The “poor Kathy” campaign

September 21, 2016 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The “poor Kathy” campaign 

As a Republican in Maryland, there are two things you have to account for in a statewide race: you have a smaller pool of party regulars in the voting bank when compared to the Democrat in the race and you will have less money and free media than the Democrat has at his or her disposal. These have been givens throughout the modern political era, and it’s a rare Republican who can overcome them.

But I think the idea of playing up just how low-budget a campaign is (against a well-funded Washington insider) doesn’t work well as a serious campaign ad. I’m going to share Kathy Szeliga’s ad so you can judge whether she plays this shtick (as well as the motorcycle riding angle) too much.

In truth, when I looked up the latest FEC reports (as of June 30), Van Hollen only had about a 2-to-1 cash on hand advantage on Szeliga, with $566,795 on hand. Admittedly, Van Hollen had definitely churned through a lot more money than Szeliga over the previous 15 months covered in his report, but he was also trying to fend off a well-known challenger for the Democratic nomination in Fourth District Congressman Donna Edwards.

And Kathy was determined to squeeze her nickels:

Our fundraising has been going well, but we didn’t want to waste a dime, so we shot the ad on an iPhone – saving the campaign thousands of dollars. And TV ads are expensive, so we decided to buy cable and focus on a strong social media push.

She would need more than a strong social media push, though: her 17,126 Facebook likes trail Van Hollen’s 21,333, while the margin is even worse on Twitter: Szeliga has just 2,349 followers compared to 28,780 Twitter followers for Van Hollen. (Of course, Chris has more of a national profile as a Congressman so that should be expected. As evidence, current Senator Barb Mikulski has 48,683 followers while Andy Harris has 6,281.)

But since the Democrat is afraid to debate in the hinterlands of the state (or include the third candidate in the race, Green Party candidate Margaret Flowers), perhaps the ante needs to be increased. This is what you really need to know about Chris Van Hollen: a description from his campaign website but edited for more truthfulness by this writer. Normally this would be a blockquote but I have it in normal text to make the edits (deletions struck through, additions in italics) more clear.

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Chris Van Hollen has been described as “one of those rare leaders who runs for office because he wants to DO something, not because he wants to BE something.” Yet it’s what he has done that should trouble the hardworking Marylanders he’s trying to win over.

This sentiment captures Chris’s approach to public service, an approach that he will bring to the U.S. Senate to fight – and win – for Marylanders who depend on the ever-expanding federal government to deal with on the challenges we face today.

Government-dependent Maryland families can count on Chris to be their champion – because that’s what he has been doing for over two decades. As for the rest of you, well, you are correctly described by our Presidential nominee as the “basket of deplorables” because you don’t share my ‘progressive’ vision.

Chris was first elected to public office in 1990, when he campaigned for the Maryland House of Delegates as part of the ‘Choice Team,’ which unseated an a pro-life incumbent opposed to women’s reproductive rights. So I have spent 26 of my 57 years on this planet in public office, and as you will see later on I was groomed for this practically from birth.

In Annapolis, Chris quickly earned a reputation as a champion for progressive causes and a talented legislator who was not afraid to take on blame powerful special interests for problems we in government created – like the NRA, Big Oil, and Big Tobacco – on behalf of hardworking families. I just didn’t let on that the NRA never pulled the trigger on a murder victim in Baltimore, Big Oil makes a fraction of the profit for putting in all the work compared to the ever-increasing bonanza we take in with every gallon, and we don’t have the guts to actually ban tobacco because we need their tax (and settlement) money.

He led successful fights to make Maryland the first state to require infringe with built-in safety trigger locks on handguns, ban the prospective job creation of oil drilling around the Chesapeake Bay, and prevent tobacco companies from peddling cigarettes to our kids, taking credit even though sales to minors have been illegal for decades. Chris also negotiated an historic tax increase in funding for all Maryland schools. Just don’t ask me to increase the choices you have to educate your children by allowing that money to follow your child.

Time Magazine said Chris was “a hero to environmentalists, education groups and gun control advocates.” The Baltimore Sun called him “effective” and “tenacious” and the Washington Post dubbed him “one of the most accomplished members of the General Assembly.” If you were a special interest that depended on a continual government gravy train, I was definitely your “fair-haired boy.”

In 2002 Chris was elected to Congress on a wave of grassroots special interest support, ousting a 16-year Republican incumbent thanks in large part to some creative redistricting. There he brought the same brand of can-do activism socialist failure with him. He led the successful effort to stop big banks from reaping outrageous profits from having student loans as part of their loan portfolio – instead, we made sure Uncle Sam got that piece of the action and rigged the game so that even bankruptcy cannot save most graduates who can’t find a job to pay their loans from – and was also credited with helping Democrats win back control of the House in 2006, just in time to steer the national economy into the rocks.  He became a Democratic leader and played a key role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act perpetual annual increase in health insurance rates and deductibles, the Wall Street Reform protection law, and the Economic Recovery Act that helped rebuild our shattered economy has helped saddle us with the worst recovery from recession in the last century.

When the Republicans took over the House in 2010, Chris’s colleagues elected him to lead the battle against the Tea Party budget sanity. In that role he has been leading the fight to protect Medicare and Social Security from GOP budget attacks necessary reforms and protect vital investments in education, transportation, medical research and programs for the most needy. We have to buy those votes somehow and grease the right palms – debt is only a number anyway, right?

Chris has also unveiled a comprehensive plan to address one of the greatest challenges of our time – growing inequality in America.  His ‘Action Plan to Grow the Paychecks of All, Not Just the Wealth of a Few’  Redistribute Even More Wealth and Create More Government Dependency’ has been called a forward-looking blueprint for building an economy a government behemoth that works for everyone the ruling class inside the Beltway.

In the Senate Chris will continue to fight for against bold measures to revive the promise that every individual has the chance to climb the ladder of opportunity and lead a successful and fulfilling life. We Democrats can’t let an individual be successful on his or her own, particularly if he or she is a minority.

The son of a Baltimore native, Chris’s involvement in social justice and political action began at an early age. Chris’s mom and dad were both dedicated public servants, and growing up he saw their strong commitment to making the world a better place.  As a student, he joined efforts to end Apartheid in South Africa and stop the nuclear arms race. And while Chris put himself through law school at night, he worked as a Congressional aide and then as an advisor to Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer. So in my adult life I have never held a private-sector job or signed a paycheck. But I’m fighting for you because I am down with your struggle to balance a household budget when both parents are working multiple jobs!

Chris and his wife, Katherine, live in Kensington where they have raised their three children.

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The above is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but along the line in this campaign I am very tempted to look at some of the local races on a more issue-by-issue basis, a “compare and contrast” if you will. I have no doubt that Chris Van Hollen is well to the left of most hardworking Maryland families.

But if Kathy Szeliga is as conservative as she says, perhaps we should downplay the “Washington insider” angle a bit because that’s not going to play inside the Beltway. The latest voter registration numbers tell the tale: just between the two counties directly bordering Washington, D.C. we find 31% of all state voters. Add in the close-by counties of Charles and Howard and the number edges close to 40%. Put another way, 2 in 5 Maryland voters have some degree of connection to the seat of federal government – even if they don’t work directly for Uncle Sam, their area was built on the economic impact of the government bureaucrat.

So the real question has to be about real solutions. Van Hollen cites a lot of things he has worked on, but one has to ask if the work he has done has actually solved the problem. Intentions might be grand for putting together a political webpage, but they don’t fly in the real world.

Even if you go back to his earliest days, consider these checklist items: as a youth, Van Hollen worked to stop apartheid in South Africa and against nuclear arms proliferation. Unfortunately, the transition away from apartheid also led to the decline of South Africa as a nation – just like a number of American inner cities in the 1950s and 1960s the nation was a victim of white flight because among those who were liberated were too many who used the occasion to settle scores instead of living peacefully as may have occurred with a slower transition. And that youthful resistance against nuclear proliferation yielded to political partisanship when Van Hollen supported the Iranian nuclear agreement. Perhaps the proliferation he sought to end was only our own.

