A question of priorities

The “90 days of terror” I call the General Assembly session do not begin until next Wednesday, but once some incumbent members were safely re-elected they pre-filed a small number of bills in each chamber – 39 in the House and 15 in the Senate.

Pre-filed bills are interesting because it gives a glimpse into what those members who introduce them believe to be burning questions. In the Senate, it’s apparent Senator Joan Carter Conway is most worried about the availability of prescription drugs in a state of emergency while Delegate Cheryl Glenn believes the establishment of the Hattie N. Harrison Memorial Scholarship for “students who pledge to work in fields of critical shortage in the State on completion of their studies” is top on her list. (Harrison was a longtime Delegate from Baltimore City who died in office early in the 2013 session.) Respectively, these bills were dubbed SB1 and HB1, presumably since they were the first bills requested for filing.

This stands in opposition to our Congress, which tends to use the lowest number bills for priority items. For example, there is no H.R. 1 yet in the 114th Congress because they reserve the number for the Speaker’s use on a bill he deems a priority. (It was used for the Tax Reform Act of 2014 in the last session.) S. 1 this term is the bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which Congress has tried to pass on several prior occasions.

Of the 54 bills in the hopper so far, most deal with mundane issues. But there are a few interesting Senate bills which could have merit: Senator Jim Brochin is trying to eliminate the annual indexing of the gasoline tax to inflation, while bills to exempt certain non-profits from paying a state-mandated minimum wage increase and to open up the election canvassing process to outside observers were introduced by Senator Joe Getty before he took a position in the Hogan administration. (This is interesting as Delegate Kelly Schulz also pre-filed bills on the House side. I’d be curious to know who would be considered to be the lead sponsor in the cases where that sponsor is no longer in the MGA.)

On the House side, Delegate Glenn also wants to accelerate the already-adopted $10.10 per hour minimum wage from 2018 to 2015 while Delegate Aruna Miller seeks to ban e-cigarettes from indoor venues. On the good side, Delegate Schulz wants to make sure only citizens register to vote, stop Common Core in its tracks, and eliminate one piece of the gun law.

Obviously there will be a lot more than this. Just as an example, one prospective bill that aroused a spirited discussion at an event for Delegate-elect Carl Anderton earlier tonight is Anderton’s as-yet-unreleased proposal to address our tax differential, an idea for which Salisbury mayor Jim Ireton (a possible 2018 opponent) is also pushing - however, the two probably differ on how to accomplish this goal. Once the legislation is written and introduced, it can get a fair hearing.

This also gives me the opportunity to remind readers about a great organization of volunteers called Maryland Legislative Watch, for which I have read and evaluated bills the last two sessions (and would gladly do so again.) They are a key to a more informed public, so I encourage you to check them out. Chances are we will once again see over 2.500 bills introduced and if the first 54 are any guide, it will be yet another intriguing session. And we haven’t even seen Larry Hogan’s legislative agenda yet.

Harris explains his vote for Boehner

Needless to say, many conservatives around the country are disappointed (but not surprised) that the House of Representatives they elected to be the counterweight to Barack Obama decided to elect as its Speaker an insider who has shown little fortitude in fighting for the cause of limited government.

Included in that number who re-elected Boehner as Speaker was our own representative, Andy Harris. He took to social media to explain why, but I think it’s relevant to express my thoughts on why his assessment was incorrect by dividing his statement into portions.

In November, Speaker Boehner was re-nominated by the Republican House Conference without a single opponent stepping forward. That was the appropriate time for an alternative to step forward and be considered by House Republicans.

A lot changed in two months. The House vote occurred on November 13, before Barack Obama followed through on his pledge to take executive action on immigration and before the CRomnibus bill was voted on – in fact, the idea was hatched around that time. It was his handling of these two events and unwillingness to take a stand which included any slim prospect of a government shutdown which angered a number of conservatives. Too many things were taken off the table.

So the timing argument isn’t one which holds water with me.

Today’s vote on the House floor was simply whether Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner was going to be Speaker of the House.

Wrong. There was no chance Pelosi was going to be Speaker. The idea was to bring a second ballot in the hopes that Boehner would see the light, withdraw his name, and allow a compromise candidate to emerge. As Erick Erickson wrote, fellow Ohioan Jim Jordan may have been that guy.

I hope that we can now move forward and work with the Senate to pass common-sense conservative policies. If Speaker Boehner does not deliver on his promises, a Republican House Conference can be called by 50 members and I would join in that call.

Color me extremely, extremely skeptical on that one. We have a four-year track record of a lack of leadership and of kicking multiple cans down the road. And I can already see the excuses.

Over the summer: “We can’t call a conference now – we’re in the middle of working on the FY2016 budget and it would be a distraction.”

Come next fall: “We can’t call a conference now because it would handicap our nominee in 2016. The media would have a field day.”

In 2016: “It’s too close to the election, we can’t risk the infighting and distractions.” And so on. It would be a waiting game where they would hope to outlast our side.

I have no problem standing up for conservative principles to the Speaker and Republican leadership, such as my vote against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act, as well as my votes against the Ryan-Murray budget deal and debt ceiling increases.

But you voted for the CRomnibus, while civil libertarians dislike your vote for CISPA and FISA, so both these items you cite are somewhat mixed bags on the whole.

Please know that I will continue to fight for conservative values and Maryland’s First District in the 114th Congress.

You’re not off to a good start.

I go back to something I highlighted in a previous post on this subject, which reprinted a letter from the Wicomico Society of Patriots:

I am aware that it is potentially politically dangerous for Andy Harris to vote against Boehner. If Boehner were to win anyway, then he can retaliate by removing people from their prestigious positions. Andy Harris is on the appropriations committee, one of the most powerful committees. However, we did not vote for Andy Harris so that he could protect his political power in DC. We voted for Andy Harris to stop the Obama agenda. Boehner has been completely ineffectual in stopping Obama.

