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.

A post-primary look back

I actually started this a couple weeks ago, when writing about Ron George’s last stand, and just added to it here and there every couple days – if only to keep it atop the queue. Regarding Ron, it was unfortunate that such a good candidate couldn’t get much traction in the race.

But as the race comes to an end for three of the four gubernatorial hopefuls, I’m convinced that my initial instinct was correct and there was really only money enough for three candidates. Blaine Young saw this early on and, despite a solid period of fundraising, opted to drop out of the gubernatorial race and focus on a local campaign for the newly-created Frederick County Executive post. “We have a tendency to eat our own,” he said.

To me this is yet another legacy of the Ehrlich era, which in some respects set our party back several years.  With the most direct connection to that administration, Larry Hogan was perhaps the second-most natural successor – besides Michael Steele, who took a pass in 2014. More and more I see 2010 as a completely missed opportunity in this state, and its domino effect is hurting us in 2014.

So Hogan starts out about 15 points down, just like Ehrlich ended up in 2010. How does he close the gap?

Out of the box, he’s taking the approach which he used a little bit in the primary: Anthony Brown as incompetent.

Driving up negatives is generally a conventional wisdom play, but there are a couple downsides. First of all, Brown is, well, brown and the inevitable comparison to Republicans picking on Barack Obama will occur. I also don’t see the counter of a positive agenda from the Hogan camp, which seems to be focusing more on undoing things than doing new things.

I mentioned Ron George early on and it was interesting how he accepted his defeat, as a letter to his youngest son Tommy:

Tommy, I lost. But that is okay. Many took my ideas, and I know those ideas will help our state. Your dad is now able to go camping with you and have more time with you, and that alone makes me glad I lost. I can go on trips with you and Mom visiting your nieces and nephew, and I look forward to that also. I did what God asked of me and did my best and that is all we are to do. I never wanted to do anything that took time from you, so I am happy to say I am not a governor but I am Tommy’s dad. Love you, Dad.

Perhaps had Ron been given a do-over, he may have decided to devote full-time to running for governor. Surely he had people to run his business, but while David Craig had a staff to help him do his job as County Executive, Larry Hogan the same for his business, and Charles Lollar was granted extended leave from his duties, Ron had to also function as a Delegate. That was 90 days basically off the trail in the formative part of the campaign. It may be disappointing to me because it was one of two decisions that cost him my vote and endorsement; otherwise Ron had perhaps the best overall platform and he came very close to getting both from me.

But Ron ran the best campaign insofar as staying issue-based and not going off on personal attack tangents.

For David Craig, he pretty much spent the last three years trying for this. Obviously the blogger meeting he had early on didn’t do him much good.

There have been people who opined privately that Craig should have attacked Hogan earlier, just as there are people who believed attacking Charles Lollar was a mistake. I would place myself in the latter camp, but what did Craig in was the lack of money to overcome Larry Hogan’s advantage there. Once Larry got the public financing, the race was over and Craig couldn’t chip away at the double-digit lead.

It’s the Charles Lollar supporters I worry about, as in my opinion they are most likely to stay home in November. Charles tried to convince them otherwise:

Wow, family, what an experience! I can honestly say that the past 16 months have been filled with such excitement and joy as my family has had the chance to meet so many good people across the state of Maryland. I could not be happier with the extended family that I have acquired as a result of this campaign. While the results may have not been exactly what we wanted at least we know that there were many out there who share our vision for a better Maryland and a New Way Forward. From the bottom of my heart I want to thank everyone who played a role in making this such a successful campaign.

As many of you know there is still more work for us to do. A New Way Forward for Maryland is still out there for us to obtain and together we can make this happen. I want to congratulate Larry Hogan on a job well done as well as David Craig and Ron George for successful campaigns of their own.

I look forward to coming together in unity to win the state of Maryland and I urge all of my supporters to do the same and ensure unity within our state across the board.

It makes me wonder what Charles will do with the next few months, although his July 5th event for supporters and volunteers will likely have a lot of clues.

Looking down the ballot a little bit, there were some interesting upsets from both parties.

Two incumbent Senators lost in their primaries as ambitious House members ousted them: Republicans David Brinkley and Richard Colburn were knocked off. By the same token, many of the nine House members who were defeated were victims of redistricting: Republicans Joseph Boteler, Don Dwyer, Donald Elliott, and Michael Smigiel, and Democrats Keiffer Mitchell, Melvin Stukes, Michael Summers, Darren Swain, and Shawn Tarrant. Mitchell and Stukes were drawn, along with winner Keith Haynes, into one Baltimore City district.

In particular, Boteler was one of the good guys, and the reigning monoblogue Accountability Project Legislator of the Year. That district’s voters made a serious mistake by pushing him aside.

Aside from the shocking margin of Addie Eckardt’s victory, the Wicomico County results were pretty much what I expected. Obviously I was disappointed by Muir Boda’s loss but apparently county Republican voters like mushy moderates. If things hold as expected, we will still have a significant GOP majority on County Council but it won’t always govern like one.

It should be noted, though, that my advertisers went 3-1 for the primary. Mary Beth Carozza easily had the most primary votes in District 38C and Chris Adams and Johnny Mautz paced the field in District 37B. Mautz carried three of the four counties, with Adams second in all four (Rene Desmarais won Wicomico County.)

This brings up one of my favorite comments along the way in the campaign, from an old NetRightDaily colleague of mine, Richard Manning. It was in response to a Facebook post I put up to promote this post.

(A)ll those ads along the side pay Michael for his great work. He should be commended that he has created something from nothing that has enough value that people want to advertise on it to reach his readers. That is the essence of the entrepreneurial spirit that those on the right claim to embrace.

So that brings me to the final race, which was my own. I posted this on the soon-to-disappear Facebook page for my campaign:

I’d like to thank my supporters. Looks like I’m going to come up one spot short this time, but with so many good people running I knew I was the most vulnerable incumbent because I only made it by a little bit last time.

