A look ahead: 2017

Last year I did this in three parts, but to me that may be overkill this time around. Consider that 2017 is not an election year, so if anything we will not see much on that front until the latter stages of the year as the campaigns for 2018′s state elections ramp up. And because all but one of our local officials are first-term representatives in their respective offices, it’s likely they will wish to continue in office. Bear in mind, though, on the Senate side longtime House member Addie Eckardt will be 75 and Jim Mathias (who is in his second term as Senator after one-plus in the House) will be 67 by the time the next election comes around, so they are likely closer to the end of their lengthy political careers than to the beginning. And thanks to Wicomico County voters who passed the referendum this past November, 2017 will be the year we formally set up the elections which will net the county its first fully-elected Board of Education in late 2018.

Speaking of the local BOE, we still have an appointed board until that election and the two members whose terms expire this year are both Democrats who are term-limited. I suspect the local Democrats will try and send up names of people who will run for seats in 2018 to gain that incumbency advantage – as envisioned, though, these will be non-partisan elections. And the final say goes to the state Secretary of Appointments, who over the years hasn’t always been kind to those we preferred, either. Or, conversely, since the incumbents serve until their successors are appointed, we may see a long stalling technique, too. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, but I’ll bet those who are appointed will use that tenure as a springboard for eventual election.

Elsewhere in Wicomico County as 2016 comes to an end, it appears the city of Salisbury and Wicomico County are working out their issues rather well. The biggest sticking point remains fire service, and it’s relatively likely the city is going to see more of a reimbursement from the county when it comes to that – perhaps to the tune of up to $2 million a year. It’s possible there may be something to cut to make up for this, but as the county has increased its debt in the last few years to build several schools it leaves less room for spending cuts to make up the difference. If the city receives $2 million annually that would equate to about a 3 or 4 cent property tax increase for county residents. There’s also the chance that a tax differential or rebate may be on the table in order to reimburse city residents, as they pay the same tax rate as county residents. Wicomico is one of only three counties in the state that choose not to provide a tax differential to their municipalities.

But there is another factor to consider. Back in June the number of people working in Wicomico County set an all-time high of 52,010, eclipsing a mark that had stood for nearly a decade (July 2006.) That record lasted a month, as July came in at 53,668. While the number of jobs has finally reached where we were a decade ago, bear in mind the labor force is about 1,000 larger – so unemployment is in the 5.5% range rather than 4%. Even so, that extra number of people working – a number which year-over-year between 2015 and 2016 has fluctuated quite a bit but usually comes in at 1,000 or more additional workers in 2016 – means there’s more revenue to the county from income taxes so paying the city of Salisbury may not be such a heavy lift. The question for 2017 will be whether these economic conditions continue and whether Wicomico County will want to spend every “extra” dime on items which are unsustainable in rougher economic times.

That same question goes for the state, but the trend there has been for more spending. Democrats in the General Assembly added millions in mandated spending to the state budget and it’s a sure bet they will try again this year. Add to that the general belief that year 3 of a Maryland political cycle sees the most ambitious agenda put forth – it’s time for those incumbents to bring home the bacon and burnish their re-election chances the next year – and you can bet that paid sick leave will pass, Radical Green will have its day (perhaps with a fracking ban, which would devastate Western Maryland), and any Hogan veto will be promptly overridden. It’s certain that they will leave enough time in passing these controversial bills to do so. We’ve already seen battle lines drawn with the counter-proposal from Governor Hogan on paid sick leave and the social media-fueled drive to repeal the “Road Kill Bill” that Democrats passed over Governor Hogan’s veto in the spring of this year.

The wild card in state politics, though, comes from national politics. It’s not because we had the well-publicized answer to an extremely nosy press – if only they paid as much attention to some of Martin O’Malley’s foibles and scandals! – that Larry Hogan wasn’t going to support his (nominally at best) fellow Republican Donald Trump, but the idea that Donald Trump may actually do something to cut the size and scope of government. (Military contractors, particularly, have reason to worry.) And because Maryland’s economy is so dependent on the federal government, to a shocking and sickening degree, we know that if Trump begins to make cuts it will hurt Maryland the most. Given the typical bureaucrat CYA perspective, it explains perfectly why four of the five jurisdictions Trump did worst in - the only five which came in below his 35% statewide total – were the four counties closest to the District of Columbia (MoCo, PG, Charles, and Howard. Baltimore City was the fifth.) While I am entirely a skeptic on this, there seems to be the belief that Trump will take a meat cleaver to the budget and thousands of federal and contract workers will be cast aside because of it.

And in a situation where revenues are already coming up short of forecast, a recession in the state’s biggest jurisdictions, coupled with the mandated spending Democrats keep pushing through, will make it really, really difficult on Larry Hogan going into 2018. You will be able to judge who has the most ambition to be Governor by who carps the longest about these cuts.

While the Dow Jones stalled this week in an effort to breach the 20,000 mark by year’s end, the rise in the markets echoes consumer optimism - even as fourth quarter GDP forecasts turned a little bearish, consumers still feel a little better about the state of our economy. If we can get the 4% GDP growth Donald Trump promised we may see some of these fiscal crises take care of themselves.

Yet there was also a sentiment in 2016 that the world was going mad: consider all the terror attacks, the seemingly unusual number of and extended shock over high-profile celebrity deaths, and a general turning away from that which was considered moral and proper to that which fell under the realm of political correctness, wasn’t a “trigger” and didn’t violate the “safe spaces” of the Millennial “snowflakes.” (I can’t resist linking to this one I wrote for The Patriot Post.) At some point the pendulum swings back the other way, but in most cases that takes a life-changing event like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. I’d prefer a much softer transition but a transition nonetheless.

As I see it, the key word for 2017 will be leadership: if the current elected officials and new President have it and use it wisely to the benefit of our county, state, and nation “so help me God” things will be okay. If not, well, we’ve seen that movie for about eight or ten years already and we will continue to slouch toward Gomorrah.