Sadly. John Boehner is the kind of leader who would be so petty as to punish conservative opponents – whose constituencies are the backbone of the Republican Party – so he’s no leader at all. If only he would exhibit the same backbone to the opposition. It will be worth checking out what happens to the 25 Republicans who did not support Boehner – locally Rep. Scott Rigell, who represents the Eastern Shore of Virginia, was among those opposed.

As for Harris, the questions have to be asked: is this the first major signal of the slide toward the center exhibited by those who have become comfortable inside the Beltway? And how much of an effect will it have on his 2016 prospects? It’s early but if there’s a sentiment underneath the surface that says a more conservative alternative would get the grassroots support that is needed to overcome Andy’s financial advantage – basically, that campaign would have to begin in the next few weeks given the 2016 primary is tentatively scheduled for April 5.

It’s clear that in its current configuration the First District is a Republican stronghold as Harris won in 2012 with 63% of the vote only to breach the 70% threshold in November – yet against a completely unknown, underfunded, and outclassed opponent Harris got just 78% of the primary vote in 2014. (Harris was unopposed in the primary in 2012 and beat Rob Fisher with 67% in 2010.) So Harris does have his detractors and hasn’t faced a “name” Republican opponent since his primary win (with 43%) over then-Congressman Wayne Gilchrest and fellow State Senator E.J. Pipkin.

There’s also been the sentiment that the Eastern Shore needs “one of ours” in the House. While Harris is not a stranger to the Eastern Shore, one part of the reason we were represented by Frank Kratovil for two years was Frank’s successful case that he had “Eastern Shore values” because he lived here (albeit as a come-here who lived almost within sight of the Bay Bridge.)

Perhaps the two saving graces that Andy will have is distance from the election and the slight chance that Boehner figures out the reason we elected more Republicans to the House. But that light you might see looking toward Washington is that of a whole lot of bridges burning.

Back to normalcy

It’s not quite as momentous as the 1920 election, where Warren G. Harding made my title part of his post-World War sloganeering, but today the holidays are now behind us, we return to the five-day workweek, and the political world awakens from its slumber later this week as Congress returns to session. (Maryland politicians will wait another week, as the second Wednesday in January falls at its latest possible date, the 14th.) Soon we will begin to see if the solutions that were promised to the voters will be the agenda for the new sessions.

But there are other aspects of “normalcy” we are beginning to see as well, as the power brokers jockey for position in the Republican Party. Case in point: the hue and cry put up by supporters of the next-highest primary vote-getter in the process of selecting a replacement for Delegate Kelly Schulz, who was tapped by Governor-elect Hogan to be his Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. It was up to the Frederick County Republican Central Committee to select three people for a final interview process out of the sixteen applicants, and the three they selected were Barrie Ciliberti, a former delegate from Montgomery County who finished fifth in the primary (the top three advanced); Paul Stull, a former delegate who lost to Schulz in the 2010 Republican primary, closing a 16-year run in the House, and Chris Glass, Sr.

Wendi Peters, who finished fourth in the primary, did not get the nod to move on. Her sin? Not being on a slate with Senator-elect Michael Hough, Delegate Kathy Afzali, Delegate-elect David Vogt, and Ciliberti. Instead, she was a supporter of losing Senator David Brinkley – yet she had the backing of Schulz for the seat. A Central Committee chaired by JoeyLynn Hough made the selections.

I’ve been around this block a time or two. As a member of a Central Committee, our focus in selecting replacements was on whether the new person would be relatively conservative and also electable for the next term. Admittedly, we’ve had at least one swing and miss in this regard but the County Council chose not to select our committee’s top vote-getter for a 2011 vacancy. In the instance of picking a Delegate – which we had to help Somerset County do when Page Elmore passed away in 2010 – it occurred at a time when we didn’t want to influence a primary campaign in progress, so we agreed to select his wife Carolyn to finish the term.

In Frederick County’s case, an argument could be made for the former Delegates but personally I would have preferred someone younger than their late seventies, which is the case for both Ciliberti and Stull. But ignoring the voters who picked Peters as the highest vote-getter that didn’t advance – as well as the choice of the Delegate who is leaving the seat to replace her – seems to me a slap in the face to those voters over petty politics and a disservice to the Republicans they purport to represent. It’s a battle which reminds me of the entirety of the District 36 fiasco back in 2013 when Senator E.J. Pipkin resigned.

On a national level, this is reflected in the grassroots movement to dump John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Take as an example an e-mail I received from the Wicomico Patriots:

Now it is time to engage again as Congress returns on Tuesday to swear in the members and to vote for Speaker of the House. Please call or write an email to Andy Harris encouraging him to vote for a new speaker. It only takes 29 congressmen to block Boehner’s re-election as speaker. Once he is blocked, the opportunity is there for a new person to step up.

I am aware that it is potentially politically dangerous for Andy Harris to vote against Boehner. If Boehner were to win anyway, then he can retaliate by removing people from their prestigious positions. Andy Harris is on the appropriations committee, one of the most powerful committees. However, we did not vote for Andy Harris so that he could protect his political power in DC. We voted for Andy Harris to stop the Obama agenda. Boehner has been completely ineffectual in stopping Obama.

So, Andy Harris, will you listen to the people who got you elected and take the difficult step of voting against Boehner or will you continue to follow him?

Your CRomnibus vote was very discouraging to your conservative base. Do we really think that you and Boehner will suddenly get the courage to block the funding of Homeland Security in February? Do you think that blocking funding for that is easier than refusing the whole 1000 page monstrosity called cromnibus?

No, the excuses keep coming as the can is kicked down the road over and over again. Now is the time for you to stand up and fight for us.

Please do contact Andy Harris at: (202) 225-5311. (Emphasis mine.)

