The power of one

The return of a Republican to Government House has been a boon to the state party, but it has created no shortage of chaos in the General Assembly and in counties where erstwhile members of that body reside. One example of this is Carroll County, which has had to replace two members of its delegation as both Senator Joe Getty and Delegate Kelly Schulz were tapped for administration jobs.

Replacing the latter brought significant strife to neighboring Frederick County, where most of District 4 lies, but since a small portion lies in Carroll County they also get their say. But one change in their process was agreeing to Larry Hogan’s request to send him three names, which Carroll did. Since former Delegate Barrie Ciliberti is on both lists, it would presumably be his seat once Schulz is confirmed the Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation by the Maryland Senate.

But if you look at the three men Frederick County advanced to their final interview stage, you would notice that Ciliberti was the only name agreed on – however, it’s been reported that Carroll had Ciliberti as their second choice behind Ken Timmerman, who didn’t make Frederick’s top three.

Carroll County has also been feeling the heat for sending up the name of Robin Bartlett Frazier as their choice to replace Senator Getty over Delegate Justin Ready, among others. Frazier was a county commissioner until losing a bid for re-election this year; her biggest claim to fame is ignoring a judge’s order and beginning commission meetings with a prayer. One argument in Bartlett’s favor was that selecting Ready would have only set up a second search for his vacant position.

These incidents serve as a reminder to the issues Republicans had with replacing Senator E. J. Pipkin and Pipkin’s eventual successor Steve Hershey back in 2013. But imagine if all four counties in the District 36 jurisdiction had to send up three names, and they were all different? It would be chaos.

Here’s what the Maryland Constitution has to say about the process of replacing General Assembly members:

SEC. 13. (a) (1) In case of death, disqualification, resignation, refusal to act, expulsion, or removal from the county or city for which he shall have been elected, of any person who shall have been chosen as a Delegate or Senator, or in case of a tie between two or more such qualified persons, the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing, within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, by the Central Committee of the political party, if any, with which the Delegate or Senator, so vacating, had been affiliated, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, in the County or District from which he or she was appointed or elected, provided that the appointee shall be of the same political party, if any, as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and it shall be the duty of the Governor to make said appointment within fifteen days after the submission thereof to him.

(2) If a name is not submitted by the Central Committee within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, the Governor within another period of fifteen days shall appoint a person, who shall be affiliated with the same political party, if any as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in the District or County.

(3) In the event there is no Central Committee in the County or District from which said vacancy is to be filled, the Governor shall within fifteen days after the occurrence of such vacancy appoint a person, from the same political party, if any, as that of the vacating Delegate or Senator, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in such District or County.

(4) In every case when any person is so appointed by the Governor, his appointment shall be deemed to be for the unexpired term of the person whose office has become vacant.

(b) In addition, and in submitting a name to the Governor to fill a vacancy in a legislative or delegate district, as the case may be, in any of the twenty-three counties of Maryland, the Central Committee or committees shall follow these provisions:

(1) If the vacancy occurs in a district having the same boundaries as a county, the Central Committee of the county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(2) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion of one county, the Central Committee of that county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(3) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion or all of two or more counties, the Central Committee of each county involved shall have one vote for submitting the name of a resident of the district; and if there is a tie vote between or among the Central Committees, the list of names there proposed shall be submitted to the Governor, and he shall make the appointment from the list (amended by Chapter 584, Acts of 1935, ratified Nov. 3, 1936; Chapter 162, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 8, 1966; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 649, Acts of 1986, ratified Nov. 4, 1986).

One can argue this both ways, but since the language states “a person whose name shall be submitted” it’s taken to mean one person. In the case of District 36, the choice was made by then-Governor O’Malley between two names because two counties backed Hershey and two preferred Delegate Michael Smigiel. All of them submitted one name.

And this brings me to a message those of us who serve (or ran for) Central Committees around the state received from Kathy Fuller, who serves on the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. After she went through the process Carroll County used, she made one key point:

We have the constitutional requirement to provide one name. To do anything else usurps the constitutional authority endowed upon the Central Committee. If a Central Committee decides upon one name and submits it, the Governor must appoint that person. The power of the appointment then rests with the Central Committee. If the Central Committee can be convinced to submit more than one name then the Governor actually chooses who is appointed, and the power of the appointment rests with the Governor.

The Constitution designates Central Committees to choose who is appointed and the governor to carry out the appointment. This is separation of power. The Governor is the executive branch; the House and Senate are the legislative branch. If the Governor picks the members of the legislative branch then this corrupts the separation of powers and the checks and balances necessary for good government.

