Outside the forum

I’ll go a little more in-depth later about the Coastal Association of Realtors/Salisbury Independent candidate forum over the coming days, but there are two key takeaways involving Delegate Norm Conway.

The first is the public apology made by Carl Anderton to Conway regarding the recent release of a flyer depicting Conway in a ski mask. He devoted the main portion of this opening remarks to his mea culpa.

I had a great opening speech prepared – I thought about it all day driving in the rain, but I need to do something, need to correct a wrong and this is how I was raised: to do the right thing and put everything aside for what’s right.

And I want to apologize to you, Mister Conway for a mailer that was sent out, apparently on behalf of me – if that was on behalf of me, I wish it would stop. It was tasteless, shameful, and disgusting and I apologize to you on behalf of whoever sent that.

Anderton went on to say that he had contacted the state Republican party and expressed his disappointment, as he was seeking to run a clean campaign based on the facts and issues.

But just a few hours after the debate, another photo came out.

The car has a House of Delegates plate on it and one can easily read the Conway sticker. Obviously there are a few possible explanations for this, but unless Mrs. Conway was there and needs the designation it’s pretty likely that the car was in a spot most people couldn’t take without a fine. Joe Steffen came to his own conclusion.

Without going too deeply into the content of the forum, though, I wanted to pass along some of my observations.

For one thing, the event lasted 2 1/2 hours and featured a total of 15 candidates – six from District 37, four from District 38, and five in Wicomico County at-large races. Notably missing were the two District 38C candidates (although Judy Davis was in attendance) and the two running for Senate in District 38; on the other hand, both District 38A candidates were there despite the fact their district no longer covers Wicomico County. Regardless, the high number of candidates made for too few questions – I think the event should have played out over two nights as it did in 2010.

Maybe it was just me being tired, but to me I didn’t pick up a great deal of variety among the answers. Even the Democrats pretty much tried to sound conservative, but we know better how they will fare in Annapolis (or in county government.) I’ll still write up a summary on this, but the unusual nature of some of the questions made me scratch my head.

So look for that over the coming days as my plate is filling up. I just wanted to jot down some initial thoughts this morning.

Anderton among Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC endorsees

Yesterday the Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC announced seven endorsements for the 2014 campaign. All seven of these candidates are Republicans and they are seeking office in most corners of the state, so I will cover them in district order. As a hint to what they are up against, I’m featuring the lifetime monoblogue Accountability Project (mAP) score for incumbents.

  • Robin Grammer, District 6. This Baltimore County district elected three Democrats in 2010 but only Michael Weir, Jr. (mAP = 28), who is seeking his fourth term, decided to run again. (John Olszewski, Jr. decided to run for the Senate seat of retiring Senator Norman Stone and Joseph “Sonny” Minnick opted to retire.) So two of the seats are open in a district which has elected moderate Democrats and just might be amenable to the GOP alternative.
  • Gordon Bull, District 12. Sliced between Baltimore and Howard counties, this used to be a 2/1 split district. But all three incumbent Democrats, who had a combined 52 years in office, decided to get out so the opening is there. Not the easiest territory but hopefully the district’s conservative voters can unite and sneak Bull into the top three.
  • Michael Ostroff, District 14. Ostroff certainly has a tough race. All three incumbents are running again: Anne Kaiser (mAP = 3), Eric Luedtke (mAP = 2), and Craig Zucker (mAP = 3) are in the race. But for Luedtke and Zucker, this is their first bid for re-election so the jury could be out on them – Ostroff provides a conservative alternative for MoCo voters.
  • Philip Parenti, District 27B. Some could write this race off because it’s in Prince George’s County, but a significant part of the 27B district lies in Calvert County, much friendlier to Republicans. It’s the eastern half of the old two-member District 27A, but shifted even a little more eastward into Calvert. Moreover, Parenti is up against a newcomer rather than an incumbent – James Proctor, Jr. is running in adjacent District 27A while Joseph Vallario, Jr. was redistricted himself to District 23B. So this is a winnable race as well.
  • Deb Rey, District 29B. St. Mary’s County has been trending more Republican over the last four years and the opponent is 15-year veteran John Bohanon, Jr. (mAP = 6). True, her section of the 29th district at the southern tip of St. Mary’s County has a Democratic voter advantage – but so does Wicomico County and we see how Republicans do there. This is a case where the Delegate may be a mismatch for the district in terms of voting record.
  • Sid Saab, District 33. Saab is in the catbird seat among these contenders. Two of the three incumbents in the newly-restored District 33 (it was a split district) are Republicans who have represented Anne Arundel County well – Tony McConkey (mAP = 82) and Cathy Vitale (mAP = 80) decided to stay on, while Robert Costa (mAP = 44) opted to leave after three terms. It created the opening for Saab, who should hopefully score about as well as McConkey and Vitale, if not better.
  • Carl Anderton, Jr., District 38B. Most of my readers should be familiar with Anderton, who’s running against a 28-year incumbent in Norm Conway (mAP = 6.) State Democrats tried to assist Conway by excising most of the geography of his old district, removing Republican-heavy Worcester County entirely and centering it in the Salisbury metro area. Voter registration would suggest it’s a leaning-Democratic district but in terms of registered voters it’s also the third-smallest in the state – so the candidate who can motivate best has an advantage and Carl is working extremely hard.