So after November it looks like I may have some free time on my hands – or maybe not.

It does look like the Central Committee will have a little more TEA Party influence because Julie Brewington and Greg Belcher got their start as part of that movement, so that’s good.

As I’ve said all along, this will be my last election as a candidate. I was only planning to run this term anyway, and I would have definitely preferred to go out a winner. But I came home and got a hug from my treasurer, who happens to be my fiance. So everything is okay. I lost an election, but elections don’t define me anyway. In fact, in some respects this can be liberating.

Obviously there’s still the prospect of my involvement with the Central Committee, at least as secretary (it can be a non-voting position.) If they wish, I’m happy to stay on in that capacity.

But this will be the last time I have to go through all the hassle of getting a treasurer, filing campaign finance reports, and so forth. In the next few days we’ll close the campaign account, file the necessary paperwork to wind up this committee, and it will be time for a new chapter in political involvement.

So in a few days this (Facebook) page will also go away. Congratulations to the winners and hopefully many of those who tried but fell short will try again. But this will be it for me on the ballot.

Again, I appreciate the kind words from my supporters and thanks to those who voted for me.

A lot of those remarks have appeared on my Facebook page or in e-mails to me. I appreciate the sentiment, but I have an observation on this whole thing.

Of the nine who made it, six were already on the Central Committee and had name recognition for various reasons. I’ve lived in the county for less than a decade and, quite frankly, had the 2006 election featured more aspirants than candidates I probably wouldn’t have won my first term, let alone the second. Look at the three newcomers who won: two are doctors, and the other ran for the House of Delegates in 2010.

On the other hand, two of the other three who lost had been active in Republican circles but had little name recognition otherwise. Tyler Harwood probably knocked on hundreds of doors on behalf of himself and other candidates and was rewarded by finishing last. Jackie Wellfonder had bought signs and cards, and made her way around polling places yesterday to no avail. The gap between us and ninth place suggests that people just went with the names they knew, and that’s sort of a sad commentary.

I’m not going to lie to you and say I’m happy about losing this election, but I knew going in this time that I would have a hard time keeping my spot. I originally figured that only five or six incumbents would run, but with seven that made it really difficult.

So here we are. Even if I’m selected as secretary again (a non-voting secretary and treasurer are allowed) October will be my last meeting as an elected Central Committee member. It would be strange not having something to do on the first Monday of the month, but life changes and so we have to as well.

I didn’t plan on being a Central Committee member my entire life anyway, but now that this election is over my thoughts are on seeing our candidates through and working where I can to improve the process. It may not be completely universal, but one thing I think I’ve achieved over the last eight years is the respect of my peers.

The 80-20 rule (part 2 of 2)

I had originally intended to do a short post noting that Ron George is still in the race and garnered the endorsement of the Conservative Victory PAC, which said of George:

Ron’s plan for economic recovery and development coupled with his knowledge of the issues as a Delegate gives us full confidence that he is the right candidate for the job.

Ron has shown that he knows how to take on Democrats and win when he beat Democrat House Speaker Michael Busch as the top vote getter in their majority Democrat district.  We have great confidence in his ability to draw a sharp contrast between the liberal policies of Brown, Gansler, and Mizeur and our conservative vision for Maryland.

We would like to thank the other candidates and wish them all well on Tuesday, June 24th.

But then I was made aware of a lengthy piece put together by the Ron George campaign, which takes the form of a 16-page newsletter. It’s actually a very nice summary of Ron’s campaign and I wish he had finished it a month or two ago. Had he done so, he may not be lagging in the polls – although polls can be less than meaningful in a low-turnout election as this promises to be.

Being familiar with WordPress, though – as I use the platform to create monoblogue – I found it really interesting that work on this newsletter must have began nine months ago, as the source file comes from September 2013. Maybe at that time he was expecting more fundraising, because the mailing would have been quite pricey.

Knowing that, it’s interesting to speculate why he kept the information on pages 10 and 11 – where he points out reasons not to vote for David Craig and Larry Hogan, respectively – in his pocket for so long. I suppose I should be pleased with that since Ron had hitherto run a fairly positive campaign.

I thought this statement on two others intriguing as well:

My friend Dan Bongino was about to switch to run for a seat in Congress. And Charles Lollar, besides repeating whatever Dan Bongino said, lacked any understanding of how government worked.

Sounds like George would have passed if Bongino ran, but we’ll never know.

Yet taking a page from the Maryland Liberty playbook, Ron takes decades-old votes and statements from both Hogan and Craig out of context.

Take for example this point:

When running for Delegate in 1990, the Baltimore Sun reported, “Craig said he would work to get the state to give counties greater latitude to raise taxes or lower them, thus reducing their reliance on property taxes” (Baltimore Sun, November 4, 1990). This would have enabled the counties to raise many taxes without approval or debate by the state legislature, which give a greater proper vetting of tax-raising proposals. Mr. Craig’s idea was not a very Republican idea.

Actually, bringing that power to a point closer to the people is a very conservative idea. I would rather fight battles against raising taxes here in Salisbury than up in Annapolis; moreover, counties are exempted or mandated by state fiat on many occasions – chief among them the “rain tax.” As I recall, Montgomery County already had a similar program in place when the state passed theirs. That was an example of a county making their own decision.

Yet there are more recent statements and votes I can take from Ron which would suggest he isn’t exactly the standard-bearer for liberty or conservative principles, either, particularly when it comes to Radical Green. Just check out this screenshot from 2010, when Ron campaigned as “the Green Elephant.” I pointed all this out when Ron was launching his bid. And Ron isn’t exactly trumpeting his support for that key part of the O’Malley “Smart, Green, and Growing” agenda now, is he?

As I have said privately to people who asked for several weeks now, I can easily tell you something good and something bad about each one of the four gubernatorial campaigns. To me, it was a race with no clear favorite from day 1.