Or ponder the effects of the policies Van Hollen backed in the General Assembly. Trigger locks became required for all guns sold in Maryland, so there’s already an extra expense. And I seriously doubt the bad guys have one on their guns, so if some citizen is shot and killed because they couldn’t disengage a trigger lock in order to defend themselves, will Van Hollen apologize or believe more legislation is needed?

And like many liberal policies, Chris took the first step and his cohorts have walked them a mile. We went from banning oil drilling in the Chesapeake (which may not be economically viable anyway, but we have no way of finding out) to thwarting the state’s efforts to drill for its proven natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale region (as well as other prospective areas including Annapolis and parts of the Eastern Shore.) That cost the state hundreds of possible jobs. Meanwhile, the state of Maryland perpetuates the hypocrisy of encouraging people to stop smoking with a small portion of the taxes they rake in with every pack – a sum that “progressives” annually want to increase as one of the state’s most regressive taxes.

Nor should we forget the policies Van Hollen has supported over the last eight years. Just ask around whether your friend in conversation feels they are better off with their health coverage, or if the economy is really doing well for them. If they have student loans, ask them what they think of the price of college. In all these areas, government that considers meddling as its task has made things worse for the rest of us in Maryland.

These are the questions Kathy Szeliga should be asking, rather than joking about her low-budget campaign. The aggressor sets the rules, and to win over the voters the candidate has to define the opponent for them. My definition of Chris Van Hollen is that he’s part of the problem, so the task is to make sure voters know that before explaining the solution.

The cooling-off period

At one time I planned on writing a rebuttal to all the Trump items I put up this week yesterday, but after all the events of the convention I decided it was better to hold off for a week or so and let emotions simmer down a little bit. It also gives me a chance to attend two of my meetings and gauge the mood of the electorate, so to speak – so perhaps after all that I will pick up that baton and share my thoughts on both Marita Noon’s commentary regarding Trump’s energy policy and the entire Art of the Deal series. Right now, emotions are too high and points will be missed.

It’s no secret I didn’t support Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, nor will I be backing the Clinton/Kaine ticket. (Hell, the guy doesn’t even know our part of Maryland exists because he thought Virginia shared a border with Delaware.) Yet I still have an interest in the downticket races, and this year I will be following the advice of Ted Cruz and voting my conscience. (Or, if you prefer, Ivanka Trump, who said, “I vote based on what I believe is right for my family and for my country.” So will I.) But the combination of the Democratic convention taking over the news cycle and my general fatigue with the Presidential race means I may look at some other stuff for a little bit.

One thing I was asked to look at by my friends at the Patriot Post for this week was the prospects for Republicans in the downticket federal races. (If you get their “Weekend Snapshot,” the article is prominently featured there as well.) But I find a little bit of fault with my editor because my original concluding sentence was, “The next four years could be the most interesting and unpredictable times our nation has ever known.” My thought in that sentence was to invoke the old adage “may you live in interesting times” as we seem to be cursed into a choice leading us toward them. To me, this may be the election where more people vote against someone that affirmatively vote for a candidate.

(To that end, can we install the “none of these candidates” option like Nevada has? I could see factions in all four parties on the ballot in Maryland who would love a do-over: Republicans who are anti-Trump, Democrats who backed Bernie Sanders, Libertarians who would like a more doctrinaire candidate than former Republican Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein of the Green Party who would happily move aside for Sanders, too.)

Just think about Congress for a moment. In poll after poll it’s shown to be one of the least popular institutions in the country, but voters send all but a small handful back term after term until they decide to retire. Maryland is a good example of this, with the longest-tenured Congressman being Steny Hoyer (17 terms), followed by Elijah Cummings with 10, Chris Van Hollen and Dutch Ruppersberger with seven apiece, John Sarbanes with five, Donna Edwards with four (plus a few months), Andy Harris with three, and John Delaney with two. Since Edwards and Van Hollen both sought the Senate seat, those districts will open up – but thanks to blatant gerrymandering, they are likely to be gravy trains and “lifetime appointments” for Anthony Brown and Jamie Raskin, respectively.

Aside from the one term of Frank Kratovil here in the First District as a “blue dog” Democrat carried on the Obama wave in an otherwise GOP-dominated area, you have to go back almost forty years to find a handful of one-term wonders that Maryland sent to Congress. Both our current Senators came to the job after serving multiple terms in the House, as would Chris Van Hollen if he wins the Senate seat. Kathy Szeliga, on the other hand, has served just a term and a half in the Maryland House of Delegates – although compared to other GOP Senate candidates in recent years that almost qualifies as “career politician,” too.

Yet while our GOP candidate supports Trump and has an uphill battle to win, she was criticized for skipping the convention as well:

Some (GOP convention) delegates who wished to remain anonymous to avoid antagonizing another party member privately expressed discontent and disappointment with Szeliga’s and Hogan’s absences in Cleveland at a time when unity is a key goal of their party after a fractious primary season.

Of course, Andy Harris was there in Cleveland, but he’s in an R+13 or so district with far less to worry about. It was better for Szeliga to be in Crisfield meeting voters with her opponent there.

So while I will talk about the convention in at least one piece I’m considering – and my invited guests may decide on their own to look at the Presidential race – I’m going to step back from it for a little bit. It’s the pause that will refresh me.

The Primary 2016 postmortem, part 2

April 29, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Campaign 2016 - President, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The Primary 2016 postmortem, part 2 

Now that I have had a couple of days to gather my thoughts and see other reaction on some of the races, here goes.

Beginning at the top: I think the choice of Carly Fiorina by Ted Cruz is relatively shrewd, as it accomplished several objectives – first of all, it blew the $2 billion man off the 24/7 news cycle the day after he won five primaries. (Worth noting: it’s fortunate we didn’t have “jungle” primaries in those states where the top two regardless of party advance because Trump would have been second in just two of the states. In all five he trailed Hillary Clinton, in three he was also behind Bernie Sanders.) Second, it positions him to do better in California, where Carly was the GOP nominee for Senate in 2010. With 172 delegates at stake, it’s the best chance for Trump to get over the top. Fiorina wasn’t near the top of my list for president, but step one of the #NeverTrump process is to get The Donald off the news, step two is throttling him in Indiana, and step three is defeating him in California – hopefully Trump will be eliminated from getting to the 1,237 delegate mark before we reach June.

Looking at the state level and the results, it seems to me that Kathy Szeliga won with the exact same kind of campaign Larry Hogan ran in his gubernatorial primary – very light on specifics. It worked out for Hogan in the 2014 gubernatorial election because he had the advantage of drawing a Democratic opponent he could tie to his predecessor’s record and he avoided being dragged into discussions on social issues and the Second Amendment, try as the Democrats did to bring these up during the campaign. In an executive election it’s easier to make it about economic philosophy, particularly when you’ve spent three years hammering the Democrats with a social media juggernaut called Change Maryland – that and $100,000 in his own money was where he gained his primary advantage.

But Szeliga will have a harder time prevailing on a message of change, especially because she has a voting record the Democrats will surely comb over (just as Republicans can – and should – do with Chris Van Hollen.) Certainly Chris is a Washington insider, but the secondary idea Republicans are hoping to exploit is that the party which screams constantly about a “Republican war on women” has exactly zero female nominees in its delegation. Wouldn’t the words of Donna Edwards be an interesting piece of a 30-second spot?

“The state of Maryland is on the verge of having an all-male delegation,” (Edwards) said. “When will our voices be effective, legitimate, equal leaders in a big-tent party?”

Well, if it’s that big of a deal to the women of Maryland they know what to do. There’s no doubt the Democrats will try to brush aside that little tidbit, and the job gets a lot easier if Donald Trump is the nominee because it negates that advantage.

