Ehrlich brings book tour to Salisbury

It was an event which was supposed to occur on a Monday night back in January in a completely different venue, but as has been the case before with Bob Ehrlich we all had to wait until the weather thawed before Wicomico County Republicans could hear from him.

As part of what he billed as a 16-state tour for his third and newest book, Turning Point: Picking Up the Pieces After Eight Years of Failed Progressive Policies, the former governor made brief remarks then commenced to signing copies for a crowd of close to fifty people.

Calling the book an “eight-count indictment of the Obama administration,” Bob remarked that some of his favorite stories, which come from a volume that’s a compilation of his writings over the last several years from a number of sources (with a couple of original, previously unpublished portions added in) were the open letter he wrote to his son about marijuana laws and his interactions with some of the offenders. Two common elements he found among those who had been caught and imprisoned for drugs were the lack of a father figure at home and that they got their start with marijuana. However, Bob was careful to note that not everyone who used marijuana was a criminal.

A second favorite was the chapter on political correctness that he wrote to be humorous, but are instead being reflected in today’s headlines. He implored the college students in attendance not to placate those who get overly worked up about “safe spaces” on campus.

As you may expect, Bob showed a passion and zeal about the subject matter which should make these chapters great reading. (My plan is to eventually review the book once I get a chance to sit and digest it all.)

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There were a lot of books being signed and plenty of people had their chance to pose for a photo with Bob. I’m going to borrow Dave Snyder’s picture here, which I got from social media – the snapshot I got of Bob signing came out too blurry.

Those in attendance also got to meet one of the Republican candidates running for Senate, a man who once worked for Bob Ehrlich. Chrys Kefalas was in the area today on what he described as a “listening tour” of local manufacturers, although he was also at Fratelli’s for lunch. (I was invited to that event but couldn’t attend.)

My chat with Kefalas was rather brief, as he was obviously concentrating on circulating around, but in conversations I had with his campaign staff I gained a little perspective on his ideas and shared some of my own. To me, Chrys’s job if he wins is to concentrate on making conditions better for the country as a whole: more beneficial trade pacts, a decrease in taxation and regulation on a federal level, and working to leave government as the least of our worries. It would then be incumbent upon the Hogan administration to make Maryland more competitive against its neighbors and other states because the federal government would simply create the best possible conditions for any American company to succeed.

Once Ehrlich left, the party began to break up. But if I may make one observation regarding a summerlike evening in the midst of an early spring: walking out of Roadie Joe’s they had a musician outside. I turned the corner and could faintly hear something down at Brew River only to arrive at the parking lot where I had parked and hear some very good band over at Headquarters Live. I was standing at my car literally listening to three different venues, all opened up.

Downtown Salisbury’s not just alive on 3rd Friday anymore, folks. And speaking of music, it gives me a good segue into letting you know monoblogue music will be back tomorrow after its winter hiatus. It’s someone you’ve heard from before with something new.

A race for 2018?

Bloggers love it when they can tie multiple points together in one cohesive post, and here I have the opportunity to do so thanks to a press release from Delegate David Vogt, who is moonlighting as a candidate for Congress from the Sixth Congressional District. Here’s what Vogt had to say about likely opponent John Delaney and his insistence that Larry Hogan should denounce GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump:

John Delaney should just go ahead and declare his candidacy for Governor so he can stop pretending to represent the 6th District.  Congressman Delaney would rather support an avowed socialist or a career criminal over an accomplished businessman who is tackling the issues that matter.

The Congressman’s time in office has been spent as a rubber-stamp for the failed Obama/Pelosi liberal agenda, and it is no surprise that he is calling on one popular, successful Republican to denounce another.

The people of the 6th District need a Congressman, not a political pundit, and Delaney’s incompetent handling of the Iran nuclear deal, the Syrian refugee crisis, and Obamacare shows that he isn’t qualified to be either.

It’s intriguing to me that Vogt feels that way because I have those same suspicions about Delaney’s plans for 2018. In a lot of respects, Delaney is the Democratic mirror image of Hogan with a business background and, aside from the two terms in Congress, a similar political record. (Had Hogan had a specially-gerrymandered district created for him, perhaps he would have gone in another direction after winning his 1992 Congressional campaign. It was a trajectory his old boss, Bob Ehrlich, employed in 2002.)

Obviously Democrats are trying to throw the kitchen sink at Hogan legislatively but try as they might Hogan’s approval numbers continue to rise, reaching a stratospheric 70 percent in the most recent Maryland Poll released today. (H/T: Maryland Reporter.) Yes, that is 7 out of 10. I have no doubt they may chip away at the approval rating as a strategy but Maryland Democrats also have to find a candidate willing to take on a popular Republican governor running for re-election. Will anyone have the same ambitious streak as Martin O’Malley?

There’s one thing missing from the Maryland Poll that would serve as a counterpoint to Hogan’s numbers, and that is an approval rating for the General Assembly. We know Congress is unpopular (although the “throw the bastards out” mentality stops with their own representative) but no one polls regarding our body politic either during or after the “90 days of terror.” With the number of veto overrides and the blockage of some of Hogan’s legislation, it would be intriguing to see how popular the Maryland legislature is.

