Mills gives thanks

For a guy who was a first-time candidate against a 12-year incumbent, Dustin Mills ran a good race. He thanked his supporters yesterday.

Having taken the time to reflect upon the election, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone for their support.  Although the election did not go quite as I would have liked, I am pleased with the effort put forth and I know that we worked hard.  However, nothing I did would have been possible without the support of many people.  They are too many to name, but they know who they are.  Without my team, and those who supported me, I would never have come close to getting as many votes as I did.  I also wanted to thank everyone who voted for me.  I know you believe in what I had to say and I only wish we could have done more.  Even though I did not win, I look forward to continuing the fight for what is right in Maryland.  I will continue to work hard to make Maryland better and I hope everyone will work with me.  I am humbled by your confidence in me and thank you for voting for me.  Let us continue to work hard and we will make Maryland a better place!

Dustin should get around 3,800 votes when all is said and done, and that’s not bad considering he was outraised this cycle by about a 4 to 1 ratio (not to mention Cane had about $50k to play with from before) and received no PAC money, unlike his opponent who got money from the SEIU ($1,000),  trial lawyers association ($500), and SEIU again ($1,000) among other groups which normally back incumbents regardless of party.

And he’s the kind of good, young conservative candidate the GOP will need in the coming years so it doesn’t seem like the loss is too discouraging to him – although I would have liked to see him break 40 percent as he did in Wicomico County where both live…it was the 25% in Dorchester that let him down.

We can only guess what redistricting may do to this district, but given the statement by Cane that this will be his last term Dustin is well-positioned to try it again in four years assuming he remains in the district once the Democrats are finished with it. (If Rudy is done, it will be interesting to see what he does with the $50k he has left.)

So I don’t see this as a goodbye, but just a breather. We didn’t pick Dustin as the top young Republican in Maryland 2 years ago to see him lie down.

Words to the wise

Just a little something before bed, from Dick Morris:

The danger, here, is not overconfidence, but under-confidence, and that Democratic incumbents who could be defeated will skate to victories. Despite a massive victory in the offing for Republicans, there could be great gnashing of teeth when they see how narrowly some of the icons of the Democratic Party are reelected.

I take this to a local level as well, because I tell people I’m greedy: I want the Eastern Shore of Maryland red from the Susquehanna to the beaches of Assateague. That means we keep the General Assembly seats we have and wave goodbye to Rudy Cane, Jim Mathias, and Norm Conway – men who talk conservative when they are here but vote like good, docile little liberals once they’re back up Route 50 about 100 miles. Democrats should be an endangered species here because what have they done for us?

And before you answer that question, consider what genuflections they’ve had to do to the rest of the state to get our crumbs.

I moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004 convinced it could be a boom area; a place where the rural character could be maintained but the enjoyment of a resort area was easily within reach. We have most of the tools we need to succeed, with the possible exception of a highway or rail system more conducive for moving goods to the markets of the Northeast.

Yet in the time I’ve been here it seems we have gone backwards, and for that I blame the state’s leadership. The concept of ‘One Maryland’ seems to be that of coddling the I-95 corridor at the expense of our more rural areas. Sure, we are a fairly small percentage of the state’s population and probably always will be unless we strike gold under this peninsula we call home. Still, we seem to be stuck in what I call ‘flythrough country’ – the Baltimore and DC slickers fly through on their way to their beachfront condos.

I believe in walking the conservative, limited-government walk as well as talking the talk, and most Democrats I know (there are exceptions, but none of them are running for these offices) can’t do both.

So let me return to that quote. In Dustin Mills, Charles Otto, Marty Pusey, Mike McDermott, and Michael James we have a great team who would stand up for our part of Maryland. It’s sort of amazing that all of them have the potential to learn and grow as state legislators simultaneously under the tutelage of our area stalwarts Rich Colburn, Addie Eckardt, and Jeannie Haddaway, leaving us the potential of a decade or two of solid representation.

Beginning Friday, those of us who claim to be conservative can’t be lured by the siren song of ‘oh, Jim Mathias is such a nice guy’ or ‘Norm Conway is head of the Appropriations Committee.’ As I see it, that and five bucks will get you a sub at Subway. (If those two raised it, chances are it was raised at a big-bucks fundraiser coordinated by someone across the bay anyway.) It’s time for our representation to reflect who we really are, and we are not so easily seduced by the power games being played in Annapolis. Instead, we stand up for principles like limiting government, creating jobs, and allowing us to give each other a helping hand without the nanny state stepping in.

People have had enough, and I want to see the Eastern Shore come home to its conservative roots. It’s time to finish the job Rich Colburn said he began about three decades ago and paint the Eastern Shore all red. We can do better, and given the chance, we will.

Autumn Wine Festival 2010 in pictures and text

Call it the invasion of the politicians. However, it was a well-attended event thanks to the good weather.

I took this photo about 2:30 on Saturday – despite the cooler, windier conditions there were more people who came on Saturday. The first picture below came from in front of the stage around 3:30 Saturday, the next one down was from 5:30 Saturday, and the last 3:15 Sunday.

As you can see, the AWF was a well-attended event. Of course, being an election year that means a lot of politicians were there too. I’m going to start with the Democrats, who were well-represented Saturday because part of their statewide ticket was present.

Along with Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (center in above photo with blue shirt), Congressman Frank Kratovil was also here to shore up his support. Here he’s pictured with Wicomico County Councilman Sheree Sample-Hughes.

While the lady next to him was much more camera-shy, County Executive Rick Pollitt was also gladhanding Saturday morning.