A potential power grab?

In 2004, Wicomico County voters adopted a system of government that would be led by a county executive, scrapping the former system where County Council had both legislative and executive powers. One reaction from this: all four of the incumbent Democratic members of County Council opted not to run for re-election in 2006; however, the first County Executive elected was Democrat Rick Pollitt.

In 2014, we had the first transfer of power between parties as GOP standard-bearer Bob Culver ousted Pollitt, who was running for a third term. At the same time, County Council maintained the 6-1 GOP edge it had received in 2010 – that was an increase from the 4-3 control they won in 2006 with only two members from the previous Council surviving the election.

So you can perhaps chalk it up to management style, or maybe the turnover on County Council over the last eight years has placed a crop of people on there who long for the old system, but Wicomico County voters are facing a bewildering array of issues on their ballot. So let’s start with the no-brainers.

Question 1 is a statewide issue that compels the Governor to appoint a new Comptroller or Attorney General from the same party as the one most recently elected and provides for a special election in a Presidential year if the vacancy occurs soon enough.

You’ll notice that this was never a problem until a Republican was elected to the governor’s chair. In fact, the last time the state had a Republican AG was in the term of Republican Governor Theodore McKeldin (1951-1959), who appointed Edward Rollins to the post to finish out the term of Hall Hammond, a Democrat elected in 1950 and promoted to the state Court of Appeals. As for Comptroller, it has exclusively been a Democrat’s position for well over a century. But maybe we could use a Libertarian as Comptroller or a Constitution Party member as Attorney General – until either can break the two-party duopoly, though, we would likely be stuck with liberal Democrats.

So because of the cynicism in addressing a problem (that really wasn’t) for strictly partisan reasons, I urge a vote AGAINST Question 1.

Question A, for Wicomico County voters, addresses the composition of the Wicomico County Board of Education. For years I have advocated for an elected school board, and after eliminating the political obstacles in the 2014 election, the path was cleared for voters to address the issue in the first three-way referendum in recent memory. Option 1 is to maintain the current appointed system, Option 2 is for a fully elected board, one each representing the five County Council districts and two at-large elected by all county residents (the same makeup as our current County Council), and Option 3 is for a hybrid board of five elected (one from each Council district) and two appointed by a locally-created board with confirmation from County Council.

Once again the cynical local Democrats have cast their lot with the fully-appointed Option 1, which provides no shortage of irony considering it’s the least democratic process. It seemed more logical that they would be for Option 3, which was the fallback position many preferred in the hearings conducted in the summer of 2015, before the enabling legislation passed earlier this year. But to maximize accountability, the best choice by far is Option 2 – a Wicomico County Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members elected at-large.

Now it gets very confusing. There are nine county charter amendments on the ballot, and to me their net effect seems to be that of reducing the power of the county executive and shifting it to County Council. I wasn’t here for the 2004 vote, but it seems obvious to me that the county wanted a strong leader and a legislative County Council.

Let’s begin with Question B and its related cousin, Question D. Both would require a special election: Question B to fill a vacancy in the County Council, and Question D for the County Executive. However, either vacancy would only be filled in this manner if it occurred within the first year or so of the term, which seems to me a rather pointless change. Having gone through this process as a Central Committee member back in 2011 (to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Bob Caldwell) I can tell you that a special election would do no better and cost the taxpayers money to boot. Thus, the proper vote is AGAINST both Question B and Question D. (Editor’s note: Councilman Marc Kilmer clarifies the intent of these questions in comments below, but I still think the ballot language is misleading. Their idea of a “special election” coincides with the scheduled primary and general elections, which is not made completely clear in the ballot summary.)

Question C deals with vacancies as well, but it’s a common-sense measure to extend the time allotted for filling positions from 30 to 45 days and have them submitted at a legislative session. This extension makes sense as County Council only meets twice a month, and having gone through the Caldwell vacancy the extra time is good for getting things right. Vote FOR Question C.

Question E removes the authority of the County Executive to select a temporary successor and assigns the task automatically to the Director of Administration. While it’s likely he or she would do so anyway, the option should remain open for the head of our government to choose. We do not have a vice-executive here, so why create one? Vote AGAINST Question E.

Question F deals with the idea of “acting” appointments, and limits their term to 90 days unless Council chooses to re-appoint them. Since the idea of “acting” is that of being temporary, this proposal makes more sense than most of the others. Three months is generally suitable to find a permanent replacement, or determine that the “acting” head can handle the job, so go ahead and vote FOR Question F.

The final four questions seem to me very nit-picky, and obviously County Council’s reaction to not getting their way on various issues.

For example, Question G gives a specific definition to “reorganization” which is much more restrictive toward the County Executive. As I see it, this is a separation of powers issue and it’s strange that we went nearly ten years without ever having to deal with this problem. So I call on voters to say they are AGAINST Question G.

Questions H and I most likely are a reaction to the County Council’s desire to have its own lawyer. Currently the County Attorney represents both the County Council and County Executive, but Council wanted to change that. I see no reason to do so, nor do I see the logic behind forcing the County Executive to recognize a personnel system established by Council as authorized by this change. Thus, we should vote AGAINST Questions H and I. (Editor’s note: Again, see Kilmer’s comments below. By charter my assertion is correct in who the County Attorney represents; but in the county today there is an “acting” County Attorney while Council retains its own, which they are entitled to do. I see no reason to change the system if Question F is passed.)

Finally, we have Question J, and that’s the one I was most on the fence about. But what weighed my decision in the end was that the County Executive is responsible for the budget, so if County Council decides to cut something out it should be the County Executive’s call as to where the money goes rather than simply placed in a particular account. For that reason, a vote AGAINST Question J is the appropriate one.

So this is the monoblogue-approved ballot for Wicomico County voters. We all face the same questions and issues.

