Early voting is not the magic bullet

November 7, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

Do you remember when we debated early voting and how it was going to increase turnout?

This election cycle gave us the first opportunity to compare two cycles and see what the trends have become. I’m sure supporters of early voting were hoping to see the slow slide in turnout come to an end this cycle, but it appears the problem wasn’t solved by adding several days of balloting.

Here was the turnout, by county, in 2010. I decided to go highest to lowest.

  1. Queen Anne’s – 67.43%
  2. Kent – 66.79%
  3. Talbot – 65.20%
  4. Harford – 63.82%
  5. Anne Arundel – 61.71%
  6. Worcester – 61.10%
  7. Carroll – 60.99%
  8. Howard – 60.88%
  9. Dorchester – 60.71%
  10. Somerset – 59.34%
  11. Baltimore Co. – 58.92%
  12. Calvert – 57.37%
  13. Caroline – 56.35%
  14. Frederick – 55.34%
  15. Wicomico – 55.34%
  16. St. Mary’s – 54.05%
  17. Garrett – 53.49%
  18. Allegany – 52.99%
  19. Charles – 52.57%
  20. Montgomery – 51.38%
  21. Cecil – 50.76%
  22. Washington – 49.20%
  23. Prince George’s – 45.17%
  24. Baltimore City – 45.02%

Statewide average was 54.02%.

I’m assuming that this year’s count has returned absentees included; if not it may bump up an extra percent. But 2014 turnout is abysmal.

  1. Kent – 58.91% (off 7.88%)
  2. Queen Anne’s – 57.01% (off 10.42%)
  3. Talbot – 56.70% (off 8.50%)
  4. Carroll – 55.44% (off 5.55%)
  5. Harford – 53.93% (off 9.89%)
  6. Calvert – 53.07% (off 4.30%)
  7. Howard – 52.16% (off 8.72%)
  8. Frederick – 51.36% (off 3.98%)
  9. Worcester – 51.13% (off 9.97%)
  10. Dorchester – 49.16% (off 11.55%)
  11. Anne Arundel – 49.15% (off 12.56%)
  12. Somerset – 49.02% (off 10.32%)
  13. Baltimore Co. – 48.87% (off 10.05%)
  14. St. Mary’s – 48.76% (off 5.29%)
  15. Caroline – 48.57% (off 7.78%)
  16. Allegany – 46.95% (off 6.04%)
  17. Garrett – 46.25% (off 7.24%)
  18. Charles – 45.66% (off 6.91%)
  19. Wicomico – 43.76% (off 11.58%)
  20. Cecil – 42.19% (off 8.57%)
  21. Washington – 41.64% (off 7.56%)
  22. Montgomery – 38.92% (off 12.46%)
  23. Prince George’s – 38.03% (off 7.14%)
  24. Baltimore City – 35.57% (off 9.45%)

So the best performer “only” dropped 3.98% thanks to a hot County Executive race while the worst fell 12.46%. Overall, the statewide turnout was an abysmal 44.72%.

And when Anthony Brown could only win four counties, including the three worst performers for overall turnout (plus Charles County, which wasn’t a hotbed either), you knew his campaign was in trouble. The far left is already blaming him for running a bad campaign, but Larry Hogan found a better message and I’ll bet when the party breakdown comes out the GOP turnout numbers will only be off 5 points or less from 2010. Part of that, as it turns out, was their utilization of early voting – but the top counties for early voting were generally the top ones for overall turnout anyway.

But back to the main subject. It’s now been demonstrated through three election cycles that all early voting is doing is spreading out fewer and fewer voters over more days. And while we haven’t seen the fraud I thought would happen so far, all bets are off once same-day registration becomes possible next time. Even so, I don’t think early voting is helping turnout, so if turnout in 2016 turns out lower once again it may be time to scrap the idea in time for 2018. Just don’t fund early voting for that election and pass the legislation necessary to place a repeal of Article I, Section 3(b) on the 2018 ballot.

Ironically, my fiance and I voted early this year. I didn’t like to have to do it, but I found it was easier than getting an absentee ballot. But as we walked right in and noticed there were a half-dozen people and ten or so voting machines sitting idle, I wondered what this convenience was costing me as a taxpayer. There were 4,945 early voters in my county at a polling place which was open for a total of 80 extra hours – by my public school math, that’s a little over 1 voter per minute. Is that really worth the cost? (Even worse, Somerset County had just 1,263 early voters so they only had perhaps 15 per hour.)

Perhaps what’s really needed are better candidates, but there’s not always much we can do about that.

Tales of an election

So now that you know where I was on Election Night (thanks to Muir Boda) let me shine some light on our party. I’m the guy in the McDermott shirt; hopefully it wasn’t a jinx.

Unlike a lot of elections past, I did not work a poll. My outside job had tasks which a) had to be covered Tuesday and b) were up in Dover. I didn’t even get home until almost 8:00; fortunately knowing this a couple weeks in advance I could hold my nose and vote early.

Since I wanted a table to write notes on I sat next to Dr. Rene Desmarais, who has admirably remained in the fray despite his primary election loss. I hope the Hogan administration can use his health care expertise. He’s the guy at the laptop in the checkered shirt.

Taking my seat for a few minutes was Mike McDermott, who was anxiously looking at results and drawing attention.

Mike didn’t stay all that long. I figure he went home to see his supporters and share the bad news with them, since it was obvious from the get-go he wasn’t doing all that well. It turned out that Wicomico was the only one of the three counties Mike won, and it’s a margin which is pending absentees. The difference between Michael James in 2010 and Mike in 2014 seems to be that McDermott did poorly in Somerset County, which James carried but Mike lost by almost 700 votes.

Obviously there were a lot of people who craved information. Bob Culver (center, in white) and Joe Holloway (right) were awaiting results.

As it turned out, Culver erased a slight early voting disadvantage to rout incumbent County Executive Rick Pollitt by almost 3,000 votes, with just under 56% all told. Holloway had much less to worry about as his Democratic opponent withdrew after the primary and was not replaced by the local party.

The two pictured there were the conservative backbone of the local County Council, and hopefully two newcomers are going to maintain the proper direction.