While this PAC isn’t wealthy by any means, they can throw a few hundred dollars into the coffers of each of these candidates should they so choose. But it’s more important to spread the word about these worthy conservative alternatives – imagine what the General Assembly would be like if all six won and pushed the GOP numbers tantalizingly close to 50. Even getting to 47 would be a victory as they could get around the committee process if all stick together.

So those who bought raffle tickets from the group should be pleased with the results.

A million and four too many

I have a friend that’s tired of seeing this commercial for Jim Mathias because, as she said, “I feel like I’ve seen this same Jim Mathias commercial a million and four times already.” So it’s time for me to expand it and tell you what he’s really saying.

The ad cuts through a number of different scenes from around the area. Most of it is shot in a restaurant but there are stills from a number of outdoor scenes, inside a firehouse, and so forth.

The script is rather simple.

Mathias: Hi, I’m Jim Mathias, your Senator. In Annapolis, I make SURE we get heard and get results for the Eastern Shore. I fight for lower taxes and less regulation so our businesses thrive, make money, and hire more people.

When we need to repair a bridge like a Pocomoke, make our roads safer like Route 113, or improve our schools like James M. Bennett, I get the job done. I’m asking you for your vote so that we can continue to preserve our way of life on the Eastern Shore.

So let’s go through this a little at a time.

Hi, I’m Jim Mathias, your Senator.

Not by choice, and certainly not by voting record.

In Annapolis, I make SURE we get heard and get results for the Eastern Shore.

That can be taken any number of ways, but based on the fact we have higher unemployment and slower growth than the state as a whole, I’m not sure you’re getting them to listen or give us the desired results.

I fight for lower taxes and less regulation so our businesses thrive, make money, and hire more people.

Now wait a second. You’ve voted for 11 of the 12 total state funding items since you’ve become Senator – all four operating budgets, all four capital budgets, and three of the four BRFA bills – 2012 being the exception. In that year, you waited until the Special Session to vote for that BRFA, which was the one that shifted teacher pensions to the counties. Seeing as that the budgets you voted for were increases over the previous year, wouldn’t it follow that revenue had to come from somewhere?

It seems you don’t have a lot of influence on your party since they keep voting for the tax hikes and regulation, yet many of them give you campaign financing. And as I referenced above, when compared to other parts of the state, businesses aren’t hiring more people so it’s doubtful they’re thriving or making money.

When we need to repair a bridge like a Pocomoke…

Interesting you should bring that up. According to the SHA, the Pocomoke River bridge project was paid for by the gas tax increase you opposed, yet it’s been in the pipeline for a few years. From the minutes of the Somerset County Roads Commission, November 15, 2011:

Commissioner (Charles F.) Fisher then asked about the status of the Pocomoke River bridge. Mr. Drewer (Donnie Drewer, SHA district engineer) stated that the north bound side deck will be replaced and a latex overlay will be placed over the south bound lanes. The project is slated to be funded with FY2013-2014 funding.

FY2013 began July 1, 2012, so the project ended up being almost two years behind schedule.

It’s noted that Mathias was present at that Somerset County meeting so if he was fighting as hard as he states, wouldn’t that bridge be finished by now? Instead, the SHA added it to their FY2013-18 plan, which reveals that of the $17.2 million cost, the federal government covers almost $13.8 million. (Page 447 of this exceedingly large file shows it.) So maybe Andy Harris deserves more credit.

…make our roads safer like Route 113…

This is a project which has spanned decades, with original studies dating from the 1970s and off-and-on construction over the last 20 years. So there’s not much Mathias has really done for it. It’s actually been dedicated to the man Mathias was appointed to replace in the House, Bennett Bozman.

…or improve our schools like James M. Bennett, I get the job done.

Actually, much of the money for improving the Bennett Middle School – which I assume is the one he’s talking about since the high school was under construction when he became Senator – comes from Wicomico County taxpayers, who are the recipients of millions in debt to build the new school after two members of Wicomico County Council caved to a vocal support group and changed their initial vote against the bonds. The state money wasn’t coming until the Council bowed to the “Bennett babes.”

The job that was done was placing those children who will eventually attend the new BMS in debt.

I’m asking you for your vote so that we can continue to preserve our way of life on the Eastern Shore.

There are a lot of things worth preserving on the Eastern Shore. But for all the rhetoric, I come back to something I wrote four years ago when Mathias took advantage of the retirement of Republican Senator Lowell Stoltzfus to jump from the House to the Senate:

There’s a reason that I get day after day of mailings from Jim Mathias explaining how, despite his Baltimore roots, he’s an Eastern Shore conservative at heart (today it’s being against “liberals” and for the death penalty.) Annapolis Democrats wouldn’t be backing him if he weren’t useful to them – they know the score and the fact they need Republicans to have fewer than 19 Senate seats to keep them meaningless. He will be no such thing as a loose cannon.

In order for the state of Maryland to be a true two-party state and keep in check the appetite of the liberals who have been running our state into the ground for God knows how long, Republicans need to maintain at least 2/5 of the Senate, or 19 of the 47 seats. (Getting 19 Senate seats is paramount because that can sustain a filibuster.) The GOP got to 14 seats in 2006, only to lose two in 2010 – one of them being to Jim Mathias. Prior to that, the 38th District Senate seat had been Republican for nearly 30 years, which matched the conservative nature of the district.