  • For Presidentwrite in Darrell Castle/Scott Bradley
  • For U.S. SenatorKathy Szeliga
  • For Congress – I did not make a formal endorsement. If you like Andy Harris, vote for him; if not, vote for the Libertarian Matt Beers.
  • Judge – Based on the fact Dan Friedman was an O’Malley appointee, vote AGAINST his continuance in office.
  • Question 1 – AGAINST
  • Question A – Option 2, the fully elected school board
  • Question B – AGAINST
  • Question C – FOR
  • Question D – AGAINST
  • Question E – AGAINST
  • Question F – FOR
  • Question G – AGAINST
  • Question H – AGAINST
  • Question I – AGAINST
  • Question J – AGAINST

For those of you across the line in Delaware, I weighed in on your state races as well.

Before I wrap up, I just ask that you all pray we make the best choices. We all have to live with what we decide, so choose wisely. After the election, it will be time to create the understanding many among us lack when it comes to making these selections because, in a lot of cases, we all have botched the process badly.

A nation divided against itself cannot stand.

WCRC meeting – June 2016

June 29, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men? It applied to last night’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting, as the expected legislative wrapup from the remaining non-participants in our May meeting were those slated to speak this month. Unfortunately, the MML conference and a Hogan fundraiser took precedence for those candidates, so it actually fell on a somewhat unexpected guest to deliver a few off-the-cuff thoughts on the session: Delegate Charles Otto, who came up from Somerset County to speak with us. As he was originally elected in 2010 in a district that then included a portion of Wicomico County, he’s considered us his constituents despite the fact he was redistricted out for this term.

Thus, once we took care of doing the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and treasurer’s report, we heard Otto’s assessment that “we have a challenge this year” in electing our President and U.S. Senator. On the latter race, Otto praised his colleague, saying of Kathy Szeliga that “I can’t think of anyone better to fill that position.”

As for the legislative session, he felt that we had “a lot of threats” in the 90 days, but “I think we fared well.” Efforts to mandate paid leave and a minimum wage increase were rebuffed, and while he termed the Justice Reinvestment Act ”a decent bill,” he admitted it was one of the hardest votes for him to consider in his six years on the General Assembly. To a degree, the same was true for the budget, which was more spending growth than he would have likely preferred.

Otto also believed that the transportation bill will be a “big hurdle” to overcome in the coming years, as it favors larger jurisdictions. But local development may be helped by the Triton unmanned aviation program, which is being considered for Wallops Island. Charles noted it has bipartisan support from all three Delmarva governors, who understand the economic impact this could have locally.

But Otto didn’t have an answer regarding a question about the aging school program and $80 million that was supposed to be included. It was a question brought up by John Palmer, who sits on our local school board. I chimed in with a somewhat rhetorical question about the many funding mandates Democrats seem to be adopting to tie Governor Hogan’s hands when it comes to the budget – could we do a reverse BRFA and try to get rid of them? It made for some discussion, and I was thanked later for bringing up the point. (Perhaps I need to save it for a Democratic Club meeting if I ever go to one.)

For being placed on the spot, Delegate Otto did a nice job, so we turned to the Central Committee report from Mark McIver. He noted that the Secretary of Appointments had selected two new Board of Education members who sounded like fine additions, but both of them applied directly to the Governor’s office. None of the five we interviewed, including the incumbent who desired another term, were picked. Yet McIver was “hopeful” about the selections, noting the Appointments office contacted him regularly through the process with questions.

But now it was time to work on the school board referendum, said Mark. It would involve creating a political committee to promote the fully-elected option.

We also learned Mark has tickets to the upcoming Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield and our committee’s next meeting would be pushed back until July 11 thanks to the Independence Day holiday.

Jim Jester revealed ”we’ve made progress” on the Crab Feast: we have secured the all-important one-day beer license. Now we just have to get approval from the health department, after he found out he filled out the obsolete old form that was online and was given a longer, more complicated new one.

Shawn Bradley updated us on Third Friday, which “was a nice surprise” with plenty of involvement as the Republican Club has tried to maintain a table there each month. This month they had the political realm to themselves as the Democrats apparently weren’t there.

Our next piece of business was a lengthy discussion about where to place a headquarters this year and how to pay for it. It will be a joint effort between the club and Central Committee, with a number of locations under consideration.

A contingent from the Republican Women of Wicomico was present to speak on their annual Constitution Day celebration on September 17 at City Park. Former Delegate Mike McDermott is the featured speaker, and the festivities will begin early: a 10:30 a.m. start is planned since Somerset County will be celebrating their 350th anniversary that day in Westover, as Delegate Otto pointed out. (It was also noted that we were sitting in what once was Somerset County; that is before it was split along Division Street in Salisbury and Fruitland to first create Worcester County to its east. Both then ceded territory in 1867 to create Wicomico County. So I stand corrected since Somerset preceded Worcester.)

We then found out from John Palmer that Wicomico County Board of Education meetings would soon be streamed online thanks to the PAC14 website. The eventual idea is to allow real-time involvement from those watching.

Finally, we were alerted to a townhall meeting Congressman Andy Harris would be holding tonight (June 29) at Black Diamond Catering in Fruitland from 6-7 p,m,

In less than an hour we had taken care of our business and become more informed. Next month we go off the political board a little bit as our speaker will be Mitzi Perdue. That meeting will come July 25.

WCRC meeting – April 2016

We had a good gathering for our primary eve meeting, buoyed by the presence of the families of the winners of our annual scholarship contest. Three things that were missing at the start, though, were three of our officers so Second Vice-President Shawn Bradley got things underway with a little assistance from me. Fortunately, we do pretty much the same thing as an introduction every month so we made it over those bumps in the road and heard our Central Committee report first.

County Chair Mark McIver announced we were still seeking applicants for our two upcoming Board of Education appointments, although we already had 5 with their information turned in. He also reminded us that the end of this process could be at hand, as the bill allowing us to vote on whether we wanted an elected school board was passed by the General Assembly. Jackie Wellfonder revealed the signing ceremony was slated for tomorrow, with Governor Hogan signing the Senate version sponsored by Senators Jim Mathias and Addie Eckardt.