It should be a lot easier for Andy Harris to succeed. He now has an opponent without a great deal of name recognition in the district, and all the advantages incumbency provides. As I said before, the election for the district was really held Tuesday and the margin of victory was tremendous. Going into the election, it seemed that Mike Smigiel would be a rather formidable opponent – a former Delegate who was very popular with the portion of the district’s electorate which values liberty and the Second Amendment, as he made his name defending both. But the fact Smigiel had three opponents from Cecil County when he ran for re-election in 2014 suggests that maybe he had developed a reputation as all talk and no action, and the campaign he ran didn’t seem to draw a great deal of interest. As I pointed out earlier this month, having a campaign event which draws no local voters doesn’t lend itself to success. In Somerset (as well as Wicomico and Worcester) Smigiel actually ran third behind Harris and Jonathan Goff, and Smigiel only got 21.8% in his home county. So much for his push polls.

It may have been a doomed cause to begin with, but the decision to attend an event outside the district on the weekend before the election may have been the campaign in a microcosm – many times the perfect was the enemy of the good. Sure, Andy Harris leaves something to be desired in terms of conservative/libertarian leadership and initiative, but in my opinion Smigiel tried the same campaign Harris did to Wayne Gilchrest in 2008 – problem was Andy is nowhere near the center and isn’t moving to the left at the rapid pace Wayne was. So the tactic wouldn’t work, and in the end the difference in voting patterns and campaign tactics cost Smigiel my support.

Now that I have some of these thoughts and observations out of the way, it’s time for me to move on to the next election. Tomorrow I’ll be looking at an interesting GOP race that will be decided at our upcoming state convention.

The Primary 2016 postmortem, part 1

April 27, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Campaign 2016 - President, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The Primary 2016 postmortem, part 1 

I knew Maryland wasn’t a typical conservative state, but I didn’t think that many Republicans would be fooled by Donald Trump’s act.

Late last night I wrote down some “gut instinct” predictions for the state, Congressional district, and county:

Pre-primary wild guesses:

Maryland for President: Trump 42.7, Kasich 27.4, Cruz 24.6, others 5.3 (mostly protests for Carson and Rubio.)

Wicomico for President: Trump 51.2, Cruz 30.7, Kasich 16.3, others (mostly Carson) 1.8.

Trump wins all 8 districts, although 1 or 2 are less than 5 points over Kasich.

For Senate overall: Szeliga 32.3, Kefalas 22.7, Douglas 19.3, Wallace 11.2, Hooe 8.7, the field 5.8.

Wicomico for Senate: Szeliga 41, Douglas 23.3, Wallace 14.7, Kefalas 12.6, Hooe 4.2, field 4.2.

First District overall: Harris 51.3, Smigiel 35.2, Jackson 6.8, Goff 6.7.

Wicomico First District: Harris 41.9, Smigiel 40.7, Goff 9, Jackson 8.4.

So let’s see how I did.

Well, first and foremost I underestimated Trump’s support. Looks like those rallies paid off in news coverage and creating the illusion he really cared about Maryland. John Kasich did some half-hearted stops here as well, and Ted Cruz made just one early on.

Trump is running about 12 points better than I thought statewide. Five of those points came out of my Kasich totals and six from Cruz. The rest come out of the “other” category that Carson (who was the only other candidate over 1%) and Rubio indeed led.

Here in Wicomico County, Trump outpaced me by fourteen points, and I blame the Berlin rally. I was actually not far off on Kasich (16.3 vs. 15.1 actual) but I am deeply disappointed with my fellow Wicomico voters for not supporting the real conservative left in the race, underperforming my expectation on Ted Cruz by almost 14 points – about the same as Trump overperformed. Ben Carson led the stragglers that exceeded my expectations by half again with 2.7%. And let me find a Volkswagen to house the three Santorum voters here in Wicomico.

While Trump won all eight Congressional districts by double-digit margins, it’s worth pointing out that Montgomery County (which is split among several Congressional districts) indeed only gave Trump a five-point win over John Kasich.

Yet if you thought I was shocked by the Trump margin, imagine the surprise when I saw how easily Kathy Szeliga decimated the U.S. Senate field. Getting on TV obviously made all the difference because the polling suggested a much closer race. And Chris Chaffee, who came in second, wasn’t even polled! But I was only about three points off on her.

I think what happened was the inevitability factor – Kathy had a lot more money and (dare I say) tacit MDGOP support. And it may have been a weakness in polling that the 40 to 50 percent undecided were really supporting someone who wasn’t named in the poll. If you look at the three or four who were polled (Szeliga, Kefalas, Douglas, Hooe) combined they only pulled 55% of the total vote statewide. Perhaps those “undecided” were really decided, with the various party factions splitting several ways. Obviously everyone except Szeliga horribly underperformed my expectations – well, except the “field.” Yet Kathy did worse than I expected here in Wicomico.

Now for Congress. There is so much complaining I hear about Andy Harris, but apparently this is a very loud, tiny minority I should have ignored. 10.8% overall for Mike Smigiel and just two votes more for him than Jonathan Goff in Wicomico? Get real. It turns out that the 22% who didn’t like Harris in the 2014 primary didn’t like him this time either, but split their vote three ways.

So my gut instinct wasn’t as good as it should have been – then again, the pollsters didn’t do very well here either and people pay them.

I also speculated Donna Edwards might pull off the upset over Chris Van Hollen, so it will be interesting to see what the minority turnout was for a primary that didn’t have a lot of suspense at the top. Apparently the coalition of Millennials who I thought would help Kefalas a little on the GOP side didn’t show up for Bernie Sanders or the more progressive Edwards, either.

Guess it might be time to clean off my radar since it seems to be broken. Lord knows my little endorsements didn’t help, either, but someone has to hold up the tattered and torn conservative banner in this state – may as well be me.

The one piece of good news I got tonight was that a great friend of monoblogue won her primary in Cecil County. Jackie Gregory took 55% of the vote in winning the District 5 primary, and unless there’s a write-in or independent campaign she will win in a walkover come November (no Democrat ran for the seat.) So congratulations to her!

Checking the southern front

April 9, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Campaign 2016 - President, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Checking the southern front 

Today I went Somerset County way to check out two events, one I had planned for awhile and one I had not until yesterday morning.

So at 9:00 this morning I found myself in a restaurant called Peaky’s eating breakfast with a man who wants to be Maryland’s next Senator.

Richard Douglas alerted me to his visit a couple days ago as we have kept in occasional touch since his last run in 2012; a primary that he lost to Dan Bongino. (Douglas still believes Bongino “ran a terrific race,” but Douglas won eleven counties as well.)

In fact, in his remarks Douglas revealed that his second try for the Senate came out of “watching this Iran trainwreck,” an agreement he called “on par with the Munich Agreement” between Hitler and Neville Chamberlain in 1938. Douglas remarked that Iran wasn’t the Westernized nation they try to portray but instead their people “want to kill Americans and British.” A Senate that approves an agreement with such a nation will tolerate anything, Richard added, noting the Senate is “such (that) it will not heal itself.”

With a significant part of his career being spent in the Senate, Douglas had knowledge of how the game worked, often picking up the volume which contains the Senate rules to make a point. He categorized his era in the Senate as being one with Republicans who had more backbone, such as his old boss Senator Jesse Helms. Regarding his time there, Douglas termed that the one of the “best moments” in the Senate was the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed in 2002. Passed as a bipartisan measure, Douglas wistfully noted that the Democrats were “back on the attack” a year later. Douglas also played up his experience with the Justice Department under President Bush as well as his service in the Navy during the Cold War.

Another of Richard’s passionate subjects is Cuba, as he predicted the island nation will open up – just not under the Castro regime. He also predicted that Barack Obama would make some lame duck pardons of several American criminals seeking refuge in Cuba, particularly cop-killer Joanne Chesimard. But opening up Cuba now in the way Obama has is already costing Americans their jobs, as Douglas cited an Alabama company which will move some operations there. “The Senate let it happen,” said Douglas.

