The cooling-off period

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast track bill bounces back to Senate

June 23, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Fast track bill bounces back to Senate 

By Cathy Keim

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is alive and well due to political shenanigans to keep it going. When the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) bill was voted down by Democrats hoping to block TPA, the game was supposed to end. However, Speaker Boehner is determined to work with Majority Leader McConnell in the Senate to present fast track to the president.

Part of what makes this so confusing is that the Republican-controlled House and Senate are working overtime to present the Democratic president the gift that he has been longing for: more authority to pursue multiple trade bills with Congress only able to vote the deal up or down. Why would the Republicans be feverishly pursuing this goal?

The obvious answer is that free trade is so important that any way of achieving it is worth making any sacrifice. That may be what they are telling you, but it just isn’t true. There are plenty of ways that this deal could lock the US into untenable trade agreements. Currency manipulation, immigration, patent and copyright issues are just a few of the areas that could turn against American workers.

Even when you look at the Maryland delegation’s votes, you will see strange bedfellows. First, take our two senators who split on the issue. I cannot find a statement by Senator Mikulski about her vote, but she voted no. Since she is not running for office again, she does not have to worry about offending the president.

Senator Cardin voted yes after he introduced an AIPAC backed amendment. AIPAC states:

On April 22, the Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously to include an amendment targeting harmful anti-Israel trade and commercial practices in the “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority bill. The amendment, authored by Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH), addresses efforts by foreign governments to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel. It also directs that one of the principal American objectives in upcoming trade negotiations will be to discourage trading partners from taking actions that would limit U.S.-Israel commerce.

I can understand why Senator Cardin would want to defend Israel when the current administration has shown real hostility towards them, but one has to ask if this is shortsighted on the Senator’s part. Giving the same administration fast track authority when the president has shown little interest in adhering to any restraints put upon him, may in the long run turn out worse for Israel. Perhaps Senator Cardin would do better to vote no and stop the whole fast track process.

Only one other representative from Maryland voted yes on TPA and that was Congressman John Delaney of the 6th Congressional District. He stated in a press release that:

Right now, two things are happening: 1) Congress is considering a bipartisan agreement that instructs the President on trade negotiations and begins the deliberation process for a new accord and 2) China is working on their own regional trade agreement. I support giving President Obama Trade Promotion Authority because it will give the President the tools he needs to negotiate the best trade deal for America and our workers. For the first time, the bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority package includes groundbreaking environmental and labor standards and provides unprecedented human rights protections. The Trade Promotion Authority Package gives President Obama new ways to enforce these standards to make sure we’re not having a race to the bottom that drags American workers down. So it’s either going to be our country setting the terms for trade or it’s going to be China. I want our country, our government and this President setting the terms of international trade, not China.

Congressman Harris of the 1st Congressional District voted no. His Facebook page states:

Thousands of citizens in Maryland’s First District contacted my office regarding bills on trade that were recently considered in the House. Today, I voted against the Trade Promotional Authority (TPA) bill for a second time. Representing your views are of the utmost importance to me and it is truly an honor to serve the people in the First District.

He did not listen to his constituents about CRomnibus or voting out Boehner as Speaker of the House, but this time he heard us loud and clear and responded as we asked. I wonder if that is because former Delegate Mike Smigiel has announced that he is opposing Andy in the primary next April?

Representatives Donna Edwards (4th District) and Chris Van Hollen Jr. (8th District) are both running for the Senate seat being vacated by Barbara Mikulski. Edwards is running to the left and Van Hollen is obliged to move left too. Van Hollen explains his reasons in a letter to Rep. Levin.

He lists multiple concerns such as currency manipulation, increased investor lawsuits, workers’ rights, environmental issues and more as his reasons for voting no.

Representatives Ruppersberger, Sarbanes, Edwards, and Cummings all signed a letter to President Obama explaining why they were voting no on TPA.