Think of it this way: The Governor has hundreds of appointments he is able to make. If he were to appoint legislators to most of those jobs and then tell the central committees who to send as replacements he would control most of government, both the executive and legislative branches. This is an extreme example, but illustrates the danger of allowing the authority endowed upon the central committees to be usurped by giving the governor more than one name or by allowing him to tell the central committee who that name should be. This is the same reason many gubernatorial appointments are made with the consent of the legislature. It is the check and balance of good government.

Just because Larry Hogan wants three names to choose from doesn’t mean he is entitled to those three names. Unfortunately, most Republican politics turns the process on its head as they desire only one person to run in any primary (to avoid a GOP candidate spending money in a primary fight) but more than one person in this instance so that the state elected official farthest from the people (and perhaps representing the opposite party) makes the choice. Given the choice between a hardline conservative and someone more moderate and “bipartisan” we know who Larry Hogan would pick 95 percent of the time – so Carroll County should have maintained their fealty to the original process. If Maryland had a provision for a special election to fill these seats I would be happy to have plenty of choices, but it does not and I think Fuller’s argument is the correct one.

And to me there is no better illustration of what went wrong with the process than our experience with the District 4 Wicomico County Council vacancy some years ago. By charter, we had to submit four names to County Council, which did their own vetting process after we did our interviews and voted on who to send. At the time it was also an overly rushed process because we only had 30 days to get through the process – a charter change adopted in 2012 extended this to 45 days. But had we only been required to send one name, there would be a different occupant of the office because the eventual appointee was not our top choice. This would be a good charter change to consider since the county charter is different than the state’s Constitution on this manner.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that, in one respect, all of these appointments are moot because none of the principals have resigned yet. They all await confirmation to their positions but the process was started early because the General Assembly would be in session during the time. But I think it needs to be clarified that the duty of the Central Committee is already spelled out in the state’s Constitution and we need only submit one name for these positions.

Let’s do what’s right under the law, not the personal preference of the new governor.

A question of priorities

The “90 days of terror” I call the General Assembly session do not begin until next Wednesday, but once some incumbent members were safely re-elected they pre-filed a small number of bills in each chamber – 39 in the House and 15 in the Senate.

Pre-filed bills are interesting because it gives a glimpse into what those members who introduce them believe to be burning questions. In the Senate, it’s apparent Senator Joan Carter Conway is most worried about the availability of prescription drugs in a state of emergency while Delegate Cheryl Glenn believes the establishment of the Hattie N. Harrison Memorial Scholarship for “students who pledge to work in fields of critical shortage in the State on completion of their studies” is top on her list. (Harrison was a longtime Delegate from Baltimore City who died in office early in the 2013 session.) Respectively, these bills were dubbed SB1 and HB1, presumably since they were the first bills requested for filing.

This stands in opposition to our Congress, which tends to use the lowest number bills for priority items. For example, there is no H.R. 1 yet in the 114th Congress because they reserve the number for the Speaker’s use on a bill he deems a priority. (It was used for the Tax Reform Act of 2014 in the last session.) S. 1 this term is the bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which Congress has tried to pass on several prior occasions.

Of the 54 bills in the hopper so far, most deal with mundane issues. But there are a few interesting Senate bills which could have merit: Senator Jim Brochin is trying to eliminate the annual indexing of the gasoline tax to inflation, while bills to exempt certain non-profits from paying a state-mandated minimum wage increase and to open up the election canvassing process to outside observers were introduced by Senator Joe Getty before he took a position in the Hogan administration. (This is interesting as Delegate Kelly Schulz also pre-filed bills on the House side. I’d be curious to know who would be considered to be the lead sponsor in the cases where that sponsor is no longer in the MGA.)

On the House side, Delegate Glenn also wants to accelerate the already-adopted $10.10 per hour minimum wage from 2018 to 2015 while Delegate Aruna Miller seeks to ban e-cigarettes from indoor venues. On the good side, Delegate Schulz wants to make sure only citizens register to vote, stop Common Core in its tracks, and eliminate one piece of the gun law.

Obviously there will be a lot more than this. Just as an example, one prospective bill that aroused a spirited discussion at an event for Delegate-elect Carl Anderton earlier tonight is Anderton’s as-yet-unreleased proposal to address our tax differential, an idea for which Salisbury mayor Jim Ireton (a possible 2018 opponent) is also pushing – however, the two probably differ on how to accomplish this goal. Once the legislation is written and introduced, it can get a fair hearing.

