A contrast in styles: thoughts on the Delaware primary election

September 12, 2016 · Posted in Campaign 2016, Delaware politics, Delmarva items, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

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.

Willful ignorance?

According to multiple news reports on both the state and national level – apparently this was, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a “big f’ing deal” – Larry Hogan is now an official member of #NeverTrump. Welcome aboard.

Hogan said he doesn’t plan to vote for Trump, but was coy on his choice otherwise. “I guess when I get behind the curtain I’ll have to figure it out,” Hogan said. “Maybe write someone in, I’m not sure.” That sounds vaguely familiar, although even as moderate as Hogan can be I would imagine he’s not a Hillary supporter.

Certainly the governor would prefer to keep his questioning confined to affairs of state, but after being bugged about his choice for months once his endorsed candidate Chris Christie exited the race he obviously threw up his hands and gave the most honest answer he could. Of course, it wasn’t good enough for the Democrats who want Hogan to condemn Trump for his statements so they can beat up the downticket candidates this year, but the goal shouldn’t be to satisfy a party that’s nominating a candidate who, if she were not Bill Clinton’s wife, would likely be in prison for her actions as Secretary of State.

What’s interesting to me about this whole thing is that Hogan’s appeal cuts across many of the same lines as Donald Trump’s does. Both had crossover attraction in their election, as thousands of Democrats voted Hogan in 2014. Many of them switched parties two years later to cast a ballot for Donald Trump. At the end of last year the Maryland GOP had 971,806 voters but gained over 29,000 by the end of April to eclipse 1 million for the first time at 1,000,915. (As of the end of May they had 1,004,083.) Unfortunately, the Democrats are growing even faster as they gained 68,000 in the same December-May period. So there may be a little bit of a political calculation going there.

(Contrary to popular opinion, however, the Libertarian Party has not gained in Maryland despite Republican threats to leave if Trump was nominated. In the month after the primary they actually lost 87 voters.)

It’s worth noting that Donald Trump got 54.1% of the GOP primary vote, which translated to 248,343 votes. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton received 62.5% of the Democrat vote, which turned out to be 573,242 votes. Even Bernie Sanders outpolled Trump with 309,990 votes. GOP turnout was right about 45%, so Trump would have to get a whole lot of unaffiliated voters to have a shot. Having Hogan come out publicly against The Donald probably doesn’t assist that cause.

But the more important number to Hogan is 70 percent, which is roughly his approval rating right now. I don’t think Trump can touch that number in Maryland, and while there may be the most radical 10 percent of Trump supporters who won’t vote for Hogan in 2018 because Hogan is withholding his support, that’s only about 25,000 voters at risk – not even 1/4 of his victory margin in 2014. If 70 percent of the population likes you, it’s a pretty good bet you’ll be re-elected. (This is why the Democrats have tried to pin Trump to Hogan every chance they get.)

While I suspect that his reasoning may be a lot different than mine, I’m pleased to have Governor Hogan on my side on this one. The GOP still has an opportunity to correct course at the Cleveland convention, and I think they better take it.

Joe says no

I haven’t gotten around to fixing the widget yet, but now I can scratch the name of Joe Biden off the possibilities for President in 2016. In a Rose Garden speech, Biden vowed, “while I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent.” Given his penchant for malapropisms, it may be a blessing for the Republicans if Biden keeps talking.

Look, John (McCain)’s last-minute economic plan does nothing to tackle the number one job facing the middle class, and it happens to be, as Barack says, a three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S, jobs.

That may be my favorite, but there are a lot of them.

Yet Biden, despite not being an official candidate, was drawing around 1 of 6 primary voters and they have to go someplace. (Surely Joe was a shoo-in in the all-important Delaware primary.) It’s not enough to close the gap between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but I imagine the bulk of Biden voters were most interested in him because he seemed like the logical successor to Barack Obama, as opposed to a woman whose claim to fame was being married to a President last elected nearly two decades ago.

In a realistic sense, though, Biden was the last obstacle to Hillary seizing the nomination. While we on the Right like to believe the Democrats are to the left of Stalin, in reality they have their moderates and centrists, too. Hillary can afford to let Sanders run to her left because that wing isn’t a majority of Democrats. Hillary also has an advantage because most states are using the primary system to determine the nominee, and those that caucus tend to be more moderate states out west.