Larry Dodd (in the arm sling) and Marc Kilmer are two of the three “new” Republican members of County Council, although Dodd represented District 5 for 4 years before Joe Holloway defeated him in the 2006 primary. Similarly, John Cannon left County Council after one term in 2010 to run unsuccessfully for a seat in the House of Delegates before winning again last night. Thus, Marc Kilmer is one of just two “new” County Council members; the other being lone Democrat Ernest Davis, who was unopposed for the District 1 seat.

As it turned out, County Council maintained its 6-1 Republican edge. But there are definite things to look out for, as two of those Republicans openly backed Rick Pollitt for County Executive.

I don’t think Matt Holloway or John Hall will be opposed to the elected school board Republicans in Wicomico County have sought for years, only to be thwarted by Rick Pollitt and (especially) Norm Conway. Both those obstacles are no more; to his credit Jim Mathias has been supportive of the idea in the past and a Senate bill for the elected school board passed there in 2011. (Conway sponsored a House bill that passed in 2011, but did not in 2012 – nor did a Senate bill that year. No action was taken in 2013 or 2014.)

But Pollitt was quick to point out in debates and forums that four of the six Republicans voted for his latest budget. Two of them, Gail Bartkovich and Stevie Prettyman, did not seek another term, but Matt Holloway and John Hall were the other two. Beginning with the FY2016 budget, it may be a battle to get four votes on County Council if Matt Holloway and Hall maintain their big-spending ways.

I would also love to see the county’s speed cameras become a thing of the past, as Culver was the lone voice of reason to vote against their adoption. It’s called excising that line item from the budget.

The party itself was relatively well-attended, although I’m certain some candidates had their own gatherings. At its peak there were probably 50-60 people in the house.

But while the news was good on the county front, there’s no doubt the star of the show was one Carl Anderton, Jr.

At 9:45 Bunky Luffman, Anderton’s campaign manager, sidled up to me and predicted, “I think we’ve got it.” He explained a particular precinct where they were hoping to get 30% of the vote came in down by just 89 votes.

Anderton’s win, though, was just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of Titanic Democrats went down last night (with lifetime monoblogue Accountability Project scores shown):

  • After six terms, longtime Blue Dog Democrat Delegate Kevin Kelly in District 1B (mAP = 40) lost to Jason Buckel.
  • Delegate John Donoghue (mAP = 9), also a 24-year veteran, was ousted in District 2B by Brett Wilson.
  • In District 6, 9-year incumbent Delegate John Olszewski, Jr. (mAP = 16) lost his bid for the Senate seat held for 48 years by Norman Stone, Jr. (mAP = 28). Three-term Delegate Michael Weir, Jr. (mAP = 28) was also knocked off.
  • Longtime District 29 Senator (and onetime Congressman) Roy Dyson (mAP = 26) lost his bid for a sixth term to Steve Waugh. In that same district, 15-year veteran John Bohanon (mAP = 6) trails Deb Rey by 115 votes with absentees to count.
  • District 34′s Senate seat stayed in GOP hands as Bob Cassilly defeated Delegate Mary-Dulany James (mAP =14), who leaves after 16 years.
  • In District 35A, 20-year incumbent David Rudolph (mAP = 17) lost to Kevin Hornberger.
  • And we know about 28-year incumbent and committee Chair Norm Conway (mAP = 6) who lost to Anderton.

Most of the damage, though, came from the ranks of “moderate” Democrats. According to the monoblogue Accountability Project, these were the top 10 Democrats and here’s how they did.

  1. Delegate John Wood, Jr. – retired, endorsed Larry Hogan.
  2. Delegate Kevin Kelly – lost re-election.
  3. Delegate Joseph “Sonny” Minnick – retired.
  4. Senator Norman Stone – retired.
  5. Delegate Michael Weir, Jr. – lost re-election.
  6. Senator James DeGrange – won with 59% of vote.
  7. Senator Jim Mathias – won with 52% of vote.
  8. Senator Roy Dyson – lost re-election.
  9. Senator John Astle – won with 51% of the vote.
  10. Senator James Brochin – won with 52% of the vote.

Six out of the 10 won’t be back and only one of the remaining four won convincingly. Not knowing how most of those who defeated these incumbents will vote, the chances are the divide between the two parties will become more pronounced. Only a couple hardline Democrats (those 10 or less on the mAP) were losers last night, while McDermott was the only Republican to lose in the general election. In the respect that Democrats managed to get rid of two perpetual thorns in their side through redistricting (Mike McDermott and Don Dwyer) it was a success, but the GOP still picked up more seats than they did before the new districts were drawn in 2010.

So the stage is set for what should be a very intriguing (and hopefully, prosperous for this county and state) four-year term.

Finally, I want to go through a little of my thinking on these races. I was perhaps less optimistic than most about the outcomes because I figured Democratic turnout would be about where it was four years ago. But as it happens, turnout is going to be about 46%, which is a significant decline from the 54% posted in 2010. If the Democratic turnout followed that pattern it was about 10% less than I figured it would be, and those that were passionate enough to show up may likely have cast a number of votes for the GOP.

Simply put, the Democratic base didn’t show up. Whether it was disillusionment with the candidates or just a general apathy, it looks like the GOP filled the void, to the benefit of the state.

After it was all over, I spoke a little bit with David Warren, who came down here to run the Eastern Shore Victory Headquarters.

He pointed out two key factors that led to Hogan’s win: money from the RNC and Republican Governor’s Association, and the help – both financially and in volunteers – from the College Republicans, from the national level to all the phone calls made by the local Salisbury University CRs. “Teenagers and college kids get it,” said Warren.

David also praised the work of state party Chair Diana Waterman and Executive Director Joe Cluster, saying “what they did was phenomenal.” Similar praise was heaped by Warren onto Andy Harris, who put a lot of money into these local races and helped level the playing field.

Finally, I have one more statement. Eight years ago, it was said that:

(GOP leaders are) “going to be flying high, but we’re going to get together and we’re going to shoot them down. We’re going to bury them face down in the ground, and it’ll be 10 years before they crawl out again.”

I think we’re two years early, Mike Miller. Suck on that.

Being the ‘manufacturing voter’

Since I parted ways with American Certified a few months ago, I haven’t followed the manufacturing world as much as I had while writing for them. But they still hold an important place in our economy and the question needs to be asked: are you a manufacturing voter?