And here’s my own message to the Congressman:

For too long we have heard excuse after excuse from your leadership, accompanied by the promise to fight at the next critical juncture. If the Republicans want to be the opposition party they were elected by We the People to be, then they need to show some opposition on Obamacare, on securing the border and addressing executive actions further encouraging the torrent of illegal immigration, and on spending beyond our means. Collectively, you will be painted as a “do-nothing Congress” by the President, Democrats, and media (but I repeat myself) anyway so just pass those common-sense measures and dare Obama to veto them.

In short, we want a Speaker of the House with the backbone to stand up to Barack Obama so we demand you withhold your vote from John Boehner. It’s worth pointing out that a 2016 Congressional run from a conservative member of the Maryland General Assembly is possible and doable – just as you did against a sitting Wayne Gilchrest when you were first nominated in 2008. Certainly there would be a monetary disadvantage for the challenger, but in my opinion no one should be immune from a serious primary challenge – particularly if he or she isn’t listening to the wishes of the district being represented. A poll cited by Jim Geraghty of National Review Online shows 60% of Republicans would “probably” or “definitely” replace Boehner as Speaker. Even as an Ohio native, count me as a “definite.”

These are two stories to keep your eye on in the coming days. Why do I get a sinking feeling they won’t end well for the good guys?

A look ahead: 2015 on the national front

You know, it’s disgusting yet telling that I could use much of what I said last year word for word as my prediction for 2015, like these paragraphs:

We will see absolutely zero effort to reform entitlements, whether Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security. This will be another year they hurtle toward insolvency, probably going splat just in time for Generation X to reach retirement age in about 15 years. (That would be me – I’m on the cusp between Gen X and Boomer.)

Nor do I care how many articles of impeachment are drawn up: the House leadership doesn’t have the courage to pursue it, nor would they ever get the votes in the Senate to convict. They could find Barack Obama in bed with a dead girl, live boy, a bloody knife in his right hand and a signed confession in his left and the Democrats would swear the boy set him up and the girl stabbed herself thirteen times – in the back – and not convict him.

It doesn’t matter how poor the economy is, either. The government won’t dare stop priming the pump to the tune of a trillion dollars a year in debt, parceling out $80 billion or so of “quantitative easing” monthly. When the Dow and its record highs are the one factor of success apologists for Obama can point to, anything which maintains that facade will be continued despite the possibility of long-term inflationary catastrophe – again, probably in time for Generation X to retire.

Just as ineffective is our foreign policy, which has been a muddled mess as old friends are ignored and longtime enemies coddled. We may have an idea of what the hotspots may be, but events have a way of occurring at the most inopportune times and places for American interests.

Here’s the problem. We have a Republican Congress once again, for the first time since the 2006 elections. But it’s all but certain to me that they will be the do-nothing Congress, as the lame-duck session showed. Many would want me to have faith in the leadership, and I understand the political reality being what it was led us into the budget deal that enshrined the government spending for the rest of the fiscal year (except for the Department of Homeland Security, funding for which is supposed to expire in February to set up a fight over Obama’s amnesty.) But why do I think Republicans will cite some obscure (and probably push-polled) data which tells it to avoid that messy immigration fight and just fund DHS for the rest of the fiscal year so they can have the fight in September? Then they’ll tell us we’re too close to the 2016 election.

Each time Congress has been begged to act, they have kicked the can down the road.

But that leads me to another point, and it’s been gnawing at me for some time now. Unfortunately I’m not sure just how it gets resolved.

Supposedly we are the United States of America. But are we really…united?

Over the last decade, we have been continually divided – red against blue, religious against agnostic (or religion vs. religion in the case of Christians and Jews vs. Muslims), and now at its most pronounced, black against white. Some consider those who are the enforcers of law to be the criminals, as are those elected officials who create it.

There’s a deep distrust of our fellow man these days, so we all retreat inward and look suspiciously at those who we don’t know. Thousands of people are on high alert with their guns at the ready against someone…they don’t know who that Other is, but many of us are tense and on edge, almost as if we are on a war footing. I imagine my ancestors may have felt the same way about the prospect of Japs or Nazis marching into our neighborhoods during the two world wars.

The person who will have the most impact on 2015 on a national scale is someone whose role we don’t know yet, but he or she will emerge either as the healer we all need or the person who tears the fabric of our society to bits. It may be a little hyperbolic, and I’m not going to go all Book of Revelations on you or assume that Jefferson’s quote about the tree of liberty is our fate, but we are rapidly approaching a point of no return if things continue the way they are. To borrow a term favored by Radical Green, our current path is unsustainable.

Too many people have come to the way of thinking which believes there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicrats and the Demoblicans. The only clear winners seem to be the small elite which runs Washington and Wall Street, leaving the shrinking middle class to fend for itself. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be; certainly that’s not the way I want it to be. But as more and more Americans say about that perception: it is what it is.

Truly I hope I am wrong in my assessment of how things will be on a national scale, particularly when so much good can be done on the local and state levels. But it can all be undone with a single spark that lights our national tinderbox, so it seems to me the thing to do is pray for the best and prepare for the worst.

The required renovation of Andy Harris

For the four years he has been in office, Andy Harris has generally enjoyed the support of his conservative Eastern Shore constituents. He’s not had a serious primary challenge since he was elected and garnered over 70% of the vote in 2014 against Democrat Bill Tilghman, whose centrist posture was well right of mainstream Democrats but far out of step with the district.

But since that resounding November victory, Andy’s actions in Congress during the lame duck session have earned him further enmity from the strong libertarian wing of the party and alienated conservatives as well.

By inserting a provision into the so-called CRomnibus bill preventing the District of Columbia from enacting its Proposition 71 marijuana legalization, Harris again became the target of District residents and leaders who demanded a tourism boycott of Andy’s Eastern Shore district earlier this summer. Accusations of being in the pocket of Big Pharma followed, but Harris defended the role of Congress spelled out in the Constitution [Article 1, Section 8] as overseer of the District’s affairs.

