Shifting out of PARCC

As I noted yesterday, there was an item brought to my attention by the Worcester County TEA Party. Fortunately, their version is slightly inaccurate in a good way.

According to their communication, Governor Hogan only had until June 1 to act. That date is problematic because he will be in the opening stages of a 12-day trip to Asia to drum up business for Maryland. I’m definitely not crazy about this trip – considering many on our side chastised Martin O’Malley for doing the same thing – but it is what it is, and that’s really not the subject of the post.

Let me refer to the actual authors to set things straight. This is from the Stop PARCC in Maryland group:

In June 2010, Governor Martin O’Malley and former State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick signed a Memorandum of Understanding that committed Maryland to the various guidelines, by-laws, and responsibilities of membership in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium.  (The complete Memorandum of Understanding can be found by clicking here.)

Section VII, Subsection B of the Memorandum of Understanding states:

“In the event that the governor or chief state school officer is replaced in a Consortium state, the successor in that office shall affirm in writing to the Governing Board Chair the State’s continued commitment to participation in the Consortium and to the binding commitments made by that official’s predecessor within five (5) months of taking office.”

On January 21, 2015, Governor Larry Hogan was inaugurated and took office as Maryland’s 62nd Governor. According to the Memorandum of Understanding, Governor Hogan has until June 21, 2015 to recommit Maryland to the PARCC consortium.

We believe that the “shall affirm” provision, in this case, is directory (non-binding) and not mandatory due to the nature of the agreement as well as legal precedent.

We believe that the Governor has the authority to nullify Maryland’s agreement with the PARCC consortium simply by declining to reaffirm the state’s commitment within this five month window.

We believe that Governor Hogan is in a unique position to reclaim, remodel, and rediscover Maryland education.

In looking through the Stop PARCC website, I also found a letter from Delegate David Vogt in which he implores Hogan to withdraw, citing Florida as one example of a state which has done so. In fact, there are over a dozen states (including neighboring Virginia and Pennsylvania) which have already withdrawn from PARCC or a similar testing regimen called SBAC or joined neither in the first place – Virginia is one of four that never adopted either idea.

The objection to each of these is simple: they were adopted as a one-size-fits-all scheme in which hundreds of millions of federal dollars were shoveled to states to bribe them into compliance. The concept of local control is being usurped more and more by these standards; meanwhile, we are finding more and more that Johnny not only can’t read, but he has trouble with math and knows little about basic science, history, and geography – however, he is programmed to regurgitate whatever topical talking points are popular with the teachers’ unions.

Maryland is supposed to be one of the best states for education – so why are we lowering ourselves to “average” standards? We can be a leader by encouraging innovation and letting local districts work to educate students in the basics, with the emphasis on teaching in time-tested methods proven successful rather than catering to a testing regimen that takes up valuable classroom time.

A ‘loophole’ is only bad if the government thinks it’s being stiffed

For what is being described as “financial stakes (that) are small, (yielding) just $3 million to $4 million annually.” the Washington Post sure has its collective panties in a wad over the prospect Larry Hogan may veto the “travel tax.”

When I did my last look at the idea, I didn’t really know how much the difference was to the state. Now that I know it’s only a rounding error in a $40 billion budget. the prospect of Democrats (and, sadly, a handful of Republicans) trying to fill in this supposed budget hole looks to me like a “gotcha” moment set up by General Assembly Democrats who will turn around and bash Hogan for enacting the “travel tax” in four years – after all, if they can perpetrate the fiction that school funding was cut this year (never mind the increase of over $100 million) they can make up anything to tell unsuspecting voters that the sky is falling.

But it’s really funny to me that the Post considers this a “travel agent loophole” and “undeserved windfall” when it’s actually a legal transaction. Even the Post admits it:

Rather than collect sales taxes from the agencies based on the actual prices they charge customers for hotel rooms, most states have accepted a reduced payment based on bargain room prices the agencies manage to negotiate with hotels.

That’s as it should be, so it sounds to me like General Assembly Democrats have some sour grapes. The transaction in question is at a reduced rate – why should the state collect the sales tax on the full rack rate if the place of lodging offers the rooms first to a reseller at a lower price? There is no gun being placed at the proverbial head of the hotel or motel to sell the rooms to an online travel agency; they can go it alone and try to market themselves without a middleman. (Hence, loyalty programs and other perks provided by hotels who prefer to keep bookings in-house.)

But it’s obvious that many hotel chains prefer the assurance of knowing they would get something – a “something” that is about 60 to 70 percent of full rate – for a room which will be paid for many times over before the paint dries on the renovation or new construction based on future reservations already on the books. Chances are your room rate is really paying for the employees who check you in and take care of the rooms moreso than the bricks, mortar, and furnishings in the facility, and that factor can be adjusted easily by management. (To use a local and somewhat extreme example, just drive through Ocean City in January and note how many hotels and motels shut down completely for the winter. No one is there to pay for the bricks and mortar, so no employees save a caretaker and maintenance are needed.) So even getting a reduced rate from a travel agency which reserves the rooms just in case isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a cause for complaint by a state which hasn’t completely given up the attitude that “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine, too.”