So on Tuesday we will come to the end of a long, exhausting slog to secure the GOP nomination for governor. For three of the candidates (David Craig, Larry Hogan, and Charles Lollar) it can be argued they have been running for the last three years. Whether it was the more formal effort by Craig, Larry Hogan’s formation of Change Maryland, or Charles Lollar’s New Day Maryland group, these were hatched at various points way back in 2011. While Ron George may have been considering it for far longer, he’s only been at it for a little over a year – still, it’s a long time in one’s life to work toward what many argue is an unattainable goal anyway.

Aside from having this forum to speak my mind and the passion to follow this campaign practically since its beginning, I’m probably like many other voters in the sense that I have 100% agreement with none of the candidates. Obviously some spoke better to the issues which I care most about better than others, and some have lengthy records I could examine, particularly in a legislative sense. Still, in order to select one I have to compromise on some things, and my vote goes where I judge that I have the least amount of compromise.

Now do I worry that David Craig will run to the center once June 25 rolls around? Yes, of course, and I would for Ron George as well given his abandonment of the “Green Elephant” moniker to secure a statewide nomination. But given his refusal to take a stance on some issues, I think Larry Hogan has already started in the middle, and in many respects so has Charles Lollar. Do we really know what he is telling these Democratic groups to earn their support?

Yet, regardless of who wins, at the end of the day it would be better to have someone you agree with 70 to 80 percent of the time in charge than continue to lose ground with someone who may be right 20 percent of the time (if we’re lucky.)

It’s also worth making this final point. On Wednesday, there will be winners and losers in more than just an electoral sense. Many people have put their hearts and souls into this race but it’s worth remembering that, in our little Maryland Republican community, the guy whose brains you were trying to beat out a month earlier may have to be your best friend in a future fight – so don’t burn the bridges behind you. The long-range goal should be kept in sight as you celebrate the moment of victory.

GOP race for governor turns negative

For most of the last year or so since the first two candidates made it official, the race for the GOP nomination for governor has been relatively genteel. But in the waning days before the primary, the campaign has gone downhill fast. Some would argue the decline started with the Change Maryland/Hogan-Rutherford allegations, but I thought it was a legitimate question because there is a gap between Hogan’s formal announcement and the accounting for his campaign.

But I found it interesting that an e-mail from the address “mdfreedom2014@gmail.com” came to me last evening, alleging the following. It is untouched from its original, with the exception of moving links for flow:

I’ve been following the primary for governor with increasing alarm — Larry Hogan is hoodwinking us. He sounds like a republican but when you actually hear his personal feelings, he’s an Obama Democrat. I was even more upset this morning when I heard he was supporting and promising to uphold gay marriage. It’s ridiculous that we can’t get someone who will defend marraige (sic) at its most basic level. He also seems to be fine with Obamacare and I’ve been told he supports abortion and refuses to stand up for life.

I’m sending you the most disturbing part though and people really need to understand how DANGEROUS this is!! There’s video of Hogan telling the baltimore sun how he supports opening up our borders to illegal immigrants. He also seems perfectly fine with the illegal dream act enticing illegal immigrants to come to maryland. I mean just read that whole last article.

We have a unique opportunity right now to nominate a real conservative patriot to stand up against the O’Malley tax regime, and if we nominate a moderate who’s too weak to present a contrast we’ll blow it completely. Marylanders NEED to understand how dangerous Hogan will be in office and we NEED to get out the word.

For the first part, I don’t see the correlation between the 14-second clip “freedom60″ on YouTube gleaned from the Baltimore Sun forum and the allegation. As I heard Hogan say on the clip:

I think we ought to make it a fair and balanced process for people to legally immigrate to the United States. I like the fact we’re a beacon of freedom and opportunity, that people want to come here.

It’s not making sure they are legal before they receive driver’s licenses or encouraging 287 (g) enforcement, but I don’t see that as throwing open the borders, either. The case against Larry, though, is made a little stronger given this from the Carroll County Times:

While O’Malley and Maryland lawmakers have taken up a host of social issues such as same-sex marriage and allowing people who are not in the country legally to pay in-state tuition if they have paid state taxes, Hogan isn’t interested in trying to make any changes on those issues.

“It’s not something we need to revisit at all,” Hogan said, adding that voters approved both of those laws on the ballot in 2012.

Well, voters can be hoodwinked – after all, a slim majority voted against their best interests on a host of issues in 2012, beginning at the top and working down.

It’s been apparent from a few weeks into the campaign that Larry Hogan was more centrist than the rest, which is why he studiously avoided making statements on several key issues and skipped forums where such questions could be asked. Message control has been key, even on two mailers I’ve received over the last few days. They both say essentially the same thing, although his idea of “reforming” Common Core on one morphed into putting a “halt” to Common Core for the second. He also went from the original “spending-first approach” to “lower taxes” to “lowering taxes across the board.” I think the polling is showing that approach resonates with voters.

Not to say Hogan is immune, since some of his most prominent backers stretched way out on a limb to equate a bad vote on a bill with support of a mileage tax which was proposed much later – an attack picked up by the Maryland Liberty PAC, making for some odd bedfellows in the Maryland political world.

But rather than work on catching the first place contender, David Craig must be hearing footsteps from behind. It’s an effort to make conservatives question Charles Lollar.

Craig Lollar mailer

It’s unfortunate that Craig doesn’t list the documentation on these charges, but I can review all three as Lollar threw an unnamed “former campaign staffer” under the bus for the NRA grade, a naivete on how Planned Parenthood can shift money around, and a promise to “push forward” with the Purple Line in front of a pro-transit audience after being against it elsewhere.

This is the quote regarding Planned Parenthood that I’m sure Craig used, from the Gazette:

(Lollar) said he would make sure groups such as Planned Parenthood could not use any tax dollars to pay for abortions, although they still could receive and use public money for other women’s health services.

Ask yourself: if someone paid your car payment, wouldn’t it be easier to spend your income on groceries? If government pays for “other women’s health services” then PP has more money to provide abortions. It’s that simple, and remember – the card simply says Charles “supports funding Planned Parenthood with taxpayer’s money.”

