Part of the exodus

On Labor Day I normally post on something union-related, but today I have a different sort of union to ponder: the union between conservative activists and the Republican Party.

Among the items on my Facebook feed this morning was one from Dwight Patel, who is one of the financial movers and shakers in the Maryland Republican Party (note: I have transcribed these as written, grammatical/spelling errors and all):

If you are an elected Republican Central Committee member and you can’t bring yourself to Vote for our Parties (sic) nominee… Go resign

After the shouts of “Preach!” and “Word!” in response was this from Eugene Craig, who is the 3rd Vice-Chair of the MDGOP:

Elected members of the central committee were elected to build the GOP not tear it down with blind gang like loyalty to open racism. That is not the party of Reagan and Lincoln and I will protect every RCC member rights to do what’s best to build their local party and vote their conscience.

So Patel responded:

Eugene out (sic) bylaws speak of this… Hence many people have resigned over trump… It was the right thing to do… And you need not further the lefts talking points by calling Donald trump a racist.

Dwight went on to explain that Trump was among his bottom choices and he gave maximum or sizeable donations to others. I can vouch for the fact that Dwight is a significant donor – the resident of Montgomery County bought two tables for our Lincoln Day Dinner last year and brought several people across the bridge. It’s likely he will do so again this year.

As you likely know, I am one of the “many people (who) have resigned over trump.” I didn’t have to in accordance with the bylaws, but I chose to anyway. Simply put, as one who is conservative before Republican I could not back a man who I saw as detrimental to the conservative cause, in part because I found him lacking in trustworthiness and principle. Having no way of knowing just how many people have resigned over Trump as compared to regular turnover, though, I don’t know what sort of trend we have here. But it’s highly likely that most of those who have left over Trump are those who were on the conservative side of the Republican party – people I call the “principle over party” wing as opposed to the “party over everything” wing. (And then you have those caught in the middle based on the fear of a Hillary Clinton administration, which seems to be descriptive of Patel. I suspect they would be sorely disappointed with the lack of positive change that would come from a Trump administration – just more of the status quo of ever-expanding government but with the “Republican” imprimatur on it.)

But in speaking to Craig’s point about “build(ing) their local party,” the sad fact is that 64.6% of those voters in Wicomico County who showed up voted for Trump over a more Constitutional conservative choice in Ted Cruz and a more moderate choice in John Kasich. Perhaps if Maryland had voted earlier in the process many within the 64.6% would have backed other conservatives in the race but we will never know – I just have to deal with the data at hand, and to me it proved that our county voters may be the “party over everything” group. If that’s true, then many of my efforts in educating local voters have been for naught.

I will admit that Trump seems to be getting his campaign going in a better direction, and even with the possible pitfalls of the Trump University trial and allegations of financial ties to Russian and Chinese backers those pale in comparison to the headaches Hillary Clinton is dealing with as the e-mail and Clinton Foundation scandals – along with the rumors of serious health issues with which Hillary is afflicted - smolder in the background despite being ignored by the partisan media. And the other day I concocted a scenario in playing with an Electoral College map where Trump had a path to victory if he can make up just five points on Clinton in certain states. (Part of that involves getting Gary Johnson into the debates, which I support. Let Jill Stein come along and participate, too.)

But, to use an overused phrase, in terms of the conservative movement a Trump presidency would still be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Moreover, his base has been variously described as “nationalist populist” or ”alt-right” while those who oppose those ideas are dismissed as “cuckservative.” I reject that description: I think I stand on the real conservative ground here based on my body of work – it’s you guys who need to get off the idea of using government to get even with your opponents. That makes you no better than liberals.

In this case I am not an unbiased observer, but the number in Maryland and around the country that have resigned from party-level positions based on Trump securing the nomination on a plurality of the vote – with some unknown number of Democrats switching over to goose the process for nefarious reasons – is less important than the conservative balance they brought to the Republican Party. Because of certain tasks I was generally given, I could not bear the idea of publicly having to show support for Donald Trump so I opted out.

I have read on many occasions that the Republican Party will soon go the way of the Whig Party, but the circumstances have changed significantly since the mid-19th century as Republicans and Democrats cooperated to make ballot access difficult, if not impossible, for other parties to secure. (The same goes for the Presidential debates, which are controlled a commission made up primarily by members of the two parties. It’s why people like me, who have some degree of agreement with the Libertarian and Constitution parties, stayed as Republicans – the others can’t win on a state and national level.) If the Republican Party ceased to be, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see the power-hungry Democrats take the opportunity to lock the process entirely. So it’s gut-wrenching to see the GOP self-destruct, but there’s the possibility this may occur.

The conservative fight has to go on, though. Like many of the others who left over Trump, I may just need some time to figure out my role.

Compare and contrast: government vs. the private sector

A few days ago I mentioned the manufacturing advocates the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) in a post regarding their convention plans. I wasn’t surprised to see they were very pleased with Hillary Clinton’s remarks, including a plan to “pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II.” Ah yes, the old “investment” in infrastructure, where taxpayer money will be shoveled to cronies and unions in an effort to build things we may not need or use (like facilities for public transit, bike paths, and so forth) at the artificial “prevailing” wage. Spend five dollars, waste two or three more – they don’t care because it’s all on the credit card anyway.

It sounds to me just like the promises regarding the “stimulus” package from Barack Obama, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. Those “shovel-ready” jobs actually turned out to be, among other things, government backstopping certain public-sector jobs that may have been destined for the chopping block. Only a small portion of the over $800 billion spent actually went to infrastructure, but ARRA was sold as an investment in infrastructure. So pardon me if I expect little good to come from Hillary’s plan.