This video was put out by the National Association of Manufacturers, which has a full-size spread just in time for this year’s election. They stress seven key issues:

Immigration

The immigration system in the United States is broken. Comprehensive reform will strengthen U.S. economic and national security and ensure that manufacturers’ workforce needs are met, without displacing American workers.

Energy

Energy is poised to be a significant competitive advantage for manufacturing in the United States. In fact, the United States enjoys a slight advantage on energy costs compared to our major trading partners. The United States can widen this gap and enhance our energy security.

Labor

In recent years, the nation’s time-tested labor law system has faced significant challenges. The National Labor Relations Board, for example, has issued rules and orders that undermine employer flexibility and chill workplace relations. U.S. labor laws should safeguard the rights of employees and employers.

Workforce

Nearly 12 million men and women work in manufacturing in the United States. This workforce can grow significantly if manufacturers can find workers with the skills needed for the modern manufacturing workplace. Today, 600,000 manufacturing jobs are unfilled because of this skills gap.

Trade

To thrive in the global economy, manufacturers need trade policies that make the United States a better place from which to export. Manufacturers thrive when they can compete in open markets abroad.

Infrastructure

Manufacturers rely on a strong infrastructure to move people, products and ideas. Unfortunately, the nation’s infrastructure is out of date and resting on the legacy of a bygone era. To compete in the 21st-century economy, the United States must invest in and modernize our infrastructure in ways that encourage economic growth, job creation and increased competitiveness.

Tax Reform

Manufacturers in the United States face a significant disadvantage in the global competition for investment and jobs. In fact, it is 20 percent more expensive to manufacture in this country compared to our major trading partners and that excludes the cost of labor. Taxes drive this cost disadvantage.

I’m not sure whether their idea for immigration reform matches up with mine; presumably they operate under the incorrect belief that there aren’t enough qualified Americans to do the specialized engineering they need. But in a broad sense, what assists manufacturing would probably help the economy at large.

And our Congressman Andy Harris seems to agree with NAM’s approach – so much so that he scores a perfect 100 percent on their voter guide. By a wide margin, he has the best record of any Maryland or Delaware House member.

Yet this approach is also needed on a local scale as well. While Maryland state representatives can’t do a great deal with some issues that require federal input, they can pave the way on issues like tax reform, energy, job training, and infrastructure to put more Marylanders to work making things.

Lowering the corporate tax rate (or even eliminating it) would be a great step, as would opening up Maryland to fracking, promoting technical and vocational education as part of an overall broad “money follows the child” educational reform, and dumping inefficient light rail boondoggles like the Purple Line and Red Line in favor of creating alternative routes for through trucks, another Bay crossing from southern Maryland to the lower Shore, and upgrading the U.S. 13 corridor through Delaware – these are all worthy ideas for real investment.

Those who vote for manufacturing should keep that platform in mind when those candidates get to Annapolis and Washington.

The straight-ticket election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too good to be true? Internal poll: Hogan up by 5

While it can be dismissed as an internal push poll, given its conclusion that Larry Hogan “is well positioned heading into the final week,” or the final add of, “Having the resources to go toe-to-toe with Brown on TV will be crucial in turning his current lead into a victory on Election Day,” a survey by pollster Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research has buoyed the Hogan camp and led to another upcoming visit from New Jersey Governor Chris Christie this coming Sunday evening at Patapsco Arena in Baltimore.

Yet other polls suggest a significant Brown lead, most particularly a YouGov poll which has stubbornly put Brown up by double-digits every month (and is computed in the RCP average.) Not added to the RCP total, though, is a survey by Gonzales Research which showed the race was far closer and as an added benefit gives the breakdown of expected turnout.

One could even argue that the “calibration error” problems with voting machines – which only seem to be turning Republican votes to Democratic ones, and not vice versa – is the sign of a party desperate to hold on to the governor’s chair. (A source tells me here in Wicomico County, at least one early voting machine was put out of service after the error was replicated on it. The personnel at the early voting center were reluctant to get involved, according to my insider.) Add to that the allegation of non-citizen voting and it’s no wonder Republicans are sweating out the prospect of the same fishiness which plagued the 1994 gubernatorial election some swear was stolen from Ellen Sauerbrey.

Yet as the old adage says, you just have to beat them by more than they can cheat.

There’s no question that Democrats are less enthused about this election than they have been in the past. But let’s go back and look at some key numbers from 2010, the second Ehrlich-O’Malley rumble.

As I said, I really like Gonzales polling because they give an honest breakdown and analysis. In October 2010 their poll had Martin O’Malley with a 47-42 advantage over Bob Ehrlich – a race that O’Malley eventually ran away with. In fact, out of the last several polls this was the one which gave the last fading hope of an Ehrlich upset.

But there were some warning signs – for example, Ehrlich’s 17% support among Democrats “won’t do it,” said Gonzales, nor would the 8-point advantage in the Baltimore suburbs. In the recent Gonzales survey, Hogan doesn’t do a whole lot better among Democrats than Ehrlich (19-73 for Hogan vs. 17-72 for Ehrlich) but is significantly stronger in the Baltimore suburbs (55-37 Hogan vs. 49-41 Ehrlich.) On the other hand, Brown does a little better in the Washington suburbs at 70-25 (vs. O’Malley’s 65-25) but Hogan counteracts this with a strong showing among the growing unaffiliated ranks (46-32 Hogan vs. 42-36 Ehrlich.)

To me, the truth is somewhere in between the five-point Hogan lead in the WPA poll and the 2 points Gonzales has him down, probably closer to the latter. All I know is I think it will be close and every vote will have to be carefully scrutinized by the person casting it. (My source also told me there may be a robocall put out to remind Republicans to check their ballot before leaving.)

Yet the idea isn’t just to be satisfied with a Republican governor – we need to give him plenty of help and local voters can oust a number of thorns in the conservative side next week. Let’s paint the Eastern Shore red from Cecil to Somerset, from the Bay Bridge to Ocean City.

Urged to get out the vote

October 28, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items · Comments Off 

Without a lot of fanfare (or great production value) a number of conservative leaders are pleading with the TEA Party to get out and vote this time around. People like former Congressman Lt. Col. Allen West…

…or current Congressman Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas…

…or retired Lt. Gen Jerry Boykin…

…or Senator Mike Lee.