This also gives me the opportunity to remind readers about a great organization of volunteers called Maryland Legislative Watch, for which I have read and evaluated bills the last two sessions (and would gladly do so again.) They are a key to a more informed public, so I encourage you to check them out. Chances are we will once again see over 2.500 bills introduced and if the first 54 are any guide, it will be yet another intriguing session. And we haven’t even seen Larry Hogan’s legislative agenda yet.

Back to normalcy

It’s not quite as momentous as the 1920 election, where Warren G. Harding made my title part of his post-World War sloganeering, but today the holidays are now behind us, we return to the five-day workweek, and the political world awakens from its slumber later this week as Congress returns to session. (Maryland politicians will wait another week, as the second Wednesday in January falls at its latest possible date, the 14th.) Soon we will begin to see if the solutions that were promised to the voters will be the agenda for the new sessions.

But there are other aspects of “normalcy” we are beginning to see as well, as the power brokers jockey for position in the Republican Party. Case in point: the hue and cry put up by supporters of the next-highest primary vote-getter in the process of selecting a replacement for Delegate Kelly Schulz, who was tapped by Governor-elect Hogan to be his Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. It was up to the Frederick County Republican Central Committee to select three people for a final interview process out of the sixteen applicants, and the three they selected were Barrie Ciliberti, a former delegate from Montgomery County who finished fifth in the primary (the top three advanced); Paul Stull, a former delegate who lost to Schulz in the 2010 Republican primary, closing a 16-year run in the House, and Chris Glass, Sr.

Wendi Peters, who finished fourth in the primary, did not get the nod to move on. Her sin? Not being on a slate with Senator-elect Michael Hough, Delegate Kathy Afzali, Delegate-elect David Vogt, and Ciliberti. Instead, she was a supporter of losing Senator David Brinkley – yet she had the backing of Schulz for the seat. A Central Committee chaired by JoeyLynn Hough made the selections.

I’ve been around this block a time or two. As a member of a Central Committee, our focus in selecting replacements was on whether the new person would be relatively conservative and also electable for the next term. Admittedly, we’ve had at least one swing and miss in this regard but the County Council chose not to select our committee’s top vote-getter for a 2011 vacancy. In the instance of picking a Delegate – which we had to help Somerset County do when Page Elmore passed away in 2010 – it occurred at a time when we didn’t want to influence a primary campaign in progress, so we agreed to select his wife Carolyn to finish the term.

In Frederick County’s case, an argument could be made for the former Delegates but personally I would have preferred someone younger than their late seventies, which is the case for both Ciliberti and Stull. But ignoring the voters who picked Peters as the highest vote-getter that didn’t advance – as well as the choice of the Delegate who is leaving the seat to replace her – seems to me a slap in the face to those voters over petty politics and a disservice to the Republicans they purport to represent. It’s a battle which reminds me of the entirety of the District 36 fiasco back in 2013 when Senator E.J. Pipkin resigned.

On a national level, this is reflected in the grassroots movement to dump John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Take as an example an e-mail I received from the Wicomico Patriots:

Now it is time to engage again as Congress returns on Tuesday to swear in the members and to vote for Speaker of the House. Please call or write an email to Andy Harris encouraging him to vote for a new speaker. It only takes 29 congressmen to block Boehner’s re-election as speaker. Once he is blocked, the opportunity is there for a new person to step up.

I am aware that it is potentially politically dangerous for Andy Harris to vote against Boehner. If Boehner were to win anyway, then he can retaliate by removing people from their prestigious positions. Andy Harris is on the appropriations committee, one of the most powerful committees. However, we did not vote for Andy Harris so that he could protect his political power in DC. We voted for Andy Harris to stop the Obama agenda. Boehner has been completely ineffectual in stopping Obama.

So, Andy Harris, will you listen to the people who got you elected and take the difficult step of voting against Boehner or will you continue to follow him?

Your CRomnibus vote was very discouraging to your conservative base. Do we really think that you and Boehner will suddenly get the courage to block the funding of Homeland Security in February? Do you think that blocking funding for that is easier than refusing the whole 1000 page monstrosity called cromnibus?

No, the excuses keep coming as the can is kicked down the road over and over again. Now is the time for you to stand up and fight for us.

Please do contact Andy Harris at: (202) 225-5311. (Emphasis mine.)

And here’s my own message to the Congressman:

For too long we have heard excuse after excuse from your leadership, accompanied by the promise to fight at the next critical juncture. If the Republicans want to be the opposition party they were elected by We the People to be, then they need to show some opposition on Obamacare, on securing the border and addressing executive actions further encouraging the torrent of illegal immigration, and on spending beyond our means. Collectively, you will be painted as a “do-nothing Congress” by the President, Democrats, and media (but I repeat myself) anyway so just pass those common-sense measures and dare Obama to veto them.