Conversely, to use another traveler analogy, you won’t hear the Post (or any of their liberal allies) tut-tutting if gasoline prices go up and the state collects more sales tax as a result – no one there would consider that an “undeserved windfall” for the state. I’ll explain.

Should the per-gallon tab for gasoline go up another 50 cents (as it has over the course of the last few months, from about $2 locally to north of $2.50) the state will make up the $4 million “lost” by vetoing the “travel tax” in no time. A 50-cent per gallon increase, as we have already had, nets yet an extra half-penny to the state per gallon come July as an additional 1% gasoline sales tax increase takes effect then. Just based on that 50-cent gas price increase alone coupled with the 1% increase (to 3%) – hence, the half-penny – and assuming the state consumes 7 million gallons per day (probably still in the ballpark despite these old statistics), they will make an “extra” $4 million from what they could have anticipated receiving when 2015 dawned in less than two weeks.

Yet the Post will not throw a pity party for motorists – I guarantee it. Ignore their whining and leave the hotel room rate system be.

Sneaking laws into the books

Important update: Per the Maryland General Assembly webpage, the date of presentment was actually fixed as May 3. This means the legislative limbo can run as late as June 2.)

On Tuesday Governor Larry Hogan risked carpal tunnel syndrome by signing hundreds of bills into law. The extraordinarily high output was made necessary by two factors: the events in Baltimore that scuttled a planned bill signing back on April 28, and the desire to enact these laws within the period mandated by the state’s constitution. As a refresher, Article II, Section 17 (c) of the Maryland Constitution states:

Any Bill presented to the Governor within six days (Sundays excepted), prior to adjournment of any session of the General Assembly, or after such adjournment, shall become law without the Governor’s signature unless it is vetoed by the Governor within 30 days after its presentment. (Emphasis mine.)

There are a handful of bills which may make it into the books this way. Since the General Assembly session ended at the stroke of midnight April 14. 30 days hence would be tomorrow, May 14. (Update: presentment doesn’t happen with adjournment, as I have found.) Some of the bills in limbo happen to be those which are part of the monoblogue Accountability Project, so you can bet there are some calculations going on about whether a veto can be sustained.

Many of these bills Hogan has held off on signing establish or extend fees and taxes, with a few being issues local to Calvert, Charles, and Howard counties. Two of them extend or increase fees in state courts; in another case I wrote about the “travel tax” of Senate Bill 190 a few weeks ago. Senate Bill 183 would mandate the adoption of the Geographic Cost of Education Index, which would be a budget-buster. He’s also passed on extending the film production activity tax credit that the producers of “House of Cards” wanted.

Business interests, though, should be happy that Hogan hasn’t signed the de facto two-year fracking ban or the extension of flexible leave.

On the social issue end of the spectrum, we do not yet know the fate of bills which would decriminalize marijuana, allow for same-sex couples to have their IVF procedures covered under insurance, let those who have undergone the treatment to revise their gender to change their birth certificates to reflect this, or allow felons who are out of prison but still on probation or parole to vote.

These are less than 5% of the bills which were passed. Many others have already been vetoed as duplicative, but those above are the ones most likely to get an attempt at overriding the veto – or they can try, try again in the next term knowing that the votes for passage were there the last time. Some bills may be improved with a few minor changes that can be worked out while others should just be put out of our misery.

I’m hoping that Governor Hogan sends a strong message by vetoing the following bills I advised voting against:

If he wishes to let the decriminalization of marijuana become law without his signature, that’s quite all right.

This all goes to show that my monoblogue Accountability Project should be a hot-ticket item when it comes out. next week. The good news is that it’s free and available for the taking once I upload it Monday. (See the update above.)

Irrelevant?

As I relaxed after a long Mother’s Day weekend with family, this story from the Washington Times piqued my interest. Here’s Jeb Bush, who most consider the “establishment” Republican candidate, trying to make believers out of the religious Right as the graduation speaker at Liberty University. You may recall LU is where Ted Cruz kicked off his own 2016 campaign, and the school founded by the late Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell seems to be a popular stop on that circuit.

Yet I contrast this to the idea, popularized by some and echoed by that s0-called “establishment,” that the only path to victory is to moderate or even capitulate on some social issues, particularly gay “marriage.” Where are the Republican presidential candidates who are choosing to cater to this crowd? I think the answer is simple: there’s not enough voters there to really matter.

Something I’ve seen over the years, in many elections, is that it’s rare that a Republican can succeed by being Democrat-lite. I will grant that the most recent Maryland election could be seen as a case where the avoidance of social issues – despite the bait continually laid by desperate Democrats – may have assisted in a GOP victory. Or maybe it didn’t because there was only a tiny percentage of Maryland voters who are militantly pro-abortion or fanatical in their support for gay “marriage.” Regardless of whether the issue were brought up or not, most of those would have supported Anthony Brown. I can even turn the question on its head and ask those who are in a group like Millennial Maryland: let’s say Larry Hogan had come out against abortion and for traditional marriage. Would you, as nominal Republicans, have still supported Hogan?

