Informally making it formal?

When you stop laughing, hear me out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WCRC meeting – March 2015

Those members who attended last night’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting got a somewhat different perspective on the Annapolis political arena. Instead of hearing from one of our representatives – who were sort of busy at the moment, seeing that Monday nights are session nights in our state’s capital – we instead gained the perspective of Pat Schrawder, the district representative for Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who brought “mostly good news from Annapolis.”

She explained that not all members of the General Assembly have a district representative, but given Mary Beth’s “frenetic” schedule as a member of the Appropriations Committee, she thought it was prudent to have someone back home. (Appropriations meets five days a week, according to Pat.) As it turned out, though, the Eastern Shore delegation “is running very well” in Schrawder’s opinion, in part because those on it represent all the key committees, and they have met with “most of” the large groups.

The good news was that the “chicken tax” and a “farmer’s bill of rights” had both been killed, and a “full-court press” was being placed on the Pinsky bill to instill the PMT regulations. (This may be a moot point, as Pinsky placed a hold on his regulations pending acceptance of a deal between stakeholders which would put a revised version in place.) Schrawder pointed out regulations are more flexible than legislation, which was an advantage for the agricultural community.

Pat also relayed that the Hogan budget, which was in balance as submitted, was still a better deal than the O’Malley budgets as most of the structural deficit had been eliminated.

And while Delegate Carozza was “working as hard, if not harder, than anyone else up there,” Pat added that Mary Beth was still interested in hearing from her constituents, and happy to receive the correspondence. Moreover, one goal they had was to have as strong a link to Wicomico County as they had to Worcester County.

Schrawder also announced that a legislative scholarship was available to a student in her district, with the application deadline coming up on April 15.

Turning to Central Committee news, we learned that our Lincoln Day Dinner would be put on hold until this fall as the preferred speaker, some governor named Larry Hogan, wasn’t going to be doing speaking engagements until then. We may need to change the venue because of this. Mark McIver also noted the upcoming state convention in Ocean City, encouraging those at the meeting to attend and see how a convention is run.

I also reminded the group that we had sent the names of prospective Wicomico County Board of Education applicants to the state.

Speaking on behalf of County Council, John Cannon noted that the “Evo bill” had passed the House of Delegates and Senate, although there was a minor difference between the two versions to work out. County Council was also watching the PMT regulations, the original version of which they opposed. Also, they had finished the Capital Improvement Plan and were now working on portions of the budget.

Cannon also commented that MACO (the Maryland Association of Counties) was “staying relatively conservative” with its actions this session.

John also explained some of the process behind the elected school board bill, conceding that “we rushed it through” but noting that the hybrid option was placed to appease the cries for “diversity” and to avoid the prospect of turning over the entire board in one election and eliminating all the institutional knowledge.

However, he believed the struggle to get this through the General Assembly would be “an uphill battle” because opponents wanted more public hearings. I made the case that the bill had the deck stacked against it early on when it received a late hearing date. If there needs to be a re-introduction next year it should be pre-filed as there was no one to do so this session.

At this point, the new officers were sworn in. Incoming president Shawn Jester said that “this club did more to make Wicomico County a Republican county” than anyone else and hoped the good work could continue.

That good work will be celebrated next on April 27, with a speaker to be announced.

The state budget shell game

By Cathy Keim

Governor Hogan was elected because voters had had enough of the O’Malley spending spree. Before Hogan was sworn in, the budget shortfall of $1.2 billion over the next eighteen months was already public knowledge. Everybody knew that cuts were coming; only the particulars were uncertain.

Because Maryland has a strong executive branch, the General Assembly can only cut the budget or move money around. It cannot increase spending. The House is squandering many hours debating how to find the money to undo cuts that Hogan made, particularly to schools and the state employees’ COLAs.

Last July, Martin O’Malley gave the state employees a cost of living increase of 2% despite knowing that the budget was not in good shape. I would like to point out that employees in the private sector are not seeing cost of living increases. Why the state employees deserve a taxpayer-funded pay increase when the taxpayers are not getting their salaries increased is hard to justify. Governor Hogan rescinded that increase in his budget because the state did not have the funds to support it.