He was standing next to the Democrats’ tent, which served as their home base for the event. Much like a walkaround in Crisfield, the Democrats did a brief tour around the Wine Festival.

You really can’t miss those nearly day-glo green O’Malley shirts, much as you might like to. But they had their table full of info as well.

Needless to say, there were other Democrats who made time over the weekend to do some campaigning and perhaps drink a little wine. Among that group was County Council hopeful David Cowall (left-center in picture below) along with Orphan’s Court Judge candidate Peter Evans, who was a fixture at the festival.

District 38B Delegate candidate Gee Williams came over from Berlin on Sunday to shake some hands as well.

I didn’t get a picture of her, but also looking for votes was Patrice Stanley of District 37B. And lest you think the GOP didn’t get into the game, here are the two current ladies who represent that district, Addie Eckardt and Jeannie Haddaway. They’re joined by one of my volunteers, Woody Willing.

The other District 37 Republicans were present, too. Here’s Rich Colburn talking to County Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich.

Rounding out the District 37 slate was Dustin Mills (left) with his campaign manager Mark Biehl.

Two other state candidates from District 38 were in the house as well – in the first picture, Mike McDermott made sure to keep a sign with him. Below that, fellow District 38B hopeful Marty Pusey (left) was campaigning with a friend Sunday.

Of course, county GOP hopefuls were represented too. County Council at-large candidate Bob Culver stopped by our tent to say hello. Stevie Prettyman did too, but I didn’t get her picture.

Perhaps topping everyone, though, was this guy, Matt Maciarello.

He didn’t use our tent as a base since he had his own, cleverly bringing to the crowd’s attention some key endorsements.

Our tent was a little more low-key, with part of the reason being the heavy wind – less stuff to chase!

Bob McCarroll and Leonard Jett (pictured) are two of my helpers who I need to thank for their efforts. I also owe a shout of over the last two weekends to Mark McIver (for the tent), Ann Suthowski, Greg Belcher, Woody Willing, Ryan Hohman, Bob Miller, Bob Laun, and the Jesters (Jim, Cindy, and Shawn) for their assistance.

I also had fun with some of the photographic opportunities and wanted to give some free advertising to the people who make GREAT ice cream!

I just liked the way the banners looked from these two. It’s worth noting that the Cygnus tent had a minor collapse with Saturday’s winds; fortunately, no one was injured.

Bottle shots make a nice and colorful still life – these are from Far Eastern Shore Winery.

This one appealed to me because of the round shadow created by the large tent behind me and the perfect sun angle.

Finally, a sun-dappled reminder of the whole point of the event.

Given the attendees present, I think a growing number did and will.

CAR/Chamber forum part 1 (District 37)

Like the changing of leaves, it looks like forum season has arrived. One week after county candidates got into it at the FOP gathering, a more calm exchange was had last night at Wor-Wic Community College. Since there were fourteen hopefuls gathered last night, I’m going to split the posts and make one focused on District 37 candidates while the other covers District 38.

As with the FOP gathering, the sheer number of officeseekers included didn’t give a lot of opportunity for questions; however, the group asking was relatively diverse and included local businesswoman Dawn Tilghman, Terrence Lee of WMDT-TV, and Jennifer Cropper-Rines, president of the Coastal Association of Relators (CAR). Susan Parker of the Daily Times served as moderator. After an opening statement, candidates had to answer one question from each panel member and, with six to eight candidates on stage and two minutes allotted, there was really little need to get questions from the audience (hence my first post on the forum last night.)

Because of how the forum was set up, I’m going to evalute each question and answer in turn rather than summarize what each candidate said as a whole. I run the risk of writing this in a more dry fashion via this method but I think it would be more informative. This begins with the opening statements.

Opening Statements

Richard Colburn put it simply – “I am a Shore Senator.” Delving back in history to when each county had a Senator and the Eastern Shore was a more powerful political force, he hammered on the Montgomery County delegation as a whipping boy for enacting onerous agribusiness and critical areas restrictions which harm the Shore. Colburn also claimed he “brought the two-party system to the Shore” by running and winning as a Republican in the early 1980’s.

Addie Eckardt cited her experience in the health care field and looked at her Delegate job as one of “educating folks on how to work the process.” This also involved the concept of building bridges and listening to different viewpoints. But her main focus was economic, telling the audience “whatever I can do to build the tax base is really important.” As examples, she pointed out the usage of enterprise zones and targeted investments.

Her opponent, Patrice Stanley, believed the district was “fairly stagnant” so she jumped into the race. A former official in the Clinton Administration who now works for a public policy firm, she called for more accountability in education because local districts are “lagging”, a renewed emphasis on vocational training, and modifying the tax base.

Dustin Mills “chose to make this home” after a childhood spent in a number of different locales as the child of a military family. The Salisbury University graduate, though, feels the main issue plaguing the district and state is that of job creation. “The stimulus money is not going to get it done,” said Mills, who believes it’s time to reduce the tax burden on businesses and would bring a fresh perspective and attitude to Annapolis.

Chris Robinson recounted how he served as a legislative assistant and chief of staff to former Congressman Roy Dyson. Of course, he believed “we can do a lot better on the Shore” and criticized his opponent for failing to make the Shore attractive. He could help improve our quality of life, Robinson claimed.

Before he was elected, his race was a victim of taxation without representation, or so Rudy Cane claimed. Citing his Eastern Shore background as the “connection” which makes him dedicated to his district, he opined that our region was an “imtegral part” of Maryland.

Dawn Tilghman asked a question on onerous inspection practices affecting small businesses.

