The cooling-off period

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For First District Congress

My final primary endorsement comes in a race that, for me, has come down to the wire: do I go for the known conservative quantity that’s part of one of the most unpopular institutions in the country or do I go for one of the upstarts in a hope to bring about change or a more libertarian direction?

Well, the answer became a little easier as I looked into two of the four GOP candidates. Both Jonathan Goff, who challenged Andy Harris in 2014 and got the 22% of the anti-Harris vote in that primary, and Sean Jackson have expressed their support for Donald Trump so that eliminates them automatically as not conservative.

Yet despite the entry of Goff and Jackson, the Congressional race has been figured all along as a two-man contest between Harris and former Delegate Mike Smigiel.

We pretty much know the backstory on Andy Harris: he served in the Maryland State Senate for a decade before challenging incumbent Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest in 2008. The problem with Wayne, as Harris and many others saw in the district, was that Gilchrest was too centrist for a conservative district. Harris ended up winning a contentious primary, alienating enough Gilchrest supporters in the process that Democrat Frank Kratovil (who Gilchrest eventually endorsed) won by a narrow plurality in the Obama wave election of 2008. (A Libertarian candidate took 2.5% of the vote, denying Kratovil a majority.)

Harris finished out his term in the State Senate as he plotted to challenge Kratovil, who served as a “blue dog” Democrat (case in point: he voted against Obamacare.) Winning a far less acrimonious GOP primary in 2010 over businessman Rob Fisher, Harris went on to defeat Kratovil by 12 points in the first TEA Party wave election of 2010. Since then Harris hasn’t been seriously challenged in either the primary or general elections, winning with 63.4% of the vote in 2012 and 70.4% in 2014 after Goff challenged him in the primary.

While Democrat Jim Ireton may think he has a shot against Harris, it’s very likely that Tuesday’s election is the deciding factor in who will be our representative to the 115th Congress. But Mike Smigiel is the first serious candidate with a pedigree to challenge for the First District seat since Harris and State Senator E.J. Pipkin, among others, both took on Wayne Gilchrest in 2008.

Like Harris, Smigiel served for 12 years in the Maryland General Assembly but he served in the House of Delegates, representing the upper Eastern Shore. This factor is an important one in determining who will be the better candidate, as their terms of service overlapped from 2003-2010. Smigiel ran for re-election in the 2014 primary, but finished fourth in a seven-person field. It’s worth noting that four of the District 36 contenders were from Smigiel’s Cecil County, which may have sapped his electoral strength – or reflected a dissatisfaction with Mike’s approach. Only one of them could have advanced, so in effect they cannibalized the primary vote.

Mike’s case for unseating Harris has evolved from an undertone of dissatisfaction from those who supported Harris for the seat. They say that Andy is not a fighter or a leader in the conservative movement, and long for a more libertarian Congressman perhaps in the mold of Justin Amash or Thomas Massie. To that end, Smigiel has advocated his case for a Constitutional, limited government, often waving his copy of the Constitution in a debate or forum session. His campaign has focused to a great extent on a number of Congressional votes that Harris has cast, particularly the 2014 CRomnibus bill.

In looking at this race, it should be pointed out that I saw Smigiel’s libertarian approach as an asset; however, I felt the strong emphasis on Harris’s voting record masked some of the real truth.

A key difference between the legislative process in Maryland and the federal sausage-grinding we find in Washington is that Congressional legislation is not limited to a single issue as Maryland’s is. You can take the CRomnibus bill as an example, as it was a compromise hammered out between the various factions of Congress. That’s not to say Harris made the correct vote, but Smigiel is counting on a bit of ignorance in how the system works. I could say the same thing about Smigiel since he voted for the first O’Malley budget while Harris voted no.

So let’s talk about voting records, shall we? Because voting in a federal legislature is not the same as voting on state matters, we have an apples-to-oranges comparison between Harris and Smigiel. But over the eight years both men served in the General Assembly, a more apples-to-apples approach is possible.

Since 2007, I have done the monoblogue Accountability Project, so it covers the last four years that Harris and Smigiel served together. As an aggregate, I found that Smigiel voted as I would have 77.7% of the time, or 101 times out of 130. On the other hand, Harris was “correct” 89.1% of the time, or 122 times out of 137.

I even went back and found three years’ worth of data on the old Maryland Accountability Project that mine continued. While the author perhaps had a different standard of what he considered “conservative,” in each of those three years (2003-2005) Harris had a higher score: 84%-60% in 2003, 80%-75% in 2004, and 84%-83% in 2005. (The 2006 results were not available for the House, but Harris only scored 65% in the Senate – so Smigiel may have prevailed that year.)