In Richard’s opinion, a good Senator needed three things: discernment, a knowledge of procedure, and backbone. “If you’re missing backbone, the other two don’t matter,” said Richard. He continued the point by saying he was willing to deny unanimous consent if he judged a bill or amendment would be bad for Maryland or for the nation at large. “Alarm bells go off” when that happens, said Douglas, and leadership doesn’t like it. Senators “hate to vote,” said Douglas, because they’re put on the record.

Unfortunately, the Senate he’s trying to enter is one that enacted the Obama agenda instead of stopping it as promised. “They’re afraid of looking obstructionist,” said Douglas, “Instead, they look weak.” He would “take issues hostage” because it only takes one Senator to stop the train and start the bargaining.

Most of what Douglas said in his remarks dealt with procedure and foreign policy, but he made sure to mention that there are thousands of voters who don’t care about that because they are struggling economically. It’s “a problem on par with national security,” said Richard, and he stressed that he wanted to work with Governor Hogan to create an economic environment more like that of South Carolina, Georgia, or Texas. In visiting minority neighborhoods, Douglas revealed that “lots of African-American voters” were ready to vote Republican, in part due to Donald Trump. But Douglas called both Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards “eminently beatable.”

There were a number of questions laid out for Douglas, with one being just how far he would take the withholding of unanimous consent when it could cost the state on another bill. That aspect was “part of the calculus,” said Richard, but he vowed to “help when I can and resist when I must.”

Regarding illegal immigration, Douglas said the current laws were fine, just not being enforced. One area of concern for Richard was work permits, and he vowed to “put American workers first again,” trying to tilt the playing field back in our favor. Related to that was the refugee issue, on which Douglas pointed out America was once the “loudest voice” for refugees until Obama destroyed our credibility.

One thing that Douglas noted with regard to the Second Amendment was that Maryland has a “gap” in their state constitution. (He was referring to Article 28: “That a well regulated Militia is the proper and natural defence of a free Government.” It does not give Marylanders the right to bear arms.) But he thought firearms should be in the hands of law-abiding citizens and they shouldn’t face hurdles such as the fee prescribed by the state to secure a handgun permit.

To sum up, while Douglas believes “a weak Senate is bad for America” and has insider knowledge, he does not consider himself an insider. His insider knowledge would be used “for the good of the state.”

I should also note that the Somerset County Republicans have a monthly straw poll and this month Ted Cruz emerged the big winner with 14 votes of 22 cast. John Kasich received 6 and Donald Trump just 2. (More on him in a few paragraphs.) If I read their chart correctly, Cruz and Trump were tied last month but now fortunes have shifted dramatically. (As a caveat, the sample fluctuates each month, I’m sure. For example, they had me as an “extra” Cruz vote this month.)

As a housekeeping note and favor to those who may wish to enjoy breakfast with the Somerset County club (it was quite good), they voted to not have their meeting May 14 because it conflicts with the state GOP convention and several Central Committee members would be absent.

Those absent people must have also planned to show up at the event I was set on attending in the first place. Not a single Somerset County voter came out to Congressional challenger Michael Smigiel’s townhall meeting held at the library in Princess Anne. As a concerned voter who honestly hasn’t made up my mind in the race, it was great to have a 40-minute or so conversation with Mike, but as a blogger it was not very good because carrying on a conversation keeps you from taking notes and I didn’t bring a recorder. So I won’t be chock full of quotes here, and you can take the lack of attendance as you will – of all the counties in the First District, Somerset has the second-smallest number of Republicans. (Kent County, the second leg of Smigiel’s town hall tour today and the last of Smigiel’s planned twelve county stops overall, is the smallest by about 300 voters – both are shy of 5,000. But Smigiel comes from neighboring Cecil County.)

I was given two new pieces of literature today. While both make their good points about Smigiel, the message on the palm card is that “Harris Sold Us Out,” with the flyer adding “Harris Promised All The Right Things And Did All The Wrong Things.” Obviously those with long memories may recall that Harris ran a similar campaign against Wayne Gilchrest to secure the GOP Congressional nomination in 2008, and Smigiel uses some of that literature on his flyer. When I asked him whether he was basing his campaign on one vote Harris took (the CRomnibus bill of 2014) he replied it was more like eight.

A couple other contentions I made regarded Harris’s role in building the party as well as his seniority in Congress. It’s no secret that several local candidates were recipients of Harris money – you can call it buying support, but I would argue that the Congressman was out to build a conservative farm team in this part of the state. Smigiel countered that Harris was also the recipient of money from Exelon, which led to a Harris vote allowing the federal government the authority to override Maryland’s demand for a water quality permit for the Conowingo Dam. Mike also intoned that Somerset residents were unhappy with Harris for a vote against Hurricane Sandy cleanup funds, which is the linchpin for Jim Ireton’s Democratic campaign.

And I didn’t even bring up the Harris votes for Speaker with the former Delegate.

Overall, I felt bad for Mike that no one else showed up. Compare this with his stop in Salisbury that Cathy Keim covered for me while I was away, which had a fair number of people.

The question for all of us regarding this race is simple: Andy Harris is not a perfect Congressman, but then it’s possible no one would be. Is Mike Smigiel running a campaign to convince voters he would be a better alternative? I really didn’t get an answer to that question within our conversation, but it will come as a judgment call for me based on something Richard Douglas said: who has the better backbone to stand up for the people and do what’s right, not just for the First District, but America as a whole?

Someone who’s not convinced me he will do what’s right for America has nevertheless secured a headquarters here.

Yes, the Trump headquarters is at 229 East Main Street here in Salisbury, the former location of a print shop. They’ll be here for less than a month, as I’m told they have the space for a 30-day period. So the question is just what they will be doing in the building and how many people will stop by (it’s not on the beaten path and downtown parking can be a challenge during the day, when you have to feed a meter.) I suspect there may be some volunteers making phone calls from there and perhaps staging a later appearance from The Donald himself locally. That would be a hoot.

But I’ll stick with the choice of the Somerset County Republicans – #TrusTED Cruz.

More impressions about the Maryland U.S. Senate GOP primary

Since the first round did so well and there’s more to write about anyway I think I’ll revise and extend my earlier remarks. I suppose I will begin with the front-runner according to the Washington Post poll from earlier this week.

So we know now that Kathy Szeliga has indeed debuted her television spot, at least online. (I haven’t seen it on broadcast yet.) More on that in a moment, but if you weren’t already sure she was the “establishment” candidate, the fact the Maryland GOP’s executive director made a “small donation” to the tune of $250 to her campaign might just change your mind. (For someone like me, that’s not “small.”)

Now about that commercial, which continues Kathy’s narrative that she would bring change to Washington. It’s basically an introduction piece that I think will have one lasting impact: “oh yeah, she’s the candidate that rides the motorcycle.” To each his or her own, I guess. Since this race is still a lot about name recognition, every little bit helps.

I do want to bring one other voice into the discussion on Szeliga, although it can extend to other candidates as well. Richard Falknor at Blue Ridge Forum (who was kind enough to link the last Senate piece) states:

Maryland Republicans should insist on clear answers from whoever is their standard bearer for United States Senator. The optimistic tone of delegate Szeliga’s campaign message is praiseworthy, but she must support it by articulating thoughtful positions on vital matters. Many Maryland voters of all flavors will respect blunt answers in these times of grave peril to our land.

Unfortunately, as I pointed out in my original treatise, Szeliga is one of two top candidates who don’t have an “issues” page on their website. (Chrys Kefalas, who is second at the moment, is the other.) A quick check of their websites reveals both Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen have relatively extensive issues pages, so one could ask what our frontrunners are hiding. I suppose they remember that it more or less worked for Larry Hogan, who frustrated me by having a skimpy issues page as well. Perhaps many of us now know why.