I won’t deny that Jim Mathias has a more moderate voting record than most Democrats in Maryland, and on certain issues he will vote with Republicans, such as overt tax increases or the gun law. But these seem to be the exceptions to the rule, and now Jim is casting himself as someone who got pork for the district. Going along to get along, with the exception of votes where the hall pass to vote against the party line because the votes are already there, is one thing.

But in order to “preserve our way of life on the Eastern Shore” we need a reliable conservative voice to reflect the conservative area and that’s not Jim Mathias.

Stepping into the ring

Yesterday I pointed out the voting records of the two men who wish to represent those of us who live in Senate District 38, but another thing I alluded to was the disparity in amending bills. Granted, it’s rare that Democrats have to make floor motions because much of their work can be done as a collective at the subcommittee and committee level; moreover, Senator Jim Mathias sits on the Finance Committee and that committee reviewed the smallest number of bills among the four main committees in the Senate (Budget and Taxation; Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs; Finance; and Judicial Proceedings.) All but the Senate President serve on at least one of those committees. Some members also sit on either the Executive Nominations or Rules committees, but Mathias isn’t among that group.

As I pointed out, often the only way a member (particularly a Republican one) has to amend a bill going through a committee he’s not part of is via the floor and McDermott has done so on many occasions.

But another thing Mike does well is communicate with constituents, and he also has a good way of getting to the root of the issue. Take this recent example, part of a piece he wrote called “Politically Correct Farming”:

Farmers have always been the first conservationists, even though they are often the last one to get called to a “Round Table Discussion” when policy is being crafted. Those “Round Tables” are reserved for election years. Ask any farmer about fixing the Bay and they will first point to the Conowingo Dam. The next point will be to the metro core area septic plants. They would also point out that the farming community is way ahead of the mandated time lines already placed upon them by the government.

The fact is, we do not need any further mandates on the shore. We need action in the areas that are creating the problem! The areas of the Bay which receive the best environmental scores are those adjacent to the Eastern Shore; and they rest next to the shore county (Somerset) that has the highest number of poultry operations in Maryland. Go figure!

Our water does not travel from lower shore rivers into the upper Bay regions, rather it moves toward the Atlantic. In spite of the obvious, farmers are an easy lot to blame; and politicians often do so with food in their mouths.

It should be obvious that poor water quality at the Bay Bridge isn’t being caused by a Somerset County poultry farmer, but from an Annapolis point of view untreated chicken waste flows as if magnetized toward the otherwise-pristine waters of the Annapolis harbor.

Or how about another case, this regarding gambling. McDermott called this the “Capitulating vs. Negotiating” piece, from which I excerpt:

For several years, Worcester County and Ocean Downs Casino have been paying off Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. All of that money could (and should) have been utilized for local spending. When I was elected in 2010, I was keenly aware of this wealth transfer and I looked for a mechanism to bring it back home where it belonged.

That opportunity presented itself in 2012 during our 2nd Special Session when the expansion of gaming was being sought. The issue was no longer about whether or not we would have gambling, rather it was about allowing a 6th casino to be built in Prince George’s County at National Harbor. Gambling was no longer the issue.

This bill originated in the Senate and once again, I noticed that the payoffs to Baltimore City and Prince George’s County were still embedded in the legislation. There was no attempt by Mathias to remove these provisions from the bill.

When the bill arrived in the House, the Democrats were hunting for insurance votes to pass the bill. I took advantage of the situation and spoke to the leader on the bill about the possibility of my supporting it. My demand was straightforward: return the local impact money to the citizens where the casinos are located. Depending on revenues, this could amount to $2 million each year that would remain on the lower shore.

To our benefit, they agreed to amend the bill and cut out the funding for Baltimore City and Prince George’s County as soon as Baltimore’s casino was open for business. In turn, I cast a deciding vote for the National Harbor expansion. The amendment was introduced by Delegate Dave Rudolph (D-Cecil) whose county also benefited directly from these local impact grants staying on the Upper Shore in Cecil County.

I could not help but see the irony of these two separate votes from two Delegates representing the same area:

  • Mathias casts the deciding vote that brings gambling to Maryland, establishes a casino in Ocean City’s backyard, and agrees to give Baltimore City and Prince Georges County $2 million of our money every year.
  • I cast the deciding vote that expands gambling to Prince George’s County alone and only after seeing the bill amended to strip Baltimore City and Prince George’s County from receiving one dime of our local impact money (returning $2 million to the Eastern Shore.)

Let me state for the record that both voted for this bill, a stance with which I disagreed because it punted this responsibility to the voters instead of in the General Assembly where it belongs. One could argue that McDermott sold his vote, or it can be termed horsetrading. But what horsetrading have we received from Mathias?

I also wanted to see what those on the other side of the political spectrum think. This is from a blog called Seventh State, which is a liberal site. In handicapping the 38th District races, David Lublin wrote back in March:

Backed by Rep. Andy Harris, one of my Eastern Shore sources describes McDermott as “to the right of Genghis Khan” on both social and fiscal issues. No one would confuse comparatively moderate Mathias with a Western Shore liberal but the difference between him and McDermott cannot be missed.