As a small businessman himself (law firm), Chris Robinson found the experiences he had with bureaucrats “troubling…I don’t think the law is intended to be a hammer.”

Rich Colburn thought the responsibility of the inspector was to assist small business, not to be punitive and fine them. Legislation may be necessary on how fines are administered.

“It begins and ends with attuitude,” said Dustin Mills, who pointed out that there’s more fines because the state needs the revenue.

Addie Eckardt was reminded by Mills’ remark about the spending affordability debate, and that legislative leaders seem to think the state’s economic solution lies in more government jobs – like inspectors. It leads to an “unbearable” punitive attitude.

Patrice Stanley agreed, and added that more aggressive regulations seem to begat less cooperative businesses.

This was a “prime example” of Maryland’s poor rank in business friendliness, said Rich Colburn, and what we need is “an even-handed, fair approach.” Small business can create the jobs if we allow them to.

On the same subject, Terrence Lee asked about how to help businesses grow.

We need to retain the jobs we have, said Rich Colburn, citing the implicit war against the poultry industry that Maryland is waging. Maryland farmers need to be kept competitive for this area to thrive.

Patrice Stanley agreed, and added we need to address state and county tax rates. She promised to work closely with the counties, and added that we should emphasize vocational training more.

Education and incentives along with a streamlined government were key ingredients, said Addie Eckardt, but she also stressed there are existing tax incentives in place and there are success stories out there, particularly in niche farming. It’s all in “how we put the package together,” she noted.

Rolling back the 2007 Special Session tax increases was a necessary part of helping business growth, argued Dustin Mills. Increases in the corporate tax and having a sales tax that puts us at a disadvantage to Delaware need to be addressed.

Rudy Cane pointed out the broadband system we enjoy could be used as an economic development tool.

A focus on education and safety while avoiding sprawl were items on the agenda of Chris Robinson.

With the increase in foreclosures, Jennifer Cropper-Rines wanted to know if lenders were intentionally avoiding transfer taxes by keeping homes in the original owner’s name, among other things.

When times were good, “Maryland was part of the problem,” said Rudy Cane. Thus, the state has to be part of the solution.

Home ownership is a proud milepost in the lives of young people, said Dustin Mills, but state hurdles like “smart growth” are “onerous and overbearing.” We need to promote home ownership by working with banks, developers, and homeowners.

Legislation hasn’t gone far enough in this area, said Addie Eckardt.

Patrice Stanley thought we should work with federal policy to help benefit the state. The modifications in place now were “too restrictive.”

A halt in foreclosures would “mess up the housing market,” said Rich Colburn, arguing that the market needs to find its balance point.

Chris Robinson actually answered the question directly to Cropper-Rines, arguing that saving a few hundred dollars in recordation tax was the least of lenders’ worries when they were staring at a market that features $300,000 houses going for half that price. This will be a “long lesson” for the parties involved as there is a wariness about buying right now.

Closing statements:

Rudy Cane told the crowd that he wasn’t in the General Assembly “just for a job” but because he had a love for the legislature.

There’s “so much anger…(it’s) so adversarial” in the public discourse right now, said Chris Robinson. We need to build bridges and work together to get things accomplished and that would be his attitude in Annapolis.

“I’m going up there to represent my people,” said Dustin Mills, who would mix criticism with solutions if elected.

Patrice Stanley cited her leadership and “forward thinking” as reasons she should be elected. Part of that was working with both parties in the best interests of the district.

Addie Eckardt countered that she’d been forward thinking for sixteen years and noted that at this “critical time…I have the relationships established” in the General Assembly. There’s no need to offer solutions where problems don’t exist.

Finally, Rich Colburn called the economy “the most important issue” and recalled his philosophy of fewer regulations and smaller government has earned him the endorsement of various business groups. He also cited his support of the numerous volunteer fire companies and municipalities in the district and called the 2007 sales tax increase “a severe blow” to the Eastern Shore.

My take:

Overall, this was the more tame of the two district forums. I know Cane and Mills have been more contentious on other occasions.

When you look at opening statements, they can be rather bland because most choose to spend time recounting their background. Generally, incumbents embellish what they’ve done and their opponents say the incumbents haven’t done enough. Overall, I liked the little history lesson Colburn gave and had to shake my head a bit at Cane’s “taxation without representation” statement. You have to wonder if he could win in any other district based simply on political philosophy.

Perhaps the thing which jumped out at me in answering the questions and in the closing arguments is that suddenly the Democrats want to work together with the Republicans and be more bipartisan. However, I think the attitude Rich Colburn condemned from the Montgomery County delegation is the one that the Democrats who come from the Shore would eventually adopt. They would sooner cross the street than talk to Republicans about solutions, simply because Democrats have unchecked power at the state level and have had it for much of the last 100 years. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it – Democrats talk conservative in the district but vote liberal in Annapolis.

As you’ll see in the District 38 debate, I have some who agree with me.

Eight (years) is enough

Yesterday a Howard County Delegate candidate announced he was spearheading a drive for term limits in the Maryland General Assembly; however, he was only giving himself eight years to do so.

A group of six other co-signers flanked Ed Priola of Columbia, who is running in District 13, while nine others committed to signing the Term Limits Pledge electronically as they couldn’t attend the Annapolis gathering. Of the sixteen initial signees, all but one is a Republican and none are currenltly in the General Assembly. “It is my earnest hope to see all of the participating candidates in Annapolis for the legislative session in January, at which time we will form the first Term Limits Caucus and introduce our legislative proposal,” said Priola.