But returning to 2018: the Democrats have a relatively short bench of willing candidates with name recognition, and it’s unclear just how well Delaney is known outside the Capital region. The only other statewide candidate being mentioned is Peter Franchot, and right now he has a rather sweet gig as Comptroller – maybe not quite to the extent of Louis Goldstein, but if he wants another term or two it’s doubtful Maryland voters would object. At the age of 70 by the time the 2018 election comes around, Franchot would be the oldest governor to win election in at least a century. (AG Brian Frosh is reputedly not interested in being Governor.)

As for Hogan and Trump, that’s a matchup which seems like oil and water. While I’m sure Hogan respects the business acumen of Trump, the bombast The Donald brings is a polarizing feature among both parties that Hogan is likely to avoid. Hogan was indebted to Chris Christie for campaigning on his behalf, but if I were to pick a remaining hopeful Hogan would back he probably lines up best with fellow Governor John Kasich. But Hogan may just steer clear of an endorsement until mid-April, seeing who is still in the race.

WCRC meeting – February 2016

This time we meant it. After having a last-minute meeting called last month, a little planning made this month’s meeting go a long way. It got off to an unusual beginning as the Jaycees meeting in the next room joined us for the Pledge of Allegiance before we went solo on the Lord’s Prayer. (Usually we do this in reverse – as a former WCRC president once said, God before country. I think that it was the late George Ossman who introduced that tradition.)

The meeting was jam-packed with information because we had two speakers. It was suggested to us that we have Anthony Gutierrez from the Board of Elections in to go over the new paper-ballot voting machines we will be using, so he led off the evening with a pair of short videos explaining how they will work. For early voting there will be one ADA unit (which is slightly enhanced for those who are physically impaired but can be used by anyone) and two optical scanner units. Filling out a paper ballot is like filling out the standardized tests you had in school except you fill the circle in with an ink pen.

There were a few other election notes he passed along, including the fact that over 10,000 Wicomico voters will not be participating in April’s primary because they are unaffiliated. (This is out of about 58,000 total.) Gutierrez noted as well that the last Presidential primary with no incumbent (2008) had 48.9% for a February primary, but he predicted April’s turnout would be more like 35-40%. There will be five separate races on the ballot, he added: President, U.S. Senate, Congressional representative, and delegates/alternate delegates to the national convention. Voters will be sent their specimen ballots the Monday before early voting begins.

Mark McIver of the Central Committee asked whether more election judges were needed, and Gutierrez said they were fine for the primary. But he encouraged those interested to apply anyway for November and to be backups in case they have a need in April. Compensation for the day is $250.

Another question about same-day registration came up, and Anthony replied that it would be effective only for early voting. Some voters who had MVA information in the system would be “precleared,” he added.

I asked if the new machines would result in delays, but Gutierrez noted from the experience he had with observing these machines in other elections that the process was actually faster. They would use the primary to make adjustments for the larger turnout in November, he added.

Once Gutierrez wrapped up, our other featured speaker began. Having served as the co-chair of the Redistricting Reform Commission (RRC), Walter Olson came to speak about Maryland’s gerrymandering and the commission set up to suggest improved voting districts. Legislation to create a non-partisan redistricting body was introduced earlier this session, with hearings next week in both the House and Senate.

“I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around.” Those weren’t the words of Walter Olson; it’s a quote from the most recent State of the Union speech Barack Obama delivered. He also made the point in Illinois during a recent appearance there, said Olson. Moreover, 70 percent of Maryland residents would prefer an independent commission, which is fitting: since North Carolina’s gerrymandering (considered the worst in the country) was struck down in court, the new number one worst was the great state of Maryland.

With the recalcitrant Democrats being placed in an uncomfortable position of being against both their president and the voting public – as Olson pointed out, ”they’re not happy with what we’re doing” - their only response was to complain that five hearings around the state weren’t enough. And “did we ever get an earful” at the hearings, said Walter. Districts were created not to fairly represent, but “to reward and punish” legislators. Olson handed out a chart that clearly showed how the system was exploited: all but 6 Republicans represent districts with larger-than-average population, while Democrats represent all but one of the smallest 25 districts. (The one Republican who represents a small district won election in 2014 over an incumbent Democrat.) Needless to say, Mike Miller and Michael Busch are “not enthusiastic” about this proposed change, even though it’s been debated off and on over the last half-century.

The RRC was an 11-member commission, with seven selected by Governor Hogan (3 from each party, plus one unaffiliated) and two from both the House and Senate, one from each party. Their report of suggestions were based mainly on those adopted by California, with some tweaking to fit our Constitution. The report was adopted by a 9-2 vote, and you can imagine which party had the two and where they came from to serve on the RRC. The legislation introduced on Hogan’s behalf has “most of” the recommendations, Olson added.

What the RRC asked for was stronger criteria for population, with just a 1% variation. Districts had to comply with the Voting Rights Act, of course, but also needed to be congruent, contiguous, and compact. No more “blood splatters at a crime scene,” as Olson described Maryland’s Third Congressional District.