You see, this is the question those who are considered “values voters” continually have to ask themselves when we see an otherwise conservative candidate fall all over themselves trying to pander to various centrist groups who would rather not see social issues be prominent campaign issues. I think most who are social conservatives realize it’s the economic message that carries the day overall, but having an evangelical candidate could be the difference between maybe just voting for the candidate (with the risk these discouraged voters may stay home or just vote down-ballot races) or being active in knocking on doors, making phone calls, and opening the checkbook.

Until someone can prove to me that there are millions who will beat down the doors to the GOP if they would just throw the values voters under the bus, I think I would lay my money on a conservative nominee who can stand on all three legs of the conservative stool – fiscal, social, and national security – and appeal to values voters. Is it not worth pointing out that Falwell’s Moral Majority was an early supporter of Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election? I think he did pretty well for himself.

It seems to me that this part of the Republican Party needs to find its voice and make sure it nominates a clear alternative to the morally bankrupt policies of the political insiders. Yes, we call that Judeo-Christian values.

The final hurdle

This is sort of a programming note for those who are interested.

Over the last week on social media I was detailing some of my findings as I went through the votes for the monoblogue Accountability Project. There was a Delegate who was racking up an impressive record of consecutive correct votes; alas, his streak stopped at 15. Anyway, I have completed the tallies and over the next few days will write up the “awards” segment.

However, one thing I cover in my summary is the disposition of bills and that depends on Governor Hogan. On Tuesday he will sign the last batch of bills he plans on making into law and hopefully will present veto statements for others which won’t. You may recall he was supposed to sign a group of them on April 28 but the Baltimore riots forced a postponement. It means come Tuesday Larry might have carpal tunnel from signing so many bills because he’s doubling up the batch. This means I should be ready for release on May 18, since I like to put things like that up to begin a week.

Speaking of veto statements, this also allows me to bring up the idea that MDPetitions.com (the brainchild of Delegate Neil Parrott) is urging people in a last-ditch effort to veto three bills. As it turned out, they were all votes in the monoblogue Accountability Project and for all three the correct vote was against passage – so I join that call to veto the following bills:

  • SB 416/ HB 838 – Insurance Mandate for same-sex wedded couples to get In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatments
  • SB 743/ HB 862 – Modified Birth Certificates for Sex Changes, No Surgical Change Necessary
  • SB 340/ HB 980 – Convicted Felons Voting without Completing Their Sentences

I go into the reasons as part of the mAP, although on the IVF and birth certificate issues Cathy Keim and I have already explained our opposition.

As regards my writing partner Cathy, she is on a little hiatus for family time. So if you miss her pieces – and I’ve noticed she’s made quite a few fans over the short time she’s been associated with this site – don’t fret because she should be back in the saddle over the next couple weeks.

Once I get through that I have a couple more pet projects. And you thought I’d take it easy on the off year.

A city’s black eye

All of us in Maryland, whether we were born here like my better half’s family or came here as I did, have been glued to news and social media over the last few days as the rioting in the city of Baltimore reached its peak yesterday, the day before the Maryland National Guard arrived in force and a citywide curfew took effect. While it seems like strong medicine to some, sometimes the role of government is to restore order in a crisis and here’s hoping the MNG’s stay is short and uneventful.

But there is another side of this which I think will last far longer. In the coming months and years, much discussion will occur about how Baltimore can bounce back from this crisis. There are the immediate effects in certain neighborhoods which have suffered the brunt of the damage and whether these business owners will reopen, but few outside the neighborhoods or city at large will know. Even the facts the Orioles had to postpone two games, will play a third in an eerily quiet stadium closed to the public, and will have to become the St. Petersburg Orioles for a weekend as they play scheduled home games in their opponent’s stadium will eventually become a historical oddity, particularly if the Orioles advance in the playoffs.

Some have already touched on how things appear looking forward, whether at the tourism angle as Rick Manning does or just the absolute disgust with the situation expressed by Joe Steffen. However, I tend to look at things from the political side and there are a number of effects this recent unrest will create.

Fortunately for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a 2012 law change changed the Baltimore City elections from 2015 to 2016; otherwise, this unrest would have been a more current campaign issue. But it still should be a topic of campaign contention, and it’s likely several aspirants may spring up seeking to take the Mayor’s chair from Rawlings-Blake. Certainly her actions in this crisis don’t add to her resume for another term should she seek one.

But the problem is that most of these contenders will be the same politicians who got the city into the situation to begin with. In Baltimore City, based on recent results, the real election will take place in April when the Democratic primary is held. 2011′s election featured just eleven Republican candidates in total, with the only two contested elections being two-person GOP primaries for mayor and city council president. (Only 7 of 14 Council districts had a Republican running.) GOP mayoral candidate Alfred Griffin got just 13% of the vote in that election. Republicans can pay lip service to reaching out to the minority community, but this is a process that could take several elections and change is needed now.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that in 2011 the real big winner was apathy – Rawlings-Blake received 40,125 votes but 324,885 voters didn’t show up so the task may not be as Herculean as imagined. Just get some of those who were disinterested to show up and vote for real change.