Yet while the libertarians of the Shore make up a small slice of the constituency – a Libertarian candidate ran in the First District for three successive elections from 2008-12, but never received even 5% of the vote – the conservatives are upset about Andy’s vote in favor of CRomnibus. That segment of the electorate is Andy’s bread and butter.

In the TEA Party community, there are whispers about who could challenge Andy from the right, as several feel he is on the same glide path that Wayne Gilchrest took during his long Congressional career. His 2008 primary defeat (by Harris) came after a bitter campaign where Andy stuck the “liberal” tag successfully on the longtime pol as well as fellow Maryland Senate opponent E. J. Pipkin.

Ironically, a politician long allied with Pipkin could be a prospect to make that challenge. Michael Smigiel, a delegate who was defeated in the 2014 District 36 GOP primary, is popular among the TEA Party community for his strong Second Amendment stance. But it would be difficult for anyone to raise the money Andy has at his disposal and Harris has bolstered his profile among local elected officials and the state Republican party by being generous with his campaign funds through A Great Maryland PAC.

It’s also worth mentioning for context that CRomnibus is probably roughly the same deal which would have been made if the budget were completed in regular order, given the partisan divide between the House and Senate.

Instead, while most functions of the government will continue through next September, the Department of Homeland Security budget has a February expiration date. This sets up a showdown between Congress and Barack Obama regarding the latter’s executive actions to give de facto amnesty to millions of illegal aliens; however, some hardliners already feel the damage is done.

In response to a lengthy Facebook post by Harris explaining his CRomnibus stance, though, local activists summed up the frustration TEA party activists felt, noting:

  • “(Harris) does a nice job of listing those riders and amendments that might seem to gain the approbation of the conservative and Republican audiences, while omitting anything that might serve as a balance – what effectively was the PRICE paid for what was had, the PRICE of ‘compromise.’”
  • “It is rather sad that Andy thinks that he can list a few paltry gains and that will make us overlook the whole thousand page monstrosity. The obvious question is that if he got in a few tidbits that he wanted, then who else got in their tidbits and what are those?  I would imagine that they will far outweigh any small gains that he is bragging about.”

These activists agree one way Harris could help to restore his image would be to take the lead in the conservative grassroots push to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Bear in mind that this could come at some cost as Andy serves on the Appropriations Committee and a Boehner victory over any challenger for whom Andy shows support could bring repercussions such as the stripping of his position there, but on balance I believe a potential sacrifice such as that is worth the opportunity to have a stronger conservative leader as Speaker. It’s a sentiment shared by commentators at American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, and RedState.

On November 4, people hungry for real change went to the polls to reject the Democratic Senate and place Republicans firmly in control of Congress. The events leading to the CRonmibus, though, shook the confidence that Washington would depart from its business-as-usual benefits to the ruling class by allowing the outgoing defeated members one last hurrah. While all of this blame cannot be laid at the feet of John Boehner, there is a mood in this country that a strong counterbalance is needed to the increasing use of Executive Branch power by Barack Obama, particularly on immigration and Obamacare. The fear of many conservatives, particularly those in the First District, is that John Boehner doesn’t have the spine to rein in the executive.

Just like in 2008, when Andy Harris first ran for Congress, the potential is there in 2016 for state elected officials to “run from cover” as their Delegate or Senate seats aren’t on the ballot. During the similar 2012 election, 7 members of the Maryland General Assembly ran for Congress – one for the Senate and six for various Congressional seats. While none were successful overall, two won their party primary and ran through November.

No member of Congress is universally loved, and being a representative at any level of government means you won’t please everyone. But there’s a growing number who want Andy Harris to be a conservative leader and not just talk a good game.

A lack of standards

In 2007, Congress passed (and President Bush regrettably signed) a bill which was, at the time, a sweeping reform of energy policy. As part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, the EPA was supposed to regulate the Renewable Fuel Standard on an annual basis, with the eventual goal of supplying 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022 – the 2014 standard was set at 18.15 billion gallons (page 31 here.) By the way, this is the same bill that did away with incandescent light bulbs.

Unfortunately, for the second straight year the EPA is late with its update and last month they decided to take a pass altogether on 2014. Mark Green at the Energy Tomorrow blog writes on this from the petroleum industry perspective, while the ethanol industry took the decision as news that the EPA was staving off a possible reduction in the RFS.

We all know hindsight is 20/20 but it should be noted that, at the time the EISA was written, the conventional wisdom was in the “peak oil” camp, reckoning that American production was in a terminal decline. Yet we’ve seen a renaissance in the domestic energy industry over the last half-decade despite government’s best attempts at keeping the genie in the bottle. So the question really should be asked: is the Renewable Fuel Standard worth keeping in this new energy era, or should the market be allowed to function more freely?

It goes to show just how well the government predicts activity sometimes. They assumed that the technology behind creating biofuels from agricultural waste would supplant the need for corn-based ethanol in time to maintain the amount required and also figured on gasoline usage continuing to increase. Wrong on both counts; instead, we are perhaps in a better position to invest in natural gas technology for commercial trucks as some fleet owners already have – although long-haul truckers remain skeptical based on better diesel engine fuel economy, which ironically came from government fiat - than to continue down an ethanol-based path.

But the larger benefit from removing ethanol-based standards would accrue to consumers, as corn prices would decline to a more realistic value. Obviously the initial plummet in the corn futures market would lead to farmers planting more acreage for other crops such as soybeans or wheat as well as maintaining virgin prairie or placing marginal farmland, such as thousands of acres previously reserved for conservation easements, back out of service.

Poultry growers in this region would love to see a drop in the price of corn as well, as it would improve their bottom line and slowly work its way into the overall food market by decreasing the price consumers pay for chicken.