So it’s interesting that Chrys Kefalas is now trying to corner the market on the tagline “Larry Hogan Republican,” as he plays up his experience in Maryland’s previous GOP administration. Of course, the perspective is somewhat different as Larry is an executive while Chrys would be a legislator, but you can’t argue with a 70% approval rating, can you? It seems the top two candidates are trying to out-Hogan the other as far as invoking the name (and perhaps political philosophy.)

It’s been more quiet on the Richard Douglas front, although he is chiming in on several Obama administration foreign policy decisions. His latest is his “hunch” that a lame-duck Barack Obama will pardon American criminals hiding out in Cuba. But if I can clear my docket I may see Richard tomorrow morning at the Somerset County GOP breakfast – he sent an e-mail to me today inviting me to come. It will be interesting to see how much of his presentation (if he makes one) will be devoted to foreign policy and how much goes to pocketbook issues.

Recently I completed the Facebook five-pack as I “liked” Joe Hooe‘s campaign page there. Not much new under the sun there, but it did pique my curiosity. I don’t think Hooe’s page has been around very long, but it got me thinking about social media. All five top contenders have a Senate campaign page – so how many followers do they have? Here you go:

  1. Kathy Szeliga – 7,126
  2. Chrys Kefalas – 5,553
  3. Dave Wallace – 2,895
  4. Richard Douglas – 2,039
  5. Joe Hooe – 439

Granted, Dave Wallace could have carried his page over from his 2014 campaign and renamed it, but still that’s very good for a guy who’s not even polled. It’s a very tenuous connection based on this possibility, but if you assume from Szeliga’s number of Facebook followers that one polling point is equal to 475 followers (a formula which works fairly close for Kefalas as well) then Wallace should be at about 6 or 7 percent. I have noticed he engages his Facebook followers more than most, and I’ve been setting some of the doubters straight on energy issues there. He’s not hurt his position regarding the horserace as little has changed for me over the week; however, I’m hoping I make it down to Princess Anne in time to speak with Douglas tomorrow.

So that’s where I stand for now as I work on making a final endorsement on April 17.

WaPo poll: one big leader in GOP race

Most of the attention from a Washington Post article and poll released this morning regarding Maryland’s U.S. Senate race went to a pitched battle between two current members of Congress: Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen are fighting it out for the Democratic nomination, which the Post treats as the de facto election.

But the WaPo poll, conducted in conjunction with the University of Maryland, asked Republican respondents about their Senatorial preferences and the big winner – well over the staggering 7.5 point margin of error for the likely voters – was good old Mr. Undecided with 46 (!) percent. Yes, nearly half the voters are still hazy about their choice less than a month before the primary election.

In case you were wondering, these are the results from those who had made up their mind among likely voters:

  1. Kathy Szeliga – 15%
  2. Chrys Kefalas – 11%
  3. Richard Douglas – 9%
  4. Joe Hooe – 3%

I’m a little surprised that Dave Wallace or Greg Holmes were not included in the poll, as they both ran Congressional campaigns in 2014 and should have had a little name ID among Republicans. There were 1% who volunteered another name, which translates to 3 out of a sample of 283 likely voters. In that universe, Szeliga should have about 42.

However, among the 407 registered voters (margin of error 6%):

  1. Kathy Szeliga – 15%
  2. Chrys Kefalas – 10%
  3. Richard Douglas – 8%
  4. Joe Hooe – 5%

It’s obvious the Presidential race on the GOP side has sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the Senatorial race. You may be devoted to Cruz, Kasich, or Trump but not particular about any of these candidates because you haven’t heard of them. To change that on her part, according to social media, Szeliga is getting out a television ad in the next few days:

My granddaughter, Avery, definitely stole the spotlight while we were filming the first television ad for my US Senate campaign yesterday.

But I wonder about the runner-up’s math.

Perhaps within the margin of error is the new “tied.” Richard Douglas can say the same thing, and in theory I could too – I could have as much as 7.5% and Kathy Szeliga could have 7.5% among likely voters based on the MOE.

With such a huge pool of undecided voters this close to the election, I would be surprised if any of the candidates came to the Eastern Shore from here on out, at least more than once. Our local campaign will be waged on the airwaves and through volunteers because, quite frankly, the 115,635 Republicans scattered around the Eastern Shore are less suitable for retail politics via candidate appearance than those Republicans in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, or Montgomery counties – any of which have more GOP voters within their boundaries than the whole of the Eastern Shore. Pick any pair between Carroll, Frederick, Harford, and Howard counties and you will find the same. (All bets are off, of course, if we somehow get a local Presidential candidate appearance.)

So if a couple nice people come knocking on your door looking for your support, chances are it will be local volunteers for one of these downballot races. Name recognition will be the big push over the last three weeks.

Impressions on Maryland’s U.S. Senate GOP primary

Over the last couple weeks I have been trying to get a reading on who I would like to be my Senator from the great state of Maryland. (Spoiler alert: Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen ain’t going to cut it.) It’s been a process of trying to get questions answered, checking websites, and watching some of the debates in order to figure out who the best candidate for me would be.

There are 14 Republicans running for the Senate seat, a number which is unusually high. (In previous cycles, it was closer to 10 candidates.) Of course, with that many candidates in a statewide race it becomes apparent early on who has the most legitimate shot at winning. Granted, this has been helped somewhat by media perception, such as which hopefuls are invited to debates, but realistically only about half of those 14 candidates have any real shot – the rest are just ballot filler. In fact, when I asked the questions of candidates only 12 of the 14 had good e-mails, and two of those 12 have no website insofar as I can tell. (Another has a website with just a front page and no functionality). Sadly, the pair without websites are two of those who answered my questions – but the larger question is how you can beat someone who has $3.6 million in the bank like Chris Van Hollen does? You need money to get your message out.

By the time you separate the wheat from the chaff you get about a half-dozen somewhat serious candidates, with a couple on a lower tier that are running campaigns more suited to a Congressional level. Greg Holmes is one, with another being Anthony Seda, who has pointed out he’s not accepting contributions. Noble, but suicidal in the real world of politics. Let me repeat: you need money to get your message out.

So in my estimation, the race comes down to five: Richard Douglas, Joe Hooe, Chrys Kefalas, Kathy Szeliga, and Dave Wallace. In the last debate I watched there were only three participants as Hooe and Wallace were not invited. Another debate featured all but Wallace, while the Goucher College debate had Holmes, Hooe, and Wallace along with Douglas and Kefalas (Szeliga skipped this debate for a Maryland GOP event.)

So here is how I would categorize the contenders, in alphabetical order.

Richard Douglas is the only one of the five to have run a statewide campaign before, but I’m not seeing that pointed out as an advantage. He also has the benefit of experience working in the Senate, but in this topsy-turvy electoral year he’s forced to run more as an outsider because that’s the political mood. His campaign to me has been an intriguing concoction of a hawkish foreign policy combined with a populist economic outlook. He’s one of only two of the five who has answered my list of questions, and as one would expect I found his answers to be strongest on foreign policy, immigration, and to some extent the role of government. (I also know Richard has religious freedom bona fides.)

In 2012 when Richard ran for Senate and lost to Dan Bongino, I noted he would have been my 1A candidate after Bongino, who I endorsed. I would have been as comfortable with him winning as the eventual nominee, and at this point he’s done nothing to change that assessment given this field. Still, he speaks the language of an insider and that may hurt him.

Joe Hooe has made his key issue that of immigration, advocating for a paid guest worker program he claims will raise $80 billion. He claims it will make taxpayers out of illegal aliens, but my question is whether we could track such a program when we have no clue how many people are in the country illegally because they crossed the border and how many are illegal because they overstayed their visa. And if they refuse to pay to work, how will we enforce this new fee? If they are here illegally, then I doubt they’re suddenly going to have a “come to Jesus” moment and decide to follow a law that will cost them $1,000.