He also declined to fund the schools to the level they desired. Yet his budget gave a 1.3% increase to education over last year’s budget, so it is hard to make the case that he cut the budget drastically. One might have expected a 0% increase when we are facing a $1.2 billion deficit in the upcoming months. That sort of deficit on a smaller scale is what causes taxpayers to choose ground beef over steak. But then we have to actually balance our checkbooks rather than use creative accounting to get the job done.

Let’s take a moment for some background information. Despite our budget shortfall, Moody’s just gave Maryland an AAA rating once again.

Why is this AAA Bond rating so important? “Retention of the AAA ratings affirms the strength and stability of Maryland bonds during difficult and volatile times,” said state Treasurer Nancy Kopp. “This achievement allows us to continue to invest in our communities’ schools, libraries, and hospitals while saving taxpayers millions of dollars thanks to the lower interest rates that follow from these ratings.” (Emphasis mine.)

Maryland is one of only 10 states that has the AAA bond rating from all three firms that assign ratings, Moody’s Investors, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings. Moody’s included the following warning when assigning the AAA rating:

WHAT COULD MAKE THE RATING GO DOWN

  • Economic and financial deterioration that results in deficits and continued draw downs of reserves without a plan for near-term replenishment
  • Failure to adhere to the state’s tradition of conservative fiscal management, including failure to take actions to reverse its negative fund balance
  • A state economy that does not rebound in tandem with the rest of the country
  • Failure to adhere to plans to address low pension funded ratios (emphasis mine)
  • Downgrade of the US government

Why does Maryland have low pension funded ratios? Because all that pension money just waiting there for the retired employees is too tempting for the politicians. They have dipped into the fund before. In 2011 as a corrective measure, Martin O’Malley reached an agreement with state employees that if they would increase their contributions to the retirement fund from 2% to 7%, then the state would put in $300 million annually to fund the pensions at an 80% level by 2023. That would still leave the pension fund $20 billion short, but that would be an improvement. The state employees have been putting in their extra 5%, but the state has not been putting in the entire $300 million. They find other ways to spend that money.

Now we are finished with the history and back to the present. The House debated for hours yesterday whether to fund the pension plan with the full $300 million or to take a portion of the money to continue the 2% increase in state employee’s wages and increase school funding. As I write, it is uncertain how the issue will be determined and whatever the House decides will still have to be reconciled with what the Senate produces.

Politicians seem to prefer to pay their supporters now and to let the future take care of itself since they will probably not still be in office when that bill comes due. It is a pleasing shell game. The politicians appropriate raises and perks for their constituents who then pay union dues, and then the unions donate money to the politicians –  lather, rinse, repeat.

According to the Washington Post, those public servants/union members might want to take note that:

In an effort to block relatively modest budget cuts proposed by Mr. Hogan, mainly to schools and public employees’ wages, Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis are pushing a plan to revamp the formula for scheduled contributions. According to Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of the few prominent Democrats who opposes the scheme, it would shift $2 billion into the general budget over the next decade, then cost the state $4.5 billion in the following dozen years — meaning Maryland would face a net $2.5 billion in additional costs over time in order to keep its pension promises.

Additionally, even if the state did put all the funds into the pension plan that they promised, the pension fund would still be underfunded by $20 billion in 2023. Since over 382,000 current and former employees are covered in this plan, it would seem to be a rather important item for the state to fully fund the pension program.

So our esteemed politicians in Annapolis are willing to risk our credit rating which could lead to increased interest payments when borrowing funds, underfund the pension program that thousands depend on, and incur $2.5 billion in additional costs to finally keep its pension promises, just so that they can override Governor Hogan’s budget.

While that may be a winning hand for the politicians, their constituents that get the 2% cost of living increase, and the unions, it is not a winner for the taxpayers.

O’Malley PMT regs pass legislative hurdle

An amended version of the O’Malley Phosphorus Management Tool regulations passed the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on a 7-4 party line vote, setting it up for review by the full Senate at an unspecified future date.

You may recall that one of Larry Hogan’s first actions as governor was to unceremoniously yank the PMT regulations hours before the deadline for publication in the Maryland Register, only to come back a few weeks later with retooled regulations of his own. However, those regulations weren’t good enough for environmental groups and they’re supporting the original version as it winds its way through the General Assembly.

So while Hogan’s Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative regulations have been proposed (but not yet placed in the Maryland Register), the Democratic counterpart has moved a step closer to passage. It’s worth noting that the Senate is still 33-14 Democrat, so even if the one Democrat representing an agricultural area (Jim Mathias) breaks with his party it’s still likely to pass with a vetoproof Senate majority.