The redistricting body itself was intriguing to me. Applicants would be screened to make sure they weren’t connected to the process as members of the legislature, their families, etc. After that, they would be placed into groups representing each of the two principal parties and unaffiliated/minor party voters, those who hadn’t switched registration recently. Out of 10 applicants in each pool (Republican, Democrat, unaffiliated) selected based on these criteria, three of them would be randomly chosen to serve on the body, with the chair chosen out of the three unaffiliated members.

But the cool part was that anyone could submit a map. Olson said that Pennsylvania’s map, which replaced a gerrymandered original done by the legislature, was done by a piano tuner who submitted a map which best complied with the requirements.

In the question-and-answer period, Olson stressed that the redistricting body would do both Congressional and state legislative districts. But it likely wouldn’t be pressed into service until after the next census because it was unlikely the system in place now would be overturned unless it was found to be a Voting Rights Act violation. A suit by Judicial Watch regarding Maryland’s gerrymandering was “somewhat of a long shot” to succeed, assessed Olson.

Walter also was careful to add that, while he works at the Cato Institute, the Institute is not involved with this. He was doing this as a private citizen.

Finally, we got to club business. The treasurer’s report was given by Muir Boda, who has stepped in to become treasurer since the previous officeholder had to resign to take a job across the Bay. We are working out kinks in the accounts since they were based on her e-mail.

Mark McIver reported for the Central Committee. After a moment of silence for Blan Harcum, we learned his funeral will be Saturday, March 5 at Holloway Funeral Home, with visitation the evening before. He also related that he testified for the elected school board bill, which has now passed the full Senate (with a clean sweep 47-0 vote, by the way.)

Julie Brewington, speaking on behalf of the Ted Cruz presidential campaign as its Lower Shore coordinator, announced she had county chairs in each of her counties and was seeking sign locations along U.S. 50.

I made a motion to clean up some business so we could have our officer elections, and all five officers were nominated and elected by acclamation. I’m going to use Julie Brewington’s photo here. (She posted it on social media last night, so she gets the credit.)

From left to right, it’s Treasurer Muir Boda, First Vice-President Dave Snyder, President Shawn Jester, Second Vice-President Shawn Bradley, and Secretary Michael Swartz. (Me on the far right – whooda thunk it?)

We found out from Jackie Wellfonder that the Ehrlich book-signing was rescheduled for Friday, March 11 and relocated to the lobby of the City Center building, adjacent to Roadie Joe’s. She was hoping to coordinate with the College Republican event that has to be similarly rescheduled, but the date didn’t work with SU.

Woody Willing reminded us the WCRC Scholarship was still available, but the deadline was fast approaching (March 1.) Graduating seniors from any Wicomico County school (public, private, or homeschooled) are eligible provided they complete the application process. I asked if the application could be put online.

Willing also asked if we could make our annual YMCA donation, which was met with the club’s approval.

Julie Brewington returned to announce the Republican Women of Wicomico would next meet March 2, with Mitzi Perdue as the speaker.

Joe Ollinger and John Palmer gave us some news about the Wicomico Board of Education, which was getting deeper into its superintendent search. They should be close to selecting the next time we meet, said Ollinger. Various focus groups comprised of about 75 people total were considering the applicants, added Palmer. John also said we were “on track” to getting Board of Education meetings on PAC14.

Nate Sansom updated us on the Teenage Republicans, which would have their first meeting March 4 at the Centre of Salisbury library branch. This led to Patty Miller being asked to fill us in on the SU College Republicans, which are having a fundraiser at the Greene Turtle March 21 and are “working on some big things.”

Matt Maciarello updated us briefly on legislation he was interested in, adding the Eastern Shore delegation is “working so hard” on these items. Included in his assessment was the bomb threat prosecution bill sponsored by Mary Beth Carozza as well as a bill dealing with sex offenders.

As you can tell, it was a meeting full of information that we somehow crammed into about 90 minutes. Our next gathering will be March 28, with U.S. Senate candidate Dave Wallace the first statewide candidate to stop by one of our meetings since 2013.

So long to MOM and Huck

February 2, 2016 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

The lack of results in the Iowa caucuses have seen two candidates for President exit the race.

On the Democratic side, the rest of America found out what Marylanders already knew: in a race of any significance without Bob Ehrlich to beat up on, Martin O’Malley is a terrible candidate. Now the audition for being a running mate begins for O’Malley, who never had traction in the polls – the question is just who does he audition to?

So the good people of Iowa did the job Marylanders wouldn’t do and eliminated O’Malley from contention, just in time for him to strap the guitar back on for “O’Malley’s March” or whatever he calls that band.

Oddly enough, maybe bass player Mike Huckabee can call MOM up for a jam session since he no longer has a race to run either. While Huckabee had a great campaign in 2008, his “sell by” date obviously passed and the religious Right decided Ted Cruz and Ben Carson were more their style.

I said a few days ago that the bottom five in Iowa as polled were Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, Huckabee, and John Kasich. The polls pegged them as the also-rans correctly, but I didn’t count Jim Gilmore, who “won” bigtime by getting 12 votes in a state he didn’t campaign in. As of the time I’m writing this, Rick Santorum is staying in by placing his hopes on South Carolina while Fiorina will doggedly continue in New Hampshire – a state where Christie and Kasich are expected to do far better than they did in Iowa.