I believe it’s time for Congress to address this issue by repealing the RFS. Unfortunately, it would take a lot to prevail on many of the majority Republicans in the Senate because they come from the major corn-growing states in the Midwest and agricultural subsidies of any sort are portrayed as vital to maintain the health of rural America. Yet the corn market would only be destabilized for a short time; once the roughly 30% share of the crop used to create ethanol (over 4.6 billion bushels) is absorbed by the simple method of planting a different crop or leaving marginal land fallow, the prices will rise again.

Until the common sense of not processing a vital edible product into fuel for transport prevails, though, we will likely be stuck with this ridiculous standard. Corn is far better on the cob than in the tank, and it’s high time the EPA is stripped of this market-bending authority.

Hearing from a Patriot

We’d built up the event for months, so it was no surprise we filled the room for our first-ever Patriot’s Dinner featuring former Congressman, author, fill-in radio host, and most importantly Lt. Col. Allen West. It was the culmination of an afternoon of events which featured a reception with Republican youths from around the area, VIP events for West’s Guardian Fund and the Maryland Republican Party, and the dinner itself.

West promised to speak for about 25 minutes and answer questions afterward, directing his remarks toward the “criticality” of our situation. He first asked if this was really the home of the brave when we outsource our fight against Islamic terrorists to the Free Syrian Army while decimating our military capability to levels unseen since before World War II. West pointed out that Barack Obama was bombing his seventh country, but chided Congress for its lack of bravery because “no one is asking if we are at war.”

“If someone is dropping a bomb on my head, we are at war,” said West, continuing that Congress was failing its Constitutional obligation to declare war. West was very critical of both Barack Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, calling them “the two biggest violators of the Constitution.”

West went out to state that in many respects, we we not keeping our Republic, as Benjamin Franklin warned us we had to, but sliding into a monarchy. We need people who would be the “loyal opposition” to tyranny, added the Colonel. Moreover, we’re failing to meet this challenge because we aren’t educating ourselves on how to keep this republic. Even the verbiage has been altered, as West later went on to talk about the co-opting of the word “liberal,” noting “true conservatives are classical liberals.”

Turning to the state of the Republican Party, Allen explained that the sole reason for the GOP’s founding wasn’t to abolish slavery but to maintain Thomas Jefferson’s words that “all men are created equal.” Unlike the era of its founding and its shackles of physical bondage, the black population today was under the “shackles of economic hardship,” a condition West termed was “even worse than physical bondage.” The letters G, O, and P should stand for growth, opportunity, and promise, said West. “We believe in equality of opportunity.”

West also had harsh words for the welfare state. There should be a safety net, he opined, but that safety net “is meant to bounce you back up.” Instead it’s become a hammock, and like all hammocks over time it begins to rot and eventually will collapse under the weight.

Allen also made the case that the promise of America was to keep us safe. He decried the “cowards” who preach political correctness, maintaining the argument that “political correctness will only get you killed.”

Finally, West challenged the group. “I’m pointing a finger into your chest,” he said. “Stop being worried about them calling you names.” He challenged us to engage 5 of our more liberal friends and set a goal of changing the minds of three. Noting Barack Obama has only a 40 percent approval rating, he called those 40 percent the “stuck on stupid folks,” lastly repeating Franklin’s assertion that “you have a republic, if you can keep it.”

After the standing ovation, West took questions. Naturally the first one asked if he would consider being Vice-President, to which West replied “if God determines I will be in that position.”

On a question relating to our military, West repeated his point that we are in “one of the weakest states we have seen,” adding that, “the world is Machiavellian.” West compared the release of Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl – “in the socialist mind, Bowe Bergdahl is a hero” – to the fate of Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, who has languished in a Mexican jail since April for accidentally bringing a gun into the country. West criticized the fact Tahmooressi wasn’t brought up in the June meeting between Barack Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, thundering that he’d demand Tahmooressi, along with his gun and his car, back in the country before Nieto was let in.

The next questioner wondered if it was too late to reverse this tide, with West noting we’re “almost at the tipping point.” Allen added that there’s “no self-esteem (gained) from sitting in the hammock.” Instead, we needed leaders to emerge like Dan Bongino, who West’s Guardian Fund is supporting because Bongino “has a lot of fight in him.”

Two questions about the state of our monetary system followed, dealing with the prospective collapse of the dollar and its effect on gold and silver. West pointed out that, in his belief, “we do not have a free-market economy,” feeling instead that “the bubble is coming” because of a circular exchange of money primed by the continual printing of dollars. He felt there was a strong possibility that if a Republican in elected in 2016, the Federal Reserve will suddenly end this practice just to do damage to the economy under a Republican president. West also opined we may have to return to the gold standard.

When asked about the lack of bold leadership, Allen made it simple: “Start electing them.” Pointing to the candidates at the head table, he added, “start building your farm team.” We need to communicate our ideas with the American people, West added, noting that the other side “plays chess while we play checkers.” Referring to the campaign placed against him in his 2012 Congressional re-election bid – a race made difficult because Florida Republicans redistricted him to a new district – West also believed that “if I’m their number one target, I feel good about it.”

The piece of advice he would give about minority outreach? “Talk to them about who they really are,” said Allen, who also challenged their mindset about rights, asking if not God, who do your inalienable rights come from? It led into the final question about education, where West made the case that “the most important elected position is school board” and couldn’t believe ours was appointed. West also believed the time had come to establish more of our own universities, using Hillsdale College and Liberty University as examples to follow.

As part of the leadup to West’s speech, he was presented with a Benghazi bracelet by Bev Bigler of the Worcester County Republican Central Committee. The poem “The Battling Boys of Benghazi” was also included with the program.

This was part of their effort to keep the Benghazi incident (and subsequent questions about a coverup) fresh in mind.

A number of elected officials and candidates took time out of their busy schedules to attend the proceedings, with some taking advantage of the moment to pose with Lt. Col. West. It was interesting to have a contingent from southern Maryland there, with those clad in red at the table in the preceding picture’s foreground part of the campaign team of District 27 State Senator candidate Jesse Peed. (Peed has the uphill battle of taking on Senate President Mike Miller, a man who desperately needs to be retired.)