The effort is spearheaded by my old friends at Americans for Limited Government, particularly Rick Manning, who was interviewed for a recent Washington Examiner story on the videos. It’s a grassroots social media answer to the old adage that our vote is meaningless, as an extra million or two TEA Party votes could turn a few House and Senate races into nasty surprises for the Democrats. (On a more local note, it could spell the difference between victory and defeat for Larry Hogan and perhaps a dozen or so General Assembly candidates, like local favorites Carl Anderton and Mike McDermott.)

It’s interesting to note as well that West and Boykin have spoken locally in recent years – West for our Patriot’s Dinner last month and Boykin for a controversial prayer breakfast in Ocean City in 2012. Voting is a much less controversial topic, but it’s important that those on our side be motivated to appear at the polls.

Building ‘A Great Maryland’

On Saturday I was alerted to a story by John Fritze in the Baltimore Sun regarding Andy Harris and his attempt to level the playing field a little bit in Maryland politics by creating a superPAC called A Great Maryland PAC. According to the Sun, Harris donated $150,000 to the PAC, which turned right around and put out a commercial depicting Jim Mathias, Norm Conway, Martin O’Malley and Barack Obama as “liberal peas in a pod.”

I don’t have a copy of the spot to show you at the moment, but the theme seems similar to one Harris used in the 2008 primary against former State Senator E. J. Pipkin and onetime Congressman Wayne Gilchrest.

What’s funny to me, though, is the Democrats’ reaction, like from Jim Mathias:

“I don’t think it’s right,” said Mathias, who said he had no idea who was behind the television spot. “People’s freedom of speech — I support that with my every breath — but if you’re going to make these kinds of accusations, I think there should be accountability.”

Funny you should talk about that, Jim – I’ve been holding you accountable for your votes for years, and I’m glad to finally have a little help. So come clean about where you received your campaign funding (hint: it’s a lot of special interests.)

Harris has been a savior to Republicans around the state, with significant donations to several candidates as well as the state party – in total, including the seed money for the A Great Maryland PAC, Harris is over $300,000 in campaign contributions – and that’s good news for conservatives around the state.

Hopefully he’ll need to collect more to give to more incumbent recipients next time around.

An early voting update

If you subscribe to the theory that the most motivated voters will be there with bells on when early voting starts, it appears that statewide Republicans are slightly more enthused than Democrats.

Final update, Friday 10/31: While Democrats pulled away ever-so-slightly to finish with a higher percentage of early voters statewide than Republicans (9.29% – 9.17%) there are two conclusions which can be drawn.

One is that early voting seems to have gained acceptance among Republicans, as the total nearly matched the 2012 Presidential election number of 9.31% of the electorate.

The second is that Eastern Shore voters are by far the most receptive to the concept. While the major parties picked up just under 10% of voters statewide, about 1 in 5 Talbot County Republicans and Democrats used the process. As for the four lower Shore counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 9.64%, Democrats 7.68%
  • Somerset: Republicans 11.69%, Democrats 9.27%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 10.50%, Democrats 8.92%
  • Worcester: Republicans 11.49%, Democrats 9.57%

If four more Kent County Republicans had voted early, the entire Eastern Shore would have had a Republican advantage in early voting. As it stood for yesterday’s final day of early voting, the Democrats held sway by a 827-795 tally. Republicans, despite a significant registration disadvantage, had more voters for five of the eight days locally and ended up with 5,056 voters to 5,024 for the Democrats.

**********

Update, Thursday 10/30: The race is almost tied between Democrats and Republicans (by percentage) statewide, as the two sides are 0.02% apart (7.35 to 7.33). Democrats maintain that slight edge statewide, but the GOP is still ahead locally by wide margins:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 7.52%, Democrats 6.12%
  • Somerset: Republicans 9.58%, Democrats 7.86%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 8.90%, Democrats 7.43%
  • Worcester: Republicans 10.01%, Democrats 8.18%

Republicans on the Lower Shore maintained a raw advantage for the day at the polls by a 678-671 count.

**********

Update, Wednesday 10/29: Democrats extended their lead on a statewide basis 6.04% – 5.97%. But the GOP maintains its edge in local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 6.12%, Democrats 5.11%
  • Somerset: Republicans 8.26%, Democrats 6.63%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 7.55%, Democrats 6.15%
  • Worcester: Republicans 8.35%, Democrats 7.04%

Republicans on the Lower Shore maintained a raw advantage for the day at the polls by a 671-621 count. And there are some incredible totals among some counties: both parties in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties are already over 10% turnout, but Talbot County Republicans have already eclipsed the 15 percent mark with the Democrats not far behind at 12.46 percent. Obviously that part of the Eastern Shore has embraced early voting, while the western end of the state seems to lag with Allegany and Washington counties well below average.

**********

Update, Tuesday 10/28: Democrats still lead by a slim margin on a statewide basis 4.80% – 4.76%. But the GOP maintains its edge in local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 4.91%, Democrats 4.24%
  • Somerset: Republicans 6.45%, Democrats 5.57%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 6.10%, Democrats 5.00%
  • Worcester: Republicans 6.96%, Democrats 5.86%

All but one of the Eastern Shore counties have Republicans leading Democrats (Kent is the exception), and Wicomico joined Worcester as the second-highest GOP margin in the state behind Talbot County at this juncture. Republicans added a county as well and now lead by percentage in 15 of the state’s 23 counties. Republicans on the Lower Shore regained a raw advantage for the day at the polls by a 624-606 count.

I was doing some research on 2010 election turnout and it looks like turnout is tracking about the same as it did back then, at least locally.

**********

Update, Monday 10/27: At the halfway point of the eight days (through Sunday), Democrats finally edged ahead on a statewide basis 3.58% – 3.56%. But the GOP maintains its edge in local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 3.72%, Democrats 3.31%
  • Somerset: Republicans 4.92%, Democrats 4.59%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 4.73%, Democrats 3.91%
  • Worcester: Republicans 5.68%, Democrats 4.68%

All but one of the Eastern Shore counties have Republicans leading Democrats (Kent is the exception), and Worcester remains the second-highest GOP margin in the state behind Talbot County at this juncture. Republicans lead by percentage in 14 of the state’s 23 counties and the Eastern Shore sha 8 of these 14. But local Democrats won this day at the polls by a 332-304 count.