So we will re-convene in New Hampshire next Tuesday and see how the field reacts. The question is whether Cruz or Marco Rubio can dent Donald Trump’s lead there now that we know The Donald is no longer invincible.

WCRC meeting – January 2016

If not for Jonas, this post probably would have had at least one photo of our former Republican governor Bob Ehrlich. But since our friend Jonas left him stuck across the bridge, in lieu of the book signing fundraiser we instead had a hastily arranged meeting to go over a handful of announcements, with the first one being prospective dates for rescheduling the event are March 7 or 14. Of course, that’s subject to change and as I brought up the former date would conflict with our Central Committee meeting. Jackie Wellfonder added that the event was nearly sold out, but there were still a few spots available.

(Historically there seems to be an issue with wintertime events featuring Bob Ehrlich here in Wicomico County.)

But anyway, the meeting announcement caught me by surprise since I hadn’t even gone through and compiled the minutes from the last one. Nor did we have a copy of the Treasurer’s Report, but interim treasurer Muir Boda had the excuse of having a meeting prior to this one. We were informed, though, that there were some changes to our accounts made necessary by the abrupt resignation of our previous treasurer and integration with the WCRC Paypal account.

Julie Brewington and I tag-teamed on the Central Committee report, which didn’t feature a whole lot. As a body we had done our post-mortem on the Lincoln Day Dinner and discussed having another “retreat” as we did last year.

Jackie Wellfonder informed us that the Governor’s Ball would be February 18. That brought up another question regarding how successful a couple local events turned out to be, with Jackie and Julie replying that Mary Beth Carozza’s fundraising event was “hugely successful.” Shawn Jester added that Andy Harris’s Fruitland town hall meeting was well-attended, without the drama of the subsequent Bel Air townhall.

Julie Brewington then noted the Republican Women of Wicomico group was growing, and its next meeting would be February 3 at Brew River. Muir Boda is the slated speaker for the 11:30 lunch meeting, with Mitzi Perdue set for the March meeting. She was “very optimistic” about the direction the group was taking. Julie also took a moment to announce she was the Ted Cruz campaign coordinator locally.

Marc Kilmer gave us an impromptu update on County Council, with the biggest issues right now being the capital budget and proposed mega-chicken house. The bulk of the capital budget borrowing would be going toward updating and upgrading the county’s radio communication system, to the tune of $11 million. As for the chicken house, which would be the largest in the county, Kilmer explained that the county really had no say on its construction and operation beyond the planning and zoning aspect – it would be an agricultural use in an area zoned for agriculture. Most of the scrutiny of its operation would come from the state, Kilmer added.

Kilmer also expressed his concern with negotiations with the county’s law enforcement officers regarding a proposed pension program, noting other counties have had issues with the costs.

There were a couple legislative updates given. I updated the progress of the school board bill (SB145), which has a hearing on Wednesday, while we also were alerted to the possibility the sprinkler bill (HB19) wouldn’t make it out of committee. (I checked on the latter, and found its scheduled hearing has been cancelled.)

In more mundane club news, we’ll have to look for a new Crab Feast chair and we discussed some planning items for the coming year.

Things to add to the calendar: The RWOW group is doing a paint night at Brew River on February 11 from 6 to 8, said Julie, while Jackie added that Bob Ehrlich is scheduled for another book signing event at SU, but there you don’t have to buy the book to attend (at a reduced cost.) She suggested we could support their February 15 event without buying the book then doing the WCRC fundraiser to get a copy.

Next month’s meeting will be a double dip: Walter Olson of the Cato Institute will discuss Maryland’s gerrymandering, while Anthony Gutierrez of the Wicomico Board of Elections will demonstrate the new voting machines. That meeting will be February 22. Sounds like a good one!

Let the terror begin

For years I have dubbed the annual Maryland General Assembly session the “90 days of terror,” and with good reason: no wallet or personal liberty is safe when the statists who inhabit most of the seats therein get together. Over the eight years of the previous two terms we endured tax increases, spending boondoggles, and enough new regulations to choke a horse, not to mention three measures which were petitioned to referendum by angry citizens.

While a new broom swept the governor’s office clean last year, Larry Hogan needed to get his sea legs under him as he took the helm of the ship of state so he didn’t create a huge legislative agenda last year – in a broad sense, it was about easing some of the tax burden Marylanders had been subjected to over the O’Malley administration, including repeals of the rain tax and automatic increases in the gasoline tax. Other items Hogan focused on were charter school reform and public campaign financing, which were among the few items Hogan had passed.

So since Hogan didn’t get his tax relief last year, it’s the front and center item on his 2016 agenda that kicks off later today. Democrats, of course, believe shoveling money into a bloated public education system is more important than giving hard-working Marylanders a tax break.

Something else to keep an eye on, though, are the department-sponsored bills, which now will bear the stamp of Hogan’s departmental appointees. Just like the governor, this is their first full legislative session as well and I’ve noticed a number of interesting measures coming from various departments that have already been pre-filed.

But the tension will be thick as Hogan tries to enact the agenda he promised while Democrats strive to make sure he’s another one-term Republican governor. As of 2018, it will have been 64 years since a Republican was re-elected as Maryland governor; however, Hogan has began his term as one of the most popular governors in the country and this session will occur with the backdrop of a Presidential race in which the Democrats aren’t utterly sold on their potential nominee. (Tellingly, the previous governor couldn’t even be a “favorite son” Presidential nominee from his own state.) In a contest over pocketbook issues, Hogan may have the public on his side.

