How to lose a Congressional race in one speech

If any post I’ve ever done deserved to be put up on 4/20, it’s this one. But suffice to say there are times when the perfect becomes the enemy of the good, and for Congressional candidate Mike Smigiel that point may have been reached.

On Monday I received a press release from the Smigiel campaign promoting his appearance as a featured speaker at the National Cannabis Festival, an event to be held Saturday in Washington, D.C. Held for the first time this year, the Cannabis Festival promotes itself as:

More than just a festival, NCF is a chance to connect with members of the cannabis community and industry from across the country while enjoying a full day of music, games, delicious food and drink.

In the release, there was a rationale provided for Smigiel’s remarks:

The Maryland 1st District Congressional Race is of national importance and serves as a barometer to gauge the mood of the country regarding removal of barriers for the cannabis industry. (Andy) Harris is seeking re-election in a tough primary that Marylanders will be voting in on April 26th, and Del. Smigiel has released polling that suggests that when voters know of Harris’ votes, including his actions with cannabis prohibition, residents will not vote for Harris at an overwhelming majority.  Industry supporters are upset because Congress renewed the prohibition on the District’s government from spending any funds to set up a legal market for marijuana distribution and taxation, a move lead by Congressman Harris. There is a deep seeded negative sentiment against Rep. Harris as he is seen as an exemplification of the worst of big government overreach when he interfered with District voters’ attempt to follow Colorado, Washington State and others in exercising political autonomy with Initiative 71. The initiative appeared on the ballot and was approved by voters, only to have Rep. Harris successfully lead the effort to block the District government’s implementation efforts. Since that time, several unintended consequences have resulted from Rep. Harris’ paternalism.

The District is still unable to tax and or otherwise control the manufacturing and distribution of marijuana thus is losing out on tens of millions of dollars of new tax revenue.

Harris’ vote against the District not only exemplifies the overreach of big government it is also indicative of an arrogance where elected servants of our government presume to have a better understanding of our needs than we, the electorate do. The ramifications are far reaching throughout Maryland’s 1st District as well, affecting opportunities for the development of agricultural crops, business, and also resulted in a boycott of Ocean City, Maryland.

I get all that argument (aside from the state’s rights argument, since the District of Columbia is not a state), but perhaps the weekend before the election is not the best time to be hanging out with a crowd that few in the First District would identify with. Even worse is the idea of promoting recreational drug use (and let’s get real, most of the support for the “cannabis industry” isn’t so we can produce more industrial hemp) at a time when the local headlines often shout about yet another death by drug overdose. Simply put, the optics are really bad on this one. What may grab you another handful of votes among those who are passionate about the issue will turn off a lot of people who are already concerned about the impact of drugs on crime and on society at large.

And in what may be the sharpest 180 degree turn ever in politics, the chances are pretty good (since he appeared at last August’s rendition) that Smigiel will spent at least some of his morning protesting Planned Parenthood in Easton since that event is also Saturday. (Harris may also make an appearance for that same reason.) I don’t think the devout pro-life crowd would much approve of the National Cannabis Festival, and in the case of abortion Harris can claim pro-life groups’ support despite the objections Smigiel puts up.

There is definitely a libertarian streak in me that likes how Smigiel looks at certain issues, and he’s made his campaign into one that is a near-constant diatribe about what he feels is the hypocrisy between Andy Harris the campaigner and speaker and Andy Harris the Washington insider Congressman. A lot of that is legitimate, but the question is just how much of that comes with the territory. Unfortunately, purists seldom make it far in politics, especially on the conservative side.

Yet in making his point about how Harris is not a Tenth Amendment kind of guy, Smigiel is taking the time that I feel would be better served in the district trying to win votes in what’s already an uphill battle. I know Mike’s been working hard for nearly a year to make his case to the people of the First District, but unless there’s a fundraising element involved in his Washington trip (and I highly doubt this) in my opinion it’s an unforced error to spend valuable time just before the primary to tell the cannabis industry how bad Andy Harris is.

Despite what Jim Ireton might believe, the election for the First District seat occurs April 26. If Mike Smgiel loses a close election, I suppose he will have the cold comfort of losing on a particular principle.

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.