Anyway, last night I read a contention that was more interesting (and realistic) from American Enterprise Institute scholar (as well as professor of economics and finance) Mark J. Perry. Here is the money line:

The bottom line is that America’s abundant and low-cost natural gas and electricity have more than offset higher labor costs in the U.S. and have contributed to the strongest profitability in a generation or more for U.S. manufacturers. Within three years, and possibly even sooner, it will be cheaper for most U.S. companies to manufacture goods for the American market at home, compared to producing those same goods in Asia. (Emphasis mine.)

Of course, that prediction is fraught with peril. We could regulate our way out of the energy boom by continuing to mandate the use of expensive, inefficient renewable energy sources (or, in lieu of that, transfer payments from utility providers), we can maintain the oppressive tax climate that has been one of many reasons companies are choosing to go offshore – any bean counter will tell you it’s better to pay 15% tax than 35% – or actually enact the increasing minimum wage that unfortunately Donald Trump is now supporting. Any or all of these are possible regardless of who wins the Oval Office.

And that’s the shame of it all. Over the course of the nation’s history, we have seen America become a great industrial power only to lose its advantage to upstarts like Japan and China. (Then again, we wrested the title from the British in the 1800s so things are always fluid.) These Asian nations took advantage of newer technology and less expensive labor to attract American manufacturing jobs that were in older, less efficient unionized plants, despite the fact these items would have to shipped back thousands of miles to their primary market.

But here we have the chance to get some of this back, and my fear is that too many people want to keep the status quo in place as a political issue rather than solve the problem. We talk about being a free market insofar as trade is concerned, but I contend that we need to work on freeing our own market:

  • Toss out these federal and state regulations and carveouts that only benefit special interests or large, established competitors trying to corner their respective markets.
  • Encourage the adoption of right-to-work laws so unions are forced to compete and sell the benefits they provide for the cost to workers.
  • Instead of debating whether the minimum wage should be increased or not, we should be debating how quickly we phase it out. The true minimum wage is zero, which is what workers who are tossed out of a job when companies can’t afford the increased labor costs will earn.

In reading the GOP platform (and I’m just going to ignore the Democrats on this one, since they aren’t selling themselves as free-market, limited-government types) I saw some attention paid to these issues, although their approach seems to be more of just controlling growth and pruning around the edges than a wholesale reduction. Needless to say, that platform could be completely ignored by the elected members of the party from Donald Trump on down if the idea of enriching their friends, rather than the supporters of the other side that have engorged themselves over the last eight years, remains in place.

Sadly, over most of the last century it hasn’t really mattered which side was in power because government has grown regardless of who was in charge. (The one exception: the Harding-Coolidge era of the 1920s, when the federal budget was drastically reduced – and annually balanced - after World War I. In a time where we are stuck with Trump, Clinton, or maybe Gary Johnson, what we really needed was a Coolidge. Bobby Jindal was probably the closest we had in the GOP field.)

I began this whole process by talking about infrastructure, and there’s a legitimate need for prudent spending on upgrades where it is appropriate. Sometimes there is a need for a new federal or state facility. But I have also seen how the government uses infrastructure to maintain a cash cow, with my favorite example being the Ohio Turnpike I grew up close by.

You see, the original plan was to eliminate the tolls once the bonds to construct the road were paid off in the 1980s. (This was promised when the highway was built in the early 1950s – my dad remembers them staking it out a few miles from his house.) But then they decided that some new exits were necessary (which they were) so they decided to build those. Then it was adding a third lane in each direction between Youngstown and Toledo (a process still going insofar as I know, since I haven’t been that way in a couple years), then renovating all the rest areas (twice in thirty years, and ditto), and so on and so forth. Forget the promise to remove the tolls once the highway was paid off – they constantly spend money on projects that weren’t within the original scope, perpetuating the agency that runs the Turnpike.

In theory, we could spend money from now until doomsday on government-sponsored projects. Some contractors would benefit, but others would be left out in the cold because there’s a certain procedure required to bid on and win public works contracts. But it wouldn’t necessarily be the best use of our funds – and by that I don’t mean the money in the public till but the money that we earn for our collective pockets. If we really want to get manufacturing going and bring it back to America, we need to maximize their potential for meeting our marketplace. They may make mistakes, but that should be up to the market to pick winners and not the government.

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.

Libertarians select two ex-Republicans

You know, for the bad reputation Republicans have politically they seem to get around.

As expected, the most major of the various “third parties” nominated onetime New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson to repeat as their Presidential standard-bearer and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld as his running mate. The biggest surprise seemed to be that both Johnson and Weld won on the second ballot, both coming up just a few votes short of a majority on the first.

It sets up an interesting situation for the party, for there are a number of purists who may be a #NeverJohnson faction of the party, although the total number of Libertarians in the country is but a small percentage of the electorate. But for those who are not thrilled with the choice of Trump vs. Clinton, Johnson has some appeal in the following ways:

  • Budget.  Johnson pledges to “submit to Congress a truly balanced budget. No gimmicks, no imaginary cuts in the distant future. Real reductions to bring spending into line with revenues, without tax increases. No line in the budget will be immune from scrutiny and reduction.” After the collective heart attack on K Street, we will certainly watch Congress begin to play the game with him and bring on a budgetary crisis.
  • Taxes. He also “advocates the elimination of tax subsidies, the double taxation embodied in business income taxes, and ultimately, the replacement of all income and payroll taxes with a single consumption tax that will allow every American and every business to determine their tax burden by making their own spending decisions. Taxes on purchases for basic necessities would be ‘prebated’, with all other purchases taxed equally regardless of income, status or purpose.” I’m cool with this, as I’ve advocated the FairTax for years. It would be something for the second term, though, and you can bet the lobbyists will fight that to the last man as well.
  • Term Limits. “Johnson is a strong advocate of term limits. Run for office, spend a few years doing the job at hand, and then return to private life. That’s what Gary Johnson did as Governor, and that’s what Senators and Representatives should do.” The libertarian purists wouldn’t be down for this since it arbitrarily limits choice, and I used to feel the same way. But since the Constitution allows for Presidential term limits (thanks to Republicans jealous of FDR) it should also allow for Congressional ones, too.
  • Role of Government. This is where Johnson takes a page from Trump’s promises to clean up Washington, but means it. “Government regulation should only exist to protect citizens from bad actors and the harm they might do to health, safety and property. Regulation should not be used to manipulate behavior, manage private lives and businesses, and to place unnecessary burdens on those who make our economy work.”
  • Foreign Policy. Johnson is not a neocon to be sure. “The U.S. must get serious about cutting off the millions of dollars that are flowing into the extremists’ coffers every day. Relationships with strategic allies must be repaired and reinforced. And the simplistic options of ‘more boots on the ground’ and dropping more bombs must be replaced with strategies that will isolate and ultimately neuter those who would, if able, destroy the very liberties on which this nation is founded.” It’s a nicer way of calling the last few military actions errant than Trump did.
  • Education. “Johnson believes there is no role for the Federal Government in education. He would eliminate the federal Department of Education, and return control to the state and local levels. He opposes Common Core and any other attempts to impose national standards and requirements on local schools, believing the key to restoring education excellence in the U.S. lies in the innovation, freedom and flexibility that federal interference inherently discourage.

Certainly there is a lot of debate whether the Johnson/Weld ticket would be good on social issues, as they dance around the idea of Judeo-Christian values. But there is the hope that Johnson will be added to the Presidential debates in order to bring these differences out to the voting public.

By virtue of being the Libertarian Party standard-bearer, Johnson is automatically included on the Maryland ballot.

The third party alternative

For decades, millions of Americans have complained that their Presidential choices consist of someone more evil against someone slightly less evil. Since we don’t have compulsory voting, those people have taken the option to skip voting altogether, with Presidential election turnout in 2012 estimated at 57.5%. Put another way, “none of the above” trounced both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama as they each only picked up around 29% of the registered voters.

But the fact that neither Democrats nor Republicans seem to be completely pleased with their presumptive nominees has brought out those who believe the Libertarian Party is best poised to make a little bit of inroads among the voting population. This seems to happen every cycle, but by the time the votes are cast the Libertarians are usually stuck with between 1/2 and 1 percent of the vote, By comparison, independent efforts from Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996 garnered a vastly larger percentage of the vote, and those of us who are a certain age recall liberal Republican John Anderson and his 1980 Presidential bid, which got 6.6% of the vote against incumbent Jimmy Carter and eventual winner Ronald Reagan. (Perot received 18.9% in 1992 and 8.4% in 1996, both times denying Bill Clinton a majority of the vote.)

Of course, with the unpopularity of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, who both have significant shares of voters on the principled edges of their respective parties declaring their intentions to not vote for the nominee, there is the luster of an independent run by a conservative like Ted Cruz or a socialist like Bernie Sanders. The idea falls apart, though, thanks to early ballot access deadlines in several states and “sore loser” laws preventing defeated Democrats or Republicans from going back on the ballot a second time in a particular cycle for the same office.

So here in Maryland there are only four party lines: Republican, Democrat, Green Party, or Libertarian. Each has a place on the ballot, and since I’m nowhere near caring who runs for the Green Party my focus for this is on the Libertarian ticket, where their nominating convention will be held in Orlando this weekend. Their field of 18 recognized candidates actually exceeds the original GOP field, but for all intents and purposes the balloting is going to come down to three: Gary Johnson, John McAfee, or Austin Petersen.

Johnson has the highest profile, but I suspect the purists of the LP are a little leery of him because he ran and governed as a member of the Republican Party. He originally sought the GOP nomination in 2012, but left early on to pursue and secure the Libertarian nod, getting the LP past the million-vote barrier in a Presidential election for the first time. He’s already selected former Massachusetts Governor William Weld as his running mate, making it a ticket of two former governors.

John McAfee is the guy whose name is synonymous with computer software, and in some respects is the Trump of the Libertarian field. He seems quite brash to me and of the three I would give him the least chance of winning. But it’s a convention and anything can happen.

There are a number of conservatives openly rooting for Petersen to win (Erick Erickson is the latest) for various reasons, not the least of which is a platform which is rather tolerable to those Republicans disgruntled with Trump. (One example: “Encourage a culture of life, and adoption, and educate Americans about the ‘consistent pro-life ethic,’ which also means abolishing the death penalty.”) I could get behind the pro-life portion, although I differ with Petersen on the death penalty believing there are circumstances where one forfeits his right to life by committing heinous deeds. Another more in a mainstream libertarian vein (that I can agree with): “Allow young people to opt out of Social Security.” I give Petersen the outside chance of winning, but I suspect there’s just enough support for Johnson/Weld to give them the nod.

Regardless of who wins, though, the pattern will probably work this way: over the summer the LP will poll in the high single-digits and may crack 10% nationally in some polls. But sometime around October these campaigns reach a point where voters decide they really want to back the winner, not some guy polling 10 percent. They’ll forswear their allegiance to the LP for the chance to say, yes, I backed Trump or Clinton in the election. Or in a lot of cases they’ll just say, “screw it, I’m staying home because my guy has zero chance.” Given that the support for the LP seems to be coming more from the Republican side right now, that attitude could lose the Senate for the GOP.