But Lollar struck back with his own e-mail:

When you hear accusations about me such as those that appeared in a campaign postcard distributed by another Republican candidate recently, please ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who was on NBC 4 last Sunday boldly stating my position against the Purple Line. How could I possibly be in favor of spending $5 billion on it? Watch the debate (at 27:00).
  • Who just received an endorsement from Protect Marriage Maryland, the only Republican gubernatorial candidate to receive their endorsement? In the words of the endorsement,“there is no other ticket that will defend marriage and protect our religious rights to the same degree that the Lollar-Timmerman ticket will.” How could I possibly allow Planned Parenthood to use taxpayer dollars for abortions? (You can also view the PMM endorsement on their website.) (Emphasis in original.)

Regarding the Purple Line, I suppose it depends on the definition of “affordable.” He’s also taken to using the hashtag #BratTheVote, referring to Dave Brat’s recent upset of Eric Cantor in Virginia.

Still, I wish the four had stuck to defining and attacking the real enemy: the Maryland Democratic Party machine.

More guv news

The last time I did this I went top to bottom in the polls, so today I’ll reverse the order, It’s also because I liked the first item best. Indeed, in this instance Ron George really was the only candidate who got it right. He pointed out a recent AP story about the loss of manufacturing jobs and how that has hit Reading, PA hard, then noted:

This weekend’s Associated Press (June 15, 2014) report proved Ron George is the only candidate in this race who was right about the central missing component for fixing Maryland’s economy and closing the income gap. Ron is the only candidate who has made manufacturing a key component of his Maryland economic portfolio. With Maryland’s tax climate ranked dead last in the nation for new capital intensive manufacturing firms and 46th for labor intensive manufacturing firms, it’s no surprise Maryland’s GDP growth is 0%. At every step of this campaign, Ron has provided the most comprehensive, free market oriented plan.

Indeed this is true. I believe the emphasis on manufacturing jobs has been the strength of Ron’s campaign, and it’s sort of unfortunate he hasn’t had the best opportunity to get the message out. Yet there’s also an educational aspect to it as well because people see manufacturing as a job for lower-class people, not realizing one can make a good living working with their hands. Ron is probably a little biased due to his avocation of making things, but he puts in the honest work to be successful.

Local voters will get a chance to speak with Charles Lollar at a meet-and-greet this Saturday evening at what’s now called Adam’s Taphouse Grille along the main drag in Fruitland. The event will run from 5-7 p.m. and feature light hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar. Adam’s has very good food, so that will be a plus. And as the event organizer notes:

Take this opportunity to meet Charles and learn about his position on the issues and his plans as Governor of Maryland! This is the last opportunity before the primary vote to get to know the candidate.

I’m taking that to mean this will be Lollar’s last trip to this part of Maryland. The Eastern Shore is heavily Republican, but let’s face it: between the nine counties we have 111,986 Republicans and that’s fewer than any one of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, or Montgomery counties.

Fortunately for us, David Craig has a running mate from these parts, and she recently taped a commercial presumably intended for our cable and broadcast media markets.

It’s basically a reminder that Jeannie’s an Eastern Shore native, and doesn’t delve into policy specifics. But it is a reminder that she does well on television.

Larry Hogan also has two more days on the Eastern Shore as part of his bus tour, covering the Upper Shore today and Wicomico County tomorrow (although he had an event here in Wicomico last week as well.) His Change Maryland campaign is pleased with the social media bump his campaign has received from the tour:

In the past week, we’ve had nearly 700,000 people following along with our bus tour on our social media pages – a new record! We can truly feel the momentum building and we couldn’t be more humbled or excited by the incredible support. Thanks to everyone who has liked or commented, come out to see us on the road, and helped us to spread our message statewide!

Obviously not all are Hogan voters, and perhaps many don’t even reside in Maryland. It’s what over $16,000 and counting on Facebook will get for you, I suppose. But the bus looks sharp.

Lots of guv news

It worked out that something came to my attention from all four gubernatorial candidates in the last few hours to couple days, so I decided to go through them in polling order.

This mean’s Larry Hogan‘s comments about our state’s moribund economy lead things off. In response to a U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis report that Maryland’s state GDP did not budge over the last year, Hogan said:

Today, the Federal Government confirmed what Marylanders have long known:  Our economy is dead in the water.  The tax and spend policies and mismanagement of the Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown years have destroyed jobs and are driving residents and employers out of state.  It’s time to end one-party rule and get Maryland’s economy moving again.

The state’s economy was all but stagnant in 2013, essentially unchanged from 2012. Only the District of Columbia and Alaska did worse, as both of those went into a statewide recession. And while it can be argued that the government shutdown had a negative impact on the region – as noted, the District of Columbia lost economic ground and Virginia only eked out 0.1% growth – it just points out the need for Maryland to diversify its economy and not just be the home for government workers along the I-95 corridor.

Meanwhile, David Craig attempted to shore up support in western Maryland by announcing an endorsement from former Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, who called Craig:

…the only candidate for governor that has a record of accomplishment. He has cut taxes, cut the size of the government, and vigorously opposed gun control legislation as a member of the General Assembly, which has earned him an “A” rating from the NRA. No other candidate has fought for our conservative values like him. No other candidate has the experience to lead our state like he does. I am proud to endorse David Craig for Governor, he will be our voice in Annapolis.

Bartlett has gained a lot of respect from voters in that region of the state over the years, so this isn’t a bad thing to have in your pocket. Of course, it’s not going to make up all of the ground David needs to gain on Larry Hogan, but it helps shore up a portion of the state which is somewhat up for grabs as it has no favorite son in the race.

The Charles Lollar camp took heart in Dave Brat’s Virginia win on Tuesday night:

You just saw it in Virginia: Eric Cantor outspent his opponent by 40-to-1 and was defeated in a landslide in yesterday’s primary.