Actually, I would pretty much confuse Mathias with a Western Shore liberal given the preponderance of his votes. But honestly I don’t think the 38th District at large would truly mind “to the right of Genghis Khan” because it’s a conservative district. (It’s also an interesting comparison given what we know about the Mongol ruler.) Ours is also a district which chafes at the influence of Annapolis in its affairs, and considering Mathias has received a large portion of his six-figure campaign account from PACs and out-of-area donors, you have to wonder which of these two would be fighting out of our corner.

In a recent PAC-14 interview, McDermott said, “(W)e need leaders from the shore to go up there and represent our values.” Having heard Mike McDermott speak on a number of occasions, I think he would be a great addition to the Senate because he has shown over the last four years that he does the better job of that than his opponent.

Jim Mathias is a nice guy, but in this instance nice guys should finish last.

The polling continues

October 7, 2014 · Posted in Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, Polling · Comment 

On Saturday I pointed out the Gonzales Poll Larry Hogan has cited as proof he’s within striking distance in the governor’s race. The news wasn’t quite as good in a more recent Washington Post poll, but it wasn’t as bad as previous polls in that newspaper.

But again it’s a question of turnout, and the Post simply replicated the pattern of registered voters in the state. If Republicans come out to a greater extent than Democrats – many of whom aren’t excited about Brown – that cuts into the Brown lead. Considering the Post poll is of randomly selected adults, I suspect the turnout model they’re using favors Brown in the poll.

So instead of the 15 to 18 points Brown has led by in previous polls, this poll by itself drove the RCP average down from 15 to 12 points.

But the breakdown on issues is interesting. Remember, this is a sample that is probably slightly oversampling Democrats, but the key issue is taxes. Yet on a number of other issues the only ones which reflect closely the partisan breakdown are social issues and public education. It’s hard to believe that fully half prefer Brown on the issue of health care considering how he botched the state’s website, but others like gun laws, job creation, and illegal immigration lean Hogan’s way in comparison to the partisan breakdown of the sample.

Given the crosstabs, though, the best way for Hogan to cut into Brown’s lead is to chip away at the Democrats on the issues that he’s closest to moving ahead on. It’s absolutely essential for Larry to somehow get to about 25 percent of Democrats going his way, with this polling suggesting he’s at about 14 percent. If Democrats get the 62% turnout this poll suggests (with Republicans at 65% and unaffiliated at 48%) that’s the only way he can win.

Somehow the case has to be made to the low-information crowd that a third term of Martin O’Malley is too much for the state to bear. Those of us who have a lick of common sense already know this, but too many people must actually think a poor economy is a good thing.

A satisfying Super Saturday

A couple months ago, the Maryland Republican Party designated yesterday as a Super Saturday for Wicomico County, a day where the MDGOP increased its emphasis on door-to-door and other voter contacts for local candidates. As a culmination to the day, the Eastern Shore Victory Headquarters was the setting for a fundraiser and appreciation party.

Among the state party luminaries who attended the after-party were state party Chair Diana Waterman and National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose.

Ambrose noted this area was one of a handful the state party was targeting this time around, with well over 1,000 voter contacts made on this day both from headquarters and door-to-door.

Introducing the candidate was the guy who took Anderton’s seat on the Delmar Commission when Anderton became mayor, Bunky Luffman. He told the crowd that Carl “builds consensus” for getting things done and reminded us that Anderton spoke to “chicken tax” sponsor Delegate Shane Robinson, leading to an eventual withdrawal of the House bill. Being Maryland Municipal League head gave Carl a measure of influence.

With that intro, Carl addressed the group.

Among the ideas Anderton spoke about were the prospect of addressing the tax differential, which would require enabling legislation that hasn’t been a priority for the incumbent. Another issue where Norm Conway was “a crutch” to keep it from happening is an elected school board. In short, Conway has “failed us miserably time and time again.”

He also noted Peter Franchot’s case that a large property tax increase will need to be made, blaming the massive debt increase Conway has supported over the years.

While it was his fundraiser, Carl yielded the floor to his special guest, Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio.

Jeannie recalled that the 2010 election saw House Republicans in Maryland gain six seats, or one for each committee. “We were starting to effect change,” she said, particularly on the sub-committees – so the Democrats started doing more work at the committee level where GOP strength was diluted. She added that our side wins the floor debates, but can’t win the votes – so having delegates like Carl would help in that regard.

Jeannie was also a popular photo subject. I got a couple as she posed with Muir Boda in the top photo and the host in the bottom.

Yet the work wasn’t done. Looking at Carl’s Facebook page, he noted that they were still hard at work building signs at 10:30 at night. To beat a well-funded incumbent, the workday is long.

More encouraging poll news

It goes without saying that Larry Hogan is excited about the most recent polling results and how they affect the perception of the race.

Everyone now knows this race is too close to call. This week, we told you about the Gonzales poll showing us within striking distance of Brown. Yesterday, the media validated these numbers. And today, the Cook Political Report has reclassified this race from “Solid Democrat” to “Leans Democrat”!

The Maryland governors race started as “Solid Democrat” and has moved TWO SPOTS to its current classification.

This varies from the Real Clear Politics version of the race, which hasn’t updated in the month since the YouGov poll that Hogan questioned. They still show the race as “Likely Dem” with a 15-point margin. So which is right?