He also spoke about the voter affiliation drive to allow people to vote in our primary. It was a multi-prong push combining a mailing, letters to the editor, and advertising in local media. I noted that the effort had worked to some extent – according to Board of Elections statistics, I recalled the GOP had gained about 400 voters in March, the Democrats about 250, and unaffiliated voters falling by about 250. (Actual numbers as I looked them up just now: Republicans +398, Democrats +261, and unaffiliated -247. We also lost 5 Greens and 18 “other” but gained 9 Libertarians.)

Mark also allowed Nate Sansom to speak. On his behalf, we are planning to bring a resolution to the Spring Convention asking for electoral votes in Maryland to be awarded to the winner of each Congressional district instead of all ten being winner-take-all. (Maine and Nebraska have such a system.) As I pointed out, it’s only fair after the way Democrats gerrymandered our state.

McIver also announced he would be hosting a pig roast fundraiser on June 11, and it was likely several state candidates may be there to help the Wicomico GOP.

Ed Senkbeil, representing our scholarship committee, had the honor of presenting two local seniors WCRC Scholarships. Taylor Creighton of Mardela High School and Jessica Willey of Parkside High School were the two winners. Creighton will be heading off to Clemson University to study in the field of genetics, while Willey will be studying psychology at Washington College. Both of them gave brief introductory remarks and did well for an impromptu engagement.

We then heard from our featured speaker: the incoming president of the Maryland College Republicans, Patty Miller of Salisbury University.

After Miller introduced her successor as SU chapter president, Shelby Hall, she remarked that the College Republicans were “on the front lines of dealing with liberal college students.” Under her leadership of the SU chapter, they had become active in local and state campaigns and recently hosted an address by Ben Shapiro, a writer, editor, and author perhaps most famous for working at Breitbart.com until he resigned after the Michelle Fields incident.

It was interesting to learn that her maternal family has a rich heritage in politics. Miller’s mother is a native of Honduras, where her family was involved in the 2009 removal of President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ally of the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. Zelaya was ousted after attempting to circumvent a constitutional provision against serving more than one four-year term. These family ties made her “passionate about capitalism…the American Dream is still alive.”

As the CR state chair, she announced “I’m here to get stuff done.” She actually wasn’t originally seeking the office of president but a series of events led her to take the top position, which oversees 11 school-level chapters around the state – Miller would like to secure two others as well. She also gets a non-voting seat on the state party’s executive committee, although there is a proposal before the membership next month that may allow the CRs to have a vote once again.

After Miller’s remarks, we went through some business. Jackie Wellfonder had the list of polling places for sign placement, which would commence after the meeting. She also announced the newly-formed Wicomico Republican Women’s Club would host a “Welcome Back Reception for the Eastern Shore Delegation” on May 5.

Jim Jester let us know the Crab Feast will be September 10, once again at Schumaker Pond. His next step was securing the beer permit, but Muir Boda added we were seeking event sponsors for the first time to help defray the costs.

Nate Sansom was pleased to say the second meeting of the Wicomico Teenage Republicans was a success. Through his diligence, Nate was able to secure a phone visit from two local candidates: Anthony Seda for U.S. Senate and Jonathan Goff for Congress. He also received information from several other candidates to distribute, so these were well-informed TARs.

While we waited for 50/50 tickets to be sold as our last event, I asked Muir Boda to give us a City Council update. He had just come from the first budget meeting, where they were attempting to raise water and sewer rates. Muir also explained one of the budget priorities set out by Mayor Jake Day: the construction of a community center to host city-sponsored after-school programs as well as more immediate funding for a summer youth employment program. While the city of Salisbury would purchase the land and build the community center, funding for its operations would come from local non-profits.

Boda also noted that getting more highway user revenue from the state would assist in fixing some of the city’s worst streets, which have been neglected for years if not decades.

So while the meeting turned out to be less than an hour, several people stuck around to help with signs for tomorrow. If you ask me, the most effective ones should be the red Ted Cruz sign, the blue-and-white Richard Douglas sign, and the yellow-and-blue Andy Harris one.

Next month’s meeting (and yes, we will have a May meeting thanks to a late Memorial Day) will be May 23. It’s not official, but I think we are due for our annual legislative wrapup.

Another step toward an elected Wicomico Board of Education

February 18, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

With a unanimous 11-0 vote the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee passed SB145, the bill enabling us to vote on whether we will have a fully elected, hybrid, or appointed Board of Education here in Wicomico County.

Yet the bill didn’t quite pass unscathed. There was a minor committee amendment but it could have some impact at the ballot box come November. In the revised language, the first ballot question would now read:

Question 1: “For the current system, a Board of Education with Seven Members Appointed by the Governor”;

The underline in this case denotes language that was added. I suspect that could goose the total for that question a little bit; of course, if people really don’t like the current system they’ll now know what not to vote for so I suppose this is a double-edged sword.

Remaining amendments eliminated a redundancy in the law and extended the period to make appointments as needed from 30 to 60 days after a vacancy. All in all, though, the bill made it through the process reasonably well.

It’s also worth pointing out that the House version of the bill, sponsored jointly by the Wicomico County delegation, was introduced as HB1352. While it’s slated to have a hearing March 15, that slot could be filled by the House hearing of the Senate bill after it passes. Interestingly, the House bill is not considered a crossfile of the Senate bill because it was introduced with language similar to the Senate’s amended version regarding the ballot question. (It may be the House committee that makes the change and conforms with the Senate version or allows one body to recede since the difference is minor.)

It’s an encouraging beginning, but there is still a long way to go.

WCRC meeting – January 2016

If not for Jonas, this post probably would have had at least one photo of our former Republican governor Bob Ehrlich. But since our friend Jonas left him stuck across the bridge, in lieu of the book signing fundraiser we instead had a hastily arranged meeting to go over a handful of announcements, with the first one being prospective dates for rescheduling the event are March 7 or 14. Of course, that’s subject to change and as I brought up the former date would conflict with our Central Committee meeting. Jackie Wellfonder added that the event was nearly sold out, but there were still a few spots available.