Moreover, the cynics among us believe Hillary will skate by on whatever legal issues she has regarding Benghazi and her e-mail server. Every day she walks as a free woman reduces the chance Hillary will be campaigning from a cell. That and Bernie Sanders crumpling over from a coronary are all that Martin O’Malley (he of the 0.5% polling average) has to hope for.

So Joe Biden’s political career seems to be entering its final chapter, where he’ll be remembered as a longtime Senator, plagiarizing two-time Presidential candidate (remember, he began the 2008 campaign as one of Obama’s opponents), and two-term vice-president.

Silver-tongued would not be one of those attributes, though.

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.

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.

The presidential race veers farther left

May 1, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

At last, someone who admits what he is.

Since Elizabeth Warren continues to express her disinterest in the race, it took 73-year-old Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the self-described socialist and independent, to become yet another far-left regressive alternative to Hillary Clinton. (Despite being nominally independent, Sanders caucuses with the Democratic Party and will run for president under that banner.)

But those fringe leftists out there must have a little extra coin, as CNN and MSNBC both breathlessly described how Sanders outraised all the declared Republicans on their first day in with $1.5 million in the coffers. Whether that’s because Sanders is thought to be a viable alternative to Hillary Clinton or if it was an event made for news consumption is yet to be seen, but he’s off to a good start.

As he told the Guardian:

“People should not underestimate me,” Sanders said. “I’ve run outside of the two-party system, defeating Democrats and Republicans, taking on big-money candidates and, you know, I think the message that has resonated in Vermont is a message that can resonate all over this country.”

The message he believes will resonate is as follows:

Sanders said he would release “very specific proposals” to raise taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations, as well as offer tuition-free education at all public colleges and universities. He touched on his past opposition to free-trade agreements, his support for heavier regulation of Wall Street and the nation’s banking industry, and his vote against the Keystone XL oil pipeline as a preview of his campaign.

It’s a textbook populist (and job-killing) agenda, chock full of class warfare – but at least he’s not shy about it, vowing “a political revolution is coming” as soon as he launches his website formally later this month.

So the question has to be asked: will it affect Hillary? For a short time, the smart money as the alternative to Hillary was Martin O’Malley. But now that Baltimore has blown up, the question will naturally be what his tenure as mayor did to make Baltimore into the tinderbox it turned out to be, particularly as he came back to town in the days following the riots. The other Democrats in the race either don’t have the name recognition among the far-left in the party (Lincoln Chafee) or are too centrist for their taste (Jim Webb.) Sanders, on the other hand, is a somewhat known figure and has a long political record since he was first elected to Congress in 1990. A Public Policy Polling survey in Iowa placed Sanders as the only contender besides Hillary in double digits, and also pointed out:

On the Democratic side Hillary Clinton leads with 62% to 14% for Bernie Sanders, 6% for Martin O’Malley, 3% for Jim Webb, and 2% for Lincoln Chafee. We have now found Sanders polling at double digits in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He leads the non-Clinton candidates in name recognition at 56%, followed by 34% for O’Malley, 31% for Webb, and 25% for Chafee. Sanders is also the most frequently named second choice at 18% to 14% for O’Malley, and 12% for Clinton.

Besides Joe Biden, who has stated he won’t decide whether to run until the summer, it can be argued that Sanders is the most viable candidate. A race without Hillary would probably be as interesting and competitive on the Democratic side as the Republican race promises to be. (The same Iowa PPP survey had Scott Walker leading the GOP field, but only with 23%.)

So the race between aging pre-Baby Boomers continues on the Democratic side. If the contest is one of being more liberal than the next, we’ve pretty much reached the end with Sanders. Let’s just hope he doesn’t scream like Howard Dean when he loses.

Informally making it formal?

When you stop laughing, hear me out.

It’s only been two months since he left office, but I think we can all agree our somewhat esteemed former governor is all but an official announcement away from throwing his hat into the 2016 Presidential ring. And when you consider that Hillary Clinton is continually being tarred by scandal after scandal (Benghazi and her e-mail questions) and blunder after blunder (the Russian “reset” button and discussing the “fun deficit”), Martin O’Malley almost looks sane. Come on, what else do you have on the Democratic side – the gaffe-prone Joe Biden? “Fauxcahonotas” Elizabeth Warren? One-term Senator Jim Webb of Virginia is the one who has the exploratory committee going, but the far left considers him a “Reagan Democrat” who they can’t support.

