We didn’t have the biggest crowd on a Thanksgiving week, but Delegate Christopher Adams made his points during the final scheduled WCRC meeting of 2015.
Adams was down the agenda this time, as we chose to do our usual opening routine with the exception of me giving the treasurer’s report for the absent Deb Okerblom. We slotted the Central Committee report first, which meant Mark McIver could detail the “huge success” of the Lincoln Day Dinner.
McIver chalked up the success to a couple factors: good profit from the silent auction and the use of several database lists – and 150 hand-written personal invitations – to target our advertising.
Briefly going over the state convention, McIver detailed how we heard from the three leading Republican U.S. Senate candidates. Ann Suthowski chimed in that Muir Boda was mentioned twice during the convention for his success and Mark Edney did a good job explaining the succession by-laws amendment. The Salisbury University College Republicans were also mentioned as part of the state CR report for co-hosting the Lincoln Day Dinner.
McIver also announced he would host a joint club and Central Committee Christmas Party next month.
Finally, we heard from Delegate Adams. He was pleased to see the change in government in Salisbury, which he said has more sway than he does locally.
Adams noted that with $20 trillion in debt, it was likely the GOP would win this year’s election. He suggested they make cuts to the “fourth branch,” as cost-saving measures.
In Maryland, Adams continued, the Augustine Commission determined that federal spending accounted for 25% of the state’s GDP, so government cuts would affect Maryland disproportionately. The state needed to develop an “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he added.
Most of Chris’s message dealt with legislation he was introducing to allow counties to opt out of sprinkler system requirements once again. It’s something they’ve been asking for, Adams added, but they were up against a powerful firefighter lobby. Adams noted he had a meeting slated with the state!s deputy fire marshal.
Yet the $5 to $7 per square foot cost for a small, affordable home was one that couldn’t be added to the value. Mandates like this are putting new homes out of reach for young families,
He explained that the 2012 International Residential Code had this mandate, but prior to last year counties were allowed to opt out. Taking back local control “has to be a grassroots effort,” said Adams, and it requires action on a local level.
Adams was asked if many new home builders voluntarily put in sprinklers, but few did. He added that some states prohibit the mandate, including several neighboring states.
Mark McIver noted that the state was “taking away the American Dream…it’s bankrupting the younger generation.”
Adams was also asked about sprinker systems affect insurance rates. He believe they made little difference in the rates, because alleviating the fire risk was balanced against the leaking and water damage potential.
Finally, Adams was asked about last year’s bill, introduced by Delegate Jeff Ghrist, to address this. He noted it was late-filed, so it never got a hearing. His bill is pre-filed.
Christopher concluded by announcing he has a unique fundraiser at the OC Hilton December 12 and 13. You would get 2 nights’ stay and lunch with special guest Bob Ehrlich for one price.
Since we had a number of other state legislators in attendance, we got brief updates.
Carl Anderton spoke with Delaware officials, trying to get their perspective on agricultural issues. He also has a fundraiser coming up at the Delmar VFW on December 3.
Johnny Mautz believed “this year will be different than last year” in the General Assembly, with “a lot of activity.” Federal campaigns will drive some of that activity, so it would be up to Eastern Shore Republicans to kill bad bills as they could.
Addie Eckardt thought it would get “testy,” with pressure to spend our new-found surplus on items that were cut from last year’s budget. The idea was not to let ourselves get splintered, she concluded.
All in all, it was a nice little pre-session update – and timely, since we won’t meet again until after the session starts in January. To be exact, the WCRC will reconvene on January 25, 2016.
Last week the state wrapped up a series of hearings on the state’s redistricting process. Unfortunately, the local hearing was neither local (held in Easton) nor convenient (held on a weekday afternoon.) While the Eastern Shore is well-ensconced in the First Congressional District, it endured plenty of change in the last state redisrtricting as boundary lines were shifted dramatically and former multi-delegate districts broken down for single delegates.