Yet the politics of the problem extends far beyond who actually votes for whom. It’s easy to complain about lack of opportunities and blame problems on those officials at the state and federal levels – particularly if they happen to be of the opposite political party. But this rioting was years in the making; it just needed the right series of events to occur to touch things off and the death of Freddie Gray was the spark.

One of the Baltimore images that’s etched on the minds of many was a scene where a young rioter was berated by his parent. Yet my question is this: where was mom during the previous 16 years? And what about dad? Most boys raised in two-parent families would have faced the wrath of both their mom and dad if they even breathed in the direction of that riot, but Baltimore is a city of single mothers who have to enlist help from their own parents to raise their children because, in many cases, the fathers are absent. In a city that’s roughly 2/3 black, and at a time when over 7 of 10 black births are to unmarried women, the odds are pretty good that a Baltimore City child is raised in a single-parent household and that government does more to support these children than the father does.

To be perfectly blunt, Baltimore doesn’t change until that statistic changes. To me the best way to change that is for the upcoming generation to stay in school, go to church on Sunday, and keep things zipped up until marriage. But what did the black generations pre-Great Society know, anyway?

Another way to help is to try and create job opportunities for blue-collar workers. Former gubernatorial candidate Ron George said it first, but it should be on the mind of Larry Hogan as well: “I want to build a tax base in Baltimore.” I realize it’s not that simple – particularly given an entitlement mentality exhibited by some in that community – but if the right conditions can be created the rebuilding can be permanent, and we won’t be revisiting this situation in a dozen years or so.

Needless to say, my perspective on Baltimore is definitely that of an outsider: I live 2 1/2 hours away on the other side of a significant body of water in a place where the culture is far different. But common sense is common sense, and the lack of it over the last few days is doing significant damage to Maryland’s flagship city. Maryland doesn’t need to have the reputation as a real-life version of “The Wire,” so those citizens who really want to help improve Baltimore (as opposed to those who want to enhance their political and/or criminal empires) need to step up their games and show some of the leadership that has been sadly lacking.

WCRC meeting – April 2015

We ha an unusual meeting tonight. It wasn’t devoted to club business; after we did the usual Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of several distinguished guests we were a treasurer’s report away from the first of three main events of a packed program.

Our first event was the presentation of the WCRC Scholarship to Andrew Boltz of Mardela High School. Boltz is active in the community, including an Eagle Scout project involving backpacks for the homeless. Boltz plans on attending Salisbury University to begin his pursuit of an engineering degree.

Sarah Rayne next addressed the group on behalf of 1st Saturday, a “free, family-friendly” event in downtown Salisbury intended to focus on the performing arts, as opposed to the visual arts highlighted at 3rd Friday.

She noted that the event was timed to be after Saturday chores but allow for patrons to partake in the downtown entertainment venues and restaurants afterward, adding that no food trucks would be present to help with steering business to local eateries – in turn, they would be encouraged to make known their specials for the evening. It’s a “bring your own chair” event, modeled on a similar set of gatherings in Georgetown, Delaware, Rayne added.

Just as clarification, I asked if it was an all-year event. Sarah responded that 1st Saturday was “a warm-weather event” which would run April to October.

The final part of the evening was something that turned out to be a roundtable discussion of the latest General Assembly session by the Republican members of the Wicomico County delegation: Senator Addie Eckardt and Delegates Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and erstwhile member Charles Otto, who was redistricted out of the county.

Each representative began by speaking a few minutes about their perspective on the recently-completed session. As the one with the most experience, Senator Eckardt assessed our group as “a wonderful team…this is not a shy group.” She was pleased to have the opportunity to try and get our highway user revenues back, and called it “exciting” to have a Republican governor to work with on the budget. And while the goals of the administration were to cut spending, taxation, and regulation, the sad fact was that most of the governor’s initiatives did not pass.

Some of the budget battles that were fought included funding for the Geographical Cost of Education Index and maintaining the promised $300 million catch-up payment for state pensions. While the budget passed wasn’t fully in line with the initial expectations, Eckardt thought the governor “was in a good position going forward.”

Getting PMT regulations as opposed to statutes and repealing the rain tax law allowed Addie to declare a couple victories. “From my perspective, I was floored” with the things accomplished during the session, Eckardt concluded.

From the House perspective, Delegate Otto was rueful that Wicomico County residents could no longer vote for him, but added he still represented us as the chair of the Eastern Shore delegation – a group that was expanded to include residents in the 35th District, covering Cecil and part of Harford counties. He was pleased the budget grew by less than projected revenue growth, a departure from the previous administration.

Otto noted that “everything bad for agriculture” came out at the House this year, including the “chicken tax” bill and a measure eliminating sales tax exemptions farmers can employ.

Delegate Adams felt “blessed to be a Republican in Maryland” right now because it enabled him to stop items detrimental to our interests, especially at the committee level. One highlight to him among the bills passed was several enacting the recommendations of the Augustine Commission, which included a cabinet-level Department of Commerce. His assessment that Maryland was too dependent on federal employees made him hopeful that the business climate could be changed.