The District goes to pot

It’s definitely a peripheral story to the overall House adoption of CRomnibus, but one provision which was passed in the bill prohibited the District of Columbia from enacting a recently-passed district referendum allowing the decriminalization of marijuana. Because the District isn’t one of the 50 states, Andy Harris remarked that the supporters of the law could leave. As quoted in Politico:

“That’s the way the Constitution was written,” Rep. Andy Harris of Maryland said in an interview Wednesday. “If they don’t like that oversight, move outside of the federal district to one of the 50 states that is not covered by the jurisdiction of Congress as a whole.”

Needless to say, Harris’s Facebook page is littered with protests – not about his vote on the overall CRomnibus, which he voted in favor of – but about the vote against pot, presumably from District residents who didn’t care for his vote and claim he’s in the pocket of Big Pharma. Ironically, most of these comments are on a post alerting constituents to the opportunity for public comment on fee increases at Assateague National Seashore.

Yet this re-ignited a thought I’ve had before – one which wouldn’t necessarily make Republicans happy, but one which I think would more truly reflect the intent of our Constitution. In Article 1, Section 8 it established one of the duties of Congress as:

To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cessation of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of government of the United States…

The key is the portion in parentheses, While the District was originally laid out as the maximum ten miles square, carved out of Maryland and Virginia, the Virginia portion was retroceded to the commonwealth in 1847. But since many government functions exist outside the District, the question becomes one of whether the District in its current form has outlived its usefulness. For decades denizens of the District have griped about “taxation without representation.”

Because the Constitution only dictates a maximum size and not a minimum size, perhaps the solution lies in retroceding all but the immediate seats and symbols of government – the White House, the Capitol, the National Mall, and various memorials – back to the state of Maryland, with the city of Washington having the same status with its Maryland affairs as does Baltimore City. Instead of a half-million or so, living in the District would only apply to a handful of citizens. This could be made effective in 2020 so there would be time for transition and Congressional and local representation could be redetermined for the somewhat larger state of Maryland. The effect would be similar to the Vatican City as part of the overall city of Rome.

Naturally Republicans in Maryland and nationally would be dismayed because the advantage in voter registration and representation already enjoyed by Maryland Democrats would be enhanced. But if we want to make the pot-smokers happy that they aren’t under the control of Congress – which really shouldn’t be concerned about the affairs of a city of a half-million in a population of over 300 million – perhaps this is the better solution.

It’s a better solution than making the District the 51st state, as some have wanted, or simply giving in and elevating their status by allowing them a House member and two Senators. The intent was creating the seat of government, not a state which would be placed above others by virtue of being the national capital. While we’ve ignored the Constitution numerous times over the nation’s history, here’s a chance to restore the intent of the Founders.

Update: I should mention that Harris gave his side of the marijuana story in the Washington Post today.

WCRC meeting – July 2014

We don’t always hold a meeting in July, but since it is an election year and we like to give candidates a chance to update us on their platform, the Wicomico County Republican Club heard from the guy who predicted “I’m going to be your next County Executive.”

Obviously the voters will have their say on this in November, but Bob Culver laid out a compelling case for himself once we got through the usual business of the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests. The latter list was somewhat shorter now that the primary is over. We also heard the Treasurer’s report and got a quick update from our President Jackie Wellfonder.

Welffonder revealed that “we do have a headquarters, finally.” Once the building is turned over for our use and a few minor modifications made in the way of utilities, we should be up and running soon. It’s the former Mister Paul’s Legacy on North Salisbury Boulevard.

She also introduced the man who would be running the headquarters, David Warren. In this cycle he’s done work for the Ron George and David Brinkley campaigns, but instead of taking up an offer to go back to the Midwest (he worked for the RNC in Youngstown, Ohio in the 2012 election and had an offer to go work in Michigan this time) he came here because “I view this as a huge opportunity…(District) 38 is a very winnable district.” He was also complementary to Jackie, citing her as “one of the reasons I stayed.”

Wellfonder, for her part, called Warren “an asset to us because of his experience.”

We then turned the meeting over to Culver, who vowed to “bring back a government you can trust…government needs to work for you.”