In my opinion, the fact that Anthony Brown is trying to paint Larry as a TEA Party Republican by stressing the gun law and abortion rather than discussing the state’s moribund economy points to a tightening race. That seems to be the conventional wisdom of the Hogan camp and I’m inclined to agree.

Yet the tale will begin to be told with the debates that begin next week. One thing Marylanders really haven’t seen is how the two candidates perform on the stump to an audience which hasn’t been attuned to the race aside from thirty-second commercials. How will the two fare under the pressure of direct questioning and close media scrutiny? Elections aren’t won with debates, but they can be lost.

So what will be the strategies of the two participants? I would look for Brown to continue his recent line of attack on Hogan by stressing social issues and gun safety in an attempt to hold the female vote – you know, that whole thoroughly discredited War on Women meme. He’ll avoid direct questions on the lack of job creation by saying he has a plan to address it – which he does, all 17 pages of it –  but not go into the specifics of how it may affect Maryland workers.  For example, a “Blue Ribbon Commission on Tax Reform” just means at least two more years of the status quo and inaction, not addressing the issue.

On the other hand, Hogan will stress the “most incompetent man in Maryland” theme for Brown, while sticking with his bread and butter issues of jobs, the middle class, and restoring the state’s economy. It’s carried him this far, so why stop now?

That task will likely be made more difficult by the questioning, which will probably cater more to Brown’s strategy of marginalizing Hogan than tough questions on how the state of the economy got to where it is under the O’Malley/Brown team.

I’m hoping to see a couple polls come out after the debate to gauge the true state of the race. In truth, I think it’s probably closer to the margin of error than the 15-point RCP average. It doesn’t mean Hogan has it in the bag, but we could have a far closer race than 2010′s blowout.

Engaging the students

As they have in previous election cycles, the Salisbury University campus group PACE involved themselves with a candidate meet and greet this afternoon on the SU campus. While it looked somewhat modest at first glance, the event seemed to draw plenty of attention in the end.

With participation from both major parties, and plenty of pizza to go around, students had a golden opportunity to interact with those who may be representing them in local and state government. Sadly, there was a disappointing lack of participation on their end, even with plenty of voter registration cards and absentee ballot forms available.

(I don’t know what can be read into this, but the Republicans had large boxes of Pat’s Pizza while the Democrats chose a number of smaller boxes from Pizza Hut. Just in my personal opinion – big win for the GOP, because Pizza Hut has taken Domino’s old slot of “ketchup on cardboard.”)

There was no shortage of signs, that’s for sure.

Nor was there a shortage of candidates. In the hour I spent over there, I spied Republicans Carl Anderton Jr., Addie Eckardt, Bob Culver, John Cannon, Mary Beth Carozza, and Christopher Adams. Democrats outnumbered them slightly, with Rick Pollitt, Laura Mitchell, Norm Conway, Keasha Haythe, Chris Robinson, Judy Davis, and Jim Mathias representing their team.

Addie Eckardt was the subject of this WBOC interviewer, but there was also SU press there, too.

So participation was very good, particularly on the Delegate level. One thing I like about this type of event is that I get to say hello to my friends across the aisle, so I spoke at some length to Rick Pollitt and Laura Mitchell, and got to meet Judy Davis, who I’d not met before. Of course, I spoke to a number of the Republicans, too.

In terms of generating awareness on campus, I’m hoping this was a success. I noticed a lot of people walking by somewhat oblivious to the scene, which is a shame. Thinking back to my days on campus, though, I was somewhat apolitical although I voted in every election – but I don’t recall having an opportunity such as this to connect with my state representatives when I was an undergrad at Miami. PACE should be commended for putting this event together, even with somewhat short notice.

The values voters speak

Obviously I’ve been concerned about the upcoming Maryland election, and we’re probably four to six months away from the formal beginnings of the 2016 Presidential campaign on both sides of the aisle. But over the weekend, while Allen West was speaking to us, a few of his former Congressional colleagues were addressing the annual Values Voter Summit in Washington in an attempt to gain support. Ted Cruz narrowly topped the field in their annual straw poll, drawing 25% of the vote and besting fellow contenders Ben Carson (20%), Mike Huckabee (12%), and Rick Santorum (10%). Leading a second tier were Bobby Jindal and Rand Paul, both with 7% of the 901 votes cast.

Also worth talking about were the issues this group was most concerned with: protecting religious liberty topped the list, with abortion a strong second. Interestingly enough, protecting natural marriage was the top vote-getter as the number 3 issue on people’s lists, but was seventh as a choice for number one contender and a distant third as a second place issue. Whether people are begrudgingly accepting same-sex unions due to isolated votes and ill-considered judicial decisions overturning the expressed will of the people or see it more as a religious liberty issue based on the experiences of those who object is an open question, though.

The other open question is just how much this voting bloc will take in terms of being ignored. There is a bloc of the Republican Party which says that social issues are to be avoided because it alienates another, supposedly larger group of moderate voters. Needless to say, Democrats exploit this as well – the Maryland gubernatorial race is a good example.

