A contrast in styles: thoughts on the Delaware primary election

I do not live in the First State of Delaware, but I work there as does my wife. So despite the fact I have no vote in the process, to me tomorrow’s primary is important enough to devote a post to. As originally intended, I had a pair of questions to ask of each of the four gubernatorial candidates regarding development and job creation that I sought their answer to so I e-mailed them to each candidate and listed it as a press inquiry. For the record, I only received a response from the campaign of Republican Colin Bonini asking for my phone number to do an interview. But I decided that wouldn’t be right to be that one-sided, nor am I a great fan of not having answers in writing. So this piece became more of a general overview.

In a political sense, Delaware is a lot like Maryland: dominated by Democrats who live in one heavily-populated area of the state, while the downstate area is more Republican and conservative. To buttress that point, Democratic gubernatorial candidate (and current Congressman) John Carney was born and lives in the Wilmington area while the two Republicans facing off to oppose him, State Senator Colin Bonini and businesswoman Lacey Lafferty, live in Kent and Sussex counties, respectively.

And in John Carney you also have a Ivy League liberal who’s been in government for most of his adult life as an appointee who moved up to Lieutenant Governor for two terms but was defeated in his effort to succeed his “boss” (in a manner of speaking, since the positions are elected separately in Delaware) in the 2008 Democratic primary by current Governor Jack Markell. Undaunted, John just waited until the opening came in 2010 to run for Congress since then-Rep. Mike Castle opted to run for the Senate seat that opened up when Joe Biden became Vice President. (The seat had a placeholder appointee until the 2010 election, which was to finish the last four years of Biden’s term. This was the primary Castle lost to Christine O’Donnell.) John Carney won the Delaware Congressional seat Castle was vacating and probably would have been happy to stay in Congress except that Joe Biden’s son Beau, who was the odds-on favorite to run for and win Delaware’s highest office in 2016, passed away from cancer last year. So Carney seems to be the recipient of the “Delaware Way” of particular officeholders cycling between political jobs.

One thing I noticed in taking a cursory read of Carney’s campaign site: he uses the word “invest” a lot. Those in the know realize this means a LOT more government spending and that, to me, is bad for business. Higher taxes aren’t the way to attract the clientele that keeps my employer going, either.

But the winner of the GOP primary faces the long odds of trying to overcome Carney, who has name recognition aplenty and will certainly be burning up our local airwaves in the next couple months since Salisbury (and Rehoboth Beach, where the local NBC affiliate’s broadcast orignates) is actually the TV market serving southern Delaware.

It’s a contest between a man who has been in political office since 1994 (and was elected at the age of 24, meaning he has spent nearly half his life in office) and a woman who apparently began her run almost as soon as the votes were counted from the 2012 gubernatorial election.

Colin BoniniThere are definitely some things to like about Colin Bonini: he has the good idea to make Delaware a right-to-work state and would encourage the streamlining of state government by offering longtime employees an early retirement package. Legislatively, he has ranked as the most conservative legislator in the Senate (although out of 21 that may not be the greatest achievement.) However, he has the luxury of running from cover as his legislative seat isn’t up for election this time and, quite frankly, this may not be the year for entrenched politicians on the Republican side.

At least that’s what Lacey Lafferty is hoping for. Now I have heard Lafferty on the radio a couple times (since I often listen to Delaware talk radio) and she seems to have the political style people associate with Donald Trump insofar as running as an outsider. (Like Trump, she was once a Democrat, too.) And the rhetoric isn’t far off, either:

Sen. Bonini is the choice of the establishment, but Ms. Lafferty believes she will win.

She’s been critical of her primary opponent, referring to him on Twitter as “lazy” and a “buffoon.” Sen. Bonini represents part of a failed political culture, Ms. Lafferty said, noting he did not officially unveil his campaign until recently.

“This is what people are sick of,” she said. “They’re tired of this. They want somebody that they can depend upon.”

Sen. Bonini has referred to her as a “fringe candidate,” and more recently, he stressed Republican voters should select the person with “the best chance to win in November.”

As of Aug. 14, he had about $66,000 on hand, while Ms. Lafferty had $4,400.