Why? Because Cantor was out of touch with the Republican base, and because Dave Brat’s volunteers were passionate – just as you are!

Don’t let Establishment Republicans in Maryland steal your victory from you for a few dollars.

They’ve also touted endorsements from several minority groups:

I was thrilled last night at the reception I was given at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, one of the largest churches in Prince Georges County.

And this came right after Ken and I were endorsed by the Business & Clergy Partnership of Prince Georges County, a group that represents 300 predominantly black churches and small businesses.

Now the latter becomes interesting after I found this item. Perhaps the Prince George’s group is making an endorsement in both primaries, but the Maryland branch endorsed Doug Gansler first. Charles may do well in Prince George’s County, but unless he was handing out lots of voter registration change cards prior to the June 3 deadline, there may not be a Lollar on the November ballot for whom to vote.

And then we come to Ron George, who is definitely pulling out all the stops here. He’s also jumped on the Dave Brat bandwagon by making a late issue of illegal immigration by pledging to restore a lawful presence requirement for driver’s licenses. Said Ron:

Maryland cannot afford to once again be giving driver’s licenses to those unlawfully present in the state. The current two-tier system offers no protections. A driver’s license is the recognized ID card throughout the United States. The second tier may help to keep someone out of federal buildings, but it does nothing to protect Marylanders from criminals and others who are unlawfully present.

A terrorist or even a sexual predator on the national registry can come here under a new name, and we do not check their status. Our proximity to Washington, D.C., as well as our airports, harbor, tunnels and bridges means Maryland needs a governor who will lead. The George/Aloi Administration will get Maryland back to lawfully present secure driver’s licenses and observe the federal and state rule of law.

I don’t quite get the last sentence (perhaps he needed the quotation marks as written below) but the idea is sound. Ron also provides some helpful background:

Ron George won a three year fight for “Lawfully Present, Secure Driver’s Licenses” in 2009, but O’Malley, Busch and Miller overturned it in 2013.

In 2008 and 2009, Ron George proved Maryland had handed Driver’s Licenses to MS 13 gang members. When terrorists were caught in other states planning attacks on military bases, they had Maryland drivers licenses. Prince George’s Emergency Hospital System was going under from the large influx of undocumented immigrants who didn’t pay for services and hundreds of millions were spent to keep it afloat. There were lines around Motor Vehicle Administration locations (MVA’s) everyday.  Now, once again, we have an enormous backlog of applicants at the MVA.

And then we have this from the Ron George “grooveyard of forgotten favorites”:

Hey, it got a little bit of media love from the folks at Rare – but still has fewer than 700 views. It’s the kind of thing he could have used back in April – maybe things would have turned out differently.

And this is just a couple days’ worth. But don’t forget – in a couple hours early voting begins around the state. And if I may be so bold as to make a campaign plug – and yes, there is an authority line on this website – Wicomico County GOP voters should make sure they get to page 2 on the ballot. Central Committee is the final office listed, and my name is second-to-last this time (in 2006 and 2010 I was listed last.) Whether you “bullet vote” just one or select nine, I’d appreciate it if my name was among those you select. And spread the word!

Polls begin to make primary more clear

Depending on how you slice the data, the June 24 primary would be a Larry Hogan victory, with the only question being the margin.

The two major Maryland media outlets polled the race earlier this month, and a summary of the results had the same approximate order of Larry Hogan, David Craig, Charles Lollar, and Ron George. But it’s worth also pointing out that the sample size between polls conducted by the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun varied widely.

The Post‘s polling data split into two parts: registered voters and likely voters. And while Hogan had a statistically sizable lead among likely voters, it practically melted away among simply registered voters. Likely voters (with a previous Post poll in February as comparison):

  • Larry Hogan – 35% (up from 22%)
  • David Craig – 19% (up from 13%)
  • Charles Lollar – 13% (up from 6%)
  • Ron George – 5% (stayed in place)

Among them, Larry Hogan finally climbed ahead of Mr. Undecided, who’s now at 20%. Out of simply registered voters, though:

  • Larry Hogan – 23% (up from 17%)
  • David Craig – 18% (up from 13%)
  • Charles Lollar – 12% (up from 10%)
  • Ron George – 8% (up from 4%)

Mr. Undecided still leads there with 25%.

What this tells me is that, for anyone but Larry Hogan to win, the campaigns need to push their GOTV effort among supporters. The Post’s sample sizes are exceedingly small – 228 registered Republicans and just 110 likely ones – leading to very high margins of error of 7.5 and 11 points, respectively. And perhaps it’s not coincidental that both Post-endorsed candidates are leading their respective races.

You may also recall that awhile back Larry Hogan touted a poll where he trailed Anthony Brown by single-digits. Unfortunately, the Post did a projected Hogan vs. Brown matchup and it came out 51-33 Brown. It’s a counter-intuitive result when you look deeper into the poll’s questions to find that Democrats want the next governor to lead the state in a different direction from Martin O’Malley by a 58-34 margin. Yet they have given Anthony Brown a significant primary lead and would presumably back him in the general election.

A few days earlier, the Baltimore Sun came out with their poll, which also showed Larry Hogan out in front. They did a similar poll in February as well.

  • Larry Hogan – 27% (up from 13%)
  • David Craig – 12% (up from 7%)
  • Charles Lollar – 12% (up from 5%)
  • Ron George – 6% (stayed in place)

Again, Mr. Undecided was the clear winner with 37%, and in the Sun‘s case both polls are of likely voters with a much more significant sample size of about 500 voters – it makes the margin of error 4.4%. Except for Ron George, who basically had to disappear from the campaign trail while the General Assembly was in session, every one of the contenders essentially doubled their support in three-plus months.