“What a strange, fun, exciting ride it’s been,” said Delegate Anderton. He urged us to ignore people who say “you can’t do it” because he did get things accomplished: the Evo bill which will add 50 jobs in Salisbury while preventing 70 others from leaving, a grant to Three Lower Counties to assist them with a new OB/GYN clinic, and money for improvements to Perdue Stadium essential to keeping the Shorebirds here. And while he was “scared” about the PMT regulations, Anderton believed we had “built a great foundation.” Overall, his first year was “an experience better than I could have imagined.”

Delegate Mautz said the Eastern Shore is “working closely together” and trying to get leverage for its legislative goals. However, he noted that watermen and seafood producers were “under tremendous pressure,” detailing abuses by the Department of Natural Resources. As it turned out, watermen, hunters, fishermen would have been the beneficiaries of many of the bills Mautz worked on, while cheese producers will get a boost.

Yet while Mautz believed Governor Hogan “controlled the debate” on fiscal issues, there was still “serious partisan divides” in the General Assembly. He predicted “a lot of legislation” in the next session.

Johnny also called the events going on in Baltimore “a major setback” for the area and state as a whole. Delegate Carozza picked up on that, asking the group to take a moment of silence and prayer for the city, adding the National Guard had finally been sent in.

Mary Beth also believed we had a “terrific Shore delegation,” agreeing that Governor Hogan had “set the tone’ in his first session. While the budget had a smaller increase than previous years, though, she only voted for the original House budget. She voted against the conference budget because of the raids it made to the pension funds.

“We still need your help,” she added. “Divided government is really tough.” We were encouraged to express our opinions on issues like charter schools, tax relief, and regulations because opponents were relentless and having the constituents as backup strengthens our position. And Democrats “are already coming after (Larry Hogan),” she said.

She gave a couple examples of bills she worked on. One that passed with ease was a bill allowing Seacrets to move its distillery operations to Maryland – Mary Beth got support from Senator Jim Mathias and convinced lawmakers that bringing jobs back from Delaware was worth fighting for.

On the other hand, a veterans procurement bill which sailed through the House had a tough time in the Senate for several reasons, at least one of them territorial as a particular committee chair wanted to do a more large-scale procurement bill next session. She learned that she had to sometimes sell bills, and ended up with a compromise that doubled veterans procurement from 0.5% to 1%.

Once this part finished, we opened the floor to comments and questions. Naturally, a perspective was sought on why we did not get an elected school board vote and what we had to do.

“It’s an easy fix,” said Delegate Anderton. “Eliminate the excuse.” By that, he meant have the public hearings Senator Mathias sought, as two people noted he was on record as supporting the idea with public input. We also learned the Wicomico County Education Association actually supports a fully elected board.

But Senator Eckardt added we “need both Senators in agreement” to get the bill through.

A related question came about school vouchers, which weren’t brought up in this session. Rather, a lot of discussion went toward charter schools because it was the governor’s initiative, said Delegate Carozza. Delegate Adams added charter school reforms enjoyed bipartisan support, while Senator Eckardt noted the BOAST tax credits had been introduced again – these would allow private businesses to direct funding to private and public schools.

On that same front, it was asked if a Religious Freedom Restoration Act-style bill was introduced, and none was to their knowledge.

Turning to taxation, Senator Eckardt stated that few tax rollbacks were surviving the Ways and Means subcommittees.

Farming issues were the subject of a couple queries, and the industry as a whole was considered “low-hanging fruit” by environmentalists, said Delegate Adams. Even though 27 percent of Chesapeake Bay’s phosphorus could be traced to the silt behind Conowingo Dam – according to the Army Corps of Engineers, a fact which came out in a hearing on one of the PMT bills – environmentalists still demanded more regulations on agriculture.

Finally, Anderton responded to a question about road funding by noting he had helped bring it back to some extent through his memory of where the money was placed last year. The state found it again, to the tune of $19 million to municipalities and $4 million for counties. However, he added, some counties were reticent about full restoration because they wanted to use it as an excuse to have their own gasoline taxes.

All in all, it was a chock-full meeting you should be kicking yourself for missing. Because the next fourth Monday of the month is Memorial Day, we next meet June 22.

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.

Third Friday, April 2015

Trust me, I like going to 3rd Friday, particularly the outdoor version. But last night they had a special guest who brought a few of his friends.

I have Mary Beth Carozza to thank for that photo, but as you can see it’s a bipartisan gathering. In fact, he even brought Salisbury’s mayor and Wicomico County’s executive together.

But they were on a relatively tight schedule, as the Greater Salisbury Committee dinner was slated the same night. So it was interesting watching the parade of state and local pols roll up one side of the Plaza and down the other, greeting friends along the way. If you weren’t there by about 6:30 you missed most of that excitement.

But 3rd Friday is maintaining its newfound status as a place to be.

I didn’t see a whole lot of people with beer, perhaps because it was Breakfast time.