Yet these are not “clean” comparisons, either, because in my case I hadn’t streamlined the process of doing the mAP yet. (Since 2011, both House and Senate ratings are based on the same bills.) So I went back and tried to locate the cases in my work where Harris and Smigiel voted the opposite way. There were a handful that over time have mattered less, but I would like to point out a few items that Harris favored and Smigiel opposed, since Mike has attacked Andy’s record:

  • Smart, Green, and Growing – Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission (2010) – replaced a task force with the MSGC, an O’Malley-sponsored bill.
  • Higher Education Investment Fund – Tuition Stabilization and Funding (2010) – a spending mandate O’Malley also sought.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act of 2009 – this was a horrible bill that established and codified carbon reductions into state law.

One can definitely argue that Harris was trying to soften his image with these votes, since they came after his unsuccessful 2008 run.

But there is another side: those bills that Smigiel favored and Harris opposed:

  • Other Tobacco Products Licenses (2010) – required separate licenses for those who sell cigars, snuff, or pipe tobacco. Harris was one of just 7 in the MGA to oppose this.
  • High Performance Buildings Act – Applicable to Community College Capital Projects (2010) – required LEED Silver or above ratings.
  • Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Program (2008) – an O’Malley bill to spend RGGI money.
  • Environment – Water Management Administration – Wetlands and Waterways Program Fees (2008) – established a fee of up to $7,500 an acre for certain developments.
  • Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Protection Program – Administrative and Enforcement Provisions (2008) – additional mandates on local government.
  • High Performance Buildings Act (2008) – the precursor to the 2010 act above.
  • Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007 – an O’Malley bill requiring California emissions for Maryland cars, which added cost to new cars.
  • Higher Education – Tuition Affordability Act of 2007 – another O’Malley bill that extended an artificial tuition freeze.
  • Electricity – Net Energy Metering – Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – Solar Energy (2007) - a good old-fashioned carveout, picking a winner.

It seems to me there’s a major difference on environmental issues between Smigiel and Harris, and while that may not matter so much at a federal level my belief that “green is the new red” leads me to think that Smigiel’s pro-liberty case isn’t as airtight as we are led to believe.

I can go all night looking at voting records, but there is one other thing I’d like to point out.

Last week I criticized Smigiel for spending part of the weekend before the primary at a cannabis convention, a stance he took exception to in a private message to me. Without divulging the full conversation, which I assumed was just for my private use, the upshot was that he argued there were going to be fundraising benefits for him as well as possible job creation in the 1st District. I can buy that argument, but if it hinges on him winning the primary Job One has to be getting the votes.

So it was interesting that a friend of mine shared a card her daughter received, which looks like the one below.

420 USA PAC Smigiel postcard

My friend speculated the card was targeted to a certain age group of Millennials since her daughter was the only one in the house to receive it. Yet the card isn’t from Mike’s campaign but instead an organization called 420 USA PAC, which advocates for cannabis legalization.

Of course, my personal stance is not all that far from Mike’s, but we also have two laboratories of democracy in Colorado and Washington state to see how the legalization of marijuana plays out. Smigiel argues the District of Columbia cannabis initiative is a state’s rights issue but should know that in the Constitution Congress is responsible to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District per Article I, Section 8. So Harris performed some oversight.

On the other hand I can vouch for Andy being in the district over the weekend. Perhaps this is a classic conservative vs. libertarian matchup, although both men are well-accepted in the pro-life community.

This has been an endorsement I have had to think long and hard about; luckily it’s a case where I could easily work for the other gentleman if he will have me.

But I have decided that Andy Harris deserves another term in Congress. Saying that, though, it’s obvious people will be watching and if I were Mike Smigiel I wouldn’t dismiss trying again in 2018 because we could use his kind of voice in Congress as well. Think of the next two years as a probationary period for Harris.

So allow me to review my three endorsements for the major races.

For President, I urge you to vote for the remaining true conservative in the race, Ted Cruz. He has six people running for Delegate and Alternate Delegate who need your votes as well (although my friend Muir Boda is on the ballot, too.)

For U.S. Senate, I had a hard time deciding between Dave Wallace and Richard Douglas, but the backbone Richard Douglas has shown earned him my endorsement and vote.

And finally, retain Andy Harris as our Congressman.

Just don’t forget to vote Tuesday. It’s up to us to begin turning Maryland into a more conservative state – not just trying to teach the benefits of conservatism to an audience charitably described as skeptical but making sure we vote in the right manner as well.

A change in the First?