(continued on my page…)

Of local interest is that both District 37A candidate Dustin Mills and District 38B hopeful Mike McDermott signed the pledge electronically.

I used to be against term limits – and there are some good, compelling arguments to state that case – but in this day and age of politics as a profession I think they’ve become necessary. If they are good enough for the executive branch they should be adopted in the legislative branch as well. As for the judicial branch, well, to turn a phrase, for me the jury is out on that one.

But if I didn’t think what Priola was doing wasn’t newsworthy I would have skipped it.

Mills focuses District 37A campaign on small business

It’s always a struggle to upend a 12-year incumbent from the Maryland House of Delegates, but first-time candidate Dustin Mills may have found the Achilles heel of current Delegate Rudy Cane by focusing his efforts on small business and job creation.

Despite the fact Mills currently works as a teacher and coach for Wicomico County Schools, he believes his strategy for incubating business on the lower Eastern Shore is a sound, time-tested one.

(continued on my page…)

District 38A hopeful gathers gun endorsements

AFP co-chair Julie Brewington read from remarks she prepared and preposted on her website.

One can’t quite call her Maryland’s answer to Sarah Palin yet, but District 38A hopeful Julie Brewington is holding her own with the boys insofar as getting endorsements from Second Amendment groups goes.

The most recent ones in her bag come from a coalition of groups including Maryland Shall Issue/Citizen’s Defense League of Maryland, and the Maryland State NRA Rifle and Pistol Association.

(continued on my page…)


Now for the remainder of my take on this.

I’m certainly glad that Julie is a defender of Second Amendment rights and I have little doubt about her conservative credentials considering who she supports and the body of her work on her blog Right Coast.

But it doesn’t always work that way among people who vote single-issue. For example, the same group which endorses Julie is also endorsing Delegate Joseph Vallario, Jr. (D – District 27A) and Delegate Rudy Cane (D – District 37A). Vallario chairs the House Judiciary Committee, where bills like Jessica’s Law went to die until a vast outcry finally forced him to relent and bring the bill out. Cane regularly votes with big-spending I-95 corridor liberals on economic issues, which outweigh the limited good he does on Second Amendment-related items. (For my money I think Cane challenger Dustin Mills would likely be as good or better for Second Amendment stalwarts and certainly more friendly to our local business interests.)

However, I did notice that the coalition specifically states:

Our vote recommendations are based upon 2nd Amendment positions only. When both candidates would benefit the 2nd Amendment community, we suggest that each voter consider other criteria in the Primary Election. These critia (sic) would include the voter’s personal knowledge of the candidate, candidate’s experience, past performance, and especially the candidate’s “electability” in the November General Election.

I would hope that this coalition comes to its senses regarding other issues once November’s endorsements roll around, and perhaps in cases where there is no primary they simply omit the candidate in question until then.

A list of tax raisers

This is an extended version of an article I feature today on my page. Feel free to read it as I get takes on the proposed “dime-a-drink” tax from three candidates for Delegate: John Hayden, Dustin Mills, and Marty Pusey, along with State Senate candidate Chris Jakubiak. He and Hayden favor the tax while Mills and Pusey are opposed. Then come back for my argument on this.


John makes some good points, but there are two items he didn’t consider. One is that sin taxes generally don’t bring in the revenue promised, and even the fiscal note for the 2010 Senate bill notes, “to the extent that the tax increases proposed by the bill result in a higher incidence of cross-border sales activity than is accounted for in the estimate, revenues would in turn be lower than estimated. This would most likely apply to the sale of distilled spirits, since these sales are likely to be more price sensitive than the others.” State beancounters estimated the tax would raise over $200 million but if they count on the revenue and it doesn’t come, who will make up the difference? We will.

Secondly, where does the taxation stop? As proposed, this would be a nearly sevenfold increase in the tax on distilled spirits, over sevenfold jump in the wine tax, and raise the beer tax by a factor of nearly thirteen. If passed, Maryland would have the second-highest tax on distilled spirits and highest taxes on wine and beer in the nation. Is that a way to portray being business-friendly?

What makes me even more incredulous is that Hayden would be representing a district where a significant percentage of that tax would be raised – walk into any Ocean City nightspot during the season and you would see hundreds or even thousands of patrons with a drink in their hand. It’s a highly competitive environment and these businessmen don’t need to give consumers any excuse to take their dollars up to Delaware (where drink taxes are also high but lower than those proposed.)

And while John advocates the drink tax, he stops short at raising the cigarette tax.”Any increase (in the cigarette tax) would be an unfair and harshly punitive tax on addicted smokers,” he said. And a drink tax would be different?

But the largest difference may be in philosophy. Where is it decreed that the government needs to pay for health insurance anyway? Hayden argues that the funding for these programs has to come from somewhere, but perhaps the better question lies in the need to have some of these programs at all. There’s no question that some in society need assistance, but does that funding really need to be from the government and does it need to come in a form which enhances Maryland’s reputation as a high-tax state?

It’s worth noting that many of those who signed the pledge are incumbents, but even for this noble cause they couldn’t be bothered to even have a committee vote on the bill last year – probably because they were afraid to back any tax increase in an election year. If they can’t stand up for principles even though the cause is so right in their eyes, why should we listen to them?

AFP meeting features seven candidates

It was a crowded agenda and pair of banquet areas at Brew River last night. Over 100 people jammed in to hear District 38 Senate hopeful Michael James, House of Delegates District 37A challenger Dustin Mills, and the five candidates who are seeking to take over the Elmore seat in the House of Delegates (District 38A.)