Delaware State University professor Sam Hoff foresees Ms. Lafferty pulling in about 15 percent of the primary vote, largely from more left-leaning Republicans.

Apparently there aren’t a lot of polls done in Delaware, but the poll I did find has the race at 29-22 Bonini. And since I have heard Lafferty identify with Trump on several occasions, I don’t think she would be tLafferty signhe choice of “left-leaning” Republicans.

I have to give credit to Lafferty for working hard to build a grassroots campaign, with the best philosophical idea I noted from her being that of stressing vocational education. I agree that not all students are college material, but those who can work with their hands and aren’t afraid of a little effort can succeed quite well in life. She has quite the distinctive yard signs, too. (Don Murphy would hate them but you have to admit they are artistic.) And I see quite a few of them driving around Sussex County.

So Republican voters of Delaware have an interesting choice to make tomorrow for governor. They can pick the candidate who has lots of experience in lawmaking and owns a very conservative voting record; someone who is likely perceived as the safe choice but may not have the appeal for people to cross party lines.

Or they can select someone who is, to be honest, more of a wild card. We have no idea whether she will be polished on the stump or self-destruct when the people begin to pay attention. It’s possible she was a tough-talking conservative the entire campaign but finds out there’s not the waste, fraud, and abuse she thinks there is in state government – not to mention has to deal with Bonini as a state senator who would have to push her agenda.

I would be remiss if I didn’t note there will be other candidates on the November gubernatorial ballot, including Libertarian Sean Goward – who may be hoping for a boost from the national ticket with Gary Johnson polling in the high single digits. Goward hasn’t been one to update his website much, though.

On the other hand, the contest for Lieutenant Governor is solely on the Democratic side, as La Mar Gunn is the only GOP stalwart to run. (He’s best known for “losing” the Kent County Recorder of Deeds race in 2014 by two votes – the first recount that the Democratic incumbent Betty McKenna won after Gunn won on Election Day by two votes and won two recounts by similar – but not those exact – margins.) Between the six candidates on the Democratic ballot (Sherry Dorsey Walker, Brad Eaby, Greg Fuller, Bethany Hall-Long, Kathy McGuiness, and Ciro Poppiti) you find varying levels of political experience but more or less the same amount of liberalism – basically peas in a pod.

There’s also a Congressional race with one Republican (Hans Reigle), one Libertarian (Scott Gesty), and (again) six Democrats – Sean Barney, Mike Miller, Lisa Blunt Rochester, Bryan Townsend, Scott Walker, and Elias Weir. In looking through their positions, this November you can decide between Reigle, who seems to me a right-of-center sort who would probably fall midway between the most conservative and liberal Republicans in Congress, the fairly classic small-government, non-interventionist Libertarian Gesty, and the Democrat who will be way left of center whoever he or she is. Again, peas in a pod.

I’m not involved with the Delaware Republican Party, but it seems to me they have a harder time getting candidates than even our loony-bin left state of Maryland does. In one respect this prevents bitter primary fights, but there’s also the aspect of leaving rank-and-file voters out of the decision. Between the statewide races this year (governor, lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, and Congressman) the Republicans only have six candidates on the ballot. Democrats match that in either of two prominent races. Note that the voter registration numbers are less dire in the First State compared to Maryland – in Delaware only 48% are Democrats, 28% Republican, and 24% “others.” (There are more Democrats in New Castle County, however, than Republicans or “others” in the entire state.)

Unlike Maryland politics, I look at the situation in Delaware as an interested observer rather than an erstwhile participant because, as I said up top, I work in the state. But as one who lives across the Transpeninsular Line I think I speak for the people of Delaware who want their state to succeed. Above all, I want it to be attractive to new residents and prosperous for those already there because that helps to make my paycheck, so vote wisely in the primary.

Resettlement concerns on Delmarva

After the 11/13 Paris massacre and San Bernardino Islamic terror attack, the concerns about the resettlement of Syrian refugees were understandable. After a few days to think about it, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan opted to cooperate as little as possible with the federal government’s attempts to bring in thousands of refugees, who are primarily male and of fighting age. Even so, the request by Hogan is non-binding and Montgomery County, home to about 1/6 of Maryland’s population, has put out its own welcome mat in the shadow of the nation’s capital.