In the First Congressional District, winning the Republican primary is tantamount to winning the race: the latest round of gerrymandering by Maryland Democrats made sure it would be by creating an R+13 district in a state that’s nominally D+26. So what do I make of an announcement by upstart former Delegate Michael Smigiel that he has a 2-to-1 lead over incumbent Andy Harris in a pre-primary poll?

If you read between the lines, you’ll see a few interesting tidbits. And my readers may recall that my co-writer Cathy Keim talked about a survey she took a few days ago. Chances are this was the same Gravis Marketing survey Smigiel is referring to in his work, which leads me to believe this was a push poll Smigiel did to build up his support. If you’re a relative unknown in much of the district, a tactic often used is that of driving up the negatives of the established politician.

Ironically, it’s much the same tactic Harris used to win the nomination in 2008 against a well-known incumbent, Wayne Gilchrest. Wayne’s biggest issue was the leftward drift of his philosophy and voting record, so much so that a clearly upset Gilchrest later rejected his party’s nominee and endorsed the Democrat challenger, Frank Kratovil. That and the Obama wave election led to Kratovil being a one-term Congressman before Harris defeated him in the TEA Party wave election of 2010.

As Cathy described it – a manner which isn’t reflected in Smigiel’s narrative – the issue questions came first:

Calls were made to over 20,000 voters with over 600 individuals answering the poll, and results indicate that when voters were informed that Rep. Harris had voted to fully fund Obamacare, 82 percent (82%) of the Republican primary voters surveyed would not vote for Harris.

When voters were aware that Rep. Harris had voted to fully fund President Barrack (sic) Obama’s unconstitutional use of executive power to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens, 85 percent (85%) of Republican voters said they would not vote to re-elect Harris.

Likewise, 80 percent (80%) of those surveyed reported that they would not vote to re-elect Rep. Andy Harris if they knew he had made the statement that it was “just fine” for Planned Parenthood to sell baby parts as long as they did not use federal money to do so.

Nationally, Rep. Harris is known as the most outspoken critic of D.C. and states which have chosen to allow medical marijuana, decriminalization or legalization. In the 1st District, fifty-nine percent (59%) of the Republican voters surveyed reported they would be less likely to vote for Harris because of his anti-marijuana, anti-state’s rights stance.

In that context, it’s hard to believe Harris got 29% when over 80% of Republicans disagreed with him on one or more issues.

But there are two advantages Andy still enjoys in this race. While the FEC data is still from back in September, Harris had over a half-million dollars in cash on hand while Smigiel barely registered. Certainly Harris has been fundraising since then, and incumbents often enjoy the largest share of PAC money. In the 2015-16 cycle Harris had already amassed over $166,000 from various committees, a large portion of them in the medical field.

The second advantage is the IOUs Andy has built up through donating to local candidates. Here’s just a few that I noticed on his 2013-14 FEC report:

  • Bob Cassilly (Senator, Harford County) – $4,000
  • Matt Morgan (Delegate, St. Mary’s County) – $1,000
  • Theresa Reilly (Delegate, Harford County) – $1,000
  • Mike McDermott (former Delegate, Worcester County) – $4,000
  • Bob Culver (Wicomico County Executive) – $4,000
  • Carl Anderton (Delegate, Wicomico County) – $4,000
  • Christopher Adams (Delegate, Wicomico County) – $1,000
  • Jay Jacobs (Delegate, Kent County) – $1,000
  • Jeff Ghrist (Delegate, Caroline County) – $1,000
  • John Cluster (Delegate, Baltimore County) – $1,000
  • Johnny Mautz (Delegate, Talbot County) – $1,000
  • Justin Ready (Delegate and now Senator, Carroll County) – $4,000
  • Kathy Szeliga (Delegate, Baltimore County) – $4,000
  • Kevin Hornberger (Delegate, Cecil County) – $4,000
  • Mary Beth Carozza (Delegate, Worcester County) – $4,000
  • Nic Kipke (Delegate, Anne Arundel County) – $4,000
  • Rick Impallaria (Delegate, Baltimore County) – $2,000
  • Robin Grammer (Delegate, Baltimore County) – $1,000
  • Steve Arentz (Delegate, Queen Anne’s County) – $1,000
  • Susan Krebs (Delegate, Carroll County) – $4,000
  • Addie Eckardt (Senator, Dorchester County) – $1,000
  • Michael Hough (Senator, Frederick County) – $4,000
  • Herb McMillan (Delegate, Anne Arundel County) – $4,000
  • Ric Metzgar (Delegate, Baltimore County) – $1,000
  • Johnny Salling (Senator, Baltimore County) – $4,000
  • Maryland Republican Party – $49,500

Well over $100,000 went from Andy’s campaign coffers to help build the GOP state bench with several new legislators being the result. I don’t look for a lot of those folks jumping ship to support (in several but not all cases) a more recent former colleague. That’s a significant part of the state GOP delegation, including all three who defeated Smigiel in the 2014 Republican primary. And electability is a legitimate question mark for Smigiel.