**********

Update, Sunday 10/26: On a slow Saturday for voting overall, Democrats came back to close the statewide gap; it’s now 3.11% – 3.08%. New totals for local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 3.43%, Democrats 2.96%
  • Somerset: Republicans 4.21%, Democrats 3.90%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 4.03%, Democrats 3.35%
  • Worcester: Republicans 4.94%, Democrats 3.91%

All but one of the Eastern Shore counties have Republicans leading Democrats (Kent is the exception), and Worcester has the second-highest GOP margin in the state behind Talbot County at this juncture. But for the second straight day, local Republicans outpaced Democrats at the polls by a 342-331 count.

**********

Update, Saturday 10/25: The GOP extended its lead in the state to 2.56% – 2.47% partly on the strength of solid gains on the lower Shore. All four of these counties added to Republican gains, with the raw number of Republicans actually exceeding Democrats on Friday by a 750-697 count. New totals:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 3.11%, Democrats 2.57%
  • Somerset: Republicans 3.66%, Democrats 3.32%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 3.15%, Democrats 2.69%
  • Worcester: Republicans 4.17%, Democrats 3.30%

**********

1.34% of GOP voters statewide made it to early voting compared to 1.31% of Democrats, but this marks the first time Republican turnout as a percentage outstripped Democrat turnout on the first day of balloting in a general election. In the Presidential election of 2012, 2.56% of Democrats came out compared to 1.68% of Republicans, and that advantage grew greater with each passing day. Meanwhile, 2010 saw Democrats edge Republicans on the first day by 1.04% to 1% on their way to an overall advantage of just under 1 percent. So a Republican advantage at this juncture could spell good news for their candidates.

However, on the Lower Shore Republicans have a distinct advantage in turnout percentage and nearly eclipsed the Democrats – who hold a registration advantage in all four counties – in terms of raw numbers. Democrats held a slight 939-892 advantage in first-day turnout. (For the four counties overall, Democrats lead in registration 56,462 to 46,862.)

  • Dorchester: Republicans 1.66%, Democrats 1.49%
  • Somerset: Republicans 2.37%, Democrats 2.17%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 1.54%, Democrats 1.49%
  • Worcester: Republicans 2.39%, Democrats 1.86%

The turnout is brisk in legislative District 38C, where 2.02% of voters turned out on the first day and made it the fourth-best rate in the state. In Wicomico County, District 38B leads the way with 1.62% while, ironically, District 38C performs the worst at 0.82% – perhaps due to distance from the county’s lone early voting polling place in Salisbury. Reportedly, candidates from both parties are hitting this Wicomico County location hard and the Republicans are set up there with a table.

But on a state and local basis, this has to be encouraging to Republicans who didn’t adopt early voting originally but have been encouraged by party brass to take advantage of it to make sure their votes were cast in this important election. If Republicans can hang with Democrats in terms of percentage of early voters, it may be their Election Day turnout will push them to a better overall showing than expected, making the turnout models pollsters use overly optimistic toward Democrats.

Time to do the deed

Today is the day that tiny percentage of Maryland registered voters who actually do this begin going to the polls for early voting. I know some of my party cohorts will be out at the Civic Center campaigning for the Republican ticket, and needless to say it’s a straight R year for me.

But there are races I’m much more passionate about than others, so let’s go through the list and I’ll tell you what I think. That IS why you come here, isn’t it? If my number 16 race doesn’t come out I won’t be all that upset, but if the top half-dozen or so go the wrong way I’ll be pissed. These are the 16 items on my specimen ballot – I live in House District 38B and Wicomico County Council District 3, which is one of only two of the five districts to have a contested race.