For some time, members of Congress have urged your administration to engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the numerous issues being negotiated.

(snip)

Beyond traditional tariff issues, these include policies related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, competition, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, e-commerce, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.

(snip)

Congress, not the Executive Branch, must determine when an agreement meets the objectives Congress sets in the exercise of its Article I-8 exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade.

Representative Steny Hoyer is the Minority Whip. He voted against TPA because:

Trade Promotion Authority legislation lays the foundation for how we approach trade policy as part of our overall economic strategy, and we cannot look at trade simply on its own. We must consider all the elements that affect American workers and jobs.

(snip)

Our workers deserve policies that boost our competitiveness and place us at an advantage in global markets, making it easier for them to get ahead.

He then lists a whole smorgasbord of expensive programs that he wants for the workers.

The reasons for the votes cast vary from constituent demands, to fear of China, to wanting more spending, to defending Israel and to pursuing a Senate seat. Some of the reasons I can agree with while others, like wanting the Export-Import Bank renewed, are not acceptable. However, on this important vote I am happy to have the Democrats join with as many Republicans as will stand against TPA.

Keep on calling and prodding your senators to vote against TPA. The cloture vote is expected today, with the final vote coming tomorrow. If the bill survives cloture, it will likely pass, so the ball is now in the Senate’s court.

Maryland’s loss

He was mentioned for political posts ranging from Congress to head of the state police to perhaps even governor, but like many Maryland families Dan Bongino’s is heading for the sunny climes of Florida. As he noted on social media:

My family and I will be relocating to Martin County, Florida within the next few months. The reasons are beyond the scope of this platform and, for that reason, I explain a bit more in this week’s podcast show. I will speak more about it over the coming weeks as I see many of you individually and during the radio fill-ins, but I felt that you deserved to know as soon as I did. You have allowed me into your lives in this small way and I feel like you are a part of my extended family.

(In case you are wondering, Martin County is along the Atlantic coast, north of Miami and Palm Beach. Its western border is Lake Okeechobee.)

Whatever the reason, Dan will be missed in Maryland politics as an effective, articulate spokesman for conservative values. His departure from the scene leaves a void which, quite frankly, is begging to be filled by someone – but there’s no one on the state’s political scene who can bring that combination of conservatism and charisma.

Naturally, naysayers will say that he never won a general election in either of his two tries, and this is true. Yet he was successful at one thing: nationalizing races that otherwise would have escaped the attention of political observers. I think that it can be argued that his success in that regard in 2012 helped a little in getting Larry Hogan elected two years later, as he made people believe races could be won here by a Republican.

The withdrawal of Dan Bongino may have effects on the Democratic side as well. I think it cements John Delaney as the contender to beat for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018 because now he has an easier path to re-election in 2016. (If Bongino were to have entered a 2016 contest, my thought is that he would have made a second try at a Congressional seat rather than another statewide race.)

I have a couple reasons for this line of thought. If you look at the U.S. Senate race for next year, you have two sitting Congressmen already eyeing the seat: Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards. It wouldn’t surprise me if another one or two get in, particularly John Sarbanes as his family name is still associated with the United States Senate. While Delaney is not hurting for money and could compete on the level required for such a high-powered field, I’m sure the state Democratic leadership is having a collective heart attack as more Senatorial aspirants come from the ranks of relatively safe Congressional seats. So his staying put may be rewarded down the road as far as the party goes.

On the other hand, Delaney is trying to make a name for himself as being a bipartisan player, and Democrats in the know realize that part of Larry Hogan’s appeal was the promise to work on both sides of the aisle. Those Democrats who crossed over to back Hogan probably don’t budge for a Doug Gansler, Heather Mizeur, or one of the also-rans in the 2016 Senate race, but they just night for Delaney as he is the Democratic mirror image of Hogan as a business owner. The biggest difference is that Delaney won his bid for Congress while Hogan lost his.