(Historically there seems to be an issue with wintertime events featuring Bob Ehrlich here in Wicomico County.)

But anyway, the meeting announcement caught me by surprise since I hadn’t even gone through and compiled the minutes from the last one. Nor did we have a copy of the Treasurer’s Report, but interim treasurer Muir Boda had the excuse of having a meeting prior to this one. We were informed, though, that there were some changes to our accounts made necessary by the abrupt resignation of our previous treasurer and integration with the WCRC Paypal account.

Julie Brewington and I tag-teamed on the Central Committee report, which didn’t feature a whole lot. As a body we had done our post-mortem on the Lincoln Day Dinner and discussed having another “retreat” as we did last year.

Jackie Wellfonder informed us that the Governor’s Ball would be February 18. That brought up another question regarding how successful a couple local events turned out to be, with Jackie and Julie replying that Mary Beth Carozza’s fundraising event was “hugely successful.” Shawn Jester added that Andy Harris’s Fruitland town hall meeting was well-attended, without the drama of the subsequent Bel Air townhall.

Julie Brewington then noted the Republican Women of Wicomico group was growing, and its next meeting would be February 3 at Brew River. Muir Boda is the slated speaker for the 11:30 lunch meeting, with Mitzi Perdue set for the March meeting. She was “very optimistic” about the direction the group was taking. Julie also took a moment to announce she was the Ted Cruz campaign coordinator locally.

Marc Kilmer gave us an impromptu update on County Council, with the biggest issues right now being the capital budget and proposed mega-chicken house. The bulk of the capital budget borrowing would be going toward updating and upgrading the county’s radio communication system, to the tune of $11 million. As for the chicken house, which would be the largest in the county, Kilmer explained that the county really had no say on its construction and operation beyond the planning and zoning aspect – it would be an agricultural use in an area zoned for agriculture. Most of the scrutiny of its operation would come from the state, Kilmer added.

Kilmer also expressed his concern with negotiations with the county’s law enforcement officers regarding a proposed pension program, noting other counties have had issues with the costs.

There were a couple legislative updates given. I updated the progress of the school board bill (SB145), which has a hearing on Wednesday, while we also were alerted to the possibility the sprinkler bill (HB19) wouldn’t make it out of committee. (I checked on the latter, and found its scheduled hearing has been cancelled.)

In more mundane club news, we’ll have to look for a new Crab Feast chair and we discussed some planning items for the coming year.

Things to add to the calendar: The RWOW group is doing a paint night at Brew River on February 11 from 6 to 8, said Julie, while Jackie added that Bob Ehrlich is scheduled for another book signing event at SU, but there you don’t have to buy the book to attend (at a reduced cost.) She suggested we could support their February 15 event without buying the book then doing the WCRC fundraiser to get a copy.

Next month’s meeting will be a double dip: Walter Olson of the Cato Institute will discuss Maryland’s gerrymandering, while Anthony Gutierrez of the Wicomico Board of Elections will demonstrate the new voting machines. That meeting will be February 22. Sounds like a good one!

Odds and ends number 79

With the winds of Jonas howling around us last night, I decided it was a good night to clean out the old e-mail box. One result of that is the Liberty Features widget I placed in my sidebar. They have a lot of good content I use for these “odds and ends” posts as well as other content – that and once upon a time I was a writer for them. You just never know when doors may open back up.

On Tuesday last I alerted readers to the Maryland Senate bill that would allow Wicomico County to determine whether or not they want an elected school board. It’s doubtful they picked up on the coincidence that their hearing will occur in the midst of National School Choice Week. But we deserve a choice, so there’s just something appropriate about this – it may even occur during the #schoolchoice Tweetup occurring Wednesday afternoon.

Teachers may be gaining a choice in how they wish to be represented thanks to an upcoming Supreme Court case. Here’s hoping the side of right prevails and teachers are freed from paying excessive union dues to support political causes they don’t agree with.

And since a lot of my cohorts in the region are using their heat, it’s a good time to talk a little about all the energy news that’s been piling up. For example, energy writer Marita Noon recently detailed the Obama administration’s War on Coal. She quotes one Pennsylvania United Mine Workers officer who says, “Obama’s actions have alienated those who work in the industry from Democrats in general.” I think someday there may be thousands of workers in the green energy field, but for now the people who work in the coal mines are looking desperately for jobs.

On the other hand, if the government showers you with favored status, you have a golden ticket. Noon also wrote about the subsidies and rent-seeking that green energy company Solar City is in danger of losing in several states.

Our fracking boom has gone bust, though, since oil has approached $25 a barrel. Some of those furloughed employees could be rehired to pump oil for export, but this game of chicken between OPEC and American producers shows no sign of ending soon.

Those would-be workers could also be good candidates for rebuilding American manufacturing – if any jobs were to be had, that is. Over at the Alliance for American Manufacturing, Scott Paul notes:

I know I don’t have to tell you how important manufacturing is. More than 12 million Americans are directly employed in manufacturing, and many more are employed indirectly.

These good-paying manufacturing jobs are key to a healthy middle class. It’s no coincidence that the middle class is shrinking at the same time manufacturing is struggling.

Manufacturing certainly faced a tough 2015. There were only 30,000 new jobs created nationwide. We still only have gained back 40 percent of the jobs lost during the Great Recession.

They ponder what the 2016 Presidential candidates will do and invite you to ask for yourself (through their form letter, of course.) The valid question is:

What will you do differently? How do you plan to help spur manufacturing job growth and grow the middle class?

Perhaps Larry Hogan’s plan is one answer, although federal intervention may be needed to bring jobs back from overseas. Maryland, though, could create the conditions for growing new companies.