We will know quickly just how the session will go as several of Hogan’s vetoes will be up for override. This was a rarity in the previous administration, but it’s worth recalling that the Democrats didn’t give Bob Ehrlich much of a honeymoon so I expect there to be at least one Hogan veto rebuffed. Democrats want to raise taxes, give felons the right to vote before completing their full sentences, make some reforms on civil forfeiture, and decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia. Out of those four vetoes, only the civil forfeiture bill originally had enough House votes to override a veto.

On a local level, we will be very interested to see what becomes of our elected school board bill. Will this finally be the year the state relents and lets the voters of Wicomico County decide its fate?

With a projection that we will have a large increase in filings over last session, it should be a year worth watching. I suspect I will have a difficult time keeping it to just the 25 votes I use for the monoblogue Accountability Project given that the veto votes will likely be included. But with a little help from my friends I look forward to the challenge.

A quick lesson in narrative

January 7, 2016 · Posted in Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

I don’t want to write a long post tonight – fortunately, I don’t think I’ll have to. Let’s take a look at what’s become an all-too-common assumption from the media, thanks to today’s Baltimore Sun.

The lead from writer Erin Cox states:

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday he will ask the General Assembly to grant “modest” tax cuts to working families, small businesses and retirees.

But the Republican governor offered no details on his proposed cuts nor on how he would pay for them. (Emphasis mine.)

First of all, I seriously doubt the budget will actually be reduced in real dollars – although that would be nice. No, a “cut” is now a situation where spending is less than the increase assumed to be granted. Back in the O’Malley (and Ehrlich) eras it was not uncommon for the annual budget increase to be between three and five percent, so each line item was figured as increasing by a commensurate amount. If you spent $1 million one year, you figured the budget for the next would be $1.05 million.

So when Hogan came along and nearly level-funded the budget last year with an increase of barely one percent, this was considered a “cut” because instead of the $5,000 increase the mythical agency expected, they “only” received $1,000. They got more than the previous year but $4,000 less than they thought. It’s why we spent the most on education ever yet Democrats whined about “cuts.”

But more important to this lesson is how easily the writer makes the implication that government spending less money is something that has to be paid for. We who are on the outside, with our incomes limited by how much skill and worth we have to our employers or customers, indeed have to worry about how we have to pay for expenses both expected, like rent or insurance, and unexpected, such as the extra heating oil you need. But we don’t think of cutting our family vacation out of the budget as paying – to us, it’s spending less money so that income and expenses come closer to evening out.

So if Larry Hogan wants to spend less on particular line items in the budget, these don’t have to be “paid for” because the tax dollars are already coming in. And it’s not like there’s not a long list of secondary items to consider such as paying down the state debt that O’Malley dramatically hiked or making up for raiding the pension funds.

Now that Larry has had a year to consider a budget, instead of being forced by the vagaries of the political calendar and state law to have one ready just days after taking office last year, we will see just how fiscally conservative he really is. Pushing it back under $40 billion may be a pipe dream, but since he has the most executive power over the budget of any governor in the country he may as well use it for good and point the state back toward fiscal sanity.

What do you think the narrative pushers will say about that?

A look ahead: 2016 in Maryland

Now that I made my thoughts on the fate of Wicomico County next year known, it’s time to expand the focus to the state as a whole. After the runup to the 2014 campaign and the transition of last year occupied the state over the last two years, it seems that the political class has settled in as we enter the second year of Larry Hogan’s term. His honeymoon was extended to some degree by his cancer diagnosis, but with a clean bill of health I suspect the gloves will be coming off as far as statewide Democrats are concerned. They need to position themselves for both the 2018 state election and, in some cases, the 2016 election as well. The surprise retirement announcement from Senator Barb Mikulski placed several Congressional Democrats into the race to succeed her, with House members Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen leading the charge. Elijah Cummings is also considering the race as well.

Of course, having these vacancies means ambitious state politicians are eyeing a move from Annapolis to Washington. So far five Democrats are considering the move, which in turn could create some vacancies by year’s end as it’s likely some of them emerge victorious. But on a policy note, these Democrats aren’t going to run from the political center so look for a serious turn to the left from the General Assembly this year – particularly if they succeed at overturning some of Larry Hogan’s 2015 vetoes in the opening days of this year’s session.

One place where Hogan can make a difference, though, is on the regulatory front. He doesn’t always need the General Assembly to make progress toward his goal of a more business-competitive Maryland, so look for him to try and do some pruning through his department heads.

With the economy recovering ever-so-slightly and the state addressing the structural deficit to the degree that it ran a small surplus this fiscal year, another bone of contention will be how the state’s budget is set up when it comes out next month. Having reached $40 billion last year, even the $500 million reportedly in surplus only allows the state to increase spending by a little over 1 percent – of course, the Democrats have a wish list twice that large and then some. Being used to the 4 to 5 percent annual budget increases common during the O’Malley era, Democrats consider Hogan’s smaller increases as cuts and that attitude is already in effect as we get ready to see the FY2017 budget.