There were a few items of local club business to take care of first, though, and chair Joe Collins bemoaned the loss of his former cohort Julie Brewington, saying  “I lost my right arm.” (Brewington was present, though, as a candidate for Delegate in District 38A.) Missing was the usual PowerPoint presentation club members were treated to as Collins said, “learning time is over.” It was time to put what we’d learned in about a year into action.

Barry Oehl of the Worcester County AFP filled us in on a proposed television commercial, which would be produced for free – donations were being solicited to secure airtime locally. T-shirts were also available, with proceeds going toward the effort. (The Eastern Shore TEA Party Patriots also have shirts for sale.)

Dave Schwartz of the state AFP opined that early voting is “really going to be helpful for the conservative cause.” (I beg to differ, but…) He stated his case by asking how many of us would vote in the next hour if the option were there – most raised their hands, including me. Dave continued by pointing out that early voting allows conservatives to get the word out, frees up campaigns to reach out to other voters, and would reveal in rough numbers how turnout was going – for example, it would be big news if Republicans and Democrats had similar total turnout given the GOP’s 2:1 registration disadvantage.

Daryl Ann Dunigan introduced herself as a representative of Conservatives for Maryland and will be working with college students and other youth in the region.

While a large number of candidates were in attendance (for example, all four GOP candidates from House of Delegates District 38B and County Executive hopeful Joe Ollinger were there along with a sprinkling of other local hopefuls) the bulk of the time was spent listening to District 38 Senate candidate Michael James.

To James, the “race really is about experience,” but his experiences were different than his opponent’s. Key issues for him were to reduce our state’s debt, cut spending and taxes, and create jobs. He blasted the millionaire’s tax as “a complete failure” and suggested that “incumbents tend to be reactive.” As examples he used the fight to get Jessica’s Law passed and the lack of effort toward job creation in 2006 through 2009. Once this election year rolled around these and other items suddenly became priorities.

Since the meeting was billed as a “job interview” there were plenty of questions.

Michael took a question on deregulation of utilities and turned it into a treatise on overregulation itself, which he claimed “is trying to drive out jobs.”

But on a Second Amendment question, he stumbled slightly when he claimed he was for the right to carry with the proper license but the questioner followed with the point that any such restriction could be construed as an infringement. Michael conceded that was a valid point.

More palatable to the gathering was his answer on an immigration question – James does not support amnesty and believes Arizona Governor Jan Brewer “has done a great job” fighting for SB1070. “Maryland needs a similar…or tougher law,” said Michael.

Other questions dealt with bread and butter economic issues like taxation (“I will work my butt off to lower tax rates,”) free market principles, and government waste (there is “tons of room for consolidation” in the state budget.)

In short, he stated, “My campaign is about making Maryland more friendly to business (and we need to) elect people who have actually created jobs.” Under his leadership, the Carousel Hotel in Ocean City has gone from receivership and 8 employees to a thriving enterprise with over 300 workers.

A shorter session was held for Dustin Mills, who told those attending that “I’ve had enough…sick of being taken for granted.”

Among his key points was having a state government which was too laden with state employees; the large number of unfunded positions in the budget is a slush fund that’s “criminal” and “wrong.” Our sales tax was “killing” the Eastern Shore because of the large differential between Maryland and sales tax-free Delaware. And the state was taking too much from local government for their own needs – 95% of the gas tax which was supposed to revert to county government was instead confiscated by the state and a funding mechanism from fire insurance policies to local volunteer fire departments was almost all taken to help the balance the budget.

Since he currently works in the education field, Mills had sharp criticism for the school system – “what’s going on is outright criminal.” Mills would work to establish more local control and eliminate maintenance of effort requirements. Dustin also equated agriculture with small business, and questioned the amount of impact environmental regulations on Maryland farmers would have when just 15% of the Chesapeake watershed lay in Maryland.

“My faith lies in you” and not government, Dustin concluded.

I had the first question out of the chute, asking Dustin what issues were resonating with the large minority community in his district. He cited education and taxation as the two key issues, as minority-owned small businesses are also affected by the poor business climate. Also, Dustin is a “strong supporter” of the Second Amendment with “limited licensure.”

But the best question came from a constituent who asked how he’d be better than incumbent Delegate Rudy Cane? Mills cited his bad voting record and no dialogue with the voters in the district as areas Dustin would improve upon.

The five candidates from District 38A took the spotlight next. But since the hour was growing late, the format was limited to an opening statement and one question on how the candidates would work with being part of a minority. (Most likely, this wouldn’t apply to Mike McCready, but he is portraying himself as a conservative Democrat so would presumably vote often with Republicans.)

Julie Brewington got into the race at the last minute because, “what I saw wasn’t anything I could vote for.” As the former AFP co-chair, she called the group “my inspiration” and played up her outsider status by noting the House of Delegates was, “supposed to be for the common working person.” We could “take back our government,” said Brewington, and there are “too many ‘go along to get along’ people” in Annapolis. As for working in the minority, Julie believed “in my heart we are sitting on an abyss of change” and asked citizens to “work with me.”

Touting his experience, John Cannon was concerned “this (Eastern Shore) livelihood will be threatened” and called Annapolis leadership “cavalier” as they continued “ripping the guts out of local government.” To him, we were dealing with an issue of “taxation without compensation.” Among his attributes, he called himself conservative, pragmatic, and results-oriented – “I am a representative.”

Answering the question about working with the majority, Cannon suggested he had “no problem working across party lines” but wouldn’t compromise on principles. He would think out of the box and take initiatives where needed, and model his approach on the successes of the Eastern Shore delegation already there.