One thing I do like about Hooe is his advocacy for apprenticeship programs, but to me that is more of a state concern than a federal concern. Perhaps it’s the aspect of having to be elected by the people (which was not the original intent of the Founding Fathers) but I think all of these candidates conflate the roles of the federal and state governments to some degree. Education is one of many areas where there should be no government role.

Chrys Kefalas has a background that I think would serve him well, particularly since he’s involved with the manufacturing field. He does well on trade and job creation, but my question is whether he would be anything different than what we have now concerning the social issues leg of the Reaganesque three-legged conservative stool. Surely he (and some others) argue that Maryland has settled on its position regarding social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, but that doesn’t mean we should stop working toward Judeo-Christian values where life begins at conception and marriage is between one man and one woman. It’s not quite enough to keep me from voting for Chrys on a general election ballot but many thousands of voters realize a two-legged stool doesn’t work.

Maryland Republicans run into trouble when they try to out-liberal the Democrats on certain issues: if you’re a voter who’s going to vote based on the belief that the unborn is just a blob of tissue and no harm comes to society when anyone can marry anyone else they want – and why stop at one, right? – it’s not likely they’re going to be conservative everywhere else. Meanwhile, you just dispirit the percentage of GOP voters who have that passion for Judeo-Christian values. “I’m only voting for President,” they’ll say. It can be argued that Larry Hogan’s victory was an example of putting social issues on the back burner, but aside from Hogan getting the benefit of a depressed liberal Democrat turnout in 2014, ignoring social issues doesn’t play as well on a national race.

Kathy Szeliga is the “establishment” candidate trying desperately to portray herself as an everyday outsider. With the vast majority of Maryland’s General Assembly Republicans favoring her – mainly because she’s served as a Delegate for six years – she also has received the most attention and support in the race. Using my monoblogue Accountability Project as a guide, her lifetime score of 83 would put her in the upper third of those who have served with her over the years, although her score was more mediocre in 2015 (a 72 rating.) She’s also served as one of the faces of General Assembly Republicans – witness this video, one of a string she has done with fellow Delegate Susan Aumann:

Having said all that, there are two main things that disturb me about Szeliga’s campaign. For one, she has no “issues” page on her website, and I always subscribe to the theory that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. (The same is true for Kefalas.) However, she is reasonably good about answering questions and participating in debates.

But on that point you can tell she is a professional politician. Most of Kathy’s answers seem to be empty platitudes about her life and experiences being a mom, business owner, etc. rather than substantive discussions of the issue at hand. (On the other hand, Richard Douglas has a tendency to talk over the level of the average voter.) Not to be patronizing, but I suspect someone is telling Kathy women voters who would normally be afraid to vote Republican need to be addressed in a non-threatening way – never mind the Democrat who survives the primary will try and paint Szeliga (or any of the others, including the more socially moderate Kefalas) as a stereotypical Republican anyhow.

Dave Wallace, out of the five candidates, seems to be the most conservative. Having read a lengthy treatise of his, most of what he has to say makes sense on a policy level and for that reason I’m leaning his way at this point.

Yet having said that, we also know that Dave lost to a likely opponent by 22 points in a district which is, admittedly based on registration, a D+23 district as it currently stands. In that respect, though, it’s not as bad as the state at large (which is D+32.) We have seen this movie before: Dan Bongino lost by 30 in a 3-way race in 2012, Eric Wargotz by 26 in 2010, Michael Steele by 10 in 2006, E.J. Pipkin by 31 points in 2004, and so forth. I really don’t want a 30-point loss again; unfortunately, too many Maryland voters are stubborn like a mule in voting against their self-interest. (If they “got it,” the most conservative candidate would always win.)

Dave seems like a nice guy and a policy wonk, which I like. But the question is whether he can be a bulldog and attack the Democratic candidate for the failure of the last seven years.

This may not necessarily apply to Dave, although I’m using his space, but I don’t like talk about bipartisanship from any Republican hopeful because Democrats at a national level will nearly always take the hand you reach out to them with, twist your arm off, and proceed to beat you with it. Anyone remember “read my lips?” One of the reasons the bulk of Republicans are fed up with the political system is the lack of intestinal fortitude they see from the politicians they sent to Washington with the message “it’s always been done this way” is not cutting it anymore.

When the TEA Party wave in 2010 put the GOP back in charge of the House, the excuse was “we only control one half of one-third of the government.” Indeed, a do-nothing Senate was a problem. But when the do-nothing Senate was flipped to Republican control in 2014, we still heard excuses about why we couldn’t get anything done. If you want a reason for the rise of Donald Trump, you don’t need to look much further. (Never mind Trump’s not conservative and the bulk of his policy statements have the depth of a cookie sheet. He talks tough.)

If I were to rank my choices in this horserace at the moment, it would go Wallace and Douglas fairly close going into the final turn, with Kefalas a neck ahead of Szeliga for third on the outside and Hooe bringing up the rear. (The rest are chewing hay in the infield.) As it stands now, I will make my endorsement the second Sunday before the primary (April 17.)

In the coming days I will rank the three contenders for the First District Congressional seat. [Yes, there are four Republicans on the ballot but Jonathan Goff is such a strong Trump supporter that he is disqualified. (#NeverTrump strikes again.)] That race is a little different because the incumbent is a Republican so the question becomes whether we want a more straight-ahead conservative or someone who has the reputation of being more liberty-minded? I’ll do some research and hear from one of the three candidates in person in the coming days to help me decide.

Update: Want more? Here you go.

A look ahead: 2016 in Maryland

Now that I made my thoughts on the fate of Wicomico County next year known, it’s time to expand the focus to the state as a whole. After the runup to the 2014 campaign and the transition of last year occupied the state over the last two years, it seems that the political class has settled in as we enter the second year of Larry Hogan’s term. His honeymoon was extended to some degree by his cancer diagnosis, but with a clean bill of health I suspect the gloves will be coming off as far as statewide Democrats are concerned. They need to position themselves for both the 2018 state election and, in some cases, the 2016 election as well. The surprise retirement announcement from Senator Barb Mikulski placed several Congressional Democrats into the race to succeed her, with House members Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen leading the charge. Elijah Cummings is also considering the race as well.

Of course, having these vacancies means ambitious state politicians are eyeing a move from Annapolis to Washington. So far five Democrats are considering the move, which in turn could create some vacancies by year’s end as it’s likely some of them emerge victorious. But on a policy note, these Democrats aren’t going to run from the political center so look for a serious turn to the left from the General Assembly this year – particularly if they succeed at overturning some of Larry Hogan’s 2015 vetoes in the opening days of this year’s session.

One place where Hogan can make a difference, though, is on the regulatory front. He doesn’t always need the General Assembly to make progress toward his goal of a more business-competitive Maryland, so look for him to try and do some pruning through his department heads.

With the economy recovering ever-so-slightly and the state addressing the structural deficit to the degree that it ran a small surplus this fiscal year, another bone of contention will be how the state’s budget is set up when it comes out next month. Having reached $40 billion last year, even the $500 million reportedly in surplus only allows the state to increase spending by a little over 1 percent – of course, the Democrats have a wish list twice that large and then some. Being used to the 4 to 5 percent annual budget increases common during the O’Malley era, Democrats consider Hogan’s smaller increases as cuts and that attitude is already in effect as we get ready to see the FY2017 budget.

Conservatives, though, probably aren’t going to see a lot of progress toward cutting the O’Malley excess on other issues. Short of a rejection to Maryland’s 2013 gun law in federal court (not likely), Hogan isn’t going to push very hard to restore Second Amendment rights or bring more school choice to the state. In year one, Hogan hasn’t really used his bully pulpit very much – granted, he was ill and undergoing cancer treatment for a large portion of the year but if you’re expecting Hogan to be another Ronald Reagan you may be disappointed. Besides the toll and fee decreases we were given last year, there’s not been much of a push for overall tax relief either thanks to the continuing structural deficit that Hogan’s predecessors have granted to him.