If you take the most recent polls and combine them using the sample sizes, which gives higher weight to the larger Sun poll, you come up with these figures, which I also compare to a post I did in February:

  • Larry Hogan – 26.9% (14.4%)
  • David Craig – 14.5% (9.3%) (-12.4)
  • Charles Lollar – 12.0% (7.5%) (-14.9)
  • Ron George – 6.3% (5.1%) (-20.3)

If the undecideds fall along that line, the results would be:

  • Larry Hogan – 45.1%
  • David Craig – 24.3%
  • Charles Lollar – 20.1%
  • Ron George – 10.6%

I would say there’s a 50-50 chance that Hogan makes it to 50%, given that some who were thinking of voting for one of the bottom-tier candidates (particularly George) may decide to go with the guy leading the most-touted polls. Because Hogan’s already above the 40% mark I think that’s now a prospect, which may help the MDGOP rally behind Hogan as a nominee. Obviously that support wouldn’t be universal, but getting over 50% would be better than just a plurality for unity’s sake.

So it’s apparent that the message of “change,” no matter how vague and shallow – combined with a lot of money out of the candidate’s pocket and a dose of public financing – seems to appeal with Maryland Republicans who, at this juncture, believe Hogan is the best candidate. In order for second-place contender (based on poll average) David Craig to win, supporters of the Charles Lollar and Ron George campaigns would have to abandon that choice to throw their support behind Craig, and that’s a dubious prospect.

For Governor

Every two years we hear the shopworn sentiment that “this is the most important election of our lives.” Okay, I wouldn’t go quite that far for Maryland in 2014, but the choice we have is clear: we can continue on a path where our fair state continues to become lock, stock, and barrel a ward of the federal government, conducted for the benefit of those who exist solely to suckle from the government teat, or we can turn our state around by diversifying the economy, restoring agriculture to a prominent position instead of favored environmentalist whipping boy, and making ourselves more prosperous by having government reach its grubby hands into our collective pockets less often.

I think any of the four Republicans can take steps in the right direction, but there are a large number of issues I care about and this is where Larry Hogan fails my test. His single-minded devotion to staying on an economic message is one thing, but it leaves me scratching my head about how he would govern when it came to other important issues. Even in its endorsement of Hogan for the GOP nod, the Washington Post noted that:

Given the time he’s had to plan his run, his campaign is glaringly short on policy specifics, and his views on education, health care and the environment are gauzy at best.

In other words, we just know that he wants to change Maryland. Well, so do I, and I have the little oval sticker on my car to prove it. But I’m just a writer and I’m not in charge of much of anything – he wants to run the state. Yet I’ll bet I’ve proposed more policy specifics than he has.

Another troubling aspect of a potential Hogan administration is that it would be the long-lost second term of Bob Ehrlich. Yes, Bob was a Republican governor, but he took pride in his bipartisanship, and Larry Hogan was instrumental in that because he helped to appoint all the Democrats who helped to undermine the Ehrlich term. Why is it only our side is called upon to be bipartisan?

There’s no doubt that Hogan has the best financial situation of any GOP challenger, but it came at a steep price. And why do I sense there’s a smoking gun someplace in the transition between Change Maryland – which was an outstanding foil to Martin O’Malley, bringing a lot of valuable economic data to public scrutiny – and the Hogan for Governor campaign? Obviously there was the wink and a nod from early on that Change Maryland was the vehicle for the eventual Hogan campaign but it really seems more and more like his organization was just a Potemkin village, bought and paid for out of Hogan’s back pocket.

I don’t want to elect the governor before we know what’s in him – we tried that once on a national scale and see how successful that was.

And then we have Charles Lollar, whose stance on many issues is quite appealing to me. I like the idea of eliminating the income tax in particular, but I notice in the interim he’s backed off his onetime priority of cutting out all federal grants – $10.557 billion worth in FY2015 – into Maryland’s budget.

But that’s not all he’s backed away from. On the NRA front, he blamed a lot of factors before throwing an unnamed campaign staffer under the bus. Listen, I understand Charles is for the Second Amendment and this seems fair enough to me, but some of the conspiracies I’ve heard on this issue from his staunch supporters boggle my mind.

Yet on the campaign trail he’s revealed a populist (as opposed to conservative) strain and tendency to pander to the audience in front of him. Take these two examples:

In an interview in September 2013 with Real Clear Markets, it was said about Charles that:

Lollar is opposed to the Purple Line, a $2.2 billion 16-mile rail project that even the richest Maryland residents are not prepared to pay for. It can only be built with substantial federal and state subsidies, as yet unappropriated: $900 million from Uncle Sam, $400 million from Maryland, and the rest from who knows where. The Purple Line is disliked by some residents because it would displace a popular walking and bike trail, but supported by developers because they think it would enhance the value of commercial property. Instead, Lollar favors small buses, which have high per-person pick-up rates.

Yet just a few months later at a Montgomery County transportation forum:

Of course we want better opportunities, better modes of transportation – a diverse collection of different ways to get back and forth to work. Livable, workable, playable communities where you can actually live, work, and play in the same place and have a legitimate conversation with yourself in the morning whether to walk or drive your bike to work and get there on time.

I think (the Purple Line) is absolutely doable. The question is – is it affordable? If it is, let’s push forward.

So which is it?

Now I definitely commend Charles for making the effort to go where Republicans fear to tread – even though he’s also been quoted as saying:

He said he is frustrated with “the Republican brand,” but chose to run as a Republican because his character and ideals most align with that party, he said.

As a whole, while he’s eliminated most of the missteps from his early campaign, I’m not sold on the hype that Lollar is the “only candidate who can win.” He has strong grassroots support in some areas, but very little money to get out his message, On Friday I received an e-mail from the Lollar campaign which claimed that:

We already have pledges from the Republican Governors’ Association and other outside groups to throw millions more into the race.

It’s not so much the RGA, which I would expect to remain neutral in a primary, but if those outside groups are so enamored with Charles, why aren’t they donating to get him through the primary? In a nutshell, it’s the story of the Lollar campaign: over-promise and under-deliver.

Early on, it seemed to me the choice was going to come down to David Craig or Ron George. So let’s run down an issue-by-issue comparison.