To be more specific about the points I mentioned above, the Democrats in charge of the 2010 census redisrtricting placed two Republicans in a single-member district based mainly in Somerset County. To form the revamped District 38A, they chopped off the southern portion of Wicomico County that freshman Republican Charles Otto was elected to represent in 2010 and pushed the district eastward into Worcester County to include fellow freshman GOP member Mike McDermott. Otto kept the seat in 2014, but McDermott lost a bid for Senate to incumbent Jim Mathias.
The part of Wicomico County formerly represented by Otto shifted mainly to District 37B, a fairly safe GOP district then represented by Delegates Addie Eckardt and Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio. After neither sought re-election in favor of higher office, the district became home to two freshmen Republican Delegates: Christopher Adams of Wicomico County and Johnny Mautz of Talbot County.
The rest of the old 38A was placed into a greatly diminished District 38B, one which encompassed territory from Delmar to Fruitland through the eastern half of Salisbury. Removing the rural portions of a former two-delegate seat was supposed to make it easier for incumbent Democrat Norm Conway, but he was still ousted by Republican Carl Anderton. The rest of District 38B not taken by Otto’s district was rebadged District 38C, a fairly solid Republican area now represented by Delegate Mary Beth Carozza.
The only district that stayed relatively the same was District 37A, a majority-minority district where Delegate Rudy Cane retired and left the field to freshman Democrat Sheree Sample-Hughes. As it turned out, the only incumbent Delegate to survive out of the two districts was Charles Otto. Wicomico County is now represented by five freshman Delegates, four Republican and one Democrat.
Yet the cynicism wasn’t just limited to our area. According to Delegate Jeff Ghrist, there are 71 districts that have an above-average population while 70 fall below the average. It’s just amazing that 44 of the 50 Republicans represent districts in the larger-than-average category, while 64 of 91 Democrats come from “small” districts. Given that a variation of 5% is permissible, there could be 4,000 more residents in a GOP district than a Democratic one, allowing the party in power an extra 6 or 7 seats across the state.
Ghrist also complained about the size of the districts. He lives near the border of District 36, but noted adjacent District 37B spans from Denton to the Somerset County line and from the Delaware border to the far reaches of Oxford and St. Michael’s as a two-member district. His District 36 takes in the northern part of the Eastern Shore as a three-member district. While most of the counties on the Shore are too small to support their own district, it is possible for the Shore to fill four full three-member districts with a little help from the eastern end of neighboring Harford County.
The key, though, is single-member districts. A county like Wicomico could have two members to itself, while sharing the majority-minority district in existence with Dorchester County. Geography may dictate some crossing of lines, but the districts can be made much more compact and contiguous.
Obviously Senate districts will need to span several county lines. The remedy to this is to go back to a system which, unfortunately, was dealt its mortal blow by the ill-advised passage of the Seventeenth Amendment and formally died with the Reynolds vs. Sims decision in 1964. Until then, each Maryland county had its own Senator to represent county interests. The right thing to do would be place the Senate in the hands of each county’s legislative body, allowing them to choose two (for a total of 48) and staggering the terms to having them pick a new one every two years. (Like the U.S. Senate, it would be the job of the Lieutenant Governor to break tie votes.)
If they had the cojones to challenge the 51-year-old Reynolds ruling Maryland can be a leader in moving forward into the past, restoring the original intent of our founders in balancing the interests of the people and local governments.
In part two, I want to consider our Congressional districts.
A few days ago I, along with other Central Committee members and “interested parties,” received a memo from the Congressional campaign of Andy Harris. While the information I received probably isn’t public knowledge in its format, it is possible to find all of the facts provided through diligent searching and I believe revealing a little bit of it will help me to make a larger point.