Finally, I wanted to give a shout out to a long-distance supporter of mine over the last several years, one who has decided to make the leap and run for public office. Jackie Gregory threw her hat into the ring for Cecil County Council back in November, running as a Republican in the county’s District 5. That district covers the central part of the county, from the town of North East south along the Elk Neck peninsula.

If you are in the area, she’s having a breakfast next weekend in North East so I would encourage you to drop by and give her some support. Cecil County has been an interesting subject to me for several years, with Gregory’s Cecil County Patriots group being an advocate for change.

So my 79th edition of odds and ends comes to a close as my heater kicks on again. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for summer. By the way, I also finally finished my updates to the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame so the page is back up. I’m not sure it’s odd, but it is the end.

The next step in the process

The half-decade or more process of securing a Board of Education in Wicomico County that’s directly elected by the people entered a new chapter late last week with the introduction of the appropriate legislation in the Maryland General Assembly. Senate Bill 145, with Senator Jim Mathias as lead sponsor and Addie Eckardt as co-sponsor, provides for the makeup of the board as well as a three-way referendum to be placed on this November’s ballot. It’s a relatively complex 16-page bill, subdivided into several sections because the sections which would actually become law are dependent on the results of the referendum.

To make a long story short, voters would face three choices in November, from which they can only select one:

  • FOR a Board of Education with seven members appointed by the Governor;
  • FOR a Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members elected at-large;
  • FOR a Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members appointed by County Council.

The method with the most votes wins, regardless of whether it is a majority or plurality.

SB145 was assigned to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs (EHEA) Committee and given a relatively quick hearing date of Wednesday, January 27. The EHEA committee has 10 members and is led by Chair Senator Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City and Vice-Chair Paul Pinsky of Prince George’s County. Other Democratic members are Cheryl Kagan of Montgomery County, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam of Baltimore County, Jim Rosapepe of Prince George’s County, and Ronald Young of Frederick County, while Republicans Gail Bates of Howard County, Johnny Ray Salling of Baltimore County, Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel County, and Steve Waugh of Calvert County also sit on the committee.

At the present time it’s the smallest committee with just 10 members (and a slim 6-4 Democratic advantage) because there’s one vacancy in the Senate. At some point it’s presumed that a Montgomery County Democrat will join the committee to be its eleventh member, but the bill will likely have its hearing and committee vote by then. (Former District 14 Senator Karen Montgomery resigned as of January 1.)

An interesting note regarding the makeup of the committee is that Conway and Simonaire represent counties with appointed boards, while Pinsky, Nathan-Pulliam, Rosapepe, and Salling represent counties with hybrid boards. Moreover, none of these committee members represent the Eastern Shore. It’s worth noting as well that Conway was the chair of EHEA when Caroline County got its hybrid board. It was Senator Conway, who represents a district several counties and a completely different way of life away, that deemed that Caroline County didn’t have sufficient minority representation with a fully-elected board, so if the initial all-elected option is scrubbed for Wicomico it’s likely her doing. (This despite the fact we have one majority-minority County Council district and two others with significant minority populations, out of five.)

So the goal is to make sure this bill gets through without being tampered with, but that will be difficult since we don’t have a local representative on the board. And remember: last year when we had a bill for a hybrid board, their excuse for stopping it was that only one of the two Senators were supporting it. Now both are sponsors, and thanks to the public hearings we know that a lot of support was there for the all-elected option as one of three choices. Anything less is a disservice to the people of Wicomico County.

Let the terror begin

For years I have dubbed the annual Maryland General Assembly session the “90 days of terror,” and with good reason: no wallet or personal liberty is safe when the statists who inhabit most of the seats therein get together. Over the eight years of the previous two terms we endured tax increases, spending boondoggles, and enough new regulations to choke a horse, not to mention three measures which were petitioned to referendum by angry citizens.

While a new broom swept the governor’s office clean last year, Larry Hogan needed to get his sea legs under him as he took the helm of the ship of state so he didn’t create a huge legislative agenda last year – in a broad sense, it was about easing some of the tax burden Marylanders had been subjected to over the O’Malley administration, including repeals of the rain tax and automatic increases in the gasoline tax. Other items Hogan focused on were charter school reform and public campaign financing, which were among the few items Hogan had passed.

So since Hogan didn’t get his tax relief last year, it’s the front and center item on his 2016 agenda that kicks off later today. Democrats, of course, believe shoveling money into a bloated public education system is more important than giving hard-working Marylanders a tax break.

Something else to keep an eye on, though, are the department-sponsored bills, which now will bear the stamp of Hogan’s departmental appointees. Just like the governor, this is their first full legislative session as well and I’ve noticed a number of interesting measures coming from various departments that have already been pre-filed.

But the tension will be thick as Hogan tries to enact the agenda he promised while Democrats strive to make sure he’s another one-term Republican governor. As of 2018, it will have been 64 years since a Republican was re-elected as Maryland governor; however, Hogan has began his term as one of the most popular governors in the country and this session will occur with the backdrop of a Presidential race in which the Democrats aren’t utterly sold on their potential nominee. (Tellingly, the previous governor couldn’t even be a “favorite son” Presidential nominee from his own state.) In a contest over pocketbook issues, Hogan may have the public on his side.

We will know quickly just how the session will go as several of Hogan’s vetoes will be up for override. This was a rarity in the previous administration, but it’s worth recalling that the Democrats didn’t give Bob Ehrlich much of a honeymoon so I expect there to be at least one Hogan veto rebuffed. Democrats want to raise taxes, give felons the right to vote before completing their full sentences, make some reforms on civil forfeiture, and decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia. Out of those four vetoes, only the civil forfeiture bill originally had enough House votes to override a veto.

On a local level, we will be very interested to see what becomes of our elected school board bill. Will this finally be the year the state relents and lets the voters of Wicomico County decide its fate?

With a projection that we will have a large increase in filings over last session, it should be a year worth watching. I suspect I will have a difficult time keeping it to just the 25 votes I use for the monoblogue Accountability Project given that the veto votes will likely be included. But with a little help from my friends I look forward to the challenge.