So when you see the above photo on the O’Malley Facebook page (which is where I got it) you have to ask if the “taking on powerful and wealthy special interests” message is meant for Hillary? After all, look how much the Clintons’ foundation has raked in over the years. And his message today about the presidency “not (being) some crown to be passed between two families,” would resonate with a lot of people who believed the propaganda about how disastrous the George W. Bush tenure was and are already tired of the constant turmoil surrounding the Clinton family.

Perhaps Delegate Herb McMillan put this best, noting, “Raising taxes on the poor and middle classes 83 times isn’t the same as taking on powerful wealthy special interests.” But it’s more than that.

Obviously the laughter among many who read this website comes from knowing how rapidly O’Malley would genuflect to particular special interests when it suited his purposes. Environmentalists got a lot of goodies during MOM’s reign: California rules on emissions, punitive restrictions on development in rural areas (via the “tier maps”), an ill-advised and job-killing moratorium on fracking, and of course the “rain tax.” Illegal immigrants, too, had a friend in O’Malley, but productive taxpayers – not so much. He also decided to work on legalizing gay marriage only after his electoral coast was clear in the state – if he had tried to run for re-election on the issue he would have lost the black vote in 2010. (Remember, that was before Barack Obama’s flip-flop on the issue.)

Say what you will about Martin O’Malley, but he is the lone Democrat openly considering the race who has executive experience – on the other hand, there are a number of GOP candidates who can boast the same thing: in alphabetical order there’s Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, George Pataki, Rick Perry, and Scott Walker. Depending on who the GOP puts up, the “experience” tag could apply to the Democrat. We’re not saying the experience would be a good one, but it is what it is.

Don’t be too shocked if the O’Malley’s March national tour makes a lot of stops in Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s his way of pandering to the special interests he cherishes the most, and if people are fooled by this sudden bout of populism it’s their own fault. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Update: At Front Line State Jim Jamitis echoes these sentiments, with a great headline to boot.

The steep learning curve

March 13, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Over the last few months I’ve given a little bit of attention to the campaign Ben Carson is running for President. He was one of the earliest informal entrants, in part because of a grassroots campaign that began after he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013.

But his cause has been sidetracked by something he said on CNN the day after he announced his exploratory committee. It was in regard to same-sex marriage, which Carson opposes, but what came out of his mouth had to make all but the most ardent Carson supporters cringe. I wrote about the original comments in the Patriot Post last week. In that article I predicted that Ben’s vow to drop the issue wouldn’t last long; sure enough, he took to social media to again revise and extend his remarks.

Being a political neophyte, he doesn’t know that this will now be his defining issue, and that’s a shame. Odds are, though, that not only will this question dog Carson through the remainder of his campaign – however far it goes – but it will become a hot topic at any and all GOP presidential primary debates. As I point out at the Patriot Post, you won’t catch them asking Joe Biden or Hillary Clinton about the poorly-performing inner-city schools or any of a number of other failures of the present administration, but any time they can set up a social issue “gotcha” question they will take the opportunity. Consider how Maryland Democrats tried to trap Larry Hogan on social issues in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign – Hogan eluded their efforts and won.

What’s funny about all this is that, for the most part, I agree with Carson’s stance on the gay marriage issue. Civil unions are just fine with me, but when you co-opt the term “marriage” that becomes a problem. I still define marriage as between a man and woman, but insofar as the legalities of being “married” I think civil unions can easily be made equal. Yes, it should be a state issue, but the problem is that most states have been browbeaten into accepting gay marriage by the courts and not necessarily a groundswell of support – look how close the General Assembly vote in Maryland was and ask yourself if there was broad, overwhelming support for the issue. It took a politically motivated change of heart from Barack Obama and presidential election turnout to push the issue over the top – had the referendum been on the 2014 ballot it may well have repealed the law.

Yet we went through all that to pass a law which has affected fewer than 30,000 people based on this assumption:

The 23% increase in the number of marriages between 2012 and 2013 (to 40,456) is thought to be largely attributed to the legalization of same-sex marriages that went into effect on January 1, 2013 in Maryland.