  1. Carl Anderton, Jr. for Delegate, District 38B. I am really tired of my poor representation in Annapolis from Norm Conway. He votes for every bloated budget, (almost) every conformity with Obamacare, every accommodation to Big Labor, and a number of other dreadful things as well: in 2011 he voted for the Congressional redistricting that made our state a laughingstock but in committee he helped kill provisions to allow referendums on tax increases and proof of lawful presence before collecting benefits. In 2012 he voted to saddle new homeowners with the added expense of sprinklers, but he saddled the rest of us with the rain tax, tier maps, and the key to getting around our county’s revenue cap by mandating maintenance of effort spending. Granted, once in awhile he votes the right way but why lose on three or four issues to gain one? Republicans and pro-Wicomico Democrats: don’t fall for the hype of potentially losing a committee chair – even though Norm is a fairly nice guy, if he were all that powerful we would be the richest county in the state and we are far from that. It’s definitely time for some new blood to get us back to work. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  2. Mike McDermott for Senate, District 38. Really, this should be 1-a but my function won’t let me do that. Jim Mathias may vote a little better than Norm Conway, but I would rather have someone who’s a thorn in the side of the current Annapolis majority – who went out of their way to lump him into a district with another sitting Delegate – than a backbencher. What better way to thumb your nose at those who believe the Eastern Shore is the state’s “shithouse” (in more ways than one) than to foil their political intentions? If I can pick up 60 points on the monoblogue Accountability Project by changing my representation, you know the answer is yes. This is another race where conservatives need to come home and not cross the aisle, because Jim’s few blind squirrel votes aren’t worth the overall pain. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  3. Bob Culver for County Executive.  Our county has stumbled and staggered through this so-called recovery with the incumbent Rick Pollitt, a self-described bureaucrat, in charge. Don’t forget that Rick whined about the revenue cap for the first three years in office and promised a zero-based budget I haven’t seen yet. After eight years, it’s time for a change in tactics and Bob can be a fresh set of eyes to address our declining number of employed. I know Bob may rub some the wrong way but I’m willing to overlook that because, to me, re-electing Rick Pollitt is the definition of insanity for Wicomico County. Chances of success: I would say about 40-50 percent.
  4. M.J. Caldwell for Circuit Court Judge. To me, this is a perplexing case. Here you have an experienced attorney who knows his way around a courtroom taking on a person whose claim to fame is his last name – if it were Swartz, he’d still be at his old firm. But because people still know the Sarbanes name in this area, the newly-appointed “incumbent” got the gig. I was extremely disappointed and somewhat disgusted to see that Caldwell only won the Republican primary with 57 percent of the vote – people, do your homework! Caldwell would be a good judge. Chances of success: about 1 in 3 unless Republicans shape up.
  5. William Campbell for Comptroller. You’ll notice Peter Franchot has played up his fiscal watchdog tendencies in this campaign, but I think that if Larry Hogan becomes governor we need Bill to keep him grounded and make the Board of Public Works work in a conservative direction for the first time in…well, ever. Unfortunately, Bill has little money to get his message out and Franchot’s too scared to debate him. One problem with Larry Hogan taking public financing is that the Maryland GOP is spending maximum time and effort fundraising for Larry instead of helping these downballot races. Chances of success: alas, probably less than 1 percent.
  6. Larry Hogan for Governor. All politics is local, so I think the state race can take care of itself. But I hope that Hogan has enough coattails to bring in a dozen Delegates and half-dozen new Senators, including the two mentioned above. While I hated his primary campaign, I have to admit Hogan’s done a good job in the general election round. But will it be enough? Polls suggest it might. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  7. Larry Dodd for District 3 Council. The thing that bothers me about his opponent is that, for all his “aw, shucks” demeanor, he’s been exposed to a large number of anti-property rights zealots. He worked for Joan Carter Conway, the Senate’s EHEA Chair, and not only does she have a lifetime mAP rating of 4 (yes, that’s really bad) but she has passed a lot of bad legislation through her committee over the last several years – something Josh fails to mention. But I will give Josh Hastings his due: he’s campaigning hard, knocked on my door and has worked harder for the seat than Dodd has. It would be a shame to succeed a good, conservative Councilwoman in Gail Bartkovich with a liberal who may have grown up on a farm but has spent his politically formative years more readily influenced by Baltimore City and Annapolis. Chances of success: about 35 to 40 percent.
  8. John Cannon for at-large County Council. While his voting record has often been a disappointment, he was one of the two who got through the primary. I have more hope for him becoming a conservative stalwart, though, than I do for his fellow Republican. Chances of success: around 60 percent.
  9. Voting against Question 1. I’ve stated my reasons for opposition before, but most of the money is backing it and referendum items rarely fail. Chances of success: less than 10 percent.
  10. Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. We are really in trouble, folks. We could have had one of our good county state’s attorneys (or my personal favorite, Jim Rutledge) step up but instead we got Pritzker, who I have never met. When I see prominent conservative-leaning bloggers backing the Libertarian in the race, it can’t be much of a campaign. That’s a shame, because there’s more to the campaign than legalizing pot. And losing this seat means the gun-grabbing Brian Frosh will be our Attorney General. Chances of success: even less than Campbell’s sub-1 percent shot.
  11. Matt Holloway for at-large County Council. There are many holes in his voting record as well, but winning the primary makes him the odds-on favorite to not be third on November 4. So I guess I’ll have to wonder how often he’ll cave for another four years. Chances of success: over 80 percent.
  12. Andy Harris for Congress. No muss, no fuss. Have you heard a word about Bill Tilghman? The one thing you can say about Bill is that at least we haven’t caught him voting twice. This race is perhaps the closest thing to an automatic win for our side – when even the Daily Times has to endorse you, it’s a good sign. Chances of success: over 95 percent.
  13. Voting against Andrea Leahy as a Special Appeals Judge. Similar to the election involving Jimmy Sarbanes, Judge Leahy is up for election because she was appointed by Martin O’Malley in March. I looked at her profile and wasn’t impressed, but it’s rare a judge is tossed out. I would love to see who Larry Hogan would appoint, but if Leahy lost Martin O’Malley would rush another appointee through – and he or she would sit until 2016. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  14. Voting against Kevin Arthur as a Special Appeals Judge. His profile is better than Leahy’s but, still, he is an O’Malley appointee. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  15. Grover Cantwell for Orphan’s Court Judge. I have never met the guy, yet he wants my vote. This is a part of the ballot where those who get listed first (the Democrats) have the advantage because they’ve all been on the ballot before. Chances of success: perhaps 1 in 3.
  16. Voting for Question 2. I can get behind this proposal, which allows charter counties like Wicomico the option to have special elections to fill County Council seats. Having gone through the process of filling such a vacancy, I think it should be opened up despite the risk of losing a GOP seat to a Democrat. Chances of success: over 90 percent.

So this is how I think my local election will go. As for some other contested county races I’m supporting, in order of likelihood of success:

  • Addie Eckardt for Senate, District 37. The hard part for her was winning the primary. Sure, there may be some diehard Colburn supporters out there but their other choice is a guy he beat by 20 points last time around. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Mary Beth Carozza for Delegate, District 38C. Having an opponent who wears a “Ban Assault Weapons” t-shirt to an Andy Harris townhall event provides an immediate advantage in this area. But Mary Beth has been working since the summer of 2013 on this race, and that hard work is on the verge of paying off. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Marc Kilmer for District 2 Council. When your opponent threatens to go to court for winning, you know you’re in good shape. But Marc has taken nothing for granted, works hard, and has a fairly solid Republican district. Chances of success: at least 80 percent.
  • Christopher Adams for Delegate, District 37B. He wasn’t the top vote-getter in any county, but he’s run a solid campaign and the dynamics of the race give him a better path to victory than fellow Republican contender Johnny Mautz. Chances of success: a solid 75 percent.
  • Johnny Mautz for Delegate, District 37B. By far the top primary vote-getter, the one drawback is that he has to finish ahead of Keasha Haythe because both hail from Talbot County and there’s a limit of one per county. If he were second to her in the overall voting, he would lose and the third-place finisher moves up. With that in mind, I give him just ever-so-slightly less favorable odds. Chances of success: a solid 74.9 percent.

My advice to every contender in the last two weeks: run like you are five points behind. See you at the polls!

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 3: District 38

Since I’ve now covered the county and District 37 races, it’s time to focus on the last political subdivision involved, District 38. The turnout for this one was disappointing because they failed to get the two Senate candidates, nor did they cover District 38C (although Democrat contender Judy Davis was in the audience.) On the other hand, District 38A received part of the billing despite the fact the district no longer covers Wicomico County.