One change from the last election is the wipeout of most of the moderate, centrist Democrats in the General Assembly to be replaced by conservative Republicans. This will be key if the O’Malley PMT regulations make it through the process, as it’s likely Governor Hogan would veto them. With 50 House Republicans, the chances of a veto override in the House are much slimmer as only a handful of Democrats need to back Hogan and the GOP to sustain the veto. With seven more Republicans in that body, presumably they’re more reliable administration supporters than the Democrats they replaced.

Yet this uncertainty places a number of farmers, particularly on the Lower Shore, in a sort of administrative limbo as they can’t predict how the 2015 growing season will shake out as far as the usage of manure on their fields. We’re only a few short weeks away from planting for many farmers who don’t have winter wheat in their fields. Lower Shore farmers are especially affected because about 1 in 5 would face an immediate ban on applying manure to their fields under the Hogan regulations. (Many have already started, though, as the first of March brought the end of the state’s winter prohibition on the practice.)

Of course the agricultural community, forced to pick its poison, would prefer the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative to the bill going through the General Assembly. (One important caveat, though: SB257 was passed “with amendment” but the amendments weren’t available as I wrote this.) But the General Assembly bill would take precedence over any regulations Hogan writes, so it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that April 14 can’t come quickly enough for that community.

The law of unintended consequences strikes again

One hopes this will be a cruel April Fools’ joke, but for many on the Eastern Shore it may only be a cruel reality.

Delegate Christopher Adams shared the bad news:

United Health Care has decided to dramatically narrow their network of pharmacies on the Eastern Shore effective April 1st. This new decision will cause residents to drive upwards of 30 miles to get a prescription filled and be the end of the local pharmacy.

It appears that this is another one of those “hidden” consequences of OBAMACARE and Gov. O’Malley’s decision to make Maryland first with implementing OBAMACARE.

Nevertheless, driving 30 miles to get a prescription filled by one of the State’s “favored” pharmacists is wholly unacceptable. I am meeting with United Health Care tomorrow in a first step to ultimately reverse or greatly modify this decision.

According to a source in the know, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sets the criteria for considering a patient to be “covered” and it depends on their location, stating,”as long as pharmacies are within 10 miles in urban, 20 miles in suburban and 30 miles of patients in rural communities the standards for access to care are met.” So if you are in a town like Crisfield, where the nearest “chain” drugstore is the Rite Aid in Princess Anne or Pocomoke City – each about 20 miles away – you are “covered” but it’s not nearly as convenient as a local independent pharmacy. On the Lower Shore stores of the big three chains (CVS, Rite Aid, and Walgreens) are only found in Berlin, Cambridge, Delmar, Ocean City, Pocomoke City, Princess Anne, and Salisbury. It leaves large coverage gaps in rural areas which may have a pharmacy no longer used for the Medicare programs.

Obviously United Healthcare can choose whoever they want to be in their networks. But the problem with the health care system we are slowly, surely, and not necessarily willingly adopting is that cost is the primary consideration, not patient care. It’s been true ever since we’ve had a third party paying for our medical expenses, but it wasn’t so long ago that we had many more options for our care. Those days are now over as some former providers have left the state, leaving us with fewer from which to choose.

What Adams points out is that Martin O’Malley’s decision to jump right ahead with a fairly restrictive state exchange is now making life more difficult for the people it was supposed to help. Obviously there’s a lot of recovery needed on a national scale just to get back to a system which most were satisfied with, even though some chose not to participate by not purchasing health insurance and some could not afford it. Now while everyone is supposed to have health insurance (or pay a tax penalty) we find that care is even more expensive and difficult to obtain.

Chris isn’t going to get a lot of answers, I’m afraid, because it appears the die has been cast. And as a state legislator his impact on the national argument is small. But even if some of the independent pharmacies in under-served areas are added back in, it would be a step in the right direction. There may be a chain drugstore on every corner in Salisbury, but some of the smaller towns still cling to their local drugstore because it’s a sufficient size to cover the small market of a little village.

Thirty miles is a long way to go to get a prescription. That may be necessary for a need late at night or on a weekend, but for most refills and common items it shouldn’t be a requirement.

Further humiliation?