In this memo, Harris outlines the “work (the campaign) did this cycle for candidates in Maryland and around the nation.” Just before the election we found out about A Great Maryland PAC and some of the assistance it gave in promoting candidates or pointing out flaws in the record of incumbent Democrats, but Harris did more – a lot more. As the memo explains:
On the Eastern Shore, maximum contributions through the Andy Harris campaign and Chesapeake PAC were made to delegate candidates Carl Anderton and Kevin Hornberger, both of whom defeated long-time Democrat stalwarts. Carl defeated 28 year incumbent Norm Conway, who also is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, in a Wicomico County based district. Kevin defeated 16 year incumbent David Rudolph, who is the Vice Chair of the Economic Matters Committee, in a Cecil County district. Every seat on the Shore other than the democratically drawn majority-minority district is now held by Republicans. The lone Democrat State Senator on the Shore, Jim Mathias, regrettably, barely held on to his seat despite investments of time and financial resources in the race. All three delegate seats in his State Senate district went Republican, but Mathias held on by the skin of his teeth.
Another big highlight on the Shore was the defeat of Democrat Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt by Republican Bob Culver. Congressman Harris donated significantly to Bob’s campaign, and Culver was able to pull it out. In addition to these Democrat-held seats, four candidates running in open seats and supported by Harris were able to put their races away with ease. Mary Beth Carozza (Worcester) won 74% in her single member district. Chris Adams (Wicomico) and Johnny Mautz (Talbot) each doubled the amount of votes received by their Democratic challengers. Jay Jacobs (Kent), Steve Arentz (Queen Anne’s) and Jeff Ghrist (Caroline) all ran strong victorious delegate campaigns. With the election of Jeff Ghrist, Caroline County has for the first time in decades a resident delegate.
Every Republican Delegate or Senate candidate who represents a part of the First District received some level of financial support from Congressman Harris.
A good illustration of the impact outside help can make is found with Anderton’s race. Throughout the campaign. incumbent Norm Conway’s bankroll fluctuated in a range of $75,000 to $100,000 on hand. With most candidates, it’s difficult to overcome that much of a financial disadvantage; indeed, it turned out Carl was outspent in the race by more than 4 to 1. While Anderton put in a tremendous amount of sweat equity, having the money to wage a little bit of a media campaign and not completely cede the airwaves made a big difference.
But another local race illustrates the problem a statewide minority party has. That “skin of the teeth” victory by Jim Mathias also was won at great cost – like Anderton, Republican challenger Mike McDermott was outspent by better than 4 to 1. For Mathias, though, the victory was won on the airwaves as he spent $268,850 over the last month at a company called Screen Strategies, which is a really big gun in that it’s worked for several statewide Democratic campaigns and leftist interest groups, including anti-traditional marriage and pro-abortion entities. On just that firm alone, Mathias spent 2.3 times what Mike McDermott spent on his entire campaign. And since it’s a more far-flung Senate district – as opposed to the relatively compact confines of House District 38B in the immediate Salisbury metro area – the impact of media is much greater because no candidate can be everywhere in three counties every day.
What the Maryland Republican Party needs is more people to pull in money like Harris does and spread it around. While Democrats have a registration majority of roughly 2 to 1 over Republicans and 56% of the overall electorate, they hold a margin larger than their proportion in the Maryland Senate and prior to this year’s election did the same in the House – and that’s not to mention their 9 to 1 advantage in Maryland’s Congressional delegation. When Jim Mathias and Norm Conway needed financial help, their party and interests were able to provide it. Unfortunately, it’s only because of Andy Harris that the First District is the one portion of the state where the GOP can counter this – the rest of the state exists more or less on its own. The loss of Dan Bongino in the Sixth Congressional District was troubling because that end of the state could have received the same assistance down the road.
One big, big problem with the Republican Party in Maryland is that they can’t fill out their ballot throughout the state, and even in certain county races. While Republicans have outdone their registration disadvantage in Wicomico County for the past several years, we still could not find candidates willing to go after two open seats, one for Delegate and one for County Council, in majority-minority districts. Granted, one only became open when the current Delegate withdrew at the last possible minute AFTER the filing deadline, but the GOP still could add a name to the ballot for a few days afterward. We tried, but no one would make that commitment. Now that people are becoming aware they could get at least a little financial help, though, that problem could be solved in 2018.