Even the Baltimore Sun concedes that “(p)ortraying Larry Hogan as a hard-core right-wing Republican is part of Brown’s strategy.” This despite Hogan’s insistence that Maryland settled the abortion issue 22 years ago in a referendum, just as they decided same-sex unions in 2012. To believe the other side, these votes were overwhelming mandates; in the 1992 case they have a point but not so much the same-sex unions one which passed by less than 5% on the strength of a heavy Montgomery County vote (just six counties voted yes, but it was enough.)

Yet I believe the abortion balloting is open to question because attitudes about abortion have changed. According to Gallup, the early 1990s were the nadir for the pro-life movement so perhaps the question isn’t the third rail political consultants seem to believe. To be perfectly honest, while there’s no question where I stood on the more recent Question 6 regarding same-sex unions I would have likely been more neutral on the 1992 version at the time because in my younger days I leaned more to the pro-choice side. I didn’t really become pro-life until I thought through the ramification of the right to life for the unborn and how it trumped the mother’s so-called right to privacy. Exceptions for rape and incest I could buy – although I would strongly prefer the child be carried to term and given to a loving adoptive family – but not unfettered baby murder just as a method of birth control. Now I’m firmly on the pro-life side.

So when Larry Hogan makes these statements about how certain items are off-limits because at some past point voters have spoken doesn’t make those who have faith-based core beliefs overly confident in a Hogan administration as an alternative to Anthony Brown. They may hold their nose and vote for Hogan, but they won’t be the people who are necessary cogs in a campaign as volunteers and financial contributors.

On the other hand, there is a better possibility we could see action on these fronts with the federal government, even if it’s only in terms of selecting a Supreme Court that overturns Roe v. Wade (placing the matter with the states where it belongs) and understands there is a legitimate religious objection to same-sex nuptials and funding abortions via health insurance as mandated by Obamacare.

We’ve been told for years that conservatives can’t win if they stress social issues. But on the federal level I’ve noticed that even when Republicans haven’t been addressing the social side we have lost, so why not motivate a set of voters which serves as the backbone of America?

The exodus – will it increase?

It’s funny – I was at a bit of a loss to find something to write about today when Kim and I received a letter in the mail from a friend of hers. In it was the note which said “Miss you but I love Florida!” The friend in question moved down there a year ago to take a job in her industry.

Admittedly, there is a lot to love about Florida in terms of weather. The one year I spent Christmas down there I was sitting on my parents’ porch in shorts because it was 80 degrees out. That was somewhat of an anomaly for the season, but the fact is the Sunshine State doesn’t see a whole lot of snow and cold. Florida in 2014 is sort of like southern California in 1964, as millions moved there for the perpetually sunny and nice weather as well as the chance to create opportunity for themselves.

That got me to thinking about how many people I know have left this area, many for Florida or the Carolinas. Sometimes to me it’s a wonder that people stay around here given the broad litany of complaints people make about the region. On the surface I think it has many of the same qualities which attracted me in the first place – although last winter’s snow and cold made me think I was back in Ohio again.

But there is an economic side, and that factor has influenced the decision of many who have left the state to go to areas where taxes are lower and business opportunities more plentiful. Job creation hasn’t seemed to be job one for those in charge of the state because we’ve lost jobs while other states have picked up the pace.

Over the last few days I’ve talked quite a bit about the state’s budget shortfall, particularly in terms of what it means for the governor’s race. Sadly, I would estimate there are probably 20,000 Hogan votes that have left the state during this last cycle because they couldn’t hang on any longer or found better opportunities. On the other hand, ask yourself: if you lived in another state, what would you move to Maryland to do? About the only answer I could come up with was be in government, whether for Uncle Sam or a local branch office thereof. Even those who like the region seem to be moving to Sussex County, Delaware – it grew at a faster pace than the state of Delaware as a whole over the last three years while all nine Eastern Shore counties were short of Maryland’s (slower) overall growth rate, with three counties of the nine declining in population. A lack of local good-paying jobs is a complaint we’ve heard here for years.

I think the fear among many in my circle of friends – many of whom were raised here and care deeply about the state – is that another four to eight years under the same sort of governance will seal the state’s doom, much like the economic basket case that is California. That was a state which had all sorts of advantages in terms of attracting families but has squandered many of them away through their treatment of job creators. Like Maryland, it’s a state that seems attractive on the surface but living there is another thing, from what I’m told. (I’ve never visited the state, so it’s all second-hand knowledge on this one.)

Electing Larry Hogan could be the start of a comeback, but the problem isn’t just something which can be solved by a single chief executive. Rooting out the entirety of the issue would take a generation of conservative leadership with a General Assembly re-purposed to solving problems rather than protecting turf or enacting worthless feelgood legislation. But if nothing, not even the first step, is done this time, the exodus is sure to continue and increase.

The Hogan side of Franchot’s assessment

After yesterday’s lengthy post about Peter Franchot’s assessment of the state economy, I wondered how the Republican running for the state’s top job would react. Fortunately, I can distill his statement down to a couple short paragraphs:

(Wednesday’s) report is utterly devastating and confirms what we have been saying, that Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown have taxed and spent our economy into the ground. Overtaxed Marylanders are earning less, small business profits are disappearing and people have less to spend on goods and services.

As governor, I’ll put partisan politics aside and work across the aisle to undo the damage of the past eight years. We’ll work together to reign in reckless spending and waste so we can roll back as many of the O’Malley and Brown’s 40 straight tax hikes as possible. It’s time for Annapolis to live within its means so people can keep more of their hard earned money.