  • On election reform, Ron George has done more to work out issues with LLC contributions and increased the allowable individual contribution limit to a particular campaign for the next cycle. David Craig will look into voter fraud.
  • Both are willing to fight to overturn the law allowing illegal immigrants to have Maryland driver licenses, and Craig added his support of E-Verify.
  • While Craig would tweak around the edges of Obamacare, George has promised to join other GOP governors in fighting it.
  • Both candidates support opening up the western end of the state to fracking, but George also wants to build a single demonstration wind turbine off Ocean City as Virginia has proposed. I would let Virginia have its boondoggle.
  • With his background in education and opposition to Common Core, that area is perhaps Craig’s strongest. Originally Ron George was against Common Core; he still is but concedes “a repeal ain’t going to happen” in Maryland. I say that’s why we need a leader who concedes nothing. On the other hand, Ron has some good proposals to help private school students and I love his emphasis on vocational education.
  • Both would work to repeal 2013′s Senate Bill 281, although Craig is more vocal about supporting concealed carry.
  • Personally I would love to see David Craig repeal the Critical Areas Act and other overly restrictive environmental measures – as far as I’m concerned the Chesapeake Bay Foundation needs to be put in its place. I sincerely hope this is not a case of running right for the primary and tacking back to the center, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if this wasn’t a hit piece from the Sun that quoted him out of context. (This is especially true when Harford County was in ICLEI for a time.) Unfortunately, Ron George assisted in putting a lot of bad law in place during his first legislative term, but he’s also correctly noted much of the Bay’s problem lies in the silt stuck behind Conowingo Dam. He’s also refrained from supporting more recent O’Malley bills.
  • Craig would lean heavily on the Republican Governors Association in terms of initiative to limit government, but he would prefer to bring more of it back to the county level. George agrees, but would lean heavily on independent audits to better define government spending (and its role). Then again, David Craig would get rid of speed cameras.
  • Craig would center his job creation strategy on the state’s economic development office, but would also prefer each county set its own minimum wage. George’s strategy employs tax cuts on business, but also would employ regional-level planning with a focus on Baltimore City and additional incentives for manufacturing jobs in smaller cities such as Salisbury.
  • The two candidates differ on their taxation strategy, though. While Craig wants to eliminate the income tax (along with reducing the corporate tax), George doesn’t take it as far.

In both cases, there’s a lot to like although the strengths and weaknesses are slightly different. To be perfectly honest, it’s too bad we can’t have these two rolled into one super-candidate with the good ideas and aptitudes from both. But we each only get one vote, so I have to look at two other factors.

It’s truly unfortunate that state law prohibited Ron George from raising money during the legislative session, because it’s a law which has crippled him to this day. I’m sure he went into this with eyes open and was hoping to do better on fundraising last year before the session began, but it is what it is. With just a low five-figure amount in the bank at this juncture it’s going to be exceedingly hard for him to get a message out, although hopefully the other three losing candidates will assist the winner financially as much as possible. While he’s not in the catbird seat financially, David Craig should be in a good enough position to be competitive.

But perhaps the decision which sealed it for the man I’m endorsing was made early on. As we have seen with the current administration, the office of lieutenant governor can be useful – or it can be a hindrance. The rollout of the state health exchange proved Anthony Brown was a hindrance, and that’s why I think the early decision by David Craig to secure Jeannie Haddaway as a running mate makes the difference. Shelley Aloi is a very nice and gracious lady, but I didn’t get the sense of confidence she could handle the job when voters in Frederick rejected her mayoral bid. I just got the feeling she wasn’t Ron’s first choice, but he made the best decision he could at such a late juncture.

This campaign has been one of attrition – I’ve been a fan of Larry Hogan’s Change Maryland since its inception, and love the passion Charles Lollar brings to the stump. But in examining them over the course of the campaign, I’ve been left wanting. And if Ron George had made one or two decisions during the campaign a little differently, I may have been writing his name a few sentences from now. The overall decision was really that close, and if things work out that way I could enthusiastically support Ron as well. It reminds me of the 2012 GOP Senate race between Dan Bongino and Richard Douglas as, despite my eventual support for Bongino, I would have been quite comfortable if either had won because they both brought great assets to the table.

Two years ago, I saw David Craig as a moderate, establishment choice. Sure, in many respects he still is, but when it comes down to where he stands on the issues and the position he’s currently in, I think he could be the first of two great leaders for Maryland. 2014 is a good time to start the ball rolling on a new, improved Free State.

David Craig for Governor.

The $6 million man

Yesterday this gem came to my attention via my inbox. It’s from Ken Timmerman, who’s the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar.

You may have heard Charles say it: if elections in Maryland were only about the money, Michael Steele would be our U.S. Senator.

He outraised Ben Cardin by a good margin in 2006 – and lost.

Political commentators were making the same mistake today in the news reports about this candidate qualifying for public financing, and that candidate not.

Here’s the dirty secret about public financing in Maryland: it actually handicaps a campaign in the general election.

That’s right. Any Republican campaign for governor that accepts public financing will be limited in how much they can raise and spend.

Don’t believe what some candidates are telling you about their ability to get millions of dollars from these public funds – which they absurdly claim are not taxpayer dollars.

Here is the truth: any campaign that accepts public funds is limited to total spending of $2,586,124.21 – and that amount includes so-called matching funds they get from the taxpayer.

Don’t take my word for it: click here to read the rules on public financing from the State Board of Elections.

Bob Ehrlich raised over $10 million in 2006 – and still lost.

We expect will raise $6 million for the general election, and probably more.

Because we have run a lean campaign, leveraging the sweat equity of our volunteer army over the past 18 months, we expect to do much more than other campaigns with less money.

We already have pledges from the Republican Governors’ Association and other outside groups to throw millions more into the race – money that will not be available to a candidate limited to the $2.6 million spending cap imposed by the state as a condition to receive public financing.

I hope I’ve been clear enough in explaining this. A candidate who accepts publc (sic) financing will lose in November because of that hard spending cap, which includes money spent by associated groups.