To the extent that Maryland has a large majority of Democratic voters, perhaps the best a conservative can expect is to slow down the leftward slide into the abyss. Bringing real change to the state is perhaps a multiple-term effort – not just the two Hogan may be fortunate enough to receive, but also with the hope that he paves the way for a more conservative successor. With the exception of one Bob Ehrlich term, the state has shifted leftward more or less continuously for decades so it will take time to undo the damage.

With the national election and the real prospect of conservative change in mind, the Maryland Republican agenda should be one of working the state away from its reliability on Uncle Sam as both employer and provider of funding. Since the Democrats are going to make 2016 about laying some ticking time bombs to go off just in time for them to come save the day in 2018, the GOP needs a plan to defuse them.

Maryland probably won’t make the same kind of news in 2016 as it did in 2015 – given the Baltimore riots and tremendous murder rate, we sure hope not. But the year has a lot of potential for this state, in my opinion more so than we’ve had in a decade. Leadership will be the key: if Larry Hogan emerges as the leader, we should be all right. But Heaven help us if it’s one of those on the loony left.

Szeliga makes Senate bid official

Beginning a three-day announcement tour in Annapolis yesterday, Delegate Kathy Szeliga made what many considered the worst-kept secret in Maryland politics official: she’s tossing her hat into the ring for a seat in the United States Senate. But it’s not just any seat: if you believe the Washington Post, it’s the Mikulski seat.

Regardless, she becomes the first elected Republican to seek the seat, which will probably draw a crowd: ten years ago, the last time an open Senate seat came up, nearly thirty hopefuls – elected officials and perennial candidates alike – took their shot at the brass ring. Eventually surviving the primaries were Rep. Ben Cardin and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, with Cardin prevailing by ten points on Election Day.

The 2016 version of this scrum may bring three Democratic House members together, as Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen are already in and Elijah Cummings is thinking about it. (In turn, this will make next year’s General Assembly session interesting as several state legislative members consider the vacated seats.) On the other hand, the GOP side is currently occupied by Richard Douglas, who ran in 2012 but finished second in the primary behind Dan Bongino, onetime Ehrlich administration lawyer Chrys Kefalas, disabled Navy veteran Anthony Seda, and Szeliga. There is also the possibility Harford County Executive (and former State Senator) Barry Glassman may get in, according to this piece at Maryland Reporter.

Some suspected Maryland’s lone Republican member of Congress, Andy Harris, would make a bid but it appears he’s backing his onetime chief of staff. “I know her to be a tough, smart woman from Baltimore who’s not afraid to take on the political establishment to get real results for Maryland families,” said Harris in a statement.

Meanwhile, it didn’t take long for the candidate to fire up the e-mail appeals. If this is her basic message, she seems to riding the populist wave (as opposed to full-throated conservatism.) Here’s a sample.

We have a paralyzed government incapable of solving even our most basic needs. I for one can no longer standby (sic) waiting for those we’ve sent to Washington to solve our problems, because they haven’t. And I’m not naïve enough to think I can just ride into the Senate on a white horse and do it all by myself. It’s going to take a lot of new people who aren’t professional politicians to step up – average citizens with college degrees and others without. Goodness knows, they can’t be any worse than the gang running things now!

Deep in our hearts, most of us – regardless of political preferences – believe in the promise of America and the power of the American Dream. We are agents of change motivated by our love of God, family, state and country. We want to rediscover a way of life as it used to be; when things really did work.

I want to serve in the US Senate to champion those forgotten Americans who are decent, responsible citizens yearning for the opportunity to work hard, pay the bills, raise a family, live a full life and yes, dream again what we seem to be losing – the American dream.

Unfortunately, when she comes to Salisbury tomorrow I can’t be there, so I’m doing the next best thing and sending my cub reporter. I think Cathy will give me the coverage I need as a vital race begins to take better shape.

2015 Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner in pictures and text

Last night about 120 people enjoyed hearing from both Sheriff Mike Lewis and Congressman Andy Harris, as well as words of wisdom from our sixteenth President. Here he waits his cue to walk into the gathering.

For me, this year was a little different as I subbed for our treasurer, who usually checks people in at the door. So I saw pretty much everyone who came in – actually, on my arrival I stopped Salisbury City Councilman-elect Muir Boda and his wife from going to the wrong floor. We were literally the first three there.

So by the time Lincoln and his band of Union irregulars arrived, we had a pretty full house.

It should be noted that most of those present were from Wicomico County, but we also had contingents from surrounding counties as well as a table from Montgomery County. We also had state leaders from the Maryland Federation of Republican Women and state GOP Chair Diana Waterman.

Now because I was wrapping up my duties with a couple stragglers, I didn’t catch all Lincoln had to say. But I recall he spoke about the press of the day, how candidates were vetted in an age when communication was becoming faster but still could be measured in months, and compared how voters were informed and educated then to now.

I finally got to relax, eat, and enjoy what Sheriff Mike Lewis had to say.

Lewis praised the Salisbury University College Republicans for their involvement, saying they “have to speak up” as representatives of their generation. Next year’s election will be “the most important day of our lives.”

Reflecting on his fairly recent fame – he just returned from a speaking engagement in Fresno, California – he noted they were trying to recruit him to run the Fresno Police Department but he had no desire to leave Wicomico County. “I’m extremely humbled” to be sheriff, said Lewis.

Mike pointed out that gun violence in Maryland was on the increase despite the passage of Senate Bill 281 in 2013, which he added was promoted by the sheriffs in both Baltimore City and County. So far in 2015, though, shootings have increased in Maryland from 725 to 1,161 while homicides have risen from 314 to 459. “Thank you, Governor Martin O’Malley,” said Lewis, tongue firmly in cheek. The sentiment of “thank God for Larry Hogan” was much more sincere.

Lewis blamed “failed Denocrat leadership” for the woes in urban areas like Baltimore, Chicago, and Detroit. On the other hand, Lewis believed America needed statesmen in order to return our liberty and restore us to being the land of the free.

Turning to the drug issue, Lewis called State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello “a tremendous partner” in the drug fight. It’s a fight which has struck home for many in the area – Lewis has a 38-year-old niece who he had to lock up again for possession. “She doesn’t want our help,” said Lewis. He also related the story of the grandson of a terminally ill man who removed the elderly man’s morphine drip and stuck it into his arm.

Politically, Lewis believed we needed to identify key people to represent “Eastern Shore values” in our government. “I’m so concerned about the lack of patriotism” in this country, said Lewis, calling on us to “make sure you vote right.”

Lewis yielded the stage to Congressman Andy Harris, who was praised for being “incredibly optimistic” by Wicomico County GOP chair Mark McIver, who served as the emcee for the event.

Harris picked up Lewis’s baton on the drug issue, saying we needed to “do all you can” to keep drug legalization from the Lower Shore. The District of Columbia “made a big mistake” on marijuana, added Harris. While the merits of medical marijuana were up for debate – Harris seeming to be on the skeptical side – his fear was having a workforce too stoned to be productive.

Changing gears, Harris noted that the “true blue” states of Massachusetts and Maryland now had Republican governors. He chalked it up to a situation, more specific to Maryland, where “government has failed them entirely.” Electing GOP leaders was “no accident,” he added.

Showing his optimism for 2016, Harris said, “I think things look good, actually.” He also believed our late April, winner-take-all primary was key in an election where he noted Karl Rove thought there was the possibility of no candidate having enough delegates to win on the first ballot.

Andy went on to speak about the Republican field’s diversity, pointing out Ben Carson was “the most serious African-American candidate” in history. This was intriguing because Carson, who Harris said he’d known since the early 1980s, was the “farthest person from a politician you could ever get.” Moreover, with two Hispanic candidates the possibility was there to secure 40% of the Hispanic vote, which was the fastest-growing minority bloc.