I was fine with that until the part about “work together,” particularly with regard to an event last week with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:

The Democrats want to tell you that Governor Christie and I are far-right extremists. Our similarities stem from the fact that we are commonsense Republicans that are prepared to reach across the aisle in order for progress and prosperity. That is why Governor Christie was overwhelmingly reelected in the blue state of New Jersey to a second term. And that is why Marylanders are ready for a Republican governor in Annapolis.

Unfortunately in this partisan day and age, for a Republican reaching across the aisle means getting your arm bit off and used as a club to beat you with. Remember, the reason for Christie’s initial popularity was his get-tough stance with the state’s unions, and I honestly don’t see those sort of stones with Larry Hogan.

It’s obvious we have a problem in this state, as Franchot pointed out. But the problem isn’t just in the governor’s office, it’s in the bowels of the General Assembly as well.

Remember the “doomsday budget” session of a couple years ago, and the big deal many in the General Assembly made that spending “only” went up $700 million instead of the $1.2 billion they eventually received? Imagine that fight every year.

Depending on how many Democrats are returned to Annapolis, the budget that Governor Hogan would send out might only get 50 or 60 House votes, so the overriding question is what tradeoffs will we have to endure? Or will Hogan surprise me and take the bully pulpit, going over the heads of the General Assembly and the press to convince the people to demand action on a leaner budget? We know the unions wouldn’t take cuts lying down, so are those on the side of sanity going to go to Annapolis and tell Big Labor to pound sand when they mass in protest like they did a few years back? Fifty isn’t much against 5,000 and their box lunches.

(By the way, I should point out the link above was one of the posts where I lost all my pictures when Photoshop folded into Adobe Revel and rendered all my photo links obsolete. I spent a good half-hour fixing it for presentation last night because it was important to convey the sort of protest Larry Hogan can expect if he stands his ground.)

I certainly hope Larry wins and comes out with budgets which reflect sanity and not just a 4-6 percent increase each year. But be warned it won’t come without a fight. And we can live with Larry’s middle-of-the-road, reach-across-the-aisle tendencies if we can get some conservatives to Annapolis to keep him in line, with the rest of us having his back when he makes those promised cuts.

A dose of economic reality

Bear in mind the following words are written by a Democrat in Maryland. It’s an extremely long blockquote of an entire release but I thought readers deserved full context.

We convene today to write down our already cautious revenue projections for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 by more than $405 million. Far more important than what a $405 million shortfall means for the state budget is the painful reality that it indicates for the budgets of Maryland families and small businesses.

We’re writing down individual income tax receipts – the largest individual source of state revenue – by over $350 million, between the shortfall in individual income tax receipts carried over from Fiscal 2014 and our write down of expected revenues for Fiscal Year 2015.  Six years removed from the economic collapse, and far too many families and small businesses are still waiting for the recovery they keep hearing about.

We can classify a year or two outside the ordinary as simply abnormal. But more than a half decade later, we need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal. It feels like we sit at these meetings every quarter, hopeful and determined that ‘next year will be the year’ when the recovery takes hold and is felt broadly throughout the economy. Yet, another year has passed, and ordinary families and small businesses haven’t even recovered to where they were before the financial collapse, much less made up for the wages they’ve lost over the past six years. We need to recognize that hope is not an economic strategy.

The same challenging conditions I’ve discussed in past meetings haven’t substantively improved. Wages and salaries are essentially stagnant. Local, independent businesses are struggling to meet payroll, cover their costs and turn a profit. Working families have cut back their spending because they just don’t have the money, they’re scared of losing their jobs, or, in many cases, both.

In a consumer-driven economy, it should come as no surprise that when consumers are struggling, businesses inevitably feel that pain, particularly in an environment where margins have often already been trimmed down to the bone. Add that to Maryland’s unemployment rate – traditionally a major strength – not keeping pace with improvements seen in the country as a whole.

Maryland’s 6.4 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national rate of 6.1 percent – something we’ve only experienced twice in the past three and a half decades – during the tech boom of the late 1990s and the 1980 recession. In terms of wages – the oxygen working families need to survive – Maryland’s average wage growth was just 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014, far below the rate of inflation for the same period.

Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing. The housing market has failed to rebound in a sustained and meaningful way, particularly with Maryland second worst in the nation in home foreclosure rates.

Combined, these economic indicators led to a Maryland economy that didn’t grow at all last year – with a 0 percent GDP growth for 2013. As we know, an economy that isn’t growing is actually retracting. This all means uncertainty for families and businesses. They are unsure about their prospects and, as a result, unwilling to make the purchases and investments our consumer-driven economy needs to grow. As great a state as we are and as robust an economic system as we have, uncertainty serves as a serious deterrent to economic growth.

Whether it’s sequestration, unpredictability in the tax and regulatory environment or an inability to make long-term federal budgeting decisions, most of the uncertainty is based on political problems and decisions, as opposed to global economic conditions. While the federal government has always been and certainly remains a major economic advantage, our over reliance on the public sector carries significant risks. We can embrace our proximity to Washington as a strength without depending on it as our sole basis for economic stability.