So on Tuesday we will know just who the LP nominee is, and the #NeverTrump group will have to decide if he (or, the slight possibility of she) is worth losing party privilege over.

So who will be the “none at all?”

February 3, 2016 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Personal stuff, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

To be quite honest I didn’t see the withdrawal of Rand Paul to be quite this soon, but the other day I noted in passing that Paul was among the bottom-feeders in both New Hampshire and South Carolina so once he performed poorly in Iowa there was really no need to move forward. His idea of trying to get 10,000 Iowa college students to caucus for him failed to the extent that he had a total of just 8,481 votes, drawing just 4.5% of the vote for a fifth-place finish (and one delegate.) And considering New Hampshire is the ground zero for the Free State Project – a group of libertarians who have vowed to move there to further their political activity in the state they determined was most conducive to their interests – you would have thought Paul, the most libertarian-leaning of the GOP candidates, would poll better than the measly 2 to 5 percent he was receiving in New Hampshire.  But he wasn’t, and his high-water mark there last summer was only in the 6% range.

(By the way, speaking of the Free State Project, they announced this morning that they have met their goal of 20,000 who pledge to move to the state, triggering a five-year clock for those who pledged to relocate. We’ll see how that does in the next half-decade.)

Meanwhile, Paul has a Democratic challenger for his Senate seat so he was surely getting pressure to abandon what was seeming to be a more and more futile quest for the Oval Office to protect a Republican Senate seat. (In the hopes his Presidential campaign would catch fire, Paul also managed to get Kentucky to have a Republican caucus in order to avoid having an issue with being on the ballot for two different offices, which is against state law.) His situation was different than the other Senators who are running (or have run): Ted Cruz isn’t up until 2018, Lindsey Graham was safe until 2020, and Marco Rubio declined re-election to the Senate to pursue his Presidential bid. (Among the names mentioned to replace Rubio was former Marylander Dan Bongino, who now lives in Florida.)

Yet there is a small but sufficient portion of the GOP that had as its motto, “Paul or none at all.” There was no other candidate they liked, so it remains to be seen how many will hold their nose and vote for the eventual GOP nominee, how many will migrate to the Libertarian candidate (odds are it will be former Republican aspirant Gary Johnson, who dropped out of the 2012 GOP field and became the Libertarian nominee later that year), and how many will just stay home. If the latter two numbers are too great, it obviously affects the Republicans’ hopes of getting back in the White House, but if the last number is high that could make Republican prospects of holding the Senate more unlikely as well.

Truth be told, I really liked Rand Paul as a candidate although I had a few reservations about his foreign policy. (On the domestic front he was nearly unbeatable.) Perhaps this is a good time for a reminder of my own level of support for these guys and how the field has shaken out since the process started last summer. Back at the end of September when I made my initial endorsement, the 17-person field had already lost Rick Perry and Scott Walker. Based on my level of support, this is how the race has elapsed:

  • Bottom tier: George Pataki, Donald Trump
  • Fourth tier: Chris Christie, John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina
  • Third tier: Rick Santorum, Jim Gilmore, Ben Carson
  • Second tier: Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Lindsey Graham
  • Top tier (and these guys were miles ahead of the rest): Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal

Walker was being a disappointment and was trending toward the third or fourth tier, on the other hand Perry may have landed in my top five.

As you can see, I’m perilously close to holding my nose because the only one of my top five remaining is Ted Cruz. Yet those who support Paul don’t tend to like Cruz because they’re occasionally been rivals in the Senate and Cruz also has ties (both through his wife and financially) to Goldman Sachs - a bank libertarians love to hate. There are also those who question the whole “natural born citizen” aspect of Cruz’s (and Marco Rubio’s) candidacy, although that charge has been led mostly by supporters of Donald Trump.

Sadly, I suspect there really is a great number of Rand Paul supporters who will be the “none at all” contingent when it comes to November. When you have to pin your hopes on the equal disillusionment of Bernie Sanders supporters (who are bound to be hosed by the Clinton machine) it is worth wondering about the direction of this republic.

Update: As I was writing this, word came out that Rick Santorum is also suspending his campaign. Scratch another off the list.

Stepping away if not selected

December 11, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

I find it interesting that two of the non-politicians in the Presidential race are the ones who would abandon their party if certain conditions apply.

Donald Trump has waffled back and forth on a third-party run, which is a prospect that scares Republicans who can see him doing a Ross Perot and helping to hand the election to a Clinton. Even though Trump’s support seems to hold between 25 and 35 percent in national polls, that represents a significant enough chunk of the national electorate that it would make the difference in a presidential election. It’s likely Trump would take less from Hillary’s base than he would from a Republican.

But today Ben Carson joined Trump in vowing to leave the party if the convention ends up being brokered. This, though, is a possibility given the rules in place and the large number of hopefuls still out there. Winner-take-all rules in various states could give Trump the nomination with the share of the vote he’s currently receiving, but the GOP establishment frets that The Donald’s outspokenness on issues such as immigration and a Carteresque ban on Muslim immigration would repel moderate voters. So the fear is the delegates will be browbeaten into supporting a different candidate that’s more acceptable to the establishment.

There is nothing that says a Republican candidate has to stay loyal to the party if rejected – in fact, in the 2012 cycle former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson began as a Republican candidate but once he found his campaign had little traction he decided to withdraw from the GOP race and seek the Libertarian Party nomination instead (which he received.) On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is actually not a Democrat but seeks their nomination nonetheless.