Though they have an uphill battle at best, those sacrificial lambs serve a noble purpose by making the Democrats spend money on their campaigns, money that they can’t send off to a vulnerable fellow candidate someplace else in the state – as many “safe” Democrats did to help Mathias. With few exceptions, Democrats found people willing to carry their banner in Republican-held areas so we had to pay some attention to them.
And there’s always the possibility of catching lightning in a bottle because once in awhile miracles happen – everyone and their brother thought District 38B was gerrymandered into a safe seat for Norm Conway, but the voters proved otherwise.
Those District 38B voters were better informed because they have a Congressman who’s willing to not just vote conservatively in Congress, but help in building a viable conservative movement in Maryland. In the meantime, state Republicans could stand some lessons from Carl on how to win an uphill battle.
The word came down last night from the victor himself:
I just received a call from the Governor’s office appointing me as the new Senator for District 36 – I am both thrilled and humbled by all the support I received during this appointment process. I am looking forward to serving the 36th District in this new role. Thank you again to all those that offered support, prayers and well wishes this was truly a humbling experience.
Steve Hershey wasn’t the longest shot, but going in he may not have been the favorite, either. Yet he secured the votes of two Central Committees in the four-county district and that was enough to forge a tie with fellow Delegate Michael Smigiel and throw the fate of the seat into the hands of Governor Martin O’Malley. Given Smigiel’s forceful opposition of O’Malley’s onerous gun law package this spring, you knew he would be punished by not getting the appointment he sought.
So Hershey gets the seat vacated by the resignation of former Minority Leader Senator E. J. Pipkin, who followed Rick Perry’s advice before the commercials even came out and moved to Texas. Now the scene shifts to the battle over Hershey’s vacated Delegate seat. As I recall, it cannot be filled by a resident of a county already represented in the district, so residents of Cecil County (Smigiel) and Kent County (Delegate Jay Jacobs, who did not seek the Senate post) would be excluded – but their Central Committees would have a vote.
Out of the original field of 14, all but three hailed from either Queen Anne’s County or Caroline County, which is the lone Maryland county without a resident Delegate. Not all of the remaining ten would seek the Delegate seat, but several probably would and they may be joined by a few others – one being Caroline County commissioner Jeff Ghrist, who made a lengthy plea on Facebook which I excerpt here:
Governor O’Malley will soon be selecting our new District 36 Senator and subsequently one of two House of Delegate seats will become available. This will require someone to fill a Delegate seat. Caroline County has been without a resident of our county representing us in Annapolis for nearly two decades. While I sincerely enjoy being a Commissioner in Caroline County…I would love to take my passion and experience for limited and efficient government to Annapolis.
The first goal is to build a concensus (sic) throughout the district that I am the best appointment for Delegate. Not only do I have a strong legislative and executive track record but Caroline County deserves resident representation.
Ghrist has been seeking higher office for awhile; he briefly campaigned for Congress in 2009 before withdrawing and endorsing Andy Harris.
So we will probably have much the same circus we did for the Senate seat, with the real possibility of another split vote and Martin O’Malley breaking the tie.
Meanwhile, Hershey’s tenure may be short-lived. Former Delegate Richard Sossi is actively planning a run for the seat, as is 2010 U.S. Senate nominee Eric Wargotz. The same sort of situation may occur in the District 36 Delegate race next year, with several jockeying for position to be the top vote-getter in a particular county.
Long-term, the solution to that issue may be to enact 141 separate House of Delegate districts, instead of the confusing mishmash of having some three-person districts as well as a handful which are split in a 2-1 configuration. But in the meantime, the political races on the Eastern Shore may be some of the most interesting in the state with the District 36 openings, a primary challenge to the incumbent in District 37A, the opening in District 37B thanks to the selection of Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio to the David Craig gubernatorial ticket, the forced move of Delegate Mike McDermott to a challenge for the District 38 Senate seat due to redistricting, and a brand new District 38C with no incumbent.