We simply can’t assume that we’re around the corner from returning to the way it was, and back to the decisions we could afford to make in Maryland as a result. The fact remains that we’ll only see the economic growth we’re accustomed to when we get the private sector economy growing. We can only make that happen if we provide a sense of predictability for Maryland families and small businesses.

As state policymakers, we need to be smart in how we spend taxpayer dollars, recognizing that to invest in the things we need, we have to forego many of the things we simply want. We have to be more forward-looking about how we borrow money as a state.  We simply can’t sustain our current patterns of debt accumulation without provoking actions that could do further harm to an already fragile economy — amplifying the significant fiscal and economic challenges we already face.

As we all know, a sustained economic recovery is going to come down to jobs, both here in Maryland and throughout the nation. As long as we see continued weakness in wages and job growth, consumers will inevitably pull back, causing businesses to struggle and the economy to underperform.

We simply cannot create any unnecessary road blocks that would make employers reluctant to invest, grow and hire. But if we maintain a cautious mindset and provide a sense of predictability to Maryland families and small businesses, our economic bones are strong enough and our people are resilient enough to withstand this write down and the economic challenges it represents. (All emphasis mine.)

That’s the entirety of a press release put out by state Comptroller Peter Franchot as the Board of Revenue Estimates calculated our state would yet again be short on revenues to the tune of $405 million, or slightly over 1% of the current budget.

But let’s read between the lines, in the passages I highlighted.

(W)e need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal.

No we don’t. What we need to do is realize our policy prescriptions over the last eight years or so have done little to help the local economy. States are succeeding in this country, whether it’s through ambitious exploitation of energy resources like North Dakota or smart, pro-business policy such as the sort Texas seems to use. (Heck, Rick Perry even encouraged Maryland businesses to relocate to his state.) To attain growth, it has to be encouraged and the only thing we’re encouraging the growth of in this state is government.

The same challenging conditions I’ve discussed in past meetings haven’t substantively improved. 

Peter Franchot became Comptroller in the same 2006 election we elected Martin O’Malley as governor. Perhaps that should give an indication as to why these conditions persist.

Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing.

This is reflective of national conditions, since real household income has declined since reaching a peak anywhere from 7 to 15 years ago, depending on income quintile. And with wage-earners having to string together a series of part-time jobs to make ends meet thanks to the impact of Obamacare and a higher cost of living, the budgets of Maryland families are indeed stretched to the breaking point.

(M)ost of the (economic) uncertainty is based on political problems and decisions, as opposed to global economic conditions.

Families continue to wait for the other shoe to drop. Spend over $100 million on a botched website? Don’t worry, we’ll make up the shortfall by figuring out some new revenue stream. This is the state that experimented with the “tech” tax some years ago before the computer business threatened to bolt, so they decided to tax millionaires instead – and watched many move out of state. Even taxing rain to supposedly help clean up Chesapeake Bay has become a boondoggle as different counties decided on different approaches, while a select few counties (including Wicomico) figure they are next on the firing line to be stuck with the “rain tax” like 10 other Maryland counties.

While the federal government has always been and certainly remains a major economic advantage, our over reliance on the public sector carries significant risks. We can embrace our proximity to Washington as a strength without depending on it as our sole basis for economic stability.

This is a very prescient statement, but Franchot is only looking at it in terms of tax revenue from federal workers. Surely he’s less inclined to speak out about the fact that it’s actually Uncle Sam – not income tax receipts – that is the largest source of state revenue. I know the unsuccessful campaign of Charles Lollar made overtures about slaying that beast, but it’s just as bad to be dependent on the federal government for operating revenue as it is to make it as much as a significant economic driver as it tends to be for the Capital region. Meanwhile, jobs which create real value – whether it’s extracting natural gas in Garrett County, making steel in Baltimore, or growing chickens on a rural Somerset County farm – get short shrift from an administration which has tried to thwart that sort of growth at every turn.

Whether Peter Franchot wants to admit it or not, the damning economic statement made by a Comptroller who still endorsed the candidate who most represents this failed status quo in Anthony Brown makes the case that a new broom needs to sweep Maryland politics clean. If you haven’t heard about GOP candidate for Comptroller William Campbell, it’s time you did.

And Anthony Brown? I’m sure he knows that Franchot is pretty much correct in this assessment, which is why he’s trying to paint Larry Hogan as a Republican extremist (there is no such thing) and not talk about his own accomplishments or plans. “More of the same” just won’t sell for a large number of Maryland’s working families.

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    First District - Congress

    Andy Harris (R)
    Bill Tilghman (D)

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    Maryland General Assembly (local)

    Senate District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R)
    Christopher Robinson (D)

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    House District 37B

    Republican

    Christopher Adams (R)
    Johnny Mautz (R)
    Rodney Benjamin (D)
    Keasha Haythe (D)

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    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

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    House District 38A

    Charles Otto (R)
    Percy Purnell, Jr. (D)

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    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

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    House District 38C

    Mary Beth Carozza. (R)

    Judy Davis (D)

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    Wicomico County

    County Executive

    Bob Culver (R)
    Rick Pollitt (D)

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    County Council at-large

    John Cannon (R)
    Matt Holloway (R)
    Laura Mitchell (D)

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    Council District 2

    Marc Kilmer (R)
    Kirby Travers (D)

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    Council District 3

    Larry Dodd (R)
    Josh Hastings (D)