Unlike Trump, Ben Carson did not leave the door open for a third-party run if he leaves the GOP. But the question is whether Carson would be willing to work with the eventual nominee if he or she comes through a divided convention. With the number of candidates out there who would otherwise not be occupied, there are a lot of prospective campaigners out there. Carson would certainly appeal to certain evangelical and minority audiences as a conservative surrogate. Someone has to take the message into certain quarters where they would be embraced in a manner that Donald Trump could not. Truthfully, it would not surprise me if Donald Trump was the 2016 answer to Ross Perot, and I will admit that George H.W. Bush’s forgetting what his lips said about no new taxes drove me to vote for Perot. It was a vote that would have went for Bush.

It’s been noted that Trump supporters tend to be less educated and more rural than typical Republican backers. They remind me of Reagan Democrats, who were the working-class laborers that voted Democrat along with their unions for generations but became fed up with a Democratic party that drifted farther and farther away from its moorings. Many of that generation are gone – remember, the first Reagan election was half a lifetime ago and those who had put in 25 years at the factory back then have passed on. It’s their kids that are looking at Trump as the answer.

In this day and age, people are less and less wedded to party and more and more skeptical of politics as usual. If nothing else, the rise of Carson and Trump have proven that experience doesn’t matter as much anymore. Whether they stay as Republicans may not matter if the GOP doesn’t strengthen their brand.

The tangled Webb Democrats weave

October 20, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

The first one in is the first one out – or is he?

Back in November of 2014, the world basically ignored Jim Webb when he became the first serious 2016 Presidential candidate to form an exploratory committee. And after that ignorance extended through a “debate” where his speaking time paled in comparison to the frontrunners, Webb saw the writing on the wall and announced the possibility of a different direction.

Some people say I am a Republican who became a Democrat, but that I often sound like a Republican in a room full of Democrats or a Democrat in a room full of Republicans. Actually I take that as a compliment. More people in this country call themselves political independents than either Republican or Democrat. I happen to agree with them. Our country is more important than a label. Democrats in years past like Sam Nunn, Scoop Jackson, Mike Mansfield and John F. Kennedy understood this.

(snip)

And I know I’m going to hear it, so let me be the first to say this: I fully accept that my views on many issues are not compatible with the power structure and the nominating base of the Democratic Party. That party is filled with millions of dedicated, hard-working Americans. But its hierarchy is not comfortable with many of the policies that I have laid forth, and frankly I am not that comfortable with many of theirs.

For this reason I am withdrawing from any consideration of being the Democratic Party’s nominee for the Presidency. This does not reduce in any way my concerns about the challenges facing our country, my belief that I can provide the best leadership in order to meet these challenges, or my intentions to remain fully engaged in the debates that are facing us. How I remain as a voice will depend on what kind of support I am shown in the coming days and weeks as I meet with people from all sides of America’s political landscape. And I intend to do that.

(snip)

I am not going away. I am thinking through all of my options. 240 years ago the Declaration of Independence from our status as a colony from Great Britain was announced. It’s time for a new Declaration of Independence – not from an outside power but from the paralysis of a federal system that no longer serves the interests of the vast majority of the American people.

The Presidency has gained too much power. The Congress has grown weak and often irrelevant. The present-day Democratic and Republican parties are not providing the answers and the guarantees that we can rely on. The financial sector represented by the Wall Street bankers is caring less and less about the conditions of the average American worker for the simple reason that their well-being depends on the global economy, not the American economy.

Our political process is jammed up. It needs an honest broker who respects all sides, who understands the complicated nature of how our federal system works, who will communicate a vision for our country’s future here at home and in our foreign policy, and who has a proven record of getting things done.

While Webb was a non-entity in the polls, over the weekend when I checked the RCP averages he was ahead of the little two of Martin O’Malley and Lincoln Chafee, who combined were barely beating Webb. In reality the Democratic side is a three-person race between Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden, who polls about 17% as a non-formal candidate. Compare that to the less than 1% Webb had and it’s no surprise he’s frustrated with the process.

Webb’s 2016 candidacy reminds me a little bit of Gary Johnson’s 2012 run. Johnson, the libertarian-leaning former governor of New Mexico, got an early start but could never catch fire among conservative voters, so he dropped out in order to secure the Libertarian Party nomination, which he received. He ended up getting just under 1% of the vote, which was roughly the support he was getting among Republicans.

The last time a candidate siphoned a significant number of Democratic votes was when Ralph Nader picked off enough far-left voters to tip the 2000 election to George W. Bush. Webb is running a centrist, populist campaign that if left unchecked could draw votes away from Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, though, he could also hurt Donald Trump if Democrats who don’t like the thought of voting for a Republican decide an independent Webb is the better choice. This would be especially true if the Democrats play the class envy card on Trump as they did for Mitt Romney.

So far it’s been a year where voters have coalesced around outsiders. Webb isn’t exactly an outsider as he served a term in the Senate and as a Reagan administration official. but he has been away for awhile. People tired of politics as usual may give Webb a chance if he has the means and money to get his message out. That wasn’t going to happen in the Democratic process.

Is a conservative, pro-liberty message viable in Maryland?

The question expressed in the title is perhaps the most vital one going forward for Maryland Republicans. Some are already arguing the state is a lost cause, and when your state’s winning Presidential write-in is Santa Claus (yes, Santa was an official write-in candidate so his votes counted) it’s pretty likely that too many expect things from the government.

In 2012 there were two statewide candidates bearing the Republican ticket and two Libertarians. While the circles aren’t perfectly together, if you made a Venn diagram there would be a lot of common ground and that percentage could make a difference someday. So for the sake of this argument I’m adding them together.

