So long to MOM and Huck

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.

The Democrats’ house of cards starts a-tumblin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet another candidate, by George

February 2, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

As proof that the 2016 presidential contest is wide open on the Republican side, I give you the newest entrant: George Pataki.

Many of you are probably saying, “George who?” But as evidence that some people are more than just getting their name out there, Pataki served three terms as the governor of New York, actually establishing a period of sanity before the circus that was the Eliot Spitzer administration, which led to the David Paterson tenure before yielding to current Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Pataki, ironically, succeeded Cuomo’s late father Mario.)

But Pataki fits into the mold that Mitt Romney vacated: a more moderate Northeastern governor. Yet one has to wonder why he didn’t make a bid at the top of his game in 2008, just after leaving office. And at 69 years of age (he’ll be 70 later this summer) he would be older than many in the field. (He’s two years older than Hillary Clinton but almost three years younger than Joe Biden.) Granted, the current President is panned for his relative inexperience at the age of 53 so age may not be so much of a factor in Pataki’s case.

Like many governors, Pataki is running against Washington and has created his own superPAC called “We the People, Not Washington.” He’s also heading to New Hampshire to introduce himself to voters, perhaps believing he can make more of an impact in a state closer to home with an early primary.

But I look at this announcement with the realization that political analyst Larry Sabato has Pataki as a “seventh-tier” candidate – along with another blue-state Republican governor who you might know, Bob Ehrlich – correctly pegs Pataki’s chances. Their similarities include a long near-decade out of office, although in Ehrlich’s case it was thanks to two straight electoral defeats. As I noted yesterday, the list of GOP governors who are considering a run is very long because our side has a deep bench to turn to. Sabato lists close to a dozen possible current or former governors who are thinking about it.

And in looking at the political landscape Pataki would have to run in, he almost has to hope for a New Hampshire miracle where they embrace the populist message that government doesn’t have to be smaller, just run better. That’s not a direction the TEA Party wants to go.

Whether it’s a serious run or a last gasp at relevancy, you can’t fault a guy who had a pretty good twelve-year run as governor for trying. I just don’t know if he’ll succeed beyond the end of this year.

Differing transportation thoughts

January 24, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

Last week at Blue Ridge Forum, regular author Richard Falknor stepped aside for a two-part series by writer Peter Samuel, a specialist in writing about toll roads. In part one, Samuel advocated for a reduction in tolls and license fees, which was good, but in return we would have to endure this:

Fairness and efficiency will be best served by moving toward transport systems that self-finance with user fees: more precisely, fees-for-use roads should finance themselves with fees based on the cost of providing road service, road use fees, or tolls based on the distance traveled, the scarcity of road space, and the costs the vehicles impose.

Unfortunately, this raises the prospect of abuse by the state. Imagine portions of U.S. 50 and Maryland Route 90 becoming toll roads from the Bay Bridge to Ocean City, such as the bypass around Salisbury and any future routes around Easton and Cambridge. Sure, you could avoid the tolls and go through town but the traffic would become the same issue it was before the current U.S. 50 portion of the Salisbury bypass opened a decade or so ago. This would also be discouraging for truck traffic.

Maybe the best example of the problem with this philosophy is the Inter-County Connector between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The ICC, as it’s called, was in the pipeline for decades before finally becoming a reality under Bob Ehrlich, with Martin O’Malley finishing it last year. But the ICC isn’t popular with drivers because of its lower speed limit and heavy enforcement of traffic laws, so it hasn’t met revenue projections.

It’s likely Samuel is thinking more of the urban areas with their existing HOT lanes and other means to divide express traffic heading to the suburbs and local traffic which may hop on the highway for a couple exits. But Samuel’s second part discusses the fate of the Red Line in Baltimore and Purple Line in the Washington suburbs.

In that case he is correctly diagnosing the problem with mass transit solutions such as these:

Project advocates list all the jobs created during construction, but this is only a measure of cost, and avoids the real question: what value are they creating?

In any enterprise there is positive net value if the users are paying sufficient user fees (fares) to both cover operating costs and provide a competitive return on capital (ROI).

To the extent fares won’t cover costs plus return on capital, we have a clear measure that the value to users falls short of costs, making the project a net loss to any operator.

Rail transit in Maryland presently collects in the ‘farebox’ less than 30 cents on the dollar spent on operating the system and, of course, makes no return on capital invested. Light rail is the very worst with lower farebox recovery (currently under 20 cents per dollar.)

Some of those results could be improved, but almost no rail system in America come close to the black (100 on the dollar + ROI).

If you read further, Samuel likes the concept of the Red Line but is concerned about the construction cost and likelihood of overruns. On the other hand, his thought on the Purple Line is that it should change its form and become a bus-only route. The construction would be far cheaper and the schedule could be more easily adjusted to suit the needs of consumers. That’s an approach which makes more sense, although one has to ask why automotive traffic couldn’t utilize the route then.

At the end of part two, Peter also adds a map of proposed changes, including a westward extension of the ICC which crosses over into Virginia and provides another Potomac crossing west of Washington, as well as an eastbound addition which connects to U.S. 50 near Bowie. Also noted is a “new span Bay Bridge.”

What I would propose, though, is a truly new span Bay Bridge that’s several dozen miles south and connects Dorchester County with Calvert County. There’s no question the environmentalists (and some of the locals) would scream bloody murder, but they would for any attempt at progress anyway.

I think this bridge would encourage more tourism from the Washington area and, if combined with an extension of I-97 to its original destination near Richmond, could open up the Eastern Shore as a new tourist destination as travelers seek an alternate route around the traffic presented in Baltimore and Washington. Adding a bypass around Easton and cutoff between U.S. 50 and U.S. 301 through Queen Anne’s County (paralleling or upgrading the existing Maryland Route 213) could make this route even more desirable. Samuel could even get the cutoff to be a toll route.

There is a lot which can be done in lieu of wasting money on the Red Line and Purple Line because both are destined to be money pits; on the other hand, investing in transportation alternatives which maximize options and freedom makes more sense. As Samuel writes:

Better mobility provides greater employment opportunities, better shopping choices, more specialized health and medical services, more social and family interaction, better education, sporting. and recreational opportunities.

Our travel is not frivolous. People don’t drive the Capital Beltway for the scenery. We travel because the trips provide value.

There would be value in having a second Bay Bridge as well as the other roads for which I advocated. People and goods could move more freely up and down the East Coast, avoiding the bottlenecks presented in northern Virginia and around Baltimore, while the Lower Shore would have more direct access to a route across Chesapeake Bay, allowing for easier movement west and south.

It’s time to think on a larger scale while accepting the reality that people want the freedom to be able to jump in their cars at a moment’s notice and go wherever they wish. Mass transit simply creates dependency on the provider and allows them some level of control of movement. That may be acceptable to some, but the rest of us want to get where we want to go as quickly as possible – on our terms – and this is where government can be of service to the public.

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