A born-again Christian and NRA member, Mike McCready also spoke about his experience in agriculture as a member of Delmarva Poultry Industry and operator of eight chicken houses. He’s also served two terms on the Somerset County Commission and touted that body’s financial success – in eight years the property tax rate had declined from $1.01 per $100 to 88.3 cents. “That is fiscal responsibility,” said Mike. Part of the belt-tightening was instituting a hiring freeze; on the other hand, they didn’t need a maintenance of effort waiver for county schools.

But he didn’t forget from where he came, stating “farmers are the backbone of the Eastern Shore,” and that “we cannot afford to put the watermen out of business.” McCready thought the best way to work with his fellow Democrats on certain issues was to “have a proposal in your own mind, too” and seek out allies to a rural point of view.

Charles Otto is also a farmer; in fact he has served as the president of the Somerset and Wicomico Farm Bureaus. That experience working on the outside of the political process to “create things we can live with” fueled his desire to get on the inside and become an advocate for land use issues and respecting private property rights. Otto answered the question about being in the minority by citing the need for finding allies in the General Assembly which hail from rural areas. But “the biggest issue we’ll face is monetary,” concluded Otto.

John Phoebus is “very happy AFP is playing a role in politics.” He “never imagined” he’d run for the House of Delegates but the loss of Delegate Page Elmore “left a huge void.”

Yet John also said he was “fed up” with what he saw coming from Annapolis, describing it as a “wholesale assault on Eastern Shore values.” The General Assembly is “out of touch,” Phoebus said, and 2010 was a “great opportunity to make a change.” Referring to the 2005 Fair Share bill that affected Walmart and may have cost Somerset County a distribution center, that “red-headed Eskimo” measure was proof we “need people who believe government isn’t the answer” in the General Assembly. Since it’s “not likely the GOP will take over” in the General Assembly, we need to work with like-minded members from other rural areas. (Otto cited Phoebus’s previous answer in his own, as the panelists answered in reverse alphabetical order.)

Michael James and Dustin Mills were also allowed to answer the question posed to District 38A hopefuls, with James stating the need to be proactive and “intelligently bring people to our side,” while Mills echoed Brewington’s earlier statement to not “go along to get along.” Instead, he would be a vocal advocate even if it means being a minority of one.

Needless to say, it was a lengthy meeting, taking over two hours to wrap. But those who stayed became much more informed about their alternatives in this election.

WCRC meeting – June 2010

Things were once again a little different at tonight’s meeting due to recent events. Of course we did the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance to start, but after those recitations we heard from John Phoebus.

While Phoebus is in the running for the late Page Elmore’s District 38A Delegate seat, he’s suspended his campaign for a few days due to Elmore’s death. So he came to us not as a candidate looking for votes but a man paying tribute to a former client and man of stature in Somerset County.

John praised Elmore’s work ethic, which he described as one of picking out small bills and using their cumulative effect to bring about change. A “selfless” man and member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee in the House, Elmore fretted about leaving the House post to pursue a Senate seat once Lowell Stoltzfus announced his retirement because of his House seniority and ability to get things done there. And there wasn’t a waterman Page didn’t know; they were a group who could count on Elmore to advocate for them in Annapolis.

Elmore was described by club president Marc Kilmer as having a manner which wasn’t the manner of a typical politician. After we observed a moment of silence for Page, the May meeting minutes were read and we heard another solid financial report.

Even Dustin Mills, tonight’s featured speaker, noted that “words can’t describe what (Page Elmore) meant to the Shore.”

Dustin Mills is running for Delegate in District 37A. Photo: Mills campaign.

Mills, who’s jumped into the race for Delegate for District 37A, called the incumbent the “quietest, most liberal” member of the General Assembly. While I could argue that point based on voting record, Dustin’s criticism of Rudy Cane avoiding tough votes bears out to be correct more often than not. Out of 96 votes I’ve detailed on the monoblogue Accountability Project from 2007 to 2009, Cane missed 16 votes – including 9 in the 2007 Special Session.

While Mills isn’t a native of the Eastern Shore, he graduated from Salisbury University and didn’t follow many of his classmates off the Eastern Shore – “I intend to stay here and do what I can.” Among his key issues are the wasteful spending in Annapolis, for which he cited an “out of control” state government. There are $140 million worth of unfilled positions in the state budget, continued Dustin, which served as a “slush fund” to move or cut as needed. And why is the state running (and losing money on) two golf courses?

Instead of doing away with unnecessary spending, Democrats in Annapolis may want a tax increase next year – “the wrong approach,” stated Dustin. In the meantime, they raid county coffers to assist the state’s budget crunch. Mills contended the counties are smarter stewards of money than the state and county money should be county money.

On the other hand, Mills would emphasize a more business-friendly approach than his opponent, whose party’s leadership has declined Maryland’s standing in the business community to the third worst in the country by “overregulating and overburdening small business.” His solutions would be to repeal the 2008 sales tax increase, lower corporate taxes, and reduce the unemployment coverage rolls to only include people who are actually unemployed. This, Mills argued, would make the state more business-friendly and (presumably) make up the shortfall a static analysis would assume happens when taxes are decreased. In the real world, lowering taxes leads to greater economic activity.

In addition, Dustin also advocated an automatic “maintenance of effort” waiver for education spending if a county’s unemployment rate was above a certain percentage.

Another effect of the anti-business attitude exhibited by Annapolis was a “brain drain” of college graduates who can’t find work on the Eastern Shore or in Maryland proper. In short, Mills argued that “this (anti-business) attitude has got to stop.”