  • President: Mitt Romney 971,869 + Gary Johnson 30,195 = 1,002,064 (37%)
  • U.S. Senate: Dan Bongino 693,291 + Dean Ahmad 32,252 = 725,543 (27.5%)

Arguably, of the two Republicans the case can be made that Bongino was the more conservative while Romney was perceived by most as relatively centrist (and the closer he got to the end of the campaign, the more he drifted toward the center.) But in that Senate race there was the third man, and polling suggests that for every two votes he took from Democrat Ben Cardin he took three from Dan Bongino. Add 60% of Rob Sobhani’s total to this mix and you have 984,103. Figure in the 2.7% undervote on the Senate race as compared to the Presidential one and it looks like the current conservative/libertarian ceiling is about 1 million votes statewide.

So let’s say that 1,000,000 is the magic number. If our side had turned out 1,000,000 votes for each past statewide election:

  • The 2010 statewide elections for Governor and Comptroller would have been nailbiters rather than over by 30 minutes after the polls closed.
  • Those elections would have been for an open gubernatorial seat because Bob Ehrlich would have been re-elected in 2006. Michael Steele would have ran this year as an incumbent, and the other two statewide races would have been agonizingly close losses.

You’ll notice that these are gubernatorial cycles rather than Presidential – simply put, 1 million votes in Maryland won’t win in a Presidential year. The only GOP candidate to ever exceed 1 million here was George W. Bush in 2004 and he was running as an incumbent (and still lost big.)

So the trick is getting the same base which comes out to vote in the Presidential election to participate in the gubernatorial ones. But at the same time we have to expand our share of the pie somewhat to be more competitive in Presidential races rather than having GOP campaigns write Maryland off as a lost cause before the campaign even begins.

While there is a share of the electorate which has as its focus a single issue (generally social issues like abortion or gay marriage, although this extends to items like Second Amendment issues or property rights) most people vote their pocketbook and unfortunately they’ve come to grudgingly accept that the government is going to take more out of their pocket regardless of how much they complain. After all, in 2010 – during a TEA Party wave election – Maryland voters re-elected a governor who had raised taxes on practically everyone. But Martin O’Malley successfully pushed the message that “a fee is a tax” and could paint his GOP opponent Bob Ehrlich with the same brush. (O’Malley and General Assembly Democrats then merrily went on to raise many of those same fees.)

Yet at the same time a growing proportion of these voters have become recipients of these same government handouts the increased taxes pay for, creating a situation where redistribution of wealth is the means by which the majority party maintains power. After all, when over half depend on government for their well-being then those in charge of the government tend to stay in charge.

Somewhere we have allowed the opposition to paint us as heartless government cutters. And the other problem is that telling people that “it’s your money” doesn’t work as well when they receive the money from a governmental unit. That doesn’t have to be the ever more ubiquitous EBT card – it can be employment by a governmental unit, whether city hall, the local school, or any of the thousand other bureaus, agencies, or even nonprofits which depend on government grants for their existence. Remember, that cop on the street, your child’s public school teacher, or the lady at the MVA are all government employees, but so is the Salisbury University professor or – indirectly – the grant writer at the nonprofit. Nearly all of them have a vested interest in making sure the taxpayer money spigot remains flowing, because many are scared by the common media narrative into believing the TEA Party is going to leave them high and dry.

Indeed, there are certain cases where they could be correct. But one argument I wish Dan Bongino could have amplified more, because it was effective, ran along the lines (I’m paraphrasing from memory) of being happy to pay for the cop on the street, the public school teacher, or the soldier in Afghanistan – but he drew the line at cowboy poetry festivals in Nevada.

Obviously one can argue the merits of a project which benefits one small area – the drought-stricken farmer in Indiana whose subsidized disaster assistance we criticize may feel the same way about Ocean City beach replenishment here. Moreover, those are small potatoes compared to the huge entitlement spending begging to be cleaned up on the federal level.

But we have to start small and gain trust, particularly when it comes to state politics. For all his tax-raising faults and sacrificing the needs of his state in order to pursue the personal gain of higher office, Martin O’Malley is not an unpopular governor. Arguably this could be due to plenty of help from a sympathetic media, but he’s used the state’s better-than-average unemployment rate (thanks to adjacency to the seat of federal government) to convey the message that all is well. Those who have differing opinions don’t have the same blowtorch to get the message out – 25,000 Facebook followers for Change Maryland is great but hundreds of thousands of Marylanders subscribe to the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post. While I wish to have thousands of readers a day and believe my message is worth the readership, I don’t reach that many with this little candle of mine – it’s no blowtorch quite yet. To be quite blunt, if you took the unique daily readership of ALL the political blogs which deal with Maryland politics – even including their attempts at multimedia – and added them all together, you might equal the readership of a regional newspaper like the Daily Times. As it stands at present, we’re the guppies in an ocean of media, and we have to work at expanding that sphere of influence as well.

Yet the very argument we have a winning message remains untested. Perhaps Dan Bongino was a nearly perfect spokesperson for a conservative message, but there were factors which affected his Senate bid: a perceived lack of life and business experience compared to his opponents, and the fact that one opponent ran a populist campaign with non-specific promises no one forced him to flesh out. Rob Sobhani wanted the debates and so did we, but Hurricane Sandy had other plans for our state and hard questions weren’t asked.

Yet even if Bongino had ran his 2012 race unmolested, the probability is strong he would have picked up around the same 36 to 37 percent which has seemed to be our ceiling in Presidential years. We have to convince about 300,000 more voters in a Presidential year that – assuming we have a conservative, pro-liberty candidate, of course – it’s in the best interests of both them and succeeding generations to cast their ballot for such a person. In one lump, that seems like a lot, but it really only takes a handful of politically agnostic neighbors or friends per activist to accomplish.