Using my public school math, that’s about 8,000 same-sex marriages performed in 2013, with likely a somewhat smaller figure in 2014 as the most dedicated couples probably tied the knot right away. How many would have gone the civil union route if it were available?

Here’s the problem as I see it, with Maryland a significant microcosm of the nation as a whole. It’s been said by John Adams that:

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

While it is the Creator’s job to judge and not mine, I think I have a pretty keen sense of the obvious that we are in a society full of “human passions unbridled by morality and religion.” More recently, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined a term for this decline: “defining deviancy down.” In either case, the question about whether we are indeed “a moral and religious people” is getting more and more open by the day when you consider that, at the time Moynihan wrote his piece, the question of gay marriage wouldn’t have come up because it was such a fringe concept. (That was barely two decades ago, by the way.)

But the genie is out of the bottle now, and standing for a Biblical-based morality on many subjects is considered out of step to opinion leaders in the press. Those who appeal to values voters should expect the same sort of trap questions as they continue on with their campaigns.

Yet another candidate, by George

February 2, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics · Comments Off 

As proof that the 2016 presidential contest is wide open on the Republican side, I give you the newest entrant: George Pataki.

Many of you are probably saying, “George who?” But as evidence that some people are more than just getting their name out there, Pataki served three terms as the governor of New York, actually establishing a period of sanity before the circus that was the Eliot Spitzer administration, which led to the David Paterson tenure before yielding to current Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Pataki, ironically, succeeded Cuomo’s late father Mario.)

But Pataki fits into the mold that Mitt Romney vacated: a more moderate Northeastern governor. Yet one has to wonder why he didn’t make a bid at the top of his game in 2008, just after leaving office. And at 69 years of age (he’ll be 70 later this summer) he would be older than many in the field. (He’s two years older than Hillary Clinton but almost three years younger than Joe Biden.) Granted, the current President is panned for his relative inexperience at the age of 53 so age may not be so much of a factor in Pataki’s case.

Like many governors, Pataki is running against Washington and has created his own superPAC called “We the People, Not Washington.” He’s also heading to New Hampshire to introduce himself to voters, perhaps believing he can make more of an impact in a state closer to home with an early primary.

But I look at this announcement with the realization that political analyst Larry Sabato has Pataki as a “seventh-tier” candidate – along with another blue-state Republican governor who you might know, Bob Ehrlich – correctly pegs Pataki’s chances. Their similarities include a long near-decade out of office, although in Ehrlich’s case it was thanks to two straight electoral defeats. As I noted yesterday, the list of GOP governors who are considering a run is very long because our side has a deep bench to turn to. Sabato lists close to a dozen possible current or former governors who are thinking about it.

And in looking at the political landscape Pataki would have to run in, he almost has to hope for a New Hampshire miracle where they embrace the populist message that government doesn’t have to be smaller, just run better. That’s not a direction the TEA Party wants to go.

Whether it’s a serious run or a last gasp at relevancy, you can’t fault a guy who had a pretty good twelve-year run as governor for trying. I just don’t know if he’ll succeed beyond the end of this year.

A Palin problem?

January 27, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

As the 2016 Republican presidential field begins to expand rapidly, there is one name that evokes equal parts devotion and disgust: Sarah Palin. The question of whether or not she would run in 2012 sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the early days of that race, yet this time she’s not the slam-dunk favorite some thought she was in the wake of her 2008 candidacy – which I would argue revitalized a somnolent John McCain campaign – and the 2010 TEA Party wave election. Certainly others with longer gubernatorial records can boast more relevance.

On the other hand, there is a significant portion of the conservative electorate which loved her story and honest willingness to stand up for those principles in a humorous manner. I was there two years ago when at CPAC Palin mocked the effort to ban large-sized sodas by taking a few sips out of a Big Gulp during her speech. It’s an approach which is apparently off-putting to some in the Republican establishment – witness the acid tone of this recent National Review Online piece by Charles C. W. Cooke from which I excerpt:

For a long while now, Palin has not so much contributed arguments and ideas as she has thrown together a one-woman variety show for a band of traveling fans. One part free verse, one part Dada-laden ressentiment, and one part primal scream therapy, Palin’s appearances seem to be designed less to advance the ball for the Right and more to ensure that her name remains in the news, that her business opportunities are not entirely foreclosed, and that her hand remains strong enough to justify her role as kingmaker without portfolio. Ultimately, she isn’t really trying to change politics; she’s trying to be politics — the system and its complexities be damned. Want to find a figure to which Palin can be reasonably compared? It’s not Ronald Reagan. It’s Donald Trump.