Because I walked around and didn’t stay for the whole event, this won’t rise to the level of a Weekend of local rock segment. But I found Breakfast surprisingly enjoyable with their mix of covers and originals. (That sounds sort of strange, but I’l go with it.)

They certainly were better than most of the karaoke I heard as I circulated around the state convention prelude at the Princess Royale in Ocean City. Originally it was going to be one long post, but I decided to leave things there and pick up that side of the story in the morning.

Contention from the floor

A couple weeks ago I noted a prospective resolution for tomorrow’s business session of the Maryland Republican Party’s Spring Convention, which begins tonight in Ocean City. While that Article V convention was a hot topic, this one is even more blazing – so much so that sponsor Joe Burns is forgoing the usual process and banking that he can introduce it from the floor. He adds:

I expect I will be attacked a variety of ways, and other tactics used to prevent any issues like this from being even (being) discussed!

Therefore, I will need your help and assistance, if we are to reign in and correct these problems, now! The next elections and upcoming redistricting issues are at stake! We need to fix this now!

I am taking responsibility for one of our County’s own members. There may be others you feel also deserve some form of action too. I will leave this to your own good judgments!

If we all work together, we can nip some of these problems now, and save the rest of the Party, possibly winning future elections, and fixing redistricting problems!

(Obviously, Joe is heavily into exclamation points.)

The gist of his resolution is a demand that MDGOP Second Vice-Chair Larry Helminiak be subjected to a “vote of no confidence” and upon the presumed positive result of that vote, step down immediately. Obviously that would make for a much less harmonious convention, but Burns apparently feels the whole situation of submitting one name originally, then being strong-armed into rescinding the original vote and submitting three names for a General Assembly vacancy (as opposed to the tradition of just one) put Carroll County in a bad light. As his resolution reads:

Whereas, through the actions of one significant member of the Maryland State Party, the 2nd Vice Chairman Larry Helminiak, as an elected Officer of the Party’s leadership, participated in actively preventing other members of his own Central Committee, blocking information from being passed between members, plus pressuring other County’s Central Committee members, to violate their Oath of Office, or the unencumbered exercise of their franchise, while fulfilling their duties as fellow elected officials, (Article IV, Section 4.1, Subsection b, Clauses (1), & (5) plus Article XII, Section 12.1, & Section 12.2) and,

Whereas, by stating at an open meeting, that all members of any County Central Committee, were not ‘elected officials, as they do not stand for election in a general election, but were therefore equal to and should be only considered as ‘being appointed to their seats’ thus degrading the status and the earned, recognized, legal position of each elected Committee members, and,

Whereas, by his specific actions, both internally on this Committee, and throughout the state, he has tried to remove the lawful control of the State Party from the Central Committee elected delegates, placing it into the hands of a limited number of Party officials, contrary to traditional government by ‘We the People’ under consent of those being governed as outlined in our Constitution, a situation of Party Leadership tyranny is being fostered and created, and by using the power of the Party treasury to fund lawsuits to the detriment of, and promotion of these changes, no individual Central Committee’s independence or sovereign existence is guaranteed, and,

Whereas, as there was no reasonable excuse for the State Party to be involved in this lawsuit or situation at all, spending State Party assets to do so, unless this were an attempt to destroy the Party’s Central Committee’s function and their existence through these actions, thus destroying the Party itself,

Therefore, I submit a resolution under the By-Laws were these actions should be considered as ‘Conduct Unbecoming for an Officer of the Party’, I hereby request and require that 2nd Vice Chairman Larry Helminiak be given a vote of ‘No Confidence’ by this Convention for his continuing in office, stepping down immediately as an officer of the Party, and an election for his replacement be accorded as outlined in the State Party By-Laws (Article V, Section 5.5, Subsection e, Clause (2) immediately during this gathering of this Spring Convention.

We go back to the question of whether the Carroll County GOP made the proper play. Thus far the courts have disagreed with Burns, but there is a legitimate question of why the state party had to be involved in the case at all, particularly to the tune of $37,000. On those occasions where previous governors have plucked a member out of the General Assembly for his cabinet, or the more usual death or resignation of a member of either party, the standard procedure was one name picked by the local Central Committee. Carroll County’s first choice wasn’t to Larry Hogan’s liking, so someone requested a do-over. That does seem rather disrespectful of the local officials, yet a majority was fine with that. (You better believe it wouldn’t have been a majority on ours.) Bear in mind that the provision of Article III, Section 13 of the Maryland Constitution does NOT provide for the governor’s rejection of the appointee.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of Burns’ accusation is the paragraph where he alleges Helminiak said members of the Central Committee were not elected officials. In the respects that we are not paid for holding office, need not fill out financial disclosures, and are elected in the primary election rather than the general, this is true; however, we do have to take an almost identical oath of office, have to fill out the campaign finance reports (which include having the bank account and selecting a campaign treasurer), and are given a set of responsibilities which include appointing various officials up to and including members of the General Assembly. I don’t know about Carroll County, but ours takes that responsibility seriously.