In the 2014 Republican primary, Smigiel was fourth among seven candidates, four of whom hailed from Smigiel’s Cecil County portion of the district – those four finished fourth through seventh. (Mike finished third in Cecil behind fellow resident Alan McCarthy, who finished a distant fifth overall, and Jay Jacobs of Kent County, who was second overall.) Smigiel was third among five candidates in 2010 (all three winners were Republican) and while he kept the seat in 2006 based on the overall district vote he actually lost in his home Cecil County to Democrat Mark Guns. Smigiel was barely second out of five when he won his first term in 2002, so he’s never been overwhelmingly popular at the ballot box – just good enough to win three terms in a very safe GOP district. The fact that three other people challenged Smigiel from Cecil County – knowing only one of them could win due to an election law stating only one person could advance from any particular county – indicates there was some dissatisfaction with him, just as many are now displeased with Harris.

That anger toward Harris attracted Smigiel to the race and produced a poll result like this. Since he won the election in 2010, Harris has had little in the way of a challenge from either party until now. It’s a race perhaps reminiscent of the 2004 primary between Wayne Gilchrest and then-Maryland Senator Rich Colburn – the fact Colburn got 38% against a sitting Congressman may have opened the race up four years later when state officials could run from cover again without having to risk their own seats.

If I were to handicap the election today I would put it around that 60-40 range with Harris prevailing. A lot can occur in 3 1/2 months, though, and it’s probably good for Harris that there are a couple of other lesser known hopefuls in the race to split the protest vote.

This may be a good time to point out that Andy has a couple of townhall meetings slated for the Eastern Shore. On Monday night the 18th he will be at the Black Diamond Lodge in Fruitland for a 6 p.m. meeting. (Right next door is the site of Andy’s chicken suit affair of a few years back.) Then Tuesday at noon he will be the host at the Easton Volunteer Fire Department headquarters on Aurora Park Drive.

Unfortunately, I already have a commitment for Monday night so I will have to hear second-hand about what the Congressman has to say. It will be interesting to hear how all that goes down.

Harris explains his vote for Boehner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re not off to a good start.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Primary colors

I came across this nugget and it got me to pondering. One would think we don’t have this issue in Maryland with just one Republican Congressman who was supported by the group, but read on.

For a bit of context, let me refer you to another Congressional scorecard put out by the Club for Growth. In it, our Congressman Andy Harris received a respectable (but not outstanding) score of 86 percent. He easily outdistanced the other state Republican, now-former Congressman Roscoe Bartlett, but finished outside the top 10 percent of Congress and didn’t crack the top 50. That’s a departure from his 2011 score of 95 percent and 22nd place ranking.

Yet there’s probably not a lot of danger that we’ll see Andy Harris’s face plastered on this site, called Primary My Congressman! This is another Club For Growth project, complete with the picture of the rhino (for RINO) in the heading. Their reasoning for the site:

Many of these RINOs represent districts that are heavily Republican where it would be difficult for the right Republican candidate to lose. In fact, the nonpartisan Cook Report, a political handicapper, found that in 2012, 190 Congressional districts were considered “Strongly Republican,” meaning that they were not even competitive in the general election. In 96 Congressional districts, 2012 Republican nominee for President Mitt Romney received more than 60% of the vote. Romney received more than 55% of the vote in 159 districts!

On the flip side, according to the 2012 pro-free market, limited government Club for Growth’s Congressional Scorecard, only 39 members of Congress have lifetime scores of 90% or above on their voting records relating to economic freedom and pro-growth policy.

This means that in districts that are heavily Republican, there are literally dozens of missed opportunities to elect real fiscal conservatives to Congress — not more “moderates” who will compromise with Democrats to just increase spending and grow government a little bit slower than usual.

While I see the Club for Growth’s point, it bears mentioning that the aforementioned Harris had to overcome a bloody and bitter primary in 2008, not to mention the stiff headwind presented by the combination of an uninspiring Republican Presidential candidate, a Democrat with a populist message, and a vanquished primary opponent who turned traitor and endorsed the Democrat – yet Harris only lost by less than 3,000 votes in an election where the Libertarian garnered over 8,000. The 2010 primary was much less eventful and the final tally much more reflective of the actual composition of the First District.