Conservatives, though, probably aren’t going to see a lot of progress toward cutting the O’Malley excess on other issues. Short of a rejection to Maryland’s 2013 gun law in federal court (not likely), Hogan isn’t going to push very hard to restore Second Amendment rights or bring more school choice to the state. In year one, Hogan hasn’t really used his bully pulpit very much – granted, he was ill and undergoing cancer treatment for a large portion of the year but if you’re expecting Hogan to be another Ronald Reagan you may be disappointed. Besides the toll and fee decreases we were given last year, there’s not been much of a push for overall tax relief either thanks to the continuing structural deficit that Hogan’s predecessors have granted to him.

To the extent that Maryland has a large majority of Democratic voters, perhaps the best a conservative can expect is to slow down the leftward slide into the abyss. Bringing real change to the state is perhaps a multiple-term effort – not just the two Hogan may be fortunate enough to receive, but also with the hope that he paves the way for a more conservative successor. With the exception of one Bob Ehrlich term, the state has shifted leftward more or less continuously for decades so it will take time to undo the damage.

With the national election and the real prospect of conservative change in mind, the Maryland Republican agenda should be one of working the state away from its reliability on Uncle Sam as both employer and provider of funding. Since the Democrats are going to make 2016 about laying some ticking time bombs to go off just in time for them to come save the day in 2018, the GOP needs a plan to defuse them.

Maryland probably won’t make the same kind of news in 2016 as it did in 2015 – given the Baltimore riots and tremendous murder rate, we sure hope not. But the year has a lot of potential for this state, in my opinion more so than we’ve had in a decade. Leadership will be the key: if Larry Hogan emerges as the leader, we should be all right. But Heaven help us if it’s one of those on the loony left.

Report: High wages aren’t the issue with manufacturing

As you surely know, I have taken an interest in rebuilding manufacturing within our nation in general and this region in particular. While much of our local economy takes the form of manufacturing in an agricultural sense, either through grain farming or its primary purpose of assisting in the raising and processing of chickens, the advantages to the local and national economy if America began to make things again is beyond dispute.

So when I was sent a link to a manufacturing report by the union-led Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), I wanted to see what the perspective would be. Up front, it was clear that the AAM had their eggs in one basket.

“American factory workers are the solution, not the problem,” said Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul. “Instead of scapegoats, America needs a manufacturing strategy. That strategy should be built on balancing trade, investing in our infrastructure, enhancing our training programs, and rebuilding our innovation base.”

This report, with the lengthy title “Exchange rate policies, not high wages, are why U.S. lags China and Germany in export performance,” comes from the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI). Paul’s interpretation of the report:

“The idea that high wages in the manufacturing industry are causing job losses is common, but incorrect,” (report author Robert E.) Scott said. “Pushing manufacturing jobs into the low-wage, non-union south is a race-to-the-bottom strategy that should be rejected. Instead, we need to fight currency manipulation by countries like China and take a page from Germany and Europe to rebuild American manufacturing.”

His is a truncated summary of the last bullet point solution offered in the EPI report:

The strategy of pushing manufacturing into the low-wage, nonunion southern states is a race-to-the-bottom strategy that should be rejected in favor of high-road strategies: fighting currency manipulation and doing more to rebuild American manufacturing, taking a page from the German and European models (with supply-side policies that benefit and support the manufacturing sector, including increased spending on research and development as a share of gross domestic product; support for “stakeholder capitalism” in which boards of directors include an equal number of representatives of workers and managers; and heavy investment in training and job creation).

Obviously there is a certain appeal to some of getting back to the conditions we had circa 1960, when American manufacturing was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, workers brought home a salary that could support a family while Mom stayed home to take care of the kids, and Big Labor had its own corner of the political table. Five decades later, we have ceded that crown to China for a number of reasons. But I don’t think currency manipulation is the primary reason.

The EPI’s worry that manufacturing jobs are flocking to the “low-wage, non-union south” is in and of itself a tacit admission that wages and benefits are an important factor in site selection. China got to be a manufacturing leader because they have a very inexpensive workforce of semi-skilled laborers – the same sort of workforce that illegal aliens bring to the table in this country, although it depresses wages here in a different manner. Given the equality of other factors nationwide such as the federal regulatory regime and abundant cheap energy, those who do site selection tend to choose the places where they can get the biggest bang for their buck.

By the same token, willing local governments which assist these manufacturers with providing new infrastructure and greenfields for development tend to have more success than those urban areas with problematic old systems and brownfields that require remediation. But that’s not the only reason nice plots of available land sit empty in regions of the country outside the South.

Here in Maryland, we are saddled with a state government that refuses to even consider right-to-work legislation and has gone out of its way to punish large non-union employers. A decade ago when I began this site, the largest state issue was the (so-called) Fair Share Health Care Act and whether the Maryland General Assembly would override Governor Bob Ehrlich’s veto, which they did. The bill was narrowly tailored to affect just one employer: Walmart. And while correlation is not causation, the fact a proposed Walmart distribution center in Somerset County was placed on a continuing hold was blamed on the unfriendly climate for non-union businesses in Maryland. (The bill itself was later struck down in court as an ERISA violation, something I thought improper at the time.)