In the near future, 2014 is looming and there are at least four candidates who are looking for conservative, pro-liberty support (although they may or may not necessarily have a compatible message: think Bob Ehrlich.) Yet the same rules apply; as I demonstrated earlier getting 1 million votes in a gubernatorial year keeps us at least close and climbing the ladder for another 100,000 may put us over the top.

Yet we cannot rely on a politician – even one as articulate as Dan Bongino – to deliver our message for us. It’s time for all of us to do our part, even though many of us are still burned out on the lengthy 2012 campaign and the disappointment we feel with the results. Indeed, we lost this time but there’s always the next election. Spread the word that we CAN win!

One happy party

Lost in the post-election hangover and finger-pointing was something which could either be good news or bad news for Maryland Republicans: the Libertarian Party is assured of a place on the 2014 ballot. My friend Muir Boda provides some background:

Election results in Maryland showed positive results for Maryland Libertarians. Muir Boda, the Libertarian candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 1st District received nearly 12,000 votes at 3.8%.  Even more exciting the Libertarian Candidate for President, Governor Gary Johnson, received over 21,000 votes and 1.1% of the vote. This secures ballot access for the Libertarian Party in Maryland through 2016, which will save Maryland Taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

However, I’m not sure of Boda’s interpretation of the law about 2016, as Maryland election law states on minor parties:

The political party shall retain its status as a political party through either of the following:

(i) if the political party has nominated a candidate for the highest office on the ballot in a statewide general election, and the candidate receives at least 1% of the total vote for that office, the political party shall retain its status through December 31 in the year of the next following general election; or

(ii) if the State voter registration totals, as of December 31, show that at least 1% of the State’s registered voters are affiliated with the political party, the political party shall retain its status until the next following December 31.

Unless the Maryland Libertarian Party can get to and stay at a figure of about 36,022 registered voters (they had 10,682 at last report) my reading of that law means they only have 2014 ballot access.

Boda can boast, however, that he was the leading vote-getter of the eight Libertarians who ran for Congress in Maryland as he received 3.8% of the overall vote. If extrapolated statewide, Boda and his 12,522 votes would have easily topped the actual statewide candidates (U.S. Senate hopeful Dean Ahmad and Presidential candidate Gary Johnson) because neither had topped 30,000 votes as of the last round of counting. The First District has been very libertarian-friendly over the last three cycles, with Boda and 2008-10 candidate Richard Davis getting an increasing share of votes each time. Muir has a chance at beating Davis’s 3.79% in 2010 if he can hang on to his current percentage.

So what does that mean for the Maryland GOP? Well, obviously there is a small but significant part of the electorate which is dissatisfied with the moderate establishment of the Republican party, so much so that they would “throw away” their vote on a third party. Perhaps one factor in this was the fact Andy Harris was widely expected to crush his competition so a Libertarian vote was a safe “message” vote, but I think this 1 to 4 percent of the electorate is just as important as the 3 to 5 percent of the electorate which is gay – and we certainly bent over backwards to accommodate them in this election, didn’t we? (Granted, those two groups aren’t mutually exclusive but hopefully you see the point.)

While I’m discussing my Libertarian friend, I think it’s important to bring up an article he penned for Examiner.com. In that piece, he opens:

The utter failure of the Republican Party to embrace and acknowledge the millions of people that Ron Paul had energized over the last five years not only cost Mitt Romney the election, it may very well hinder the growth of the GOP. This is the result of a political party bent on preserving the status quo and adhering to its very principles.

He goes on to allege that “Mitt Romney did not have to cheat to win the Republican nomination, but he did anyway.”

Besides the fact I think his statement on principles is perhaps not artfully worded – if not for principles, why would a political party exist? – I also think Boda’s article loses a little bit of steam in the middle when he writes about the back-and-forth between the two parties. Republicans and Democrats exist in a manner akin to the way two siblings get along, with the bickering coming to a head at election time, and unfortunately Muir falls into the trap of believing there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.

But his opening paragraph and closing statement are fairly close to hitting the bullseye given the state of the national GOP as it relates to outsiders like the TEA Party. I’ll put it this way: given the general attitude of the mainstream media about the Republican Party, would it have hurt to follow the rules which were originally established and not shut out the Paul delegates? Yes, the convention may have served less as a Romney/Ryan coronation, but with the rules shenanigans that occurred there we had plenty of controversy anyway. I’m sure some percentage of them came around, decided to bite the bullet, and voted for Mitt Romney, but a lot of those folks didn’t vote, didn’t volunteer, and didn’t send in money.

Boda concludes:

The unfortunate truth is that Republicans had their chance to roll back regulations, reform the tax system and address other issues such as Social Security and Medicare. Yet, they became worried more about retaining power and keeping us at war than protecting our liberties.

Now I disagree with the specifics of this passage simply because the entire idea of a political party is “retaining power” and we were warned the battle against Islamic terror would be a long one. But in a sense Boda is correct as the last Republican president – with the help of a Republican-led Congress – worked to expand federal involvement in education (No Child Left Behind) and created another entitlement program with Medicare Part D. In the end, those will be more expensive than the oft-quoted passage by liberals about “putting two wars on a credit card.” Nor should we forget that President Bush had a plan to address Social Security, but demagoguery by Democrats and the AARP (but I repeat myself) nixed that thought.

Of course some are going to say that the idea of a competitor whose party mainly siphons votes from our side should be dismissed. But, unlike some of those in the Maryland GOP establishment, to me it’s principle over party and I’m conservative before I’m Republican. My job is to marry the two concepts together and win the battle of ideas, which in turn will lead to winning elections – even over the Libertarian candidates.