So the months of preparation, back-and-forth communication between the several parties involved, and last-minute scrambling to get the details just so made for an entertaining and informative evening. There may be a thing or two for me to add to this post, but I think I can speak for the Central Committee in saying that we enjoyed the living daylights out of it, but are glad it’s over so we can focus on the election.

AC Week in review: August 17, 2014

August 17, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2014, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

I put together a few things this week, and what’s apparent to me is that the political world doesn’t really take a break in August.

Take for example the late-session attempt to promote “Buy American.” Does it really have a chance in Congress before the session ends? Probably not, but it keeps Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown in the headlines and the favor of his friends in organized labor.

But labor should be more concerned about some of the points brought up by my AC cohort Ed Braxton in two articles this week, particularly if his assertion that manufacturing is moving beyond labor is correct. But he also contends that American-made is gaining credibility again in the global marketplace.

On the other hand, we seem to have an Environmental Protection Agency which is bound and determined to drive jobs back overseas. Coal miners and their allies came out in force to recent EPA hearings in Pittsburgh, driven by a proposed standard which they contend would all but wipe out their industry. As a buttress to their contention, it was also revealed that a separate EPA effort to reduce ozone standards to as low as 60 parts per billion (from a current level of 75 parts per billion, established in 2008) would cost the American economy dearly. Perhaps the worst thing is that the EPA doesn’t even know itself how compliance can be attained.

Having sat down and written a couple pieces for next week, I can tell you trade will be on my radar screen. As is often the case, politics will play a role there but you’ll have to wait and see how I interpreted it.

AC Week in review – August 10, 2014

August 10, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

Thanks to a slow week a few days back I skipped an installment of my AC week in review – but I’ve come back with some new stuff.

On Friday I posted a piece about Andy Harris’s Salisbury town hall meeting. It was intended to be a followup of sorts to this piece I posted at the AC site regarding questions which should be asked at these gatherings – and as you hopefully read Friday, my question in that vein was indeed answered by the Congressman.

Oddly enough, the answer to my question at that town hall touched on a concern expressed by my AC blogmate Ed Braxton, who wrote about America’s high tax rates in a piece he did a week ago. But in a seeming contradiction, Ed penned a piece dealing with the decline in the necessity for manufacturing labor because workers today are much more productive than our forefathers were, while I noted that manufacturing employment was on the upswing last month.

One thing I didn’t ask Andy Harris about was his inclination to support the Ex-Im Bank, a saga which has played out over the last few months as some manufacturers would like to keep it going while conservatives consider it a piece of corporate cronyism. There aren’t too many session days left before the September 30 deadline, a fact I mentioned in this piece from last week.

There is one more item I wrote last week, and I’m hoping it gets on the site early next week because it looked at the recent EPA power plant emissions hearings in Pittsburgh. Regardless, it’s a topic which deserves comment and the opportunity is still there.

As I recall, there are a couple other stories I’ve been following which reach milestones as well. We may learn the fate of the OCTG complaint against South Korea this week, and there’s movement elsewhere on the trade front, too. I might see about writing a piece on something I learned Thursday night as well.

So hopefully my next installment will be chock full of good information. Generally I spend time on the weekends writing for AC so it’s ready early in the week. Looks like I may be busy.

Border security, VA among chief concerns at Harris Salisbury townhall

It was a fairly packed house at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 194 in Salisbury as Congressman Andy Harris held the second of four proposed town hall meetings in the district. After speaking in Easton on Wednesday, many of those same topics came up last night.

But the first order of business was recognition. After pointing out that unemployment among veterans was higher than the average – “I can’t figure that out,” Harris said – Andy presented a Congressional Citation to Chris Eccleston, who operates Delmarva Veteran Builders, a local construction firm which specializes in giving veterans job opportunities upon return to civilian life.

Once that presentation was out of the way, Harris introduced his “three things of great concern.”

As opposed to past negativity about the situation, Andy considered the declining deficit as a piece of good news, noting that federal spending had been fairly level for the last three years. The annual deficit is down $550 billion from its peak, although the aim of the House is to eventually bring the budget back to balance. Andy, however, conceded that the “House’s goal is to balance the budget in ten years.” So while it was still important, Andy wasn’t as concerned about this as he was the following three.

He also said there was “good news on the energy side,” pointing out we now produce more oil than we import and should be the leading world producer of both oil and natural gas by year’s end. The oil production was helped by technology which allowed what he called secondary and tertiary production from existing wells, as opposed to the primary production from new drilling.

On the other hand, Harris believed that, “in terms of immigration, the system is broken.”

“The border is just not being enforced,” he added, noting that Texas Governor Rick Perry has called out his state’s National Guard to assist with border security. In legislation recently passed by the House, added Harris, funding was included for governors who, like Perry, decide to call up their National Guard to address the situation.

“We can’t afford to have a border that’s not secure,” explained Harris.

The news was equally troubling on the foreign policy front. “The world is more dangerous now than it was six years ago (before Obama took office),” said Harris. It wasn’t just the Middle East, either – Andy touched upon the Chinese carriers now patrolling the South China Sea, well outside their territorial waters.

And while we were reaping the effects of our decrease in defense spending, Andy continued, we were also suffering from a lack of trust. Our allies could now doubt our sincerity based on recent actions.

After expressing his main concerns, Andy took questions from the audience. As my editorial license, I’m going to cluster them into areas of concern – on top of the list was our most recent crisis.

Immigration. Many of the questions dealt with various aspects and concerns from those attending about the situation on our southern border and the resettlement of “unaccompanied children.”

Much of the problem could be traced to the passage of a 2008 bill intended to counter human trafficking. Andy noted that the law as written provided the assumption that children from certain Central American countries were being brought for the sex trade, which was a problem at the time. It was estimated that perhaps 2,000 children a year would be affected, with the idea being that these children would get a hearing to ascertain their status.