Perhaps more worrisome for Delmarva residents concerned about the proximity of these barely-vetted Muslims in search of a peaceful locale to wage jihad (oops, did I say that?) is that Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has joined most of his Democratic counterparts in saying this army of refugees would be welcome. Sussex County is a possible destination, which leaves some in the First State unsettled.

On Thursday a coalition of groups will come together in front of Legislative Hall in Dover for a press briefing to express their opposition to Delaware’s putting out the welcome mat so quickly.

A Concerned Coalition of Delaware residents, representing thousands of concerned citizens is holding a press briefing in Dover at noon on Thursday, December 17, 2015. Alliance leaders will meet in front of Legislative Hall. The leadership of various groups will present their collective “Open Letter to Governor Markell” regarding his stated plans to resettle some undetermined number of Syrian refugees in the state of Delaware.

These groups are united in opposition to the Governor’s plan and will present their views to the media and the public. The alliance represents the concerns of their memberships totaling in excess of 10,000 Delaware families and individuals. All are welcome who wish to join in support of these shared concerns. Spokespersons will be in attendance from the various allied groups and will be available for comments.

The alliance is a coalition of the 9-12 Delaware Patriots, Faith and Freedom Coalition Delaware, the NAACP – Central Delaware, the Frederick Douglass Foundation – Sussex County, IOTC Delaware, Reverend Shaun Greener, (and) other individual citizen supporters.

This came to me from my friends at the 9-12 Delaware Patriots.

Obviously the concern is that a percentage of these refugees aren’t coming here to escape the pandemonium of Syria’s civil war but to assist in spreading the jihad of the Islamic State, which has its unofficial “capital” in the eastern Syrian city of Raqaa. With the continuing revelations of how the San Bernardino killers were able to plan their attack and the more recent news about mass cell phone purchases and propane tank thefts in rural Missouri, people are understandably on edge.

While Maryland may get refugees whether Governor Hogan likes it or not, the chances are they will settle in the Baltimore or Washington areas. Similarly, Delaware refugees would likely migrate to the Wilmington area but the rural character of southern Delaware and the Eastern Shore may have more appeal as training or staging grounds for mischief. We may be making something out of nothing, but a neighbor noticed the San Bernardino couple were getting a lot of packages and opted not to call authorities for fear of “profiling.”

People in this coalition may be profiling these prospective refugees, but the track record suggests its for good reason.

WCRC meeting – August 2015

It was via a roundabout route, but we finally heard from the man who’s presumptively Salisbury’s next mayor, Jake Day. Because Jake had another place to be this evening – the Salisbury City Council meeting that he ran as their president – we had a succession of speakers to fill the time. It was interesting to note that several of these speakers dropped in as our meeting was going on, which told me they were looking forward to hearing what Jake had to say.

But we began as we always do, with the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, all done by our first vice-president Muir Boda, who filled in for our under-the-weather president Shawn Jester. We then did the swearing in of new second vice-president Dave Snyder, who pledged to be “a very good listener” and work to recruit 100 new GOP voters and new club members.

I took a little time to thank people for helping out at the Wicomico County Fair, as did Dave. My one suggestion was to perhaps look into a spot for outside next year.

In a Central Committee report, Mark McIver called the elected school board “one of the biggest things on our plate.” He added there was a new initiative called “We Decide” that was a non-partisan group to back an all-elected school board, and related the urging from County Council that we should participate in these hearings. It was going to be “an 8-week push.”

Mark Edney added his two cents, informing us that there will be an initiative this fall to address the issue of vacancies in the General Assembly through the state party’s bylaws. Noting the issues faced by Carroll County, Edney intoned that it was “important that we get this right” because members of both parties in the General Assembly sought to take away the power local Central Committees had to choose successors.

Joe Ollinger updated us on the Crab Feast, which had most of the items in place except a silent auction coordinator. It’s still on schedule for September 12 at Schumaker Park.