In 2010, the last time I was elected, 2,139 people said I was an elected official. I think that carries a little weight, don’t you?

I’ve known Larry for several years and to me he’s a stand-up guy. But there is a part of me who would at least support Burns’s resolution getting to the floor because the whole situation stinks to high heaven and I think Larry Helminiak (as well as the other Central Committee members attending the convention) should explain their actions and answer questions about how much influence was really exerted by the governor’s office.

If we are a party which truly stands for limited government and local control, we should make this an example of executive overreach from Annapolis. Just because the guy in Government House has a “R” behind his name doesn’t mean the party has to bow to his every wish.

Hogan’s first veto?

I don’t know our governor’s position on Senate Bill 190, dubbed by some as the “travel tax,” but no less than Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform is urging a veto. His organization has sent a letter (detailed at the previous link) to Governor Hogan asking him to reject this bill that was passed by both chambers during the session. As they explain:

This legislation would disparately impact the Maryland travel industry by apply the Maryland sales tax to online travel agents, brick and mortar travel agents, wedding planners, tour operators, and other service providers. With summer almost here, and tourism season gearing up, a new tax would hurt many small businesses in Maryland who rely on tourism for revenue.

Interestingly, the ATR letter quotes local Delegate Christopher Adams, who cites the hundreds of travel agents who would be affected by the bill. On the other hand, his Senator, Addie Eckardt, was the only GOP sponsor of the bill and lone GOP Senator to vote in its favor.

Perhaps the best explanation of the legalese of the bill comes from its Fiscal Note:

Online travel companies (OTCs) typically obtain access to hotel inventory (rooms) through contractual agreements with hotels. OTCs pay a discounted rate for these hotel rooms that they sell (as room rentals), and then retain certain fees that are part of the total price paid by customers. The purchaser of the room rental is typically charged the same rate as the person would be if the hotel room rental was purchased directly from the hotel. The issue that has arisen in recent years is the definition of taxable price that state and local sales and use taxes and hotel rental taxes are to be based on. OTCs have typically been paying and remitting these taxes based on the reduced rate that they pay for the hotel rooms; however, states and local jurisdictions have been arguing in court that these taxes should be collected on the total room rate paid, which is the base for which the taxes would have been imposed if a customer rented the hotel room directly from the hotel.

As I understand it and to create an example, let’s say a hotel room rents at $150 per night to the general public. An OTC comes to the hotel and says they will rent the remaining lot of rooms for $75 apiece – obviously the hotel profits by not having to deal with unsold inventory for the night while the OTC can provide a discount to the standard rack rate and still make money. Everybody wins – but the state.

The contention is that OTCs are paying room taxes based on the $75 rate, while the state believes they should be paying based on the $150 rate. That’s what this law would provide for, and while some jurisdictions in the state have come to agreements with the OTCs (and there is a court case on the subject pending) this law would force OTCs to pay taxes based on the higher rate, eating into their bottom line for dubious overall benefit. The Travelocity vs. Comptroller case cited by the Fiscal Note involves $6 million over eight years; even if Travelocity is accounting for just 10 percent of the overall market the amount in question is only a few million dollars out of a $40 billion budget.

If Hogan vetoes the bill, the margin in the House is close enough to make it very possible a veto would be sustained as it passed in the House of Delegates by an 84-56 margin – one vote short of 3/5. Delegate James Proctor could be the swing vote since he was absent from the original balloting.

Because Maryland law allows the governor to sign bills well after the legislative session has concluded, it’s quite likely that Hogan can wait as long as he needs to make the decision. While this bill is dubbed the “travel tax,” there is the complication of Marriott possibly moving from Maryland that Hogan may have to consider.

But the idea of electing Hogan was that of no new taxes, regardless of whether this is a “clarification” or not. Let the court case take its course, and veto the bill. It’s another vote that is likely to find its way to the monoblogue Accountability Project.

Redefining marriage wasn’t enough. Now some in Maryland want to redefine birth.

By Cathy Keim and Michael Swartz

The twin byline is present because Cathy came to me with her thoughts on these bills, writing up a post quoting Delegate Parrott at some length along with some of her thoughts. I liked the direction of the piece, but thought I could add more and she was amenable to the changes. So here you go.

Recently Delegate Neil Parrott sent out a newsletter that had some information about two “shockingly bad bills” that are about to pass in the General Assembly. We had both heard from Robert Broadus with Protect Marriage Maryland about the first bill, but Delegate Parrott alerted us both to the second bill. Both have more or less passed under the radar in a session which has focused more on the budget, gubernatorial appointments, and environmental regulations.

In his message to constituents and other interested observers, Delegate Parrott stated:

Two shockingly-bad bills…are on their way to passing.

(snip)

HB 838/SB 416 is going to cause your health insurance rates to go up, when Maryland already has some of the highest health insurance premiums in the nation. This bill forces Maryland insurance companies to cover the cost of expensive In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatments ($12,500 each time) for same-sex married couples.