Unfortunately, the crush of those claiming status under this law and the DACA order signed by Barack Obama in 2012 means that the waiting period for these hearings is anywhere from 18-60 months – and only 46% of those called show up, Andy said. One third of them are “granted status,” he added.

“We should close the loophole,” said Harris. “I don’t see how you get out of the problem without changing the law.” We also needed more judges on a temporary basis to expedite the hearing schedule.

A solution the House could offer to rescind Obama’s order would be that of defunding the executive action, for which there was a bill. And while some were pessimistic about such action given the Senate, Harris stated that the Senate could agree to “a compromise deal over a much larger package.” My concern would be what we would have to trade away.

Andy also pointed out that the resettlement of these children was more or less being done without telling local officials, noting when the Westminster facility was being considered the word came down late on a Thursday afternoon in a week the House wasn’t in session on Friday. It eventually led to the question about those being placed in Maryland.

When asked how many were in the First District, Harris conceded he had “no idea…nobody’s telling us.”  But he continued by saying, “your school system will be affected,” adding that many of these children can’t read or write in Spanish, let alone English.

And the fact that these children aren’t necessarily being screened, vaccinated, or quarantined if necessary was also troubling to Harris. “The CDC is cognizant of it,” said Harris, who had spoken himself with the CDC head. Of course, the children are but a small portion of those crossing – perhaps 10 percent, said Harris.

“The real solution is you have to secure the American border,” concluded Harris. Rapid hearing and swift repatriation would send the message to parents in the host countries that it’s not worth the expense and risk to send children northward to America.

The VA situation. Given that the town hall meeting was being held in a VFW hall, there were concerns aplenty about the state of the Veterans Administration and its health care.

As part of a VA reform bill which recently passed and the VA has 90 days to implement, veterans who live over 40 miles from a VA facility are supposed to have the option of a private physician to address their needs. But Harris pointed out there was some interpretation involved based on whether the VA would extend that standard to an appropriate facility for the type of care needed – for example, something only handled in Baltimore. Harris hoped the interpretation would allow veterans on the Lower Shore to use closer local facilities, for which our local regional medical center could be a substitute provider, rather than make them travel to Baltimore because there was a VA clinic inside the 40-mile range but it couldn’t address the need. “They regulate, and we have to watch them,” said Andy.

The ultimate goal was “to make the VA system compete,” said Harris.

Entitlements. On a related note, one questioner asked about protecting Social Security and Medicare.

Andy believed that “you can’t change the law retroactively,” meaning that the status quo should prevail for those 55 and older. On the other hand, those in the younger generation “don’t expect all of it,” so the time was now to begin the discussion on preserving what benefits we can. The question was no longer if we got to zero in Social Security and Medicare, but when – Social Security tax receipts peaked two years ago and were now slowly declining . “We know the figures,” added Andy.

The system is “not sustainable…shame on us” in Congress for not addressing it.

Foreign policy. There were a couple questions which dealt with this topic, one on Ukraine and one on defunding Hamas.

Regarding Ukraine, one piece of “bad news” which could affect us locally was Russia’s decision to halt chicken imports from America. Their preference for dark meat nicely complemented our love of white meat, so while it wasn’t a large market it was an important one.

But in the geopolitical sense, Harris was relatively blunt. “We let it all go too far (and) should have put a stop to this in Crimea.” Andy pointed out that Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in the Budapest Memorandum, which we were a party to along with Great Britain, Russia, and Ukraine. As expected, Russia violated its end of the deal, but Harris noted “I don’t know where it ends.”

As for defunding Hamas, the House did so in its FY2015 budget. In it is a provision that states if Hamas is included in a Palestinian Authority government, we would withhold funding from them.

Andy added that he was “disappointed” in the administration’s lack of Israel support, and blasted Hamas for “purposefully aiming (their rockets) into civilian areas – that’s terrorism.” He added, “The war was started by Hamas…Israel has to end it.”

Impeachment/lawsuit vs. Obama. It actually started as a comment from the audience while Harris was explaining his answer to the immigration issue and Westminster situation.

“I think Obama is an enemy of the country,” it was said. And when Andy pointed out he was duly elected as President, stating, “nobody is claiming (Obama) wasn’t elected fair and square,” the audible murmur in the audience indicated otherwise.

But Andy believed suing Obama over his lack of adherence to the Constitution was the best choice. “Let the Supreme Court decide,” he said, as the proper procedure for changing law was supposed to lead through Congress. He would not vote for impeachment, but would rather the lawsuit run its course. I don’t think that was the popular sentiment of those assembled.

Term limits. This was actually the first question out of the chute, and Andy was clear about the questioner’s desire to see them enacted: “I couldn’t agree with you more,” said Harris. He bemoaned the lack of co-sponsors to a Joint Resolution he introduced last year holding both Senators and members of Congress to 12-year limits. “Part of the problem is that people view it as a lifetime job,” said Andy. Most agree term limits are necessary, so Andy held out hope that the 2014 campaign will bring out a new “Contract With America” promising a vote on the issue.

Common Core: It was actually asked as an awareness question regarding the new AP history framework, to which Harris could only promise to “look into this.” But there was language being considered for the appropriations bills which stated the federal government couldn’t provide incentives to adopt Common Core, as they did for Race to the Top federal funding.

Transportation/energy. Answering a question about bringing light rail to this area, Harris opined it was “some of the least efficient ways to transport people.”  He preferred a surface transportation system, such as busses, because they’re more flexible – if the development doesn’t follow the rail system, there’s no chance of adjusting it to suit.

On the related subject of energy, Harris believed it was easier to produce fossil fuels while researching the next generation of energy harnessing, such as fusion or hydrogen cells. At this point, “fossil fuels are the coin of the realm,” Harris said.

Maximizing our resources also provides us an opportunity to counter Russia’s “ability to use energy for bad ends.” He also warned that Canada would either send its crude to us through the Keystone XL pipeline or ship it to China.