Now I don’t think Dan is going to fall off the face of the earth, as I’m sure he will maintain his thriving broadcast career. I’m sure he’s looking at this as a different door opening rather than one being closed.

But for someone who, four years ago, was known to hardly anyone as he commenced what I’m sure most people thought was the crazy notion that he could be a U.S. Senator, Dan’s done well for himself. Yet don’t forget that his career is rooted in that of another upstart who also made a political splash for a short while before returning to private business – Brian Murphy. It was the onetime gubernatorial candidate who chaired Dan’s campaign at the start.

I guess that’s the problem with conservatives. They’re too busy being productive to play politics, and Dan Bongino is a pretty productive guy. I hope he finds success and happiness for his family in Florida, but as a force in Maryland politics he will be missed.

He’s number 22: Harris tops Maryland delegation on Club for Growth scorecard

March 9, 2012 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2012, Inside the Beltway, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, Senator Watch, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on He’s number 22: Harris tops Maryland delegation on Club for Growth scorecard 

While the group can learn a thing or two about how to organize a legislative scorecard from someone who knows about it, the Club for Growth recently released its 2011 legislative scorecards for the House and Senate. And for all those who believe the Club for Growth backed Harris for a reason, well, I guess you have your proof. Too bad thoughtful people agree with most of the Club’s positions.

I’ll cut to the chase: here is the percentage score and rank among Maryland’s House delegation, by district. Bear in mind there are 435 House members:

  1. Andy Harris, 95% (22)
  2. Dutch Ruppersberger, 1% (419)
  3. John Sarbanes, 8% (365)
  4. Donna Edwards, 11% (335)
  5. Steny Hoyer, 8% (372)
  6. Roscoe Bartlett, 89% (42)
  7. Elijah Cummings, 9% (353)
  8. Chris Van Hollen, 12% (315)

On the Senate side, Barbara Mikulski scored 11% and ranked 72nd, while Ben Cardin attained a miserable 3% rating and finished 94th.

It’s obvious that Maryland can do its part to help enact pro-growth policies by helping to get rid of the anti-growth president we have now, but more importantly in this election ousting Ben Cardin and some of the low-performing House members we have. That’s not to say one of Bartlett’s GOP primary opponents wouldn’t have a similar score, though, so don’t consider this an endorsement of Roscoe Bartlett. (Harris is unopposed in the GOP primary.)

Is eliminating Ben Cardin a long shot? Yes, a prudent observer would have to admit it is. Cardin is a likable guy who reminds people of a kindly grandfather, and it’s obvious he has plenty of political instinct since he’s made a long career out of being elected every two to four years. (By my count, he’s won in 1966, 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006. That’s sixteen elections, folks.)

But it can be done, and we have to state our case to Maryland voters. The same goes for several House seats where I think we have a fighting chance: the Second, Fifth, and Eighth districts are probably the most in play. Imagine holding our two we have now and winning those three – Democrats would be self-immolating themselves if their heads didn’t explode first.

There’s no question conservatives have the right ideas, it’s just that we have to get together and put them into practice. Of course, the Club for Growth isn’t perfect but I would argue it’s pretty damn conservative and this is a useful gauge on who needs to go in our current Congressional setup.

Tomorrow I have a sort of companion piece on one Senate candidate, although I could have probably written it regarding several others as well. He points out a truism about Maryland politics that I expand on.

A twist in the Sixth

February 16, 2012 · Posted in Delmarva items, Kratovil Watch, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on A twist in the Sixth 

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

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

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

Read more

Maryland’s reborn spectator sport: how many General Assembly members will run for Congress?

We don’t have a representative from all eight districts quite yet, but the news that Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell is going to challenge entrenched Fifth District Congressman Steny Hoyer brings up the question of who will be minding the store?