If you assume my overall argument is in favor of this “race to the bottom,” you’re forgetting a simple fact: a little bit of something is better than a whole lot of nothing. There are many paths to prosperity our nation, state, and city have available to us but it seems to me the best one is where we add value to the goods and services everyone needs. This is why our chicken industry succeeds, since we take that which is available to us to raise and process chicken for a world market and have developed an expertise that competitors have a hard time matching. Granted, not everyone in the industry makes a ton of money but that’s a function of the value placed on chicken by the market. Chicken is a very useful food product but people also like and can choose beef, pork, seafood, or vegan as well. On the other hand, there’s a reason oil is called “black gold,” to use another useful commodity for an example. The resource has a very high value thanks to its functionality, relative scarcity, and lack of alternative products.

America as a whole needs to again become the place where the most value is added, and once we get there we will all succeed because of it. (That will be the point where trade takes care of itself as well.) Back in 1960 we were the leaders in adding value, but now we’re not because we let others take our place. Re-establishing our manufacturing base will help us get that crown back, even if some parts of the country do more to help themselves in improving their economic state.

The expected return

August 25, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, Senator Watch · Comments Off 

It’s not that I haven’t expected Rich Douglas to jump into the Maryland U.S. Senate race. But after a steady diet of discussing foreign policy, Rich made the leap with a populist appeal:

Today, millions of American workers — hourly, salaried, union, non-union, or jobless — face an unprecedented crisis: Congress has become their adversary rather than their defender. A Congress too compromised or indifferent to restore the American workforce to a place of honor on our nation’s priority list undermines the liberty, livelihood, and security of us all.

In Congress, sheltered Maryland incumbents have thrown American workers to the wolves. Some of these Maryland career politicians even applauded in April when U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez said that Marylanders who are worried about uninvited foreign workers are ‘enemies of the community.’ Americans deserve better. They deserve unswerving loyalty from Congress. I am announcing for the Senate because too many Maryland incumbents are disloyal to voters.

Larry Hogan’s 2014 victory set the stage for improvements in Maryland to American worker conditions. To move ahead, Maryland requires a new team on Capitol Hill. I am convinced that Maryland has the wherewithal to overtake Texas in job creation, unless the political machine which brought Maryland rats, riots, and the rain tax smothers urgently-needed reform.

In 2016, voters have the power to challenge that machine. Maryland can send a seasoned, common-sense Republican veteran to the Senate who is eager to challenge career politicians making American workers outcasts in their own country.

So instead of dwelling on the numerous foreign policy failures of the Senate and Obama administration, Douglas is going with a blue-collar persona. Among the items on his issues page is a statement, “Marylanders losing their homes at tax auctions aren’t thinking about ISIS.” It seems to me he’s learned from his 2012 run, but again he’s probably going to face a younger, more dynamic opponent in Chrys Kefalas. Douglas is 58, Kefalas is 35.

Kefalas is also counting on a populist appeal, stressing his work for the National Association of Manufacturers over his work in government for the Justice Department and Ehrlich administration. Obviously more will enter the race, but most of them will be the common rabble who fill out the ballot every two years. It’s not uncommon for GOP voters to see ten or more names on the ballot, but the burning question is just how many of them will be elected officials running from cover.

Like last time, the key for the top two contenders will be how they deal in their opponent’s arena. Douglas takes the advantage in foreign policy, so how the candidates deal with pocketbook issues will be the subject of scrutiny.

The fallback position?

In the day since Governor Hogan announced his Phosphorus Management Tool regulations and I wrote my original take on them, I’ve had a chance to see what some of the involved players have to say.

I should preface this by noting I’m not a farmer; however, I have a rural background to the extent that I lived on acreage partially surrounded by woods and cornfields and went to school with kids who were honest-to-goodness members of the Future Farmers of America, complete with the blue corduroy jackets. And seeing that this is a predominantly rural area which depends on agriculture and my interest is in its economic success, I tend to favor the views of farmers over those who think that chicken comes from Whole Foods.

Anyway, the reaction I saw from the major agricultural players was somewhat disappointing, considering the dramatic effect those around here will feel from the PMT regulations. I begin with Delmarva Poultry Industry.

Statewide, the Maryland Farm Bureau echoed the inclusive approach.

To me, these farm groups are exhibiting the same attitude that’s expressed by the saying, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Perhaps I’m just wondering what happened to the Larry Hogan who promised the Maryland Farm Bureau back in December:

The first fight [when I take office] will be against these politically motivated, midnight-hour phosphorus management tool regulations that the outgoing administration is trying to force upon you in these closing days. We won’t allow them to put you out of business, destroy your way of life or decimate your entire industry.

The regulations are essentially unchanged in this rendition with the exception of promises of more resources for affected farmers and an extra year to deal with the mandates. But over 1 in 5 local farmers will have to stop their fertilizing practices immediately when the regulations take effect.

And the step toward environmentalists has apparently been met with defiance. Both the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and Chesapeake Bay Foundation are skeptical. CBF’s Alison Prost notes:

We are pleased the governor recognizes that excess manure application on farm fields in Maryland is a serious issue, just as scientists have been noting for years.

