the time will be. Teaching to the test doesn’t teach critical thinking, which was one thing I lacked until I reach maturity. I could easily pass all my academic classes in elementary and secondary school (and even much of college) but I really didn’t learn a lot until I enrolled in the University of Hard Knocks and saw how life worked. One needs a moral compass to guide his or her way, but public schools fail to provide such direction.

In fact, I would argue that the lack of such restraints is commonplace among the students who slide through these failing schools – the generally single parent is too tired or overwhelmed to care, the teachers are in it for the paycheck after dealing with class after class of kids meaning more to socialize or to be disruptive than learn, and administration simply needs the excuse of poor parenting to maintain their cushy sinecures and salaries – otherwise, if they try to discipline or suspend too many of a particular group, all hell breaks loose in the press. Once the bloom comes off the rose, it’s hard to keep a good teacher motivated to stay in these schools – they’d rather escape to the relative safety of a suburban school district.

There’s no question that wholesale reforms to our public (and to some extent, private) educational system are needed. But it’s going to take more than one governor to accomplish the needed change. Charles has a reasonably good grip on the problem, but the solution will be elusive and it will likely take another generation before we know if we’re on the correct path.

A pervasive problem

Well, this is an interesting followup to a story I posted the other day – you know, the one where I asked whether those correctional officers indicted last month as part of the Black Guerrilla Family (BGF) prison scandal had gang ties from the outside:

Is BGF also prevalent outside the walls of the prison, too? Were any of these women gang wannabes in their youth, and recruited by the gangs from the inside?

Chair Mark Uncapher of the Montgomery County Republican Party obviously has a long memory, as he wrote in his latest party newsletter about a previous scandal uncovered in 2009 by the Baltimore City Paper.

This is a rerun of a very bad horror movie that continues to replay throughout the O’Malley administration.

Rewind the movie back to 2007, O’Malley’s first year in office. Patrick Byer is awaiting trial on a murder charge in the Baltimore Detention Center. Like many of the inmates in that facility, Byers has access to a contraband mobile phone, which he uses to negotiate a murder for $2,500 of the principal witness against him. Just 8 days before the beginning of Byer’s trial, Carl Lackl Jr. is gunned in front of his house in a crime witnessed by his daughter.

What’s perhaps more amazing is that Antonia Allison, who was cited in that City Paper story as being one of the correctional officers alleged to have gang ties, is also under indictment in the newest scandal. One would have thought the slightest hint of gang activity would have gotten her out of the correctional system, at least as a guard. But she remained and is one of the 13 correctional officers newly accused.

Understandably, the prison population isn’t adding any value to society and very, very few people aspire in their life’s wish to be prison correctional officers. Moreover, the percentage of correctional officers who are tied to gangs is probably fairly low (although it likely varies from facility to facility) but it’s obviously enough to shift the balance of power in the Baltimore City facility. For those highest up in the gang’s food chain, jail wasn’t punishment at all but simply a place to do business with decor which left something to be desired.

This isn’t going to add to Martin O’Malley’s Maryland legacy, although it may be an interesting thing to bring up for Lieutenant Governor (and 2014 gubernatorial candidate) Anthony Brown and perhaps Attorney General (and also prospective candidate) Doug Gansler. But as the meme points out, Martin O’Malley has set his sights on a higher office since about the time the results of the 2010 election became official. Priorities for him seemed to shift from the actual idea of governor a relatively small state to burnishing his resume. Running prisons? That’s boring, and they probably can’t vote anyway – let’s pander to the gays, green energy crowd, and illegal immigrants!

(Obviously the hat tip for that comes from Change Maryland. Boy, this state really does need a change.)

And one has to wonder as well about the state’s other prisons. Looking at crime in Salisbury, which is a known resting stop for families who have loved ones locked away in the Eastern Correctional Institution outside Princess Anne – conveniently about as far away from the I-95 corridor as you can get in this state but not too close to Ocean City to scare away the tourists – one has to ponder to what degree this is a problem in ECI. Like Baltimore City, Somerset County is one of the state’s poorest areas so jobs, particularly for those without a great deal of education, are scarce. Granted, the fact that ECI is in a rural setting alleviates some of the issues found at the Baltimore City facility but being inside is still being inside.

But now that environment affects us outside the prison walls. That’s the problem with ineffective leadership, and it’s something which will need to be addressed in 2014 when the state next votes.

Next Page »

  • I haven't. Have you?
  • 2018 Election

    Election Day is November 6. But in Maryland we extend the fun: early voting runs October 25 through November 1.

    Maryland

    Governor

    Larry Hogan (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Shawn Quinn (Libertarian) – Facebook

    Ben Jealous (D) – Facebook Twitter

    Ian Schlakman (Green) Facebook Twitter

     

    U.S. Senate

    Tony Campbell (R) – Facebook Twitter

    Arvin Vohra (Libertarian) – Facebook Twitter

    Neal Simon (Unaffiliated) – Facebook Twitter

    Ben Cardin (D – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

     

    U.S. Congress -1st District

    Andy Harris (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Jenica Martin (Libertarian) – Facebook Twitter

    Jesse Colvin (D) – Facebook Twitter

     

    State Senate – District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R – incumbent) – Facebook

    Holly Wright (D) – Facebook

     

    Delegate – District 37A

    Frank Cooke (R) – Facebook

    Sheree Sample-Hughes (D – incumbent) – Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 37B (elect 2)

    Chris Adams (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Johnny Mautz (R – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Dan O’Hare (D) – Facebook

     

    State Senate – District 38

    Mary Beth Carozza (R) – Facebook Twitter

    Jim Mathias (D – incumbent) Facebook Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 38A

    Charles Otto (R – incumbent)

    Kirkland Hall, Sr. (D) – Facebook Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R – incumbent) Facebook Twitter

     

    Delegate – District 38C

    Wayne Hartman (R) – Facebook

     

    Delaware

     

    U.S. Senate

    Rob Arlett (R) – Facebook Twitter

    Nadine Frost (Libertarian) – Facebook

    Tom Carper (D – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

    Demitri Theodoropoulos (Green)

     

    Congress (at-large):

    Scott Walker (R)

    Lisa Blunt Rochester (D – incumbent) – Facebook Twitter

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Link to Maryland Democratic Party

    In the interest of being fair and balanced, I provide this service to readers. But before you click on the picture below, just remember their message:

  • Part of the Politics in Stereo network.