In defeating any or all of these targeted Republicans, the conservative has to be aware that, in many cases, the party establishment won’t be happy about the unwelcome guest. Being on a Central Committee, I can understand the notion of trying to avoid divisive primary fights due to the common misconception it would harm them in the general election. One can point to the Andy Harris example in 2008 as a case study in the effect of a contested primary, but bear in mind that had Republicans electorally stayed home and not followed the advice of the turncoat Wayne Gilchrest Harris may still have pulled it out. Having a fairly serious primary opponent in 2010 didn’t hurt Harris; meanwhile, Frank Kratovil had both the power of incumbency and no primary opponent, so in the eyes of conventional wisdom Kratovil should have had an advantage.

But if you want to help the conservative movement in a different way, why not turn the Club for Growth’s advice on its head?

If you are a conservative in what may be considered a hopelessly Democratic Congressional district, why not turn the tables on the establishment liberal and primary them as a Democrat? Obviously the chances of winning in this quest are quite remote, but there are several good things which can happen:

  1. As a conservative Democrat, you can spread that pro-liberty message to an audience which generally hears the word “Republican” and tunes out.
  2. If enough people begin to question the incumbent plantation liberal, he or she has to start paying attention to the district rather than being able to assist other Democrats in their election.
  3. And of course, if a conservative Democrat happens to win, they have two choices: either switch parties to their more natural home or be an absolute thorn in the side of the Democratic leadership in Washington. I don’t have nearly the problem with DINOs as I do with RINOs.

I’m sure there are some TEA Party types who are Democrats, but may not be active ones. Obviously we have made inroads in the local Republican Party but it may be time to do some more stealth movement into the Democratic side. (Arguably, there were at least three Democrats on the 2010 Wicomico County primary ballot who could pass for Republicans – none of them won, but unfortunately two ran for the same seat.)

The local test case for this may be Wicomico’s Council District 1. I’d love to see a good conservative Republican run for this post, but I would love it even more if a conservative minority Democrat ran for the office as well. I’m sure there are a lot of voters there who look solely at the party label at the ballot box, but if presented a choice would agree with pro-liberty principles – especially when it comes to education and the economy.

While it may be heresy to say this as a member of the Republican Central Committee, I will admit there are some conservatives who simply won’t join the Republican Party as a matter of principle. There have been possible matchups in the past where I would have voted for the Democrat over a more moderate Republican, but the conservative Democrats didn’t get out of the primary. I encourage them to keep trying, though, because I would rather have a choice between two conservatives in whom I have confidence to lead the pro-liberty movement than my usual option of either voting for a speed bump on the highway to tyranny or slamming down the hammer on the road to serfdom.

MDGOP to Democrats: return “dirty contributions”

January 6, 2013 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

Well, this is an interesting case indeed.

It seems that a Catonsville developer flouted campaign contribution laws by soliciting associates of his to make “straw donations” on his behalf to a Democratic Baltimore County Council member. Multiple reports relate that Stephen Whalen is on the hook for over $50,000 in fines for these transgressions.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t believe in campaign contribution limits so the Whalen conviction was a witch hunt of sorts. Yet there is a side to the story which should be exposed and that’s the sheer number of candidates and slates that Whalen and his companies made nearly $200,000 in contributions to over the last several years. Most of us who follow the law know that the limit for a state election cycle is $4,000 in donations to a particular candidate and $10,000 in total for the cycle.

David Ferguson of the MDGOP sent me a list of those who benefited from the largess, and it reads like a who’s who of Baltimore-area Democratic politics (with a couple exceptions.) Let’s start from the top, shall we?

  • Democratic National Committee
  • National Association Industrial & Office Parks PAC
  • President Barack Obama
  • Former Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
  • Congressman Elijah Cummings (7th District)
  • Former Congressman Frank Kratovil (1st District)
  • Governor Martin O’Malley
  • Comptroller Peter Franchot
  • State Senator Delores Kelly
  • State Senator Edward Kasemeyer
  • House Speaker Delegate Michael Busch
  • Delegate Emmitt Burns
  • Delegate Adrienne Jones
  • Delegate Stephen DeBoy
  • Delegate James Malone
  • Delegate Stephen Lafferty
  • Delegate Peter Hammen
  • 23rd District Slate
  • District 12A Slate
  • Howard County Executive Ken Ulman
  • Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz
  • Former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith
  • Baltimore County Council member Vicki Almond
  • Baltimore County Council member Kenneth Oliver
  • Baltimore County Council member Cathy Bevins

It’s not the whole list, as there were a few primary losers in the bunch. There were also five Republicans named, with Bob Ehrlich and Baltimore County Council members David Marks and Todd Huff the three winners among the group. (Marks has returned his contributions from Whalen.)