Charles and I need your help now to win the June 24 primary, because we know we can win in November.

We can win in November because we have been laying the groundwork these past 18 months in Democrat strongholds – something none of our Republican competitors have not done.

You can’t start reaching out to Democrats after the primary and expect them to listen. We have already built those relationships, and have Democrats for Lollar in Baltimore City, the Eastern shore, and in Prince Georges and Montgomery counties. Some of these groups are campaigning for us openly, and some of them waiting until after the primary to support us.

So, don’t believe the hype. Join us for the real deal.

I probably didn’t need to add the final half-dozen paragraphs, particularly with the misspelling and glaring double negative (proofreading is your friend!) but my reading of the law confirms what Ken says – regardless of what others may say, this is the expenditure limit. The seed money certification also reads:

Furthermore, we certify that we will not expend in either the primary or the general election an amount in excess of the maximum spending limitation set forth by Election Law Article §15-105.

The prescribed amount was originally 30 cents for every resident in the state, but adjusted for inflation works out to the $2.6 million or so. However, the hook that could save Hogan is this line:

A gubernatorial ticket that accepts a public contribution from the Fund for an election…

Let’s say Hogan accepts the $275,000 he’s eligible for in the primary and wins. As I read it, the cycle begins anew with the general election because they’re considered separate entities. If he doesn’t take a dollar once the general election cycle begins one reading of the law would suggest that he has no spending limit. It’s an issue which would probably be dragged into court, sapping resources from Hogan at a time when he’s trying to challenge a well-funded Democrat (unless fellow public finance participant Heather Mizeur somehow secures that nomination.)

In any case, it would only make a further mockery of the public financing system which is enriching a heretofore primarily self-funded campaign. But I also want to turn my attention to the fundraising prowess Timmerman claims – if only Charles can get through the primary.

This may seem like a stupid question, but if there are outside groups willing to fork over that much money wouldn’t you think they could spare a half-million to get Charles through the primary? After all, I get e-mail every day touting a challenger here, a TEA Party favorite there…granted, these are generally for seats in Congress but would it not be a feather in someone’s camp to upset the establishment and elect a black conservative governor in Maryland? Yet I haven’t seen those appeals or that funding – perhaps it’s lost with Ben Carson’s endorsement. (On that note, if Carson endorsed Lollar’s health care plan, as Charles has claimed, wouldn’t you think it would be a prominent issue on his campaign site?)

Having said all that, if Charles loses on June 24 I hope he’s front and center at the June 26 unity dinner promising to continue spreading the message in those minority areas about the benefits of conservatism. It’s the one asset he’s brought to the campaign, and the trick is to make it a transferable one. Timmerman pointed this out about Michael Steele who, despite the racial component, still lost badly in minority-dominated areas to a white Democrat. (Steele only received about 7,000 more votes in Prince George’s County – his home territory – than Bob Ehrlich did. Both were swamped there by lopsided margins.)

All of us know we need to do better in those areas to have a chance to elect Republicans, but I’m also sure the Democrats will do what they do best and play the race card. Lollar’s outreach has to be the beginning of a process spanning several election cycles, and not the end.

A pre-primary crop failure for two GOP candidates

I know those involved in one of the two campaigns involved were optimistic about making the deadline, but the Washington Post is reporting that neither Ron George nor David Craig collected enough “seed money” to qualify for public financing before the June 3 primary deadline. Because of that, Larry Hogan will pick up an additional $275,000 monetary advantage over his fellow contenders, and that’s big when the three others combined don’t have $275,000 in the bank between them right now:

  • Charles Lollar – $17,999.87
  • Ron George – $28,943.61 (includes $18,000 in loans)
  • David Craig – $144,058.54

Conversely, Hogan has $389,206.92 in the bank, an account which includes $500,000 in loans to himself and over $100,000 in additional in-kind contributions, donations from related LLC entities, and so forth from his personal coffers. But he spent enough on fundraising to secure the $258,642 in seed money to qualify for public financing.

There’s no question that this will help Hogan, who had burned through $342,007.24 in the preceding six weeks before financial reports were due last month. The Hogan campaign announced a fortnight-long bus tour yesterday, and the extra money can make this a two-pronged final push for him between television ads and the bus tour. Even with all that, Larry should comfortably remain short of the $2.6 million primary limit imposed by public financing.

Of course, each campaign is going to spin this different ways – for example, Lollar’s running mate Ken Timmerman touts the campaign’s “grass roots army”:

You see, other candidates plan expensive advertising campaigns, with air-dropped TV and radio spots that tell you nothing about their character or their plans.

Charles and I are proud to fight at the grassroots, where we are already preparing the way for victory in November by working with Democrats who share our concerns over the future of this state and who share our conservative values and non-partisan solutions.

It’s a nice sentiment, but time after time I’ve watched the candidate who raises the most walk away with the nomination or election over the others who pretend grassroots can carry them. In a local election grassroots goes a long way, but it’s hard to gather that many volunteers to effectively spread a message like media can for a statewide bid. Of the four, Charles was the only one eschewing public financing but his fundraising totals have always trailed the pack regardless.

For their part, George and Craig have (and rightfully so) questioned the extent of collaboration and coordination between Change Maryland and Hogan’s campaign. I’m concerned about the timeline between the January 21 official announcement (remember, the one which was snowed out) and the February 3 beginning of Hogan campaign records. What did Change Maryland spend money on in the interim?

Of the remaining candidates, Craig probably has enough money to adequately compete in the primary but would have to get cracking on seed money collections for the general election, for which he has until September 15 to qualify. But losing out on an extra $15,000 or so a day until the primary could be a damaging blow for those who were hoping to take advantage of the former checkoff.

The great debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The problem with Lollar

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

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

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

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

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

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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)
    Chris Robinson (D)

    ___

    House District 37B

    Republican

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

    ___

    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

    ___

    House District 38A

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

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    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

    ___

    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)