Turning to another local industry, agriculture, Mills criticized the “ludicrous” treatment of farmers by Annapolis, wondering why Eastern Shore farmers are blamed for the condition of the Bay when a large percentage of the water off Maryland’s shores comes from Pennsylvania.

To conclude his initial remarks, Mills compared his faith in the individual to his opponent’s faith in government. Rudy Cane was “out of touch” with his district, concluded Dustin.

Perhaps the most interesting questions asked of Mills had to do with the immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland – a group which Mills remarked “needs to go.” To that end, Dustin would cut its funding and work to disallow “sanctuary cities.” (Good luck with that in Takoma Park – luckily it’s not part of the district.)

But Dustin also told us we “need to aggressively seek out employers” in response to a question on job creation and stop the overaggressive enforcement some truck drivers endure regarding another’s query.

According to Mark Biehl of the Lower Shore Young Republicans, the recent state YR convention “turned out really well.” Their chapter was picked as the state’s best for the second time in three years and the aforementioned Dustin Mills was given a lifetime achievement award for his work so far. (Good thing he doesn’t rest on his laurels.)

Their next meeting, July 14th at the Chamber of Commerce Building (where the WCRC meets) will be a political roundtable and the public is invited.

A simple Central Committee report from John Bartkovich stressed there were still open positions on the GOP primary ballot and we would need volunteers for the Farm and Home Show on August 19-21.

Woody Willing added that we should get silent auction items for the Crab Feast on August 28th “quickly.” He didn’t want a crush of items August 27th.

Brief candidate updates came from Joe Holloway (County Council District 5), Gail Bartkovich (County Council District 3), William Smith (Orphans’ Court Judge), and Ryan Hohman, who hasn’t had the opportunity to withdraw yet because of a demanding work schedule.

Ed Nelson of Andy Harris’s campaign pointed out that Andy had been visible locally, attending two AFP meetings, the Young Republican convention, and a farmer’s breakfast over the last few weeks. Harris also had an “extremely successful” local fundraiser a couple weeks back.

Comparable fundraising success was related by Sean Jester, who’s assisting with Mike McDermott’s campaign for Delegate in District 38B.

M.J. Caldwell wanted to say a few words about the late Sam Vincent, who was “one of the most honorable men you’d ever meet.” In order to give all local voters a say in the State’s Attorney race, the longtime Democrat had recently switched parties; then again, Caldwell called Vincent, “a Republican who never switched.” M.J. also commended Vincent’s “deep loyalty” to the office, speculating there must be unresolved issues there which convinced Vincent to run against his boss.

The question was asked about our club donating to the charities of choice of Elmore and Vincent, which will be a matter for the club’s executive board to solve at a meeting soon – basically it’s a question of how much we feel is appropriate.

Our next meeting is slated for July 26, when candidate for Governor Brian Murphy is slated to speak and attempt to win converts to his side.

A thought or two on Page Elmore

I pretty much knew this was coming, probably sooner than later. But a number of people have weighed in on the passing of Delegate Page Elmore, according to this Daily Times report. Additionally, candidate for District 37A Delegate Dustin Mills wrote:

I had the pleasure of knowing Page and working with him on several occasions; he was a man I considered a mentor and friend. I always admired the way he carried himself and the easy manner in which he spoke with both opponents and friends. While we did not always agree, Page was truly a stalwart leader in Annapolis. He always represented his district well and was a strong representative for his constituents. He was a man many admired, despite their political affiliation. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Elmore family in their time of grief.

Personally I wouldn’t say I was a great friend of Page’s, but I did appreciate how he would make sure to greet me at those events we were together at. He didn’t come across as phony as some politicians do, probably because he made a living as a businessman and his political life was how he spent “retirement.” Some may feel it’s a shame that Page didn’t take it easy in his waning days but then again if retirement is the time to do that which you love it’s obvious he loved what he did.

Certainly one can find fault with his voting record (Lord knows I did as he voted with I-95 corridor Democrats far too much on key items) but it’s true that you’d be hard pressed to find someone who valued constituent service and the county he represented as much as he did.

Perhaps, though, Elmore’s death at the age of 71 represents the beginning of a changing of the guard in local politics. Of the eight representatives who serve us locally, only two are under 60 years of age (Jim Mathias is 58 and Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio really bends the average at 33 years of age.) Otherwise, we have Rudy Cane (76), Norm Conway (68), Addie Eckardt (66), and Richard Colburn (60). The retiring Lowell Stoltzfus is also 60 years of age. Some of these incumbents face challengers who are many years their junior, a group which includes the aforementioned Mills. At 26 Dustin may represent the greatest age difference between challenger and incumbent in a state race.

With a strong chapter of Lower Shore Young Republicans coming into their own (as well as younger Democrats) the next couple cycles may see a complete change in the local political makeup. It’s a change that can’t come soon enough in a number of cases.

Political season heats up like the weather

Last night I made it to two events which prove the passion is already there for a heated electoral campaign.

A number of candidates made it out to the local AFP meeting last night, which benefitted from not having Salisbury’s answer to “Sideshow Bob” drawing attention to himself and his well-publicized feud with one of the local AFP co-chairs.

An overflow crowd made it to last night's Americans for Prosperity meeting, including nearly a dozen local candidates.

We had sort of an unusual start, as Joe Collins talked about and played the Martin O’Malley radio advertisement which accused Bob Ehrlich of being a friend of Big Oil. He then played Ehrlich’s video response and also introduced the audience to fellow GOP hopeful Brian Murphy through another video.