That is an interesting comparison considering that Donald Trump is making news again about running for President – at least enough noise that Breitbart News took the time to speak with him about it.

Yet while it can be argued that Trump has plenty of both business acumen and self-promotional skills – qualities Palin also has, as evidenced by her frequent forays into series television and devoted fan following – Trump has never taken the helm of the ship of state. His one advantage, which would certainly be turned against his by class-warfare-exploiting liberals, is that he’s willing to self-finance his campaign. Donald is definitely part of the 1 percent, while Sarah Palin’s chief sin seems to be the aspiration to join him despite her modest upbringing.

I’ve noted before that eight years can sometimes be the period of political rehabilitation, with the pre-Watergate Richard Nixon being an example. Having lost the 1960 Presidential election as the sitting Vice-President, he then ran in 1962 to be governor of California and lost again. But Nixon stayed active in the political world and reclaimed the GOP nomination in 1968. Similarly, Sarah Palin set her political office aside in 2009 but has stayed active in that “kingmaker” role with some success, campaigning for Republicans around the country.

Yet Sarah will not be the only one with executive experience who can appeal to Republicans. Just a cursory glance at some in the possible field reveals that a number of recent or current governors may jump in: Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker are among those mentioned, and all have more time in their governor’s office than Palin’s two-plus years.

Just as I would say to any of those I mentioned above, the more the merrier. The GOP field is perhaps the most wide open in memory, with a number of good candidates that a deep bench provides. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is the heavy favorite – but she was at this stage in the 2008 campaign as well, even with a fairly large initial field as the Democrats were the party out of power the previous eight years. But there are likely many rank-and-file Democrats who would like a break from the Clinton circus and may not be keen on the prospects of a President Biden, so their side is a little dispirited and less than enthusiastic.

There’s a school of thought out there which believes the political opposition will tell you who they are most afraid of by the amount of ridicule and criticism heaped their way. In that respect Sarah Palin is a leader because she gets flak from both the Left and the establishment Republicans, and it’s one aspect where the Reagan comparison is quite apt.

Opening fodder

While Ben Carson made a splash on the GOP side by strongly hinting he was in the 2016 Presidential fray, he stopped short of actually launching an exploratory committee. The first major candidate – at least one who has a shot at being in the top couple tiers, anyway – to form an exploratory committee is Democrat Jim Webb, the former Reagan administration official who later became a Democratic senator from Virginia. Daniel Larison at The American Conservative has some thoughts on this challenge to presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, but Webb has his own explanation at his newly-christened website.

And while it’s probably the longest of shots to oppose the Clinton machine, Webb does have somewhat of an opening according to Harry Enten at fivethirtyeight.com. He points out that Hillary’s support is weakest in the political center, where Webb’s pro-military but populist message may resonate. As David Freedlander writes at the Daily Beast:

And Clinton, (Webb’s) aides insist, is a non-factor.

“It ain’t about Hillary,” said Mudcat Saunders, a longtime Virginia strategist who worked on Webb’s Senate campaign. “It’s about bring the American dream to the forefront once again for working people and small business. The working people and small business – they haven’t had any representation in years. And they know it.

Americans want to do something about this coin-operated government.”

In a lot of respects, Webb hearkens back to the old Democratic party, the one which was just as liberal as it is today but was pro-military and pro-American. Ronald Reagan led those voters to the Republican Party and many of them stayed. For those who hang on to their faith in the old-style Democratic party and the song and dance about their support for the working man – the sort of Democrat who still resides mainly in rural areas like this one – Webb may be an appealing option. Take this excerpt from his introductory video as an example, one where Webb points out that he’s no stranger to long-shot campaigns since he defeated George Allen in 2006 to win his one term as Senator.

With enough financial support to conduct a first-class campaign, I have no doubt that we can put these issues squarely before the American people and gain their support. The 2016 election is two years away, but serious campaigning will begin very soon. The first primaries are about a year away. Your early support will be crucial as I evaluate whether we might overcome what many commentators see as nearly impossible odds.