In short, we want a Speaker of the House with the backbone to stand up to Barack Obama so we demand you withhold your vote from John Boehner. It’s worth pointing out that a 2016 Congressional run from a conservative member of the Maryland General Assembly is possible and doable – just as you did against a sitting Wayne Gilchrest when you were first nominated in 2008. Certainly there would be a monetary disadvantage for the challenger, but in my opinion no one should be immune from a serious primary challenge – particularly if he or she isn’t listening to the wishes of the district being represented. A poll cited by Jim Geraghty of National Review Online shows 60% of Republicans would “probably” or “definitely” replace Boehner as Speaker. Even as an Ohio native, count me as a “definite.”

These are two stories to keep your eye on in the coming days. Why do I get a sinking feeling they won’t end well for the good guys?

A look ahead: 2015 in Maryland

While many of the fiscal issues that dogged the state in 2014 are still around – and have continued to worsen with each revelation of another revenue shortfall – the personnel in place to address the problem has undergone significant changes thanks to a wave election which pulled Maryland into its tide.

At this time in 2013 when I wrote the look at 2014, the election seemed to be the molehill Anthony Brown thought it would be as the Maryland GOP was divided and despondent. But Larry Hogan’s Change Maryland movement was enough to overcome the built-in advantage in Democrat voter registration; meanwhile, Brown ran a highly uninspiring campaign that led to the lowest Democrat turnout on record. The drag from the top of the ticket allowed Republicans to pick up seven House seats and two Senate seats despite the gerrymandered redistricting done by Democrats after the 2010 elections.

November was the easy part, though – now Hogan has to govern. Job one will be finding $420 million to squeeze from this year’s budget, while the gap for next year is an estimated $750 million. While that number is daunting, it should be pointed out that the FY2015 state budget was $1.886 billion higher than the FY2014 version. That’s a 5.1% increase, so being $420 million short equates to a 1.07% cut. Simply holding the line on the budget for FY2016 and keeping it under $40 billion (in essence, level funding) should cover a lot of the problem. In fact, holding the budget to $40 billion rather than another 5.1% increase to match last year’s would net a difference of $1.224 billion – more than enough to cover the shortfall.

I realize it’s not as easy as I make it sound, but the budget is in Larry Hogan’s hands. The other key is a bill normally introduced immediately after the operating and capital budgets each year called the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, or BRFA. This is where the mandated spending that makes up over 80 percent of the budget is tweaked, and this is the bill for which Larry Hogan will have to sharpen his pencil and will want to keep a close eye on. Generally it is introduced by the administration’s request in the body which considers the other budget items. Although a version goes to both the House and Senate, by tradition budget consideration alternates yearly and 2015 will be the House’s turn.

And starting it in the House is important because a significant number of members are freshman legislators, many of whom were elected by receiving the message that voters were looking for change and fiscal responsibility. Over half of the Republicans in the House are newly-elected, with at least one appointee as well to replace Delegate Kelly Schulz, who was tapped to lead the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. This process will be a sidebar story as two current members of the General Assembly have already been chosen for positions in the new administration (Schulz and Senator Joe Getty.)

On a local level, the entirety of Wicomico County will be, for the first time in memory, represented in the House by a delegation entirely made up by freshmen. A combined 83 years of experience among six members was wiped out by a combination of redistricting, retirements, promotions, and electoral losses, leaving the county with five freshman representatives – Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes all begin their tenures next week. It’s perhaps a situation unique to the state; fortunately, the combined legislative experience of the county’s Senators is 28 years (20 for Addie Eckardt in the House and 4 years apiece for Jim Mathias in the House and Senate.)

Yet the change in leadership in the state could make things easier on the counties as well, provided Hogan makes the right departmental selections. As I pointed out yesterday regarding Wicomico County, a change at the Department of Planning could make county-level tier maps become more suited for local needs rather than state mandates. (Certainly counties with approved maps should consider tweaking them to address perceived inequities.) Hogan has also promised steps to allow fracking in western Maryland, to consider a plan to clean the Bay by addressing the sediment trapped behind the Conowingo Dam, and will maintain strident opposition to phosphorus regulations which would affect poultry production on the Eastern Shore. All these endeavors can be assisted with prudent selections at the departments of Environment and Agriculture.