(snip)

We learned general information about the proposal Monday afternoon, and are hoping to obtain a copy of the actual proposed regulation as soon as possible. Without such details, we are withholding judgment.  Once we are able to review the full proposal we hope that the Hogan Administration will allow the environmental community a chance to help shape this policy.  In the meantime, we fully support SB 257 and HB 381 which are intended to solve the manure crisis through legislation. (Emphasis mine.)

In other words: nice try, but we are still after the whole enchilada.

Honestly, I don’t know if this measure is an attempt to placate the center by throwing farmers under the bus or if it’s part of a grand gambit where concessions on this issue will be traded for relief from the “rain tax.” I don’t trust the Democrats to follow through on any such deal because they come with the attitude that their time out of power is a fleeting, temporary one. It worked in ousting Bob Ehrlich after one term.

Perhaps Larry Hogan doesn’t have it in him to be Maryland’s answer to Scott Walker. But this relatively rapid concession on an issue important to the rural voters who supported him by margins of 70-30 or better in many counties is troubling. Had he waited until we knew the fate of the General Assembly bills – which he could have chosen to veto and perhaps not have to deal with until next session – he could have positioned himself as more of the fighter we were looking for when we dispatched Martin O’Malley’s heir apparent and selected Larry to lead the state.

By their words today, the environmental lobby proved they have no intention of working with Larry Hogan – none whatsoever. There was enough of a broad outline presented yesterday that these groups could have embraced the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative, but they did not.

Of course, I sort of figured it would be this way all along but people keep reaching across the aisle and keep getting their arms bitten off. The only solution is to make the statist side concede by having superior numbers, and we can’t finish that job until 2018.

Creating his own outlet

February 15, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

To be perfectly honest and up front about it, I have not listened to the subject of this post, as my life and items are still in some disarray after our recent move. (This includes my headphones, which are in some box somewhere.)

But last week Dan Bongino released the second of what is now a weekly series of podcasts. And given the fact he’s used the political world and running for office twice in the last two federal cycles to make a name for himself in the media world, I wanted to use this post to ponder whether if we would see Bongino go three-for-three with the 2016 U.S. Senate race or a rematch with John Delaney in Maryland’s Sixth District.

Let’s look at a little history first. At this time four years ago, no one outside of the world of the Secret Service and law enforcement knew who Dan Bongino was. But in the spring of 2011 he made the decision to begin his political career with a run for the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland, and with an engaging personality and conservative stands on many issues, Bongino made enough of a name for himself to win a crowded primary and the right to face incumbent Ben Cardin.  While Bongino had some good fortune in the fact no former candidate like Eric Wargotz or Michael Steele, regionally known officeholder like Pat McDonough, or former governor Bob Ehrlich decided to jump into the race, it’s likely he weighed all these possibilities and had an idea they would skip the race before he got in.

Something Bongino succeeded in doing with his 2012 Senate race, though, was nationalizing his effort. In most northeastern states, a Republican running for a statewide office against long odds would attract little notice outside the state, but Bongino made waves with his race once he received a Sarah Palin endorsement. His 2014 Congressional effort continued on the same path.

But something else we learned about Bongino was that he was a natural at broadcasting. Over the last few years he’s graduated from occasional guest to guest host, taking over for both Sean Hannity and Mark Levin on occasion. If he ever lands a spot sitting in for Rush Limbaugh we’ll know he’s in the big leagues.

So it brings up the question for a multimedia player like Bongino: what’s in it for him to make a 2016 run?

Bongino is in a spot in Maryland similar to the one which Sarah Palin occupies nationally. Dan’s support for a candidate is looked upon with approval from a large number of conservative voters in Maryland, just like a Palin endorsement appeals to a particular subset of voters nationwide. Both, however, are becoming more well-known in media circles than for accomplishments in office (which is a shame on Palin’s part, since she has been elected several times.)

If Bongino runs again and loses again, will that tarnish his standing among conservatives who can’t point to electoral success on his part? On the other hand, will he feel that the media exposure he’s gaining is going to put him over the top? With just a few hundred plays on his Soundcloud (I cannot discern how his iTunes podcasts are doing) it’s a nice outlet but not one which gets him a lot of exposure like a guest-hosting slot would give.

Over the next few months, the 2016 races will begin to take shape. I would expect at least a couple members of the Maryland General Assembly to run from cover for federal positions but not to announce their intentions until later this summer. Those who have less name recognition will probably start in the next month or so since the primary is less than 14 months away – depending on how the Presidential race shakes out, we may see more attention paid to the downticket races like U.S. Senate.

If I were to take my educated guess, I think Dan is going to pass on 2016 unless the Senate seat becomes open through the retirement of Barb Mikulski. With 2016 being a Presidential year, turnout will be more like the 2012 turnout and that tends to favor Democrats in this state.

On the other hand, 2018 creates a host of possibilities on both a state and federal level, giving Dan more options should he decide to jump in a race.

Once I get my stuff together I will take about 45 minutes and listen to what Dan has to say – chances are I will enjoy it. But my thoughts always work to the next cycle and all the possibilities within. If the question is whether Dan Bongino will be in the mix, I think the answer is yes. I’m just not sure where one of the many young guns the Maryland GOP has will fit in.

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