We are starting with very little funding and no full-time staff, but I’ve been here before. In February, 2006 I announced for the Senate only nine months before the election against an entrenched incumbent. We had no money and no staff. We were more than 30 points behind in the polls. I promised to work on the same themes I am putting before you now: reorient our national security policy, work toward true economic fairness and social justice, and demand good governance, including a proper balance between the Presidency and the Congress. We won. And despite the paralysis in our government, we delivered on these promises, in measurable, lasting ways.

In 2007, I gave the response to President Bush’s State of the Union address. I put economic fairness for our working people and small business owners at the front of my response, noting the immense and ever-growing disparities in income between corporate executives and those who do the hard work. When I graduated from college the average corporate CEO made twenty times what his workers made. Today that number is greater than 300 times. The inequalities between top and bottom in our country are greater than at any time in the last hundred years. And the disparities between those at the very top and the rest of our society have only grown larger since the economic crash of late 2008 and early 2009.

With over 30,000 views in the first few days, the video is indeed portraying a very populist message that would appeal to the vast number of voters who fall for the class envy trap. (Dirty little secret: CEO pay is much higher now because many are paid in large part with stock options, thanks to the push a couple decades ago to more directly tie CEO salaries to company profitability and financial performance. In terms of actual salary, the ratio is far lower.)

It’s doubtful that Jim Webb is the obstacle to an eventual Hillary coronation that Barack Obama was in 2008, and at this point he’s probably in the same low tier of probability that Martin O’Malley rests on, well behind Joe Biden and miles in arrears to Hillary. But it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jim in the mid-single digits in early polls as an outsider who has military experience, as opposed to most others in the Democratic field. He may be the catalyst for another Operation Chaos on the Democratic side.

Back to that three letter word: J-O-B-S

I still like picking on Joe Biden. But over the last month or so I’ve collected a lot of divergent information on policy suggestions, each of which promses to be the magic elixir to get our economy moving in the right direction again.

I think the key to this lies in two areas: manufacturing and energy. In that respect, I keep a lot of information handy to discuss in this space, with a group called the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) generally representing the left-of-center, pro-union side. And while their main goal seems to be increasing the coffers of Big Labor, luckily most workers still have free will – ask the employees at the Tennessee Volkswagen plant about how much effort from the UAW can be rebuffed in a simple up-or-down vote.

Currency manipulation is one area in which the AAM has been focusing. A study they cite, by the liberal Economic Policy Institute (EPI), makes the case that:

Many of the new jobs (if the subject is addressed) would be in manufacturing, a sector devastated by rising trade deficits over the past 15 years. Rising trade deficits are to blame for most of the 5.7 million U.S. manufacturing jobs (nearly a third of manufacturing employment) lost since April 1998. Although half a million manufacturing jobs have been added since 2009, a full manufacturing recovery requires greatly increasing exports, which support domestic job creation, relative to imports, which eliminate domestic jobs.

Personally I disagree with the premise that rising trade deficits can be blamed for the job losses; instead, I think an absurdly high corporate tax rate and onerous regulations have contributed more to chasing away American manufacturing. (While many simply blame “outsourcing” for the problem, fewer understand the dynamics which led to the outsourcing.) Yet there is merit to the idea that all sides should be competing on as level of a playing field as possible when it comes to the means of exchange, and China is one of the worst offenders. (And why not? They are communists, after all, and you can’t trust communists any farther than you can throw them.)

Two of EPI’s findings are quite interesting: first, should the EPI model come to its fruition, the oil and gas industry would be the hardest hit, and second, Maryland would be among the states least impacted, with barely a 1% rise in employment.

Yet AAM president Scott Paul is quick to blame Barack Obama:

President Obama promised to hold China accountable. He hasn’t. The White House last month said President Obama would use his pen and his phone to make progress on economic issues. He could start today by signing an order to designate China as a currency manipulator.  Then, he could call the Chinese leadership to demand an end to that practice, and secure an agreement on a plan to cut this deficit in half over the next three years.