Playing from the inside

In May I did an Examiner piece on the Coalition to Reduce Spending, a group which was co-founded by a former Ron Paul campaign operative with the aim to endorse candidates pledging to (of course) reduce spending.

Well, today I found the following in my e-mail box, with the headline “Johnson, Paul Campaign Talent Combine to Help Liberty Candidates Win.”

Struggling libertarian political candidates and advocacy groups now have a chance to succeed in races where the establishment might otherwise prevail.  Seven of the most successful individuals who have variously worked on the Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and Gary Johnson campaigns (among many others) have combined to form Liberty Torch Political Consulting, LLC.  The firm aims to change the outcome of elections around the country and get more freedom-loving candidates elected to office than ever before.

The common name between the two groups is Jonathan Bydlak, who is president of the CRS. I must be on his e-mail list.

Now that’s not to say I have anything against the group; in fact, I’d love to see plenty of pro-liberty candidates win. But it has to be said that this team doesn’t necessarily have a track record of success, unless you consider Gary Johnson’s nomination as the Libertarian candidate a smashing accomplishment. Yes, Ron Paul has been successful in several House elections but he never accounted for a significant part of the presidential vote, nor did Johnson. Only Rand Paul has seen a major electoral success, and that was in Kentucky – not exactly a key swing state. So what would they really bring to the table?

I suppose their apparent focus on winnable local races is a good one, since there are hundreds of local and state seats up for grabs this year. Obviously there’s a significant pro-liberty media presence out there, so local races which aren’t going to be decided mostly on who bombards the airwaves with the most frequent and dirtiest thirty-second commercials will be a natural market for the folks at Liberty Torch. Adding a little national panache to these local races may help tip the scales in a few of them.

While he’s not necessarily the poster boy for pro-liberty followers, the way Scott Brown nationalized a Massachusetts U.S. Senate race seems like a good model to follow – in Maryland, Dan Bongino has taken a few pages from that campaign. Having a broad network in media can help to some extent, as can some creativity and plain talking. But you need to have the boots on the ground, too, and consultants are no substitute for a good candidate. (Notice the two commercials I cited backed candidates who lost their election – one in the primary and one in the general.)

But it’s interesting to see our side playing the same game as the high-powered Beltway politicians play. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?

Conservative and Republican reaction to SCOTUS decision predictable

I have seen a lot of disappointment over the last 36 hours or so, as conservatives lash out at a decision they believe was ill-considered. I get a lot of e-mail from numerous sources, so I’ll have several links for you to follow. But I’m saving room for my reaction, too.

And if you’re wondering, I really don’t give a damn about what Democrats are crowing about, because they’re almost always wrong anyway. I don’t have to be fair and balanced here. So I’ll concentrate on some of the Republicans and Libertarians who we can vote for here in our locality.

For example, Mitt Romney promised to repeal Obamacare on his first day as President. While that may seem like a little bit of a stretch, it’s actually possible because Congress is in session a couple weeks before the new President is sworn in. If H.R. 1 in the 113th Congress is a full-blown repeal of Obamacare and the Senate can get past a Democratic filibuster (which some say isn’t possible anyway) they could present to bill to President Romney on January 21, 2013. But I’m not going to hold my breath.

Onetime Republican Gary Johnson agreed, with the Libertarian pointing out:

There is one thing we know about health care. Government cannot create a system that will reduce costs while increasing access.

Johnson also believed the “uncertainty” of the health care law was contributing to the unemployment problem in America.

Turning to our state of Maryland, U.S. Senate hopeful Dan Bongino called the decision “a serious blow to the freedoms of all Americans.” But he implored his supporters:

We can fix this, we will fix this. Get off the mat, there is one more round to fight…

From now until November 6th be a wolf not a sheep. Commit yourself to changing the country for the better and make today nothing but a bad memory.

Similarly, Congressman Andy Harris dismissed the ruling as

…determin(ing) the law’s constitutionality, not whether the law is good policy. Americans have already made up their mind on that issue. A majority favor repealing the law.

The sentiments were echoed by the Maryland Republican Party, where Chair Alex Mooney called yesterday “a very difficult day for all of us.”

I wanted to add one more from a group called the Job Creators Alliance. I don’t recall hearing from them before but it’s a group of CEOs who banded together to advocate business-friendly policy. And Staples founder Tom Stemberg spoke on behalf of the group when he said:

The Supreme Court of the United States has dealt a critical blow to free enterprise. By upholding the mandate as a tax, the Court and this Administration has ensured that taxes will go up for middle class working families and small businesses everywhere. Legal arguments aside, Obamacare is a disaster for small business owners and entrepreneurs. It will result in thousands of lost jobs, increased health care costs and an increased inability for small businesses to provide coverage to employees.

Today’s decision not only leaves the hurdles to job creation that Obamacare posed untouched, but adds additional uncertainty to the economy which will make it much more difficult for our economy to grow.

My reaction sort of falls along the same lines, but I thought I saw a silver lining when the individual mandate was struck down – Congress can’t necessarily compel us to buy a product. But they sure can set up a punishment for not doing so, and that’s the scary part.

However, this goes back to something which was said during the U.S. Senate campaign by Richard Douglas when he argued repeatedly that SCOTUS should uphold the law. Because this has been kicked back to Congress to resolve, it only takes a determined effort by voters to elect enough conservatives to Washington to overcome the kicking and screaming objections by Democrats to overturning Obama’s namesake program. If they can repeal a Constitutional amendment by enacting another one scant years later, Obamacare can be eliminated as well.

Of course, this all depends on electing the right legislators – unfortunately, if the American people are really the “sheeple” some would lead you to believe we are that may not happen. If the same actors remain in place, come 2014 we’ll be on the road to the government telling us just how and when to wipe our asses.

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