Speaking of food, Muir Boda announced his own, more modest event this Saturday at Doverdale Park. His community barbecue was slated for 3-5 p.m. but volunteers could show up at 2:00. Boda remarked he had three opponents in the election, so getting out the vote was paramount.

He also commented that the proposed city curfew was a “big issue” but questioned whether it would be enforceable given current resources and the spread-out geography of Salisbury. By itself, a curfew “won’t solve youth crime,” Muir said.

Senator Addie Eckardt, who had arrived after we began, spoke briefly about her upcoming annual bike ride through the district that will cover Wicomico County on Thursday. She also praised Governor Hogan, who has “put a great team together.” It would help government become, as she put it, more responsive and cost-effective.

Delegate Christopher Adams remarked about his attendance at the defund Planned Parenthood rally in Easton as well as a stop last week at Wallops Island in Virginia. They were expecting to resume launches at the pad damaged in an explosion last fall by March, he said.

Looking forward, though, he wanted to concentrate on regulatory reform, as some needed changes could be done more easily through that avenue than through the legislative process.

Fellow Delegate Johnny Mautz predicted “a really busy session” next year but expressed his disappointment in getting a low 25% score from the League of Conservation Voters. I looked up the floor votes they scored: two were anti-fracking measures and the other was the “repeal” of the rain tax sponsored by Mike Miller. So pro-business was not going to meet pro-environmnet with the LCV.

Bunky Luffman stood in for Delegate Carl Anderton, commenting to an earlier point made about regulation by bringing up the sprinkler mandate that is halting construction locally. One local developer lost a builder who refused to build more dwellings – they weren’t able to make money with the mandate and additional costs.

Most of the legislators had come late to hear Jake Day, who spoke for about 15 minutes and answered questions for another 20. Apologizing both for being late and a lack of sleep as a new dad, Day told us he was “very excited” about becoming mayor. As a Council member he was pursuing a pro-business agenda, but noted “I have found a roadblock in the current administration.” Like the state of Maryland, his effort would be to attract business: “I want us to be competitive,” said Day, citing Delaware under Jack Markell as a “more friendly and welcoming environment.” Perdue’s decision to move some of its corporate operations to Delaware “sent a message,” said Jake. “The economy will be first and foremost on my mind each day.” His idea was to grow jobs “locally and organically,”

One area he saw as a job creator was downtown, for which revitalization was important to Jake. It’s “part of the renaissance” of Salisbury, said Day. He criticized the “lack of active leadership from the top” and sought a City Council that was cordial, but aggressive. He also announced the intention to continue divesting the city’s surface parking lots, believing successful downtowns do better with infill rather than surface parking.

Crime was another top issue. Day observed that criminal activity was starting at a younger and younger age, so the city could have to “pick up where the parents left off.”

It was an enlightening address, but the questions were good, too. The first one out of the chute was about the “rain tax.” Jake disagreed with the state mandate, but believed it was necessary for a city which had ignored the issue for over a century. He was willing, though, to reduce property tax rates and scrap the city’s inventory tax to help even things out.

And when I asked why the city couldn’t use its water and sewer fund surplus, Day said the surplus was being depleted too quickly. Basically the relief would be short-term at best.

Corollary to that initial question was a discussion about the closing of Labinal, which will cost the city hundreds of jobs. While the popular opinion was that the state’s difficult business climate drove them away, Day said the answer was more simple: Texas (and Mexico) were closer to their main customer base, and Salisbury mainly served military clients whose contracts were winding down.

A second concern was the issue with fire service. Rather than the “big mistake” of giving ultimatums through the media, Jake was working closely with county officials in coming up with a long-term solution. He conceded it probably wouldn’t be all the city wanted, but noted that he and County Executive Bob Culver were “working well together.” The key was making things more fair in a way that doesn’t alienate non-city residents.

Our wastewater treatment plant was the subject of a question. Calling its saga “a scar on Salisbury’s history,” Day announced the next phase of renovations would begin in October. Bunky Luffman, who formerly worked at the plant, pointed out it had reduced the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorou, but not enough to meet more stringent state standards that changed midstream.