March 12, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2016, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comment 

When Barbara Mikulski announced she wouldn’t seek another term the other day, one thing I pointed out was the effect on downticket races for Congress. Sure enough, we already have two members of Maryland’s Congressional delegation signaling their intent to run – Eighth District Congressman Chris Van Hollen and Fourth District Congresswoman Donna Edwards have indicated they are in, although in Edwards’ case she’s looking to expand her reach as a Senator.

Edwards’ gaffe-tastic logo error may be a sign of how things will go in the race to succeed her, particularly as the man who “ran” the weakest statewide Democratic race in recent memory decided he wants in on the race. Yes, Anthony Brown has his sights set on a Congressional seat to replace Edwards.

I will grant that running in a Congressional race in one’s home county is a much easier push than running a statewide race with no real political record to speak of save eight years in the House of Delegates and eight years riding on the coattails of Martin O’Malley. But Brown took a race that was all but conceded to him at the beginning of 2014 (and even after the primary in June) and imploded thanks to a poor campaign and woeful lack of accomplishment. In Democratic circles, though, that’s a resume enhancement so one would have to make Brown an odds-on favorite.

Yet there is also the matter of a $500,000 loan to his unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign by the Laborers’ Political League Educational Fund as well as over $30,000 in other unpaid bills Brown owed as of his last financial report. I’m definitely not an expert on campaign finance, but ask yourself: would you give a campaign contribution to a guy who’s racked up so much debt needing to be repaid?

Fortunately for Brown, for all intents and purposes the Democratic primary is the election in that district - Edwards won both general elections in the current Fourth District with over 70 percent of the vote. But he will certainly have to fend off a number of challengers to make it through the primary and job one for the other challengers will be to remind voters how Brown gacked up a shoo-in gubernatorial race by running an incompetent campaign.

It would be a lot harder for Brown to lose the Fourth District race to a Republican, but losing to the GOP is something with which he has familiarity. I would be very surprised if establishment Democrats in that district back Brown.

Local Democrats make big claims to receive handouts

Fresh off a shellacking where their statewide standard-bearer had his doors blown off locally by 30 points and only two of their eleven state race contenders won - one by just 30 votes locally and the other in an ostensibly non-partisan race – the Wicomico County Democratic Party finds itself in somewhat desperate financial straits. So in order to raise a little money, the party is making some claims which have to be seen to be believed – and I’m going to show you.

Let’s go through this a little bit at a time, shall we?

Maryland voters decided to “Change Maryland” last November, with the election of Larry Hogan as Governor. However, with only a month in office, Hogan is already proving himself to be just another Tea party Republican.

Perhaps the idea was to indeed elect a TEA Party Republican, rather than four more years of the O’Malley/Brown debacle? We certainly were due for a change.

And as far as the TEA Party goes, it’s worth recalling that TEA is actually an acronym that stands for “Taxed Enough Already.” We heard for three-plus years about all the tax increases put in place by the O’Malley/Brown administration so people naturally decided enough was enough.

But they continue:

Here are just a few of his first actions:

  • Slashing education funding – $1.9 Million from Wicomico County alone
  • Recklessly raiding over $2.5 Billion from our Transportation funding
  • Eliminating programs that help to keep the Bay clean

Apparently I’m supposed to take their word about these so-called cuts, since there’s no context or backup information provided.

I will not profess to be an expert on the state budget; however, I did look under public education and on all three line items I found for Wicomico County:

  • “compensatory education funds to local school systems based on Free and Reduced Priced Meal Eligibility counts” goes from $37,322,878 actual in 2014 to $38,615,082 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $1,292,204.
  • “additional support for students with limited English proficiency” goes from $3,092,879 actual in 2014 to $3,407,287 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $314,408.
  • the automatic supplement to counties “which have less than 80 percent of the statewide average wealth per pupil” goes from $3,670,117 actual in 2014 to $4,579,323 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $909,206.

By my count that’s an increase of $2,515,818. It appears the Hogan administration is well taking care of those things it needs to, prioritizing at a time when the state had to address a $750 million structural deficit.

I still haven’t figured out where the $2.5 billion “raid” to transportation funding is – the repeal of the automatic gas tax increase would save consumers nearly $1.56 billion over the next five fiscal years. We know Democrats own tax increases, so perhaps they bemoan that “lost” revenue to the state.

As for the elimination of programs for the Bay, I’d like to know precisely what they are referring to. They’re getting the PMT regulations so they should be happy.