So there were just four candidates to deal with: Delegate Charles Otto and former Crisfield mayor P.J. Purnell in District 38A and Delegate Norm Conway and Delmar, Maryland mayor Carl Anderton, Jr. in District 38B. I’ll start with the race that pits Otto, who was elected in 2010 after surviving a four-way Republican primary and rolling up 62% of the general election vote, against Purnell, who served as Crisfield’s mayor for the last eight years before not seeking re-election this year.

Their initial question concerned the wind turbine farm slated for Somerset County, but placed in jeopardy for a time due to objections from the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, who was concerned about effects on their radar equipment from the spinning blades. Otto said he had committed to the developers about being neutral toward the project although he objected to the renewable energy portfolio. He believed, though, the project was sited in an “appropriate place” to alleviate health concerns, and would rather see wind turbines than solar panels that directly affect the environment.

Purnell spoke about his experience with wind turbines in Crisfield, where he secured a $4 million “green grant” to build a 750 kilowatt turbine to service the town’s sewage treatment plant. “If it doesn’t work it will be Purnell’s Folly,” he said. But he felt the electricity savings would benefit the city by allowing other items to be funded.

It led into a question on unemployment, and Purnell stated the obvious: “Unemployment is tough.” But he looked for anything he could to create jobs, including grants. “Economic development is a tough process,” said Purnell, who added that we needed to be prepared.

Otto used the aborted Walmart distribution center to point out how the state’s business climate affects job creation – on the very day Somerset County was to reopen discussions with Walmart about the site, the state passed its minimum wage law. Minimum wage and tax structure were the cause of many of our job creation problems, although the toll increase which makes it $1 per mile from the Bay Bridge to Salisbury for a truck doesn’t help either.

In terms of helping the realty industry, Otto blasted the Septic Bill he opposed as part of the “war on rural Maryland.” He vowed, “I’ll continue to defend property rights” in Annapolis.

On the other hand, Purnell believed “sustainability is the root of all our problems on the Eastern Shore.” He predicted we won’t be able to build in five to ten years.

In his closing statement, Purnell pointed out he’d cut Crisfield’s workforce, and made the case he believed smaller government was the answer. Otto talked about the state’s increasing spending and told the gathering, “I was taught to pay for it when I bought it.”

Again, this was a case where the Democrat in the race tried to convince the audience he was just as conservative as the Republican. It wasn’t so much the case in the District 38B race, which places a Delegate who has represented the area in Annapolis since 1986 (and was a Salisbury City Council member for a dozen years before that) against a mayor elected in 2011, who spent six years before that as a member of their town commission.

I noted the other day in my initial report that Anderton apologized for a mailing which depicted Conway as a masked criminal. But Carl was critical when he was asked the question about what he would do differently than Norm.

“Communication is key,” said Carl, who gave the crowd his cell phone number as a way of promoting access. He also noted that “I haven’t seen my Delegate in my town hall” during his entire tenure in Delmar government, reinforcing his belief that “we’re such an underdog in representation.”

Unlike the other participants, Norm had a different question regarding highway user revenues. Conway said that the Transportation Trust Fund had been repaid, but as for the lost highway user revenues it was his claim that the approach was the preference of MACO (the advocacy group for Maryland’s counties.) But “no one knew” the depth of the recession or the extent of the cuts needed, argued Conway.

Norm was asked then about tuition costs, noting they’d maintained a 3% level of increase while other states had done far worse. But he also bemoaned the fact that many students take much longer than four years to graduate, accumulating more debt along the way.

Anderton was asked about how to bring job opportunities here, but pointed out that Wor-Wic Community College, the site of the debate, won’t have its funding restored to previous levels until 2023. “The things that go on in Annapolis have to change,” said Carl. “We have to be fundamentally different (and) we have to do better.”

Something Carl wanted to address for the realtors was the tax differential, although he also spoke helping to create the success of the Heron Ponds development. Conway agreed the differential needed a review or discussion, but felt that eventually Sussex County, Delaware, with its extremely low assessed rates, “will have to face reality.” Norm also praised those moving into downtown Salisbury, calling it “a real plus.”

In his closing statement, Norm talked about how he had always set goals for himself. But Anderton stressed a different approach: “it’s all about teamwork.”

This was an interesting part of the forum because the two candidates answered mostly different questions, which made it difficult to compare and contrast. Obviously Carl wouldn’t have the same voting record as Norm has, but one thing which stuck out at me was that both of Norm’s questions touched on appropriations – how much money it would take to hold tuition costs at 3% increases or how best to cut to fit a budget. Some of that was out of his hands, but I would have really loved to have Norm answer how he could create jobs when things have gone steadily south during his last couple terms. There are reasons Sussex County is so appealing at the moment and advantageous assessments is just one.

As I think I said in a previous rendition, I think this forum would have been far better spread out over a couple nights. It was also disappointing we didn’t get to hear the exchanges between Jim Mathias and Mike McDermott for the District 38 Senate seat or Judy Davis and Mary Beth Carozza for District 38C – which, ironically, is the district Wor-Wic lies in. It went on for over 2 1/2 hours, but with 15 participants there was only time for three questions apiece, plus the opening and closing statements.

Overall, I don’t think anyone crippled their chances for victory so we’ll have to hang on for another couple weeks to see how it goes.

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices

As I noted the other day when I broached the subject, more than a dozen candidates shared the stage for a forum sponsored in part by the Coastal Association of Realtors and the Salisbury Independent newspaper. In this first part, I’ll discuss some of what the county candidates said.

First, the contenders:

For County Executive, two-term incumbent Rick Pollitt faced off with challenger County Councilman Bob Culver. Pollitt was elected in 2006 as Wicomico County’s first County Executive and narrowly won re-election over Republican Joe Ollinger in 2010. Bob Culver lost in a three-way Republican primary in 2006 for County Executive to eventual nominee Ron Alessi and B.J. Corbin before rebounding to win an at-large County Council seat in 2010.

Culver’s seat is being sought by two who join Republican Matt Holloway in attempting to win one of the two at-large County Council posts. Holloway was elected to County Council in the same 2010 election that brought Culver back; ironically those seats opened up because the two incumbents decided not to continue. One of those two was John Cannon, who unsuccessfully ran for the General Assembly in 2010 after one term on the County Council from 2006-10. Now John seeks a return after a four-year hiatus, noting that being a Council member was his “lifeblood.”