Ferguson condemned the Democrats who have been recipients of over 95% of Whalen’s generosity. In a statement, the MDGOP’s Executive Director says:

Those who have received contributions from Stephen Whalen should follow the lead of Baltimore County Councilman David Marks and return his dirty contributions. Whalen gave over 96% of his contributions to Democrats and it is unacceptable for nearly $200,000 to be floating through the Democrat Party’s coffers from an individual convicted of political corruption.

Stephen Whalen’s conviction is another consequence of Maryland being a political monopoly for Democrats and their cronies. Unfortunately, this culture of corruption is standard operating procedure for crooked politicians and donors like Stephen Whalen looking to pay-for-play. For six years, Martin O’Malley and his allies have willfully embraced the lack of ethics in their government.

There’s no doubt that money may have been the lubricant for Whalen to grease the skids on getting his developments built: his company’s website states they specialize in medical office space around the outskirts of Baltimore.

(I find it somewhat ironic, then, that he supports many of the same Democrats who have voted to curtail growth in rural and suburban areas. Perhaps there’s more infrastructure in areas Whalen is interested in.)

So once again the state’s majority party is caught with its hand in the cookie jar, but do they condemn this violation of the law? No, they’d rather take potshots at Andy Harris for voting against a pork-laden hurricane relief bill. Their silence on the transgression is deafening and speaks volumes about the corruption they’re happy to put up with for political gain.

After all the shouting

We’re just about through the last weekend of the 2012 campaign, and hopefully by late Tuesday night we will have a good idea of where the country will be heading over the next four years (or perhaps four decades, should the incumbent win.) Of course that’s assuming we have no protracted recounts such as we endured 12 years ago – the prospect of two such occurrences in a lifetime boggles the mind.

Yet regardless of what happens Tuesday life will go on, and the sun will come up Wednesday. I’ll still have my work to do as will most of the rest of us who don’t toil for candidates.

I’ve always been about thinking two to three steps ahead where possible, which is why I’m writing this postmortem of sorts on the Sunday before the election. (It’s also why I wrote my book and eschewed the normal publishing process to get it to market prior to the campaign season hitting high gear. Did it cost me some sales? Perhaps, but readers can remedy that situation easily enough as I link to the sales sites from monoblogue.)

Just in the next three months there are a lot of political stories still to be written, from the local to the national. Here in my adopted hometown of Salisbury, the mayoral race will take center stage. No one has formally declared for the office yet, but it’s highly likely we’ll have at least two (and possibly three) candidates: incumbent Mayor Jim Ireton will go for a second term, realtor Adam Roop made it known almost a year ago he was seeking some unspecified office – his two choices are a City Council district seat or mayor – and recent transplant and blogger Joe Albero has made his own overtures. At least he’s invested in the shirts:

That will probably begin to play out in the next couple weeks.

After that we begin the holiday season, which may be politicized to a certain extent as well. My thought is that if Barack Obama wins, the early predictions of a modest year-over-year growth will hold true or end up slightly lower than imagined. I seem to recall last year started out like gangbusters on Black Friday but tailed off once those big sales came to an end. On the other hand, a Mitt Romney win may open up the purse strings and result in an increase twice of what was predicted. I think seeing him win with a GOP Congress will boost consumer confidence overnight as they figure the long national nightmare is over.

Once the holidays are over, it’s then time for both the 113th Congress to get started and, more importantly for local matters, the “90 days of terror” better known as the Maryland General Assembly session to begin. In the next few weeks I will finally wrap up my annual monoblogue Accountability Project for 2012 in order to hold our General Assembly members accountable for all the good and bad votes they made in the three 2012 sessions. With so much written about in 2012 on my part, I had to put that project on the back burner for most of the fall.

At the same time, state races for 2014 will begin to take shape. Unlike the last three gubernatorial elections we do not have the prospect of a candidate named Ehrlich in the race, which leaves the field wide open. While the three who have made overtures toward running on the GOP side have already made their presence known, only one (Blaine Young) has formally announced and the conventional wisdom (such that there is for Maryland GOP politics) labels him as the longest shot of the three most-rumored candidates, the other two being early 2010 candidate Larry Hogan and outgoing Harford County Executive David Craig.

But there are also down-ticket statewide races to consider as well, and there’s a decent chance that both Attorney General and Comptroller may become open seats as Doug Gansler and Peter Franchot, respectively, consider a race for Governor. (While there are three hopefuls so far for governor on the GOP side, there may be at least five on the Democratic side: Gansler, Franchot, current Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, and Delegate Heather Mizeur.)