Our high insurance costs in Maryland are primarily due to the great number of insurance mandate laws already in effect, and this new bill will simply make the problem worse. Governor Hogan and I both support leading Maryland towards more fiscally-responsible laws and policies, and the voters overwhelmingly agreed in the last election. However, the majority of Delegates and Senators still voted to create more complex and unnecessary insurance mandates in our flawed health system.

(snip)

Under current Maryland law, a husband and wife must donate their own sperm and egg to be eligible to receive insurance benefits for IVF treatments. If the couple requires a donation of an egg or sperm, IVF treatments would not be covered under current Maryland law. Under this new law, a same-sex couple would obviously need to get a sperm donor to have a child. This is a very unequal situation.

Same-sex couples have been allowed to adopt or have children, but many studies have been done that confirm that children born into a family with a mother and a father do the best in all measures – economic, social, educational, and emotional. Not only does this law create an unequal and less-stringent requirement for same-sex couples, but our insurance premiums will also be paying to have a child brought into the world to a situation where they will most likely be statistically worse off than other children. By passing this law, we are intentionally putting a child into a “family” where a father will knowingly be absent.

This sort of social engineering and fiscally-irresponsible law-making, solely for the pleasure of adults without any regard for the children that will grow up in these situations, is reprehensible. What homosexuals cannot do naturally, the General Assembly has now mandated must be provided by all insurance plans, creating a false sense of equality, with little to no regard for the children who will be negatively affected.

This leads to the concern of what could come next if this bill is passed. Will the General Assembly pass a mandate requiring insurance companies to cover the costs of hiring a surrogate to carry the child for male, same-sex marriages? (Emphasis in original.)

As Cathy wrote Sunday, our culture is under attack to redefine and destroy every institution that has sustained us as a nation since our founding. Marriage and our families are worth defending. The progressives only exist to tear down. We are the ones that believe in ideals that are true and good and have stood the test of time. When this country is a faint memory, the family will still exist. They may destroy our culture, but they cannot destroy truth. The family is the basic building block of society. Despite the malice and ridicule heaped upon the traditional family with a father, mother and children living and growing together in love, the family will still survive.

Delegate Parrott has made the case, as Cathy has before, that children do best when raised in a home with a married mother and father. Why should the state pay to circumvent this?

Senator Jim Mathias and Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes both voted for this bill. When somebody says the Eastern Shore is conservative, just remember to check how Senator Mathias and Delegate Sample-Hughes vote.

The second bill that Delegate Parrott wrote about was HB862/SB743, which as Delegate Parrott notes:

…allows people to rewrite history. It would allow someone who gets a note from their doctor saying they are transitioning from male to female or from female to male to literally change the gender on their birth certificate. The new birth certificate would not even indicate that it has been “Amended,” as is the case when an individual decides to legally change their name. The change would not require that the individual has had a sex-change operation, but just relies on hormone therapy and how the person feels at the time. The change caused many of the legislators who work in law enforcement to question how they could even solve crimes given these false records. For example, suppose they are looking for the DNA of a male, but all they have is a female suspect.

Changing factual birth records without leaving a record of the change could have significant and harmful consequences for our society and is simply irresponsible policy.

Senator Mathias also voted for this bill as did Delegates Carl Anderton, Jr. and Sample-Hughes. Needless to say, we’re both disappointed with Delegate Anderton’s vote as he represents us in Annapolis. We would have expected this out of his predecessor, but Carl was supposed to be different.

At this point in time these bills are on their final step to passage, and it seems like the skids are being greased as the House versions of the Senate bills are passing without any amendments – this is important because no conference would be necessary.

Yet besides the many objections Delegate Parrott raised, both bills also raise a number of ethical questions about child rearing. Regardless of who has to pay for in vitro fertilization, there’s also the ongoing concern about the rights of the third party which needs to be involved with any same-sex attempt at creating progeny – either the surrogate mother for a gay couple or the sperm donor for the lesbian pair.

And much like the Hobby Lobby situation with abortifacient drugs, there’s a legitimate question of whether a religiously conscientious business should be forced to cover this procedure since it involves two partners of the same gender. It’s a situation which becomes quite complicated and I feel this is needlessly so.

As for the birth certificate bill, it would be more palatable if there was a notation of amendment. A law such as this may open the door to parents who are trying to raise a child as if it were the opposite gender (such as this recent case) to amend his or her birth certificate as a minor.

We believe that gender is not a mistake, nor was it an error that a person of each gender was required to create a new life. Even with in vitro fertilization, there’s no escaping the need for a male to do his part and a female to be the willing host for the embryo.

While there is an element of humanity in the selection of gender, I think I speak for Cathy when I say we believe that it was our Creator who made the ultimate decision as to whether we were male or female. Taking hormones, undergoing genital mutilation surgery, and identifying as someone of the opposite gender doesn’t change the fact one was born with the chromosomes and genitalia of a particular gender in all but a few extremely rare cases. It’s what the birth certificate should reflect.

However, it’s likely these bills will pass the General Assembly, so we call on Governor Hogan to use his veto pen on these ill-considered measures. And it’s all but certain these votes will be among those I use for the monoblogue Accountability Project later this spring.

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