Let’s look at it district by district:

  • Obviously the First District has been made more safely Republican, as former State Senator Andy Harris won the seat in 2010 and hasn’t seen any significant Democratic opposition yet. At one time State Senator Jim Mathias was thought to be interested in running, but that may not be in the cards due to a increase in the GOP base there.
  • In the Second District, where Dutch Ruppersberger has been in office for several terms, the name originally linked to a run was Delegate Pat McDonough. But he’s been waffling over the last months over whether to run for that seat or a statewide U.S. Senate seat; meanwhile former Senate Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs stepped down from that post in order to explore a Second District run.
  • In the Third and Fourth Districts – John Sarbanes and Donna Edwards, respectively – no member of the General Assembly has stepped forward to make a challenge. In those cases, we’ll probably have to wait until they retire.
  • As noted above, Tony O’Donnell is challenging Steny Hoyer in the Fifth District.
  • The Sixth District is a bipartisan circus as Democrats gerrymandered the district into being much more Democrat-friendly than the previous rendition, presumably as a favor to State Senator Rob “Gas Tax” Garagiola to run. But the GOP has its share of politicians doing battle, with current State Senator David Brinkley being joined by recently-deposed former Senator Alex Mooney in the fray – a challenge which also leaves the state GOP scrambling for a Chair during an election year. All of them will have to deal with longtime incumbent Roscoe Bartlett.
  • So far the Seventh and Eighth Districts, represented by Elijah Cummings and Chris Van Hollen, have also been quiet.
  • Along with the possibility of Delegate McDonough seeking a Senate seat against incumbent Ben Cardin, some have also spoke about a primary challenge from State Senator C. Anthony Muse of Prince George’s County.

Obviously some of these running will survive the primary, but it will be an interesting exercise in time management to see how they juggle the prospect of a primary battle with the demands placed on them by the “90 Days of Terror” known as the annual General Assembly session. It so happens the filing deadline is also the opening day of the 2012 session and the primary itself will occur just a few days before sine die. Particularly in the Sixth District, this fact may handicap those serving in the Maryland legislature who face opponents which can devote more time to the race.

There’s no question that serving in legislative office at a local level is considered the best training for higher office: many of those who serve in a local Council or Commission graduate to become Delegates or Senators, and in turn they gain the experience voters seek in electing Congressmen and Senators. Fully half of Maryland’s Congressional delegation once served in the Maryland General Assembly.

Obviously those who are seeking election this time, with the cover of incumbency to protect them if they should lose, hope to add to that total.

A sound Congressional map

Come this fall, the Maryland General Assembly will take a little time from figuring out devious ways to raise our taxes and usurp a little more of our freedom to finalize Congressional district lines for next year’s elections.

But someone with the Maryland Republican Party came up with a “good government map” which may be the most logical dissection of the state we’ll see in this round. The beauty of it is how well it matches up with existing geographic lines. For example, the First District as the Republicans see it would consist of 10 full counties and just a tiny slice of Anne Arundel County. And instead of slicing our capital county into several districts, the Republican plan would put all but the small section destined for the First District into the Third District. Seventeen of Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City would be in just one Congressional district, while no county would be in more than three (Baltimore County would be split mostly between the Second and Sixth Districts, with a few areas close by Baltimore City placed into its Seventh District.)

An interesting sidebar for local voters (and something of a surprise coming from a GOP plan) is the fact that Andy Harris would no longer live in the district he represents – the Baltimore County resident would be close by the line separating the Second and Sixth Districts. But the map would also probably place Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes in the same Second District as well as pairing Donna Edwards and Steny Hoyer in the Fifth, so the GOP plan is likely DOA in the General Assembly. Still, the way the Republicans drew the map makes a lot of sense because districts are compact and geographically sound – if they place two incumbent Democrats in the same district, that’s the breaks. I guarantee you the Democrats who run the process will slice and dice the state willy-nilly to create as much havoc among Republicans as possible – gerrymandering with a capital G.

Apparently the state’s residents will get a chance to have their say as well, so now may be the time to come up with a good, sound plan. I think the GOP has succeeded on that count.

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