All through the state government there’s an exciting potential for reform – if the right choices are made. Hogan’s early picks have been of a bipartisan nature, which may frustrate GOP activists who saw the same practice help to undermine the Ehrlich administration, but could be argued to be necessary with the political reality that a lot of Democrat votes went to electing Hogan. (Statewide Democrats down the ticket, on the other hand, were selected by comfortable margins.) That also becomes the price to pay for having a majority-Democrat General Assembly.

Something else to watch in Maryland will be how much more Second Amendment erosion takes place under newly-elected Attorney General Brian Frosh. A gun grabber in the Maryland Senate, Frosh now takes a bigger role and it will be up to Hogan to prove his Second Amendment bona fides by championing the eventual repeal or overturn in court of the ill-considered Firearm Safety Act of 2013 – although the law may see its day in federal court first.

Another probable line of demarcation will be how to deal with the certainty of more illegal aliens thanks to Barack Obama’s policies of amnesty. With Maryland’s reputation as a sanctuary state, anything short of a localized get-tough approach will be a further drain on the budget and another headache for Hogan.

All this and I haven’t even touched on economic development or educational reform, which will also be items to watch in 2015 but currently have far too many known and unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase. On the latter, Hogan has made it known he’ll work to strengthen charter schools but true reform is probably some years away.

The story of 2015 in Maryland will be the story of how Larry Hogan leads after he takes the oath of office January 21. By then we’ll have some idea of what the priorities of the General Assembly will be as they’ll have already put a week of session under their belts and the hearing process should be underway on the highest-priority items. Success may be as simple as plugging the financial hole by tightening the state’s fiscal belt and the faster that happens, the more of the conservative agenda could be debated.

Who will vote for Vogt now?

The uphill battle is over.

This morning I received the following release in my e-mail:

David Vogt, a Marine combat veteran and former Military Times’ Marine of the Year, announced on Tuesday morning that he will not continue to seek the Republican nomination for United States Congress in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District. The seat is currently held by Democrat John Delaney. Vogt has been very critical of Congressman Delaney’s continued support for the Affordable Care Act and his partisan voting record. “His voting record and lack of presence within our district are exactly why he needs to be replaced during the 2014 election cycle,” Vogt said.

Vogt launched his campaign for Congress in June of last year and was the first Republican to officially file with the Maryland State Board of Elections.

“After spending much time discussing with friends, family, and supporters, I have decided to withdraw from the Republican primary in the Sixth District,” Vogt announced. “I have traveled all over this district in the past several months, and I have spoken with countless Marylanders who have been adversely affected by a failed Big Government agenda. I will continue to offer my fervent support of returning statesmanship to our district, state and country regardless of candidacy. In direct regard to our 6th Congressional District, I wish Dan Bongino the best of luck in his fight to restore conservative principles to Western Maryland.”

“Although I am withdrawing from this race, I remain committed to our community, our state, and our nation. I will continue my work in assisting our military veterans and their families as I have with the Major General Boyd Cook Memorial Foundation, Toys-for-Tots and Operation Second Chance and I look forward to continue being involved in our futures together as neighbors and friends. The fight for liberty and the advancement of the American Dream is never finished, and it must be fought for on every level: municipal, county, state and national. If we forfeit the fight on any battlefield, then we have forfeited the rights given by God alone,” Vogt exclaimed.

Vogt is considering entering a more local race during the 2014 cycle.

So Vogt just ceded ground to Dan Bongino in the Sixth District Congressional race, although there was little doubt Bongino had the campaign funding and name recognition to prevail in the primary anyway. What interested me, though, was the last line.

In looking up the district where Vogt’s hometown of Brunswick lies, it appears Vogt now resides in District 4. In the former configuration, however, Brunswick was in District 3B, represented by Delegate Michael Hough. If Vogt were to run for a state seat, he’s now in the same district as Senate Minority Leader David Brinkley, along with Hough and fellow Delegates Kathy Afzali and Kelly Schulz, who represent the current District 4A. All of them are Republicans, but at this point, Schulz is the only one who has filed for a House seat. Interestingly enough, though, today the lone person who had filed for State Senate, Jason Miller, withdrew from the race – seems to be coincidental timing there, doesn’t it?

On the other hand, if Vogt were to aspire to a County Council position, he would be in the newly-created Frederick County Council District 1, where no Republican has filed.

Of course, I don’t believe in “turns” nor do I think anyone is entitled to a legislative seat. But the chances are pretty good that Vogt may step out of the frying pan into the fire. We’ll see how his political moxie is built in a local race, should he choose to go that route.