The lone Democrat seeking one of the two at-large seats is current Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell. Mitchell has served on the City Council since being elected in 2011.

(While there are 7 contenders for the five district Council seats, the forum only covered the pair of countywide posts.)

In the County Executive race, the two contenders disagree on a lot but agree that they would have “stark contrasts” in their approaches to governing. For example, when asked what the most pressing issue was, Culver was blunt: it was the loss of jobs over the last 18 months. (In the July 2013-July 2014 period, BLS statistics show Wicomico County lost 429 jobs as its labor force fell by 649.)

On the other hand, Pollitt asserted we were still in a recession and pleaded that “we have to rebuild our community.” He went on to describe how the needed to “leverage assets” like Wallops Island, Virginia, the port of Salisbury, and the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development organization. It was part of a required overall strategy for the “new normal,” added Pollitt.

When it came to whether additional tax increases would be required, Pollitt pointed out that the property tax rates had to increase just to stay even – four cents of the five cent increase this year simply brought us back to constant yield, with the other penny being allowed under the revenue cap. Four of of six Republicans voted for this tax increase, which was the “only responsible thing” to do.

Culver wasn’t one of those Republicans, though. He contended the county needed to go back to zero-based budgeting and trim the fat one step at a time. “Right now the time is not for a tax increase,” said Bob. “We have to do it from a business aspect.”

Another bone of contention came in the question about how best to assist realtors. Culver argued that dropping the county’s impact fee had resulted in 54 new homes being built in Wicomico County, and pointed out that there was only 16% of the county’s land mass which could be developed and we had just 3 percent to go.

Pollitt shot back that the impact fee change was part of the overall budget Culver opposed, restated that government needs to provide services and reminded us that five of the seven Council members had been correct in voting for the budget.

Rick closed with a familiar theme of “building community,” noting as well his role as the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition legislative chair and in the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. The more plain-spoken Culver repeated his assertion that “I think Wicomico County government is broken.”

If you look at it stylistically, Pollitt is a sharper debater. But the approach he’s taken over the last few years has been pragmatic by circumstance rather than by choice. And since the zero-based budgeting Pollitt did as city manager of Fruitland and promised early on doesn’t appear to be the case now – because it’s a campaign issue – and he whined early on in his tenure about the voter-installed revenue cap,  one wonders what the budget and tax rate would be if not for the recession.

Rick Pollitt often talks about what he calls “quality of life” issues. But it has to be asked whether our quality of life is better when job numbers are going the wrong way.

The County Council members were asked a different set of questions. One of them was on how to take the good things happening in downtown Salisbury and jump start the area outside the metro core and the other dealt with thoughts on the comprehensive plan.

John Cannon got first shot at the former question, and he opened by praising the “refreshing” leadership of Salisbury City Council president Jake Day. But he believed the county had the responsibility to create its own environment for growth, and Cannon wanted to bring together the major players on a quarterly basis.

As far as tier maps went, John believed it was an argument of local vs. state control and was hoping for relief with the new administration, presumably a Larry Hogan one. He also advocated for enhanced transfer of development rights and perhaps even a wastewater treatment authority. He also noted that he had pushed for a reduction in impact fees six years ago when he was on County Council.

Matt Holloway outlined some of the accomplishments the county has achieved since he came on board: decoupling the personal property tax rate from the real property tax rate, phasing out the inventory tax, and making the manufacturer’s tax exemption automatic. He suggested a focus on public relations and enhancing our one-man economic development team.

Holloway also believed the comprehensive plan needed a “fresh set of eyes” with his goal being that of not impacting property values. But Matt cautioned that the state “has the trump card” under the law. They could help us with our septic issues, however.

Because she is on City Council, the initial question was right in Laura Mitchell’s wheelhouse: “That is why I’m running.” She wanted to translate Salisbury’s excitement to the county and talk about the positive things. She also thought the idea of an EDU bank, which allocates unused sewage capacity that developers donate back to the city, had merit on a countywide level.

Unfortunately, while it is “convoluted, to say the least,” Mitchell dropped the ball on even a rudimentary understanding of the tier maps. She advocated for infill development and sustainable growth, while addressing the double taxation and foreclosure issues in response to the realtors’ question.

Mitchell stressed her accounting background and budgeting experience as the key reasons to vote for her, portraying herself as sort of a budget nerd. But I found it interesting that the city budget had increased for three years in a row before finally declining this year. It’s still almost 7% higher than it was in FY2011, when she won election. (The first budget she would have approved would have been FY2012.)

And while you can’t expect expertise on every issue, her befuddlement on the tier maps was a bad sign.

It’s interesting that tier maps are an issue in this county, which now labors under the state’s default position that lots of any size can’t be subdivided into more than seven lots. Unfortunately, no county has found someone aggrieved enough by this terrible law that they could have standing to sue for the law’s nullification. (It’s doubtful the Democrats in the General Assembly would consider a repeal such as that tried in 2013.) Much as I’d love to force the state to pound sand, I’m not an injured party.

But there can be steps taken in the right direction. If we must have a tier map, the amount of land placed off-limits to development should be minimized because to do otherwise is an infringement on private property rights.

And while downtown development is indeed encouraging, the best way to replicate it isn’t to precisely duplicate it. While entertainment districts are nice, we need more industrial districts, more transportation hubs, and more encouragement of overall development. We shouldn’t shackle ourselves to one approach, either – if Chesapeake Shipbuilding, which isn’t exactly a glamorous company but a useful one that actually is seeking tradesmen, needs something to create another 150 jobs, that should take priority over yet another entertainment venue that may create 20 or 30.

Part 2 tomorrow will look at District 37 races.

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.

Next Page »

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  • Part of the Politics in Stereo network.
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  • Link to Maryland Democratic Party

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

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  • Locals flock to monoblogue

    More and more locals come here for 'News and views from Maryland's Eastern Shore.'

    Click on the photo for details on advertising opportunities.

  • For Policy Wonks

    TrackBill is a great way to follow both Congress and state legislatures in a customized manner.

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