School board hearings continue

September 30, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

Last night Wicomico County Council held its third of four scheduled public hearings on the concept of an elected Board of Education. I arrived about 20 minutes late, so I didn’t hear all the testimony presented. Yet I felt I really didn’t have to because there are really only two sides as opposed to three options.

I had a few things to say, so I rattled off the following testimony before the hearing. Having had a day to ponder it some more, I wish to add a few thoughts; hence my testimony as written is blockquoted.

As I have been hearing the back-and-forth over whether Wicomico County should adopt an elected school board, the word I continue to hear over and over from opponents is “diversity.” Supposedly the only way to maintain this standard is for some number of members to be appointed in order to create the balance they’re obviously not trusting voters to produce.

The opposition seems to now be conceding the ground to securing a hybrid board with five elected and two appointed. I think they figure they can elect one minority (or maybe two) from the five districts and browbeat whoever does the appointments into selecting two more so that the minority can become a majority on the board. At a few points we were informed that minority students are now 52% of the district, which I guess makes whites the minority now.

The point is they don’t trust the voters.

It’s noteworthy to me that the diversity they seek seems to be centered on one quality, and that is skin color. One observation on that, though, is that for them the diversity ends there – seldom does it extend to other factors. In a political sense, the community in question is perhaps the least diverse out there.

Let’s consider one set of facts. It would not be a shock that the black vote for President Obama was 95% in 2008 and 93% in 2012 – they were understandably pleased that their long route to racial equality had finally culminated in the chance to elect our first mixed-race president. But how does that explain the 88% who voted for John Kerry, the 90% for Al Gore, the 83 and 84% for Bill Clinton, and so on back decades?

If you wonder why Hispanics are a sought-after minority electoral group while blacks aren’t, consider that the Hispanic vote is much more evenly split. If blacks only went 75% Democratic, suddenly the Democrats might pay more attention to their needs instead of taking them for granted.

On the other hand, just on a personal level I would be more than happy with five or six Clarence Thomases on the Supreme Court. Clone for me a sufficient number of Tim Scotts and Mia Loves and I might be more pleased with Congress. To me Dr. Ben Carson would be a solid choice as President. Sadly, people with a particular political viewpoint such as theirs tend to be mocked and chastised by members of their own community as not being true to their race.

I have no problem being represented by a minority but it seems the minority community is distrustful of the opposite, which I believe refutes their argument for diversity.

Furthermore, minority candidates have won countywide elections – they had a platform and viewpoint acceptable to all the voters. It’s been done before, and it can be done again through the electoral process.

I suspect that wasn’t what the minority group that made up about half the audience wanted to hear, but sometimes the truth hurts. So they really hated the next line, but this is how I assess the situation:

All of this diversity talk is a smokescreen to assure that arguably the least diverse group around gets a free pass onto the Board of Education.

Yeah, they didn’t like “free pass” but is that not how it would work? It seems to be expected that if the elected four who aren’t in the majority-minority district are white, at least one if not both appointees would be black. You know there would be an uproar if the two appointees were white.

Conversely, securing an elected board of education increases the chances of getting a diverse group in the arena of ideas – it would likely be a.place where educators, involved parents, and concerned citizens from all walks of life would come together with thoughts on educational improvement rather than a political agenda. Certainly there is the prospect of an elected board of education being a political springboard for an ambitious candidate, but it’s worked that way as an appointed body, too.

The idea to me is to have a group who will be faithful and careful stewards of our tax money as well as promoting policies that work to better educate our kids, whether state-approved or not.

There was a woman who testified after me – I didn’t get her name but she has a special-needs child and no political connections. As the system stands she has no voice, but I think she could be elected. One thing about our current board is that only one of the seven has kids currently in our schools.

So I would prefer a fully-elected school board, without the hybrid option. It seems like the counties which have come along last (for whatever reason) in the long, evolutionary process of switching from appointed school board to elected ones here in Maryland are being forced to compromise into adopting a hybrid model because the powers that be in Annapolis just don’t want to let go and recede power. Each of the three counties bordering Wicomico have fully elected school boards, so we just want what our neighbors have instead of an unnecessarily complex system that doesn’t serve our purposes well.

It seems like it’s the politicians and media who want hybrid boards to replace appointed ones the most – just look at Chicago or New Haven. But the small town of Mishawaka, Indiana overwhelmingly embraced the appointed to hybrid idea. Wonder how it was sold to them – or if they only had that choice? Politicians apparently know best in Utah, where their state school board is elected but a proposal for a hybrid was heard. (Their diversity was rural vs. urban.)

In 2016, when I go in to cast my vote for president, I want to be faced with a simple choice farther down the ballot: do you support or oppose a fully-elected school board for Wicomico County? I think the answer will be a resounding yes for an elected board, and it will be the right answer to move this county forward.

If it comes to a vote, I would support a fully elected school board. But the story of how Caroline County got its hybrid board is illustrative – basically, they were only given the hybrid option. Since Caroline County didn’t have a large enough minority group to create a district for themselves, the squeakiest wheels used the next best thing – the minority head of the Senate committee that heard the bill.

It may be time to consider the next step, and that involves talking some sense into the two people in Annapolis who run the respective Senate and House committees that hear the bill. If you thought having local roadblocks like Rick Pollitt, Norm Conway, and Rudy Cane was bad, imagine being stymied by two committee chairs we don’t even cast a vote for.

We have pretty much heard the arguments, and despite the clear advantages of full accountability that an elected board brings I think one sentence I uttered rings true: the powers that be in Annapolis just don’t want to let go and recede power. We’ll see if they prove me wrong.

History and context

A couple weeks ago I covered the first of four hearings on the potential for an elected school board. At that time I pledged to add some history and context to my remarks from the other day.

First of all, the recent history of the attempt to get an elected school board has both a local component and a state component. I was elected to the Republican Central Committee in 2006, and one item which we agreed to pursue was an elected school board. Unfortunately, the composition of county government at the time didn’t lend itself to further action on the subject. It wasn’t until the election in 2010, when a GOP supermajority was elected to County Council, that local legislative action occurred.