A final questioner tested Day on his “number one challenge – is my (business) location safe?” Crime was a concern for local businesses, and “a lot of solutions to our challenges are economic,” Jake said. He vowed to show leadership and compile more data on the current conditions.

We finally let Jake go, so that Boda could announce our next meeting would be September 28. Hopefully it will be as chock-full of information as this one was.

Maryland enters the fray

Yesterday we had the spectacle of Martin O’Malley using the Baltimore skyline as a backdrop for the announcement we figured would eventually come the moment the 2010 Maryland gubernatorial election was called for him. Color me unsurprised that he’s running for president in 2016.

But Baltimore’s recent events created even more baggage for O’Malley, who led Maryland through a recession that is still lingering for those portions of the state not within commuting distance of Washington, D.C. That forgotten region includes the city of Baltimore, where the unemployment rate is usually among the highest in the state. In general, Maryland’s better-than-average jobless rate is a result of the federal workforce – take that away and you might have numbers more in tune with struggling states like West Virginia or Nevada.

Granted, if you look at politics through a liberal lens you may see a lot to like with O’Malley. With a friendly and compliant General Assembly backing practically every move, in his first term O’Malley won his prized environmental initiatives with bills like the Clean Cars Act and EmPOWER Maryland utility mandates, increased sales and income taxes while expanding Medicaid, and legalized casino gambling. In his second term he doubled down with the passage of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants and same-sex marriage, beating back spirited efforts at the ballot box to rescind them in 2012. He also championed wind power and a scheme to help with EPA compliance in cleaning up Chesapeake Bay.

That last initiative, officially called the “Stormwater Management – Watershed Protection and Restoration Program,” eventually was boiled down to two words: “rain tax.” It, along with his mismanagement of the state’s Obamacare insurance exchange, proved the demise of Anthony Brown’s campaign to replace O’Malley from his lieutenant governor’s chair, and coupled with this spring’s Baltimore riots may perhaps have become the legacy of Martin O’Malley.

In comparison to his Democratic opponents for the Presidential nomination, though, he and Lincoln Chafee (who is planning to announce his entry next week) are the only two with executive experience, and O’Malley the only one to win re-election. On the GOP side you can cite a number of two-term governors (among them Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Rick Perry, and Bobby Jindal as a partial list) but in terms of governing experience on the Democratic side O’Malley is above the rest.

Yet a record works both ways, and Maryland is arguably the most liberal state in the country. The advocacy group Change Maryland began pointing out the O’Malley economic record shortly after its founding in 2011, and state conservatives can quickly rattle off the key facts: 6,500 businesses lost, 31,000 residents leaving the state with $1.7 billion in net income out-migration, and – most importantly – 40 tax increases. That won’t play in Peoria.

For those of us who have been bruised and battered by a recession without a recovery, Martin O’Malley’ paean to populism rings hollow. He may talk about how crooked Wall Street is, but his prescriptions for the problems with Main Street will only enrich those who stroll along Pennsylvania Avenue.

As a meme making the rounds this weekend implies, those former residents of Maryland who fled the state’s punitive taxation and regulation during the O’Malley years won’t have anywhere to go if he becomes president. While Larry Hogan hasn’t necessarily been the answer here, job creation has bounced back since he took over and he has worked to address the state’s structural deficit without the usual O’Malley answer of a tax increase. Why should America dig itself a deeper hole with Martin O’Malley?

Meanwhile, last night on the other side of the Transpeninsular Line residents of Delaware were stunned to learn of the passing of Beau Biden.

From a political aspect, though, and despite his health issues, the younger Biden was the odds-on favorite to be the Democrats’ nominee for Delaware governor next year after an eight-year run as the state’s Attorney General. Now the race on the Democratic side has opened up and those who were quietly considering a run due to Biden’s condition may step out of the woodwork after an appropriate mourning period. The most likely candidates may be Congressman John Carney, who ran in 2008 only to lose to current term-limited Governor Jack Markell, and New Castle County Executive Thomas Gordon.

Whether this loss will affect Joe Biden’s 2016 plans is unknown; however, he hadn’t planned to announce anyway until late summer at the earliest.