As for the U.S. Senate race here in Maryland, on the Democcratic side Harris described Chris Van Hollen as “the consummate insider,” while Donna Edwards was “to the left of Bernie Sanders.” Elijah Cummings could get in the race, but there was the issue of his reaction to the Baltimore riots. “You own it, Mr. Cummings,” said Andy.

Harris then revealed that Delegate Kathy Szeliga would be here in Salisbury Thursday afternoon as part of a statewide tour to promote her U.S. Senate bid. If she wins, said Andy, “Maryland is no longer a blue state.” He called Szeliga “the Joni Ernst of Maryland,” referring to the Senator from Iowa elected last year. “We can’t keep doing business as usual in Washington,” concluded Harris.

Despite the previous admonition by McIver that neither Lewis nor Harris would take questions, Harris took them anyway. First out of the chute was how Paul Ryan won him over.

Ryan was an “excellent” choice for Speaker, with Harris arguing he’s “not a moderate.”

But this led to a more philosophical answer, with Harris believing Ryan could unite the House and re-establish the “natural tension” between the legislative and executive branches, rather than the artificial battle between parties that Barack Obama and Harry Reid took advantage of to amass power for the executive branch. He opined that legislation from the House will be conservative, even with some Democratic amendments, but this was a way to make the House united.

The way John Boehner did things, contended Harris, was “not the way to do business.” He used that example to answer the next question about government shutdowns, saying that you can’t embararass the Senate into action with just a few hours to act. Ryan would work to do things in regular order, which puts the onus on the Senate to act.

Harris then answered a question about why Congress is held in such high disregard by the rest of government by claiming “bureaucracy has become the fourth branch of government.” He called on the next GOP president to be “merciless” in cutting bureaucracy.

Finally, in answering a question about VA treatment, Harris made the case that a veteran from Princess Anne shouldn’t have to drive by a care facility in Salisbury to go to a VA clinic up in Baltimore. When an average VA visit costs $250 compared to $65 to $85 in the private sector, “it is time we privatize” VA health care.

(Funny, some guy I know wrote a book three years ago with that same idea, among others. But I wasn’t standing behind this podium.)

One other aspect of the LDD worth mentioning is the silent auction, where we had a table full of items from books and gift baskets to experiences such as lunch at the Capitol Hill Club or shooting with Harris or a State House tour and lunch with Delegate Carl Anderton, among many others. That turned out to be a success, too. I thought I had a photo of that spread but turns out I didn’t. Oh well.

The SU College Republicans also did some fundraising, doing a pay-per-vote poll for President and selling T-shirts.

We may stay with this fall date next year, although it may wait until after the election – meanwhile, we may do a second fundraiser in the spring/summer. It turned out to be a good event to continue building on, so we shall see how we ended up doing when the bills are paid.

Fast track bill bounces back to Senate

June 23, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Fast track bill bounces back to Senate 

By Cathy Keim

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is alive and well due to political shenanigans to keep it going. When the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill was voted down by Democrats hoping to block TPA, the game was supposed to end. However, Speaker Boehner is determined to work with Majority Leader McConnell in the Senate to present fast track to the president.

Part of what makes this so confusing is that the Republican-controlled House and Senate are working overtime to present the Democratic president the gift that he has been longing for: more authority to pursue multiple trade bills with Congress only able to vote the deal up or down. Why would the Republicans be feverishly pursuing this goal?

The obvious answer is that free trade is so important that any way of achieving it is worth making any sacrifice. That may be what they are telling you, but it just isn’t true. There are plenty of ways that this deal could lock the US into untenable trade agreements. Currency manipulation, immigration, patent and copyright issues are just a few of the areas that could turn against American workers.

Even when you look at the Maryland delegation’s votes, you will see strange bedfellows. First, take our two senators who split on the issue. I cannot find a statement by Senator Mikulski about her vote, but she voted no. Since she is not running for office again, she does not have to worry about offending the president.

Senator Cardin voted yes after he introduced an AIPAC backed amendment. AIPAC states:

On April 22, the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to include an amendment targeting harmful anti-Israel trade and commercial practices in the “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority bill. The amendment, authored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH), addresses efforts by foreign governments to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. It also directs that one of the principal American objectives in upcoming trade negotiations will be to discourage trading partners from taking actions that would limit U.S.-Israel commerce.

I can understand why Senator Cardin would want to defend Israel when the current administration has shown real hostility towards them, but one has to ask if this is shortsighted on the Senator’s part. Giving the same administration fast track authority when the president has shown little interest in adhering to any restraints put upon him, may in the long run turn out worse for Israel. Perhaps Senator Cardin would do better to vote no and stop the whole fast track process.

Only one other representative from Maryland voted yes on TPA and that was Congressman John Delaney of the 6th Congressional District. He stated in a press release that:

Right now, two things are happening: 1) Congress is considering a bipartisan agreement that instructs the President on trade negotiations and begins the deliberation process for a new accord and 2) China is working on their own regional trade agreement. I support giving President Obama Trade Promotion Authority because it will give the President the tools he needs to negotiate the best trade deal for America and our workers. For the first time, the bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority package includes groundbreaking environmental and labor standards and provides unprecedented human rights protections. The Trade Promotion Authority Package gives President Obama new ways to enforce these standards to make sure we’re not having a race to the bottom that drags American workers down. So it’s either going to be our country setting the terms for trade or it’s going to be China. I want our country, our government and this President setting the terms of international trade, not China.

Congressman Harris of the 1st Congressional District voted no. His Facebook page states:

Thousands of citizens in Maryland’s First District contacted my office regarding bills on trade that were recently considered in the House. Today, I voted against the Trade Promotional Authority (TPA) bill for a second time. Representing your views are of the utmost importance to me and it is truly an honor to serve the people in the First District.

He did not listen to his constituents about CRomnibus or voting out Boehner as Speaker of the House, but this time he heard us loud and clear and responded as we asked. I wonder if that is because former Delegate Mike Smigiel has announced that he is opposing Andy in the primary next April?

Representatives Donna Edwards (4th District) and Chris Van Hollen Jr. (8th District) are both running for the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikulski. Edwards is running to the left and Van Hollen is obliged to move left too. Van Hollen explains his reasons in a letter to Rep. Levin.

He lists multiple concerns such as currency manipulation, increased investor lawsuits, workers’ rights, environmental issues and more as his reasons for voting no.

Representatives Ruppersberger, Sarbanes, Edwards, and Cummings all signed a letter to President Obama explaining why they were voting no on TPA.

For some time, members of Congress have urged your administration to engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the numerous issues being negotiated.

(snip)

Beyond traditional tariff issues, these include policies related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, competition, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, e-commerce, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.

(snip)

Congress, not the Executive Branch, must determine when an agreement meets the objectives Congress sets in the exercise of its Article I-8 exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade.

Representative Steny Hoyer is the Minority Whip. He voted against TPA because:

Trade Promotion Authority legislation lays the foundation for how we approach trade policy as part of our overall economic strategy, and we cannot look at trade simply on its own. We must consider all the elements that affect American workers and jobs.

(snip)

Our workers deserve policies that boost our competitiveness and place us at an advantage in global markets, making it easier for them to get ahead.

He then lists a whole smorgasbord of expensive programs that he wants for the workers.

The reasons for the votes cast vary from constituent demands, to fear of China, to wanting more spending, to defending Israel and to pursuing a Senate seat. Some of the reasons I can agree with while others, like wanting the Export-Import Bank renewed, are not acceptable. However, on this important vote I am happy to have the Democrats join with as many Republicans as will stand against TPA.

Keep on calling and prodding your senators to vote against TPA. The cloture vote is expected today, with the final vote coming tomorrow. If the bill survives cloture, it will likely pass, so the ball is now in the Senate’s court.

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