In both 2011 and 2012, the County Council passed legislation on a 6-1 party-line vote to ask the Maryland General Assembly for the enabling legislation for a referendum question to be set before voters. It would simply ask whether voters wanted to adopt an elected school board.

The 2011 version of the bill, HB1324/SB981, was sponsored by six local Delegates and both local Senators, and each version passed its respective legislative body overwhelmingly – the only “nay” vote came from Delegate Nathaniel Oaks of Baltimore City. SB981 passed both houses, but the amended House version did not return to the Senate for a vote.

In the House, the Ways and Means Committee amended the bill in a curious way. They revised the referendum question to read, “Are you against changing the changing the current method of selection of the members of the Wicomico County Board of Education of appointment by the governor?” It seems the idea was to confuse the voter.

The next year HB966/SB99 was introduced by the four Republican delegates and both Senators. This time, though, the bills did not progress beyond the hearing stage.

In 2013 and 2014, no legislation was passed locally nor was any introduced in the General Assembly. The feeling was that there were three roadblocks to the process: Rudy Cane, Norm Conway, and Rick Pollitt. None of those three survived the 2014 election, so we were hopeful the process would be on its way once 2015 began.

There were two key differences in the 2015 version of the bill, though. In an effort to foster a united front, County Council allowed for the idea of a hybrid elected/appointed board of five elected and two appointed by the County Executive with approval from the County Council. Indeed, that version passed 7-0 and was sent up in February.

But the bill was stalled in committee, with the problem determined to be the lack of having both Senators on board. Senator Mathias requested more hearings and public input on the issue, so County Council has arranged the four hearings with plenty of time to pre-file a bill once the hearings are over.

It’s been pointed out frequently that Wicomico County is one of the few without an elected board. Back in 2002 just half of Maryland’s counties had an elected school board. Since then, Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Harford, Prince George’s, Somerset, and Talbot counties have switched over to elected (or mostly-elected) boards, while Anne Arundel County now has retention elections for its appointed members.

So the precedent for change is certainly there on the Shore and around the state. A number of counties have been allowed to proceed with their wishes over the last dozen years, but there always seems to be a roadblock when it comes to us. It is long past time to clear the way for us to decide as so many others in the state get to.

I am aware there are naysayers who say it doesn’t matter who is on the school board for the tune is called in Annapolis. But we have some creative folks around here who may figure out a few alternatives to really help our schools become better, and I don’t think they would have a prayer of being appointed through the process in place. Let them make the case to the parents who vote, not the faceless bureaucrats in Annapolis.

A paucity of passion

September 15, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Education, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off 

I am struck by the difference between two recent meetings.

Last week I covered the first hearing regarding the prospect of an elected school board. Yesterday I also read a story by Susan Canfora in the Salisbury Independent about the city’s rejection of a park land donation sought by the county.

In the former case, the arguments for and against were delivered in a relatively quiet room, but those who were out to save the forest burst into applause with each speaker on their side and cheered when the measure died for a lack of a motion. Canfora’s report noted that the City Council meeting was standing room only, with more people spilling into the hallway. Having been to that venue before, I know the room can get 80 to 100 people in it if you all inhale and exhale the right way.

Of course, there was resolution in the county’s case – the city said no to the donation. On the other hand, the process of getting an elected school board is in the early stages of its latest iteration. So in that respect I am doing a little bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison, but I did see a useful tool in understanding the approach one side may choose in the school board debate.

Those who favored the expansion of the ball fields grounded their argument in economic terms. They could cite concrete facts and forecasts of how much impact these tournaments have locally, in dollars, cents, and jobs. Softball tournaments bring in hundreds of players each summer, and those participants have to eat, sleep, and play someplace.

Conversely, those supporting the forest played to the emotions of the audience and City Council. Suddenly that 35 acre plot of land was a magnet for low-impact tourism and a vital part of the natural beauty of Wicomico County. Just for sake of reference, 35 acres covers about 1/16 of a square mile. The Centre of Salisbury sits on about 58 acres, so this forest plot is barely half the size of that parcel.

Those same appeals to emotion come out when opponents of an elected school board bemoan the loss of “diversity” they are sure would come about with an elected board.

It’s always intrigued me that those who wail loudest about diversity are the least diverse of any group – sure, they may fill quotas with every possible variation of outward appearance and behavior trait under the sun, but when it comes to diversity of thought: forget about it! It’s the side that’s afraid to hold presidential candidate debates because their standard-bearer, the one who fills the “woman” quota their party wants to check the box of, might have to actually defend her record (or lack thereof.)

But let me back up the focus. To me, diversity is for ideas, which is why legislative bodies often split along party lines. I highly doubt the NAACP, the teachers’ union, or any of the other opponents of an elected school board will stop trying to participate in the process when an elected board finally comes to fruition. They will certainly have a slate of candidates, and those candidates will probably have a monetary advantage in their respective races. On the other hand, I would certainly push for the most conservative school board possible. Hopefully I get more victories than the other side, but I doubt either will have a clean sweep and it may be there are times they have to meet somewhere around halfway.

Regardless of what Don Fitzgerald may claim, there is some cronyism involved with the current system. Rarely does a complete political outsider get a seat on the school board because the current system has as its judge and jury political insiders up and down the line. (The same would hold true with a nominating commission.) The best chance for a concerned citizen would seem to be the electoral process, particularly since the system as envisioned would rely mainly on districts of about 20,000 people – not an unmanageable size for a small, well-organized campaign. Granted, there may be times when running countywide could be an advantage but my suspicion is that those couple spots will be filled with current board members who already have name recognition.

If there’s one lesson I want the class to remember, it’s this: you can easily figure out which side has the facts and which side runs on emotion. Diversity is the reddest of herrings, so don’t let them fool you into thinking their idea of the concept is anymore than skin-deep.

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