Manufacturing. Finally, we’ll get to the question I asked about making things in Maryland and America.

Andy began his answer by referring to the practice of tax inversion, which has made news lately. He blamed our “horrendous” corporate tax rates for being an incentive for companies to stray offshore, or even just across the border to Canada (which has a 15% corporate tax rate compared to our 35%.) “We live in a global environment,” said Andy, so the obvious solution was to cut our corporate tax rates.

Rather, Washington was thinking about trying to make the practice more difficult. Harris feared it would encourage more inversions.

Other steps to getting things made in America were to continue promoting cheap energy – as methane is the basis for many plastic products, having an abundant supply would be crucial in that area of production. We could also work on scrapping some of the over-regulation plaguing our job creators.

After the hourlong forum, Andy stayed around for more questions and answers. I thought the give-and-take was excellent, and it’s a shame more local media wasn’t there.

The perfect as the enemy of the good

I didn’t realize it at the time – although I had an inkling it may happen – but stepping into the question of how people should have reacted at the Friday townhall meeting up in Bel Air sponsored by Andy Harris provoked yet another war of words between factions in what is arguably Maryland’s hotbed county of political intrigue despite its relatively small size. Yes, it’s a battle between the Cecil Campaign for Liberty and the Cecil County Patriots.

But there’s a political reality I want to share with a wider audience which may not follow every comment made on Facebook. I wrote this under the post I made promoting my piece from yesterday, after one respondent advised me to rethink my guiding philosophical principles:

And if (Andy Harris) repeats the behavior – even if he doesn’t – you find a primary opponent. See McConnell, Mitch. I don’t need to rethink guiding principles, you need the dose of reality. If you can find the primary opponent for Andy Harris in a month and he/she can get enough support to win, more power to you. If this person is in line with my values, I’ll vote that way. I’ve always said incumbents don’t deserve a free ride, which runs counter to most political thinking in the party because they tend to want to dictate how the offices are parceled out and whose “turn” it is.

But here is the situation on the ground: Harris has no primary opppnent. There will probably be a Libertarian in the race but he/she will be lucky to sniff 5% of the vote. We live in an R+13 district so Harris will probably win easily just based on rank-and-file Rs. Look how he did in 2012 with an Obama-infused turnout (admittedly, also with a scandal-crippled D opponent.)

I said in the piece I didn’t agree with the vote, and obviously there are a number who do not. But he picked a pretty good time to make a mistake – too late to get a very viable primary opponent and early enough that this one vote will likely be forgotten.

The original intent of the two pieces I cited was to promote attendance at a particular town hall meeting.

Now I don’t know if anyone asked about the vote at the townhall, nor did he allude to it on his Facebook page. Apparently he put out a statement, quoted by Gannett’s Nicole Gaudiano, that the deal “preserved many of the conservative fiscal policy goals of the last three years, while restoring full pension benefits to our disabled veterans and military family survivors.”  But there are already a number of groups who put the black mark next to his name because he voted for it (such as Heritage Action or the Club for Growth) and it’s likely they will have it in their back pocket if needed. I’m sure it’s a little bit galling to the Club For Growth since they backed his initial 2008 campaign so heavily.

If people are going to get mad at Harris, they should also be mad at the bulk of the Republican caucus in the House because the bill passed with just 64 Republicans (and three Democrats) objecting. 166 Republicans, including Harris, said yes. Obviously that doesn’t excuse his vote, but in the true art of compromise there were things both sides absolutely hated about the bill.

Yet in a political sense, the Republicans probably feel like they scored a victory because the government is funded through the remainder of the fiscal year, which should all but eliminate the politically unpopular possibility of a government shutdown. Now the key will be working on the budget in regular order as opposed to dropping another omnibus bomb on an unsuspecting American public. Once the House does its job, the onus will be on the Senate to pass a budget rather than perpetuate this never-ending cycle of continuing resolutions. Believe it or not, that’s how our nation did things until 2009.

Sending a message

A confluence of factors gives certain residents of the Eastern Shore an additional opportunity to make their feelings known on issues near and dear to conservative hearts everywhere.

Let me preface this by mentioning something from an e-mail I received from Heritage Action:

On January 29th, the House Republican Conference will begin its annual retreat to discuss its legislative agenda: their plans for piecemeal (immigration) reform will undoubtedly be the subject of much debate. All Sentinels are encouraged to contact their Members of Congress in advance of this strategy session to remind them to oppose all piecemeal amnesty bills.

Well, consider this my contact. But I also had an idea, based loosely on those who have been decorating overpasses with various political messages.

My friends in Dorchester County probably already know this, but the annual retreat Heritage Action alludes to is being held at the Hyatt resort in Cambridge. The setting is no stranger to political gatherings; on a few occasions the Democrats have used the facility and it also was the location of the first GOP state convention I ever attended (as a guest) in 2006. It also bears retelling the story about the first time I ever came here, to interview for the job which brought me to the Eastern Shore in 2004. I knew I’d like the area because it was like home: flat, dotted with little towns, and conservative – at least based on all the Bush/Cheney signs I saw up and down U.S. 50.

But there are no overpasses to decorate once U.S. 50 and U.S. 301 part ways in Queen Anne’s County. So perhaps in the next few days those who have message boards, yard signs from old campaigns, or other ways to convey opinion may want to place a sign along U.S. 50 between the Bay Bridge and Cambridge. (An alternative can be along the roads between the Dorchester airport and the Hyatt in case they fly over, but I suspect most will drive the couple hours.) Imagine seeing mile after mile of a “No Amnesty” message – think they may get the hint?

Obviously the GOP wants to spend time in its own enclave: presumably the entire resort is rented for this purpose, thus for the most part closing it to the public. But they can’t control the entire 80 miles or so that they have to traverse, and the message can be broadcast to ignore us at your peril.

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