Joe also addressed one critic as he said, “I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.” Instead we should do our own research and come up with our own comclusions.

A number of candidates then were asked to come up and introduce themselves briefly.

While Mike Brewington told us briefly his campaign was about taxes, Rob Fisher took a couple minutes to introduce himself and tell us he was “outraged” by the scope of government. He definitely took advantage of the “few seconds” asked of hopefuls.

Dustin Mills noted the “state of the state is deplorable” and that Rudy Cane has “nothing to show” for 12 years of service. Fellow Delegate candidate Mike McDermott told us “you deserve better” in Annapolis, while Mike Calpino explained we “need a philosopical change in the government.”

I also found out Orphans Court Judge Bill Smith was seeking another term, which surprised me since I was under the impression he was retiring.

Giving brief reports on Wicomico County and Salisbury City Councils were Matt Trenka and S.J. Disharoon, respectively.

While Trenka spoke about the “success” of getting one night meeting per month for County Council, there was also the disappointment that Council’s budget amendments failed to pass so the County Executive’s budget proposal stood as the FY2011 spending plan for Wicomico County. Trenka also called a letter from Delegate Rudy Cane regarding the Council’s cuts as “inappropriate” because it cast the cuts in a race-based light. “(We’re) not racist, not hateful, just no longer silent,” concluded Trenka.

Disharoon spent much of his time lamenting the spending at the city’s wastewater treatment plant, which may end up costing taxpayers as much as $130 million to repair as promised – the newly-hired engineers were “pretty sure” this would work, explained a dismayed Disharoon. He also stated that annexation “has got to stop,” at least for residential areas.

The featured speakers were Bill Satterfield of Delmarva Poultry Industry and Joe Ollinger, who’s running for County Executive.

Bill Satterfield of Delmarva Poultry Industry speaks at the Americans For Prosperity meeting, June 23, 2010.

Satterfield made two key points during his remarks.

First he explained the economic impact of the poultry industry on Delmarva – the 14,700 jobs which are directly created by poultry producers lead to 100,000 jobs indirectly. Just the feed bill for these birds is $850 million, noted Bill.

Yet legislation which singles out the poultry industry seems to be all the rage in Annapolis and Washington. Laboring under “nutrient management plans” and a “pollution diet” already, the growers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed may find life even harder due to special regulations affecting only them (as compared to other regions like the Carolinas.) But agriculture was the only sector making progress toward the goal of cleaning up Chesapeake Bay – urban and suburban areas were lagging behind.

Ollinger went through a brief biography, some history of his community involvement, and the five planks in his platform (being a taxpayer advocate, pay for performance, safer and more disciplined schools, appointing the Board of Education, and combining the county’s law enforcement agencies.) One thing I didn’t know is that he’d worked in the mid-1990’s on a study to consolidate various county functions, including law enforcement. Joe has also spent nearly a quarter-century on the Mayor’s Roundtable discussion group.

Joe Ollinger, candidate for Wicomico County Executive, makes his pitch before the Americans for Prosperity meeting, June 23, 2010.

He answered a number of audience questions, with the most contentious being the prospect of a school board being appointed by the County Executive vs. elected by the voters. Ollinger saw it as an extension of his function of creating the overall budget, but when John Palmer asked for a show of hands on the issue supporters of an elected school board far outnumbered those in favor of Joe’s approach.

With regard to a “hands-on role”, Ollinger said the incumbent, “missed the boat on what the County Executive’s job is,” using the job to be an administrator rather than as a leadership role.

As far as combined law enforcement, Joe believed that the debate would have to occur as a community; for example, Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton is against the idea because Salisbury prefers its own police force. “I think one law enforcement agency would better serve and better protect the citizens of this county,” said Ollinger.

The key to getting jobs in this county, answered Ollinger to another question, is improving certain areas of our infrastructure (electricity, natural gas, fiber optics, and wireless accessibility) and our school system. While he doesn’t have control over jobs, he does have control over those aspects which attract businesses.

Ollinger also promised to attend more County Council meetings than the incumbent, particularly when the budget was being discussed.

Afterward, those candidates who had attended held an impromptu meet-and-greet. Included in that group were Ollinger along with Congressional candidates Rob Fisher and Andy Harris, Delegate hopefuls Mike McDermott and Dustin Mills, Maryland Senate hopeful Michael James, and County Council aspirants Mike Brewington, Joe Holloway, Mike Calpino, and John Cannon. Karla Graham, who represented Brian Murphy, was also there.

Harris and James were a little late because previous to the AFP meeting was a fundraiser for Maryland Senate candidate Michael James, which featured Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman.

It looked like well over 75 people were in attendance for Michael James's fundraiser last night.

Allan stressed the importance of getting 19 Senators – “we fight hard, but it’s just not doable sometimes (with 14 Senators)…(Bob Ehrlich) doesn’t want to be Governor with less than 19 Senators.” It was a case of either being at the table or on the menu.

Current Senator Lowell Stoltzfus, who is retiring, broke his silence on endorsing his successor until after the July 6th filing deadline – “I’m here.” He also related a story Jim Mathias told about himself and his first vote, leading to a question of whether Mathias would follow his principles based on his thought process prior to that initial vote. (It’s nothing new, I’ve heard the story from Mathias too.)

James himself felt the seat needed to be filled by someone “who had created jobs,” noting that under his management the Carousel Hotel had gone from 10 employees to 300. He also harped on a regular theme of being proactive rather than reactive. As for measures to help local business, “one thing we ought to focus on is knocking that sales tax to where it belongs – or lower.”