The GOP bench is a little shorter for the downticket positions at this time, but I believe William Campbell is willing to reprise his 2010 Comptroller run and wouldn’t be surprised if Jim Shalleck doesn’t make sure he’s on the ballot this time for Attorney General. Another intriguing name for the AG position would be 2010 U.S. Senate candidate (and attorney) Jim Rutledge, who obviously has the advantage of having already run statewide. On the other side, I’m hearing that State Senator Brian Frosh (who generally serves as a dictatorial Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee) is one name in the mix for AG, but another intriguing one is former First District Congressman Frank Kratovil, who is now a judge in Queen Anne’s County.

So the beat will go on after this year’s election is over. It’s not surprising to me that I’ve had some great readership numbers over the last few weeks, but the last couple weeks in particular have blown me away. The trick, though, will be maintaining the audience through a period where fewer discuss politics and more concentrate on friends and family during the holiday season. I won’t be so presumptuous to believe that my humble little site should be uppermost on everyone’s mind, but I hope to roll into year number 8 of monoblogue in grand style.

For U.S. Senate

I was actually going to wait until the Sunday before the primary to do this, but realized with early voting I probably should put this out at a time when I can maximize the effect.

When the filing deadline came and went in January, we ended up with ten people on the ballot seeking to challenge incumbent Senator Ben Cardin on the Republican side. (There are also eight Democratic challengers who, with the exception of State Senator C. Anthony Muse, will be lucky to see 20 percent of the vote as a collection.)

But if you look at the ten on our side as a group, you can start to pick out those who have a legitimate chance pretty early. Some have been on the ballot before, but have never come close to grabbing the brass ring. You know, one would think guys like Corrogan Vaughn or John Kimble might get the hint at some point but they soldier on nonetheless, appearing on ballot after ballot every two years for some office. This is Vaughn’s fourth Senate try (counting an abortive 2010 run) and Kimble’s third, although he’s been on a ballot every two years for some federal office since 1996. Another 2012 candidate, Joseph Alexander, ran in the 2010 Senate primary and finished a distant third with 5.9% of the vote.

Others have been in local races and lost. Rick Hoover ran twice for the Third District Congressional nod in 2004 and 2006 and didn’t distinguish himself enough to not be an also-ran. William Capps took on an incumbent State Senator and lost in 2010, while Robert Broadus had the unenviable task of attempting to win as a Republican in the Fourth Congressional District. While Broadus only gathered 16% of the vote, it was a better showing than the Republican winner had in 2008 against Edwards. But even Broadus lost in the 2008 primary – he was unopposed in 2010.

There are four others who are making their first run for statewide office, with Brian Vaeth and David Jones the lesser-known duo of the group. I haven’t heard anything from Vaeth, but David Jones is a candidate who, with some polish and a more appropriate race for a single dad to get into (on the scale of a countywide or House of Delegates district contest) could have a future in the political arena. He had a message which was trying to come out, but a statewide campaign presents an awfully steep learning curve.

Out of the eight I have cited so far, the battle for third place shapes up between Broadus, based on his performance in a difficult district and the ready-made issue he has with his position as head of Protect Marriage Maryland, Alexander (simply based on 2010 results), and Jones (as a hard worker who’s quite likable.) One of the others might surprise me, but these are the guys who seem to me as the aspirants for Miss Congeniality.

Yet the race is really coming down to two men. Each brings something unique to the table.

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A twist in the Sixth

February 16, 2012 · Posted in Delmarva items, Kratovil Watch, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

There are two reasons I like the Maryland Juice website: one, because I like to keep tabs on what the opposition is doing, and two, I like the way it is written. Unlike certain recent commentators on this site, the author is willing to stand up for what he believes using his real name. I rarely agree with him, but I can respect his opinion.

David Moon related an interesting development on the Democratic side in the Sixth Congressional District race yesterday: it seems that Democratic candidate John Delaney is being raked over the coals for making a $2,400 contribution in 2010 to Congressman Andy Harris. (Yes, you read that right.)

But before you begin thinking, “hey, a Democrat with a little common sense,” there are a few caveats in play here.

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Harris draws first challenger

November 25, 2011 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2012, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

There won’t be a Kratovil-Harris round 3, but the First District race won’t be a walkover, either.

Instead, a Baltimore County business owner and “arts advocate” has entered the race for the First District seat Andy Harris won in 2010. It appears Wendy Rosen’s main planks will be a “Buy American” push and a claim to “GOP values.”