If elected, his missions would be to sustain and diversify our local economy, improve workforce training and skills while recruiting within Maryland for new employers, and insuring the proper infrastructure – not just physical infrastructure, but including the environment and education as well. He also noted that our community is judged by how they take care of the elderly and less fortunate. And, as music to my ears, he wanted County Council to send him a proposal for an elected school board he could sign on to.

But while he won’t necessarily clean house, he did want to do things differently in various county departments. He would work more closely with Council on the budget, though, and try to change the “sense of entitlement” in certain quarters of government. Culver also promised to work toward a term limit for County Executive, believing two terms was plenty.

In Dave Parker’s absence, I read a Central Committee report he submitted. It talked at length about the upcoming Allen West Patriot’s Dinner on September 27, although we were also trying to work with the state on a Super Saturday the week before or after.

With fewer candidates because the primary weeded many of them out, we only had a few updates. A common theme was their door-knocking as most were getting out in the community. We heard from Circuit Court Judge candidate M.J. Caldwell, County Councilman Joe Holloway from District 5, County Council District 2 hopeful Marc Kilmer, County Council District 3 candidate Larry Dodd, and Delmar Mayor and Delegate aspirant Carl Anderton, Jr.

Another concern raised by some was how some opponents will get outside financial support, even on a more local level.

Tom Taylor brought up that candidates can take advantage of PAC-14, the local cable access channel, and discuss issues with host Phil Tilghman.

Shawn Jester mentioned some recent events Andy Harris was involved in, including the District of Columbia marijuana controversy and the Eastern Shore boycott that “fizzled out” as well as the possibility of housing illegal aliens in Westminster, which won’t happen. Harris also sponsored a well-attended event in Worcester County dealing with emergency preparedness.

Plans for the Crab Feast were moving along, but more volunteers were sought, said Joe Ollinger. The event will be held September 6 at Schumaker Pond.

With that and the reminder we next meet August 25, we broke into our usual post-game kibitzing. Most of the people stick around for that, so when you consider we have a pre-event social time at Cellar Door Tavern and linger for awhile afterward, it makes for a full evening. Those who are Wicomico County Republicans and want to get engaged in the local political scene should make a Monday night of it next time.

An aggressive approach

Say what you will about the Maryland Liberty PAC, but it appears they will maintain an aggressive approach to the upcoming General Assembly session. They and an affiliated group called the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance are already sounding the alarm against prefiled legislation.

This is in response to a minimum wage bill prefiled by Delegate Keith Haynes of Baltimore City, which would more than double the state’s current $6.15 minimum wage (which is superseded by a higher federal law) to $12.50 per hour. Efforts to raise the minimum wage are nothing new, though – this bill from 2013 didn’t even get a committee vote.

My guess is this bill meets the same fate; however, there is a move in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to create a regional minimum wage with the District of Columbia. This isn’t a surprise given the far-left orientation of the local governments there. This may also be a way of staking a position so far out of the mainstream that a bill like last year’s, which increased the minimum wage in several steps, looks like a common-sense compromise. In either case, though, the effect on small Maryland businesses would be devastating.

But while the Maryland Liberty PAC wants HB72 killed, their affiliated Maryland Pro-Life Alliance group is looking once again to get the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (PCUCPA) to receive a committee vote.

The “Mac” in question is State Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton, who the Pro-Life Alliance claims “completely stonewalled” the bill last year. They note that:

Right now, your Maryland Pro-Life Alliance is running ads to pressure Senator Middleton in his district.

He alone holds the key to allowing for an up or down vote on SB-34 in the Senate Finance Committee.

Of course, not only is this a call for pro-life voters in his district and beyond to contact Middleton, but an appeal for money to run ads in his State Senate district. At this point, no Republican has filed to oppose Middleton.

The bill, SB34, was prefiled this year by Senator Ed Reilly. At this point, no companion House bill has been introduced. If and when one is introduced, it will be interesting to see whether Delegate Ron George signs on as a co-sponsor as he’s running for governor. I guarantee if he doesn’t, the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance will be on his case despite an impressive pro-life resume and support.

It’s an aggressive approach, and one which doesn’t have fans everywhere in the Maryland Republican Party. But it’s said that in war the aggressor sets the rules, and we need to change the playbook.