I sort of wish Mr. Paul would also figure out the other problems, but he is correct to be concerned about our Chinese policy. Job creation has become more important than deficit reduction in the minds of Americans, both in the AAM poll I cited above and a Pew Research Poll cited by the American Petroleum Institute (API).

And the industry which benefits from API’s efforts represents another piece of the puzzle which we can take advantage of: our abundant energy supplies. While America uses 26 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, there is the possibility of as much as 10,000 trillion cubic feet within our land mass. That’s nearly 4 centuries worth, so I don’t think we will run out anytime soon. (Estimates have continued on an upward path as new technology makes previously unworkable plays economically viable.) As I keep saying, it’s too bad we don’t have a nice shale play under our little sandbar. Not only that, but the infrastructure we will need to take advantage of all that (and help curtail spot shortages like the ones we’re having this chilly winter) would be a guaranteed job creator – one which derives its basis from the private sector. New pipelines aren’t just for export facilities like Cove Point, but could benefit this area and perhaps bring more natural gas service to our region.

Unfortunately, Maryland isn’t poised to take advatange of either the manufacturing or energy booms at present, thanks to back-breaking economic policy and a foolhardy go-slow approach on fracking. It takes a strident opponent of the latter to suggest yet another approach which will do damage to the former, but gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur accomplishes this with the tired old combined reporting proposal. Hers comes with a twist, though, which she announced last Monday:

In the morning, Mizeur will host several Maryland business owners for a Small Business Roundtable. They will discuss her legislation to provide tax relief to small business owners, as well as other highlights from the campaign’s ten-point plan for jobs and the economy, which was released last fall. She will also hear from the business owners on a range of other concerns.

(snip)

At 1:00 pm, several business owners will join Mizeur in front of Ways and Means to testify on behalf of legislation that would enact combined reporting and distribute the estimated $197 million to small businesses for personal property tax rebates.

It’s the liberal way of picking winners and losers. And according to a 2008 study by the Council on State Taxation – admittedly, an opponent of the practice:

Combined reporting has uncertain effects on a state’s revenues, making it very difficult to predict the revenue effect of adopting combined reporting.

Even proponents don’t address that aspect, instead emphasizing how it would “level the playing field between multistate corporations and locally based companies.” But since Mizeur’s idea is one which would subsidize some businesses under a certain employment plateau, the uncertainty would likely be just another reason to avoid Maryland.

On the other hand, a Republican like Larry Hogan at least gets businesses together to discuss what they really want. Granted, once he gets them together he speaks in broad concepts rather than a more specific plan, but at least he’s listening to the right people. None of the others in the GOP field have specific plans, either, although Ron George probably comes the closest.

One has to ask what states which are succeeding economically are doing to attract new business. The state with the lowest unemployment rate, North Dakota, is prospering – more like crushing the rest of the field – on account of abundant energy resources, and perhaps that success is pulling surrounding states up with it. Its three neighbors (Montana, South Dakota, and Minnesota) all rest within the top 13 when it comes to low unemployment rates and other regional states like second-place Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming, and Kansas lie within the top 10. Although the top five are right-to-work states, half the bottom 10 are as well. Nor can tax climate be seen as a dominating factor since the top 10 in unemployment vary widely in that category: Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah, and Montana are indeed excellent in that aspect, but North Dakota is decidedly more pedestrian and Iowa, Vermont, and Minnesota are among the worst.

But Maryland has the tendency to depend too much on the federal government as an economic driver. This presents a problem because bureaucrats don’t really produce anything – they skim off the top of others’ labor but don’t add value. Certainly it’s great for those who live around the Beltway, and it’s telling that all three of the Democratic candidates have a connection to the two Maryland counties which border the District of Columbia while none of the Republicans save Larry Hogan do.

In order to create jobs, I think the state needs to diversify its economy, weaning itself off the government teat and encouraging manufacturing and energy exploration. Meanwhile, there’s also a need to rightsize regulation and restore a balance between development and Chesapeake Bay cleanup – specifically by placing a five-year moratorium on new environmental restrictions while cleaning up the sediment behind the Conowingo Dam. Let’s give that which we’ve already done a chance to work and other states a chance to catch up.

The best route out of government dependence is a job. Unfortunately, when the aim of the dominant political party in the state is one of creating as many dependents as possible, a lot of good entrepreneurs will be shown the door. It’s time to welcome them in with open arms.

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