But Wendy is having a tough go of it so far. While it’s a young campaign, the fact that she has only 44 likes on her campaign’s Facebook page and, more telling, a total of $550 donated so far (on a $100,000 goal) may suggest that her struggle will be quite the uphill battle.

Obviously there’s not a lot to go on since Wendy is in the Congressional arena for the first time. And while her business ownership would be an asset insofar as appealing to moderate voters goes, she can’t lay claim to the “Eastern Shore values” mantle Frank Kratovil rode to success in 2008 – in fact, she may not survive a primary challenge if a politician well-known on this side of the Bay jumps into the race. There has been the rumor floating around that Jim Mathias may take a shot at it because it’s the middle of the state’s four-year cycle; of course that hasn’t been uttered as much lately because the new First District lines make the district lean quite a bit more Republican.

It would appear that Wendy’s best chance would be to have no primary opponents so she can concentrate on the November, 2012 race. But that’s probably not going to happen as the last 10 election cycles have only seen two races where a Democratic nominee was unopposed from the First District: 2010, where Kratovil was the incumbent, and 2002. Including those two races, an average of 3.4 aspirants have sought the Democratic nod.

And the other wild card is having new territory added to the district, as it now stretches farther westward than in previous years. Unfortunately for Democrats, that new area is pretty solidly Republican – yet it’s possible a Democratic candidate could emerge from those new areas.

Obviously I’ll keep an eye on developments in this race – and anything can happen over the next 11 months – but for the time being it appears Andy Harris doesn’t have a lot to worry about.

1 vs. 100

Well, okay, it’s not quite on the scale of the game show but one has to snicker at the thought of covering a protest in front of Andy Harris’s office that draws 20 people. Shoot, the TEA Party got more than that to go to former Congressman Frank Kratovil’s office, brought a noose, and still couldn’t get any local media attention besides local bloggers like me. Never mind that we’d get 300 or 400 for a nice local gathering, whether in the bright sunshine or pouring rain.

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Let the gerrymander begin

Why am I not surprised that the three members of the state’s redistricting panel who could be bothered to show up for a meeting on the lower Eastern Shore looked so disinterested? Maybe it’s because they knew there was already something in the can?

According to Len Lazarick and the Maryland Reporter, the Congressional map could look like that described in this article today. Certainly the Democrats who managed to pack GOP voters into two Congressional districts last time around have outdone themselves this time by making the First Congressional District roughly an R+20 district, give or take. That’s great news for Andy Harris, whose district actually remains relatively similar except for losing the small portion of Anne Arundel County he represents but gaining the northern parts of Baltimore and Harford counties now in the Sixth Congressional District. Maybe the Democrats figure that, by running Frank Kratovil again and lying some more about Andy’s record, they can still pull the upset like they did in 2008 in an R+15 district.

On the other hand, Roscoe Bartlett’s Sixth District would be nearly sliced off at the western line of Frederick County, instead taking the predicted southern turn through extreme southern Frederick County to encompass a large portion of what is now the Eighth Congressional District in Montgomery County. Other current Sixth District voters in Frederick County would flip over to the Eighth District; meanwhile, much of Carroll County would be added to an L-shaped Seventh Congressional District which ends up in the heart of Baltimore City. Yep, those voters have SO much in common. The eastern edge of the Sixth District switches over to the First.

And poor Anne Arundel County would again be divided between four Congressional Districts: the Second Congressional District which hopscotches around the Baltimore suburbs, the Third Congressional District which veers around in a convoluted sort of “Z” shape around much of the rest of Baltimore, the Fourth Congressional District shared with Prince George’s County, and the Fifth Congressional District which stretches southward to the Potomac River. Nope, no effort to gain political advantage and protect incumbents there.

Once again, should this map or something similar be adopted, Maryland will be the laughingstock of good government advocates and further enshrine themselves into a Gerrymandering Hall of Shame. Simply put, the three districts which involve Baltimore City are a complete joke when it seems to me their interests would be better served by having one Congressman to call their own rather than sharing with the rural expanses of Carroll County or various points in the suburbs.

And the sad thing is that this committee obviously didn’t listen to legitimate concerns expressed by members of both parties who said they should better respect geographic lines. Local Democrats will obviously be crushed to see their wishes of a “balanced” First District tossed out the window – of course they’d get over it if the changes meant the Democrats had a 7-1 Congressional edge in a state they should rightfully (by voter registration numbers) enjoy only a 5-3 margin.

Nope, it’s all about power, particularly in the jigsaw puzzle they create in the middle of the state. So how do we get standing in court to fight this?

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