Anyway, let’s continue.

And the story is the same in Wicomico County where Larry Hogan’s Tea Party partner, Bob Culver, is becoming the anti-education County Executive by refusing to fund a new building to replace the clearly antiquated West Salisbury Elementary School and scraping (sic) completion of the Bennett High School athletic complex.

Obviously the WCDCC has little concept of debt service. It would be one thing if the county could reach into its pocket and fish out $40 million for a new elementary school but the idea of pulling out the county’s credit card to put yet another multi-million dollar expenditure on it doesn’t appeal to the new County Executive. Just like they did in electing Larry Hogan, county voters wanted a change in direction from the former administration.

Instead, the county will improve the school in the areas where the need is greatest, with the list compiled through a consultation with experts and school officials. It may not be the “new” West Salisbury Elementary, but it will be an improved one. Perhaps that approach would have saved the county a lot of money with the former Bennett High School.

As for the Bennett Middle situation, completion of the athletic fields would not be “scrapped” (as the letter should have said) but simply placed in a different area of the site. The former Bennett Middle would be repurposed for office space, allowing the opportunity for the county to consolidate some of its operations. The change still needs the approval of County Council.

Picking back up, with the sad trumpet appeal for funding:

This isn’t the change I voted for in November, and I know you didn’t vote for this, either. We need your help to fight back. We cannot elect more Democrats in 2018 without your support over the next four years. Every dollar you donate to the Wicomico Democratic Central Committee goes to funding our efforts to recruit and help good local candidates.

Most importantly, your donation goes to helping us communicate our party’s values to the voters… personal responsibility, educating all of our children, cleaning up the Bay, protecting our agricultural community, equality for ALL, supporting local businesses, and protecting the Middle Class… and we need your support!

Actually, I did vote for some of this change. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change enough members of the General Assembly to make the total difference that’s needed – although my personal representation in the House of Delegates got a whole lot better.

But if the WCDCC wants to elect more Democrats in 2018, those Democrats can’t be in the tax-and-spend, socially liberal mode. Not in this county.

And after reading that Democrat screed, I realized it’s really conservatives who advocate for all those things the Democrats claim to stand for. That’s not to say a Democrat can’t be conservative but they are fewer and further between, even in this area.

So how would I, as a conservative, respond to their letter? I’ll go through what they claim to represent.

We believe that personal responsibility begins with keeping more of the money you earn by taking advantage of the opportunities a capitalist system creates.

We believe that money should follow the child so you can choose the best educational opportunity for your children, whether in public or private school or through a homeschooling regimen.

We believe in cleaning up the Bay through a balanced approach, beginning by addressing a proven detriment in Conowingo Dam and not punishing farmers who have been trying their best to address the issue.

We believe in protecting the agricultural community by allowing farmers the option to do as they wish with their land, not arbitrarily shutting off development options to them.

We believe in equality for all, not discriminating for or against anyone. But we also know our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values which have stood the test of time.

We support local businesses by allowing them more freedom to do what’s productive and less time to have to deal with governmental edict and regulation. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we want to encourage them to grow and prosper for the community’s sake, not as a cash cow.

We want to protect and grow the middle class – not at the expense of the upper classes, but by allowing the conditions where those on lower rungs of the economic ladder can climb their way up through hard work and ingenuity.

The jury is still out on this, but I think all the Democrats have is rhetoric. We will have to keep an eye on the GOP to make sure they deliver the results their philosophy should yield.

So if you are a local Democrat who received this letter, there’s only one thing to do: go to the Board of Elections and request the change of registration form to become a Republican. It may be your best chance to influence election results in the future.

Stacking the deck by rule?

March 4, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

If you’re not aware of this, the saga of appointing new legislative members in Carroll County came to an inglorious end when the state Court of Appeals ruled it was within the Carroll County Republican Central Committee’s right to send multiple names to Governor Hogan for the selection of a new member of the legislature. Personally I think it should remain as one name, but apparently Larry likes having choices.

But you may not be aware – in fact, I wasn’t either until it was alluded to at Monday night’s Central Committee meeting – that the next state party convention, to be held next month in Ocean City, will feature a push to have counties adopt a standardized policy on filling legislative vacancies.

Indeed, there is logic and sense behind this as a whole. However, if it’s up to each county to make this official I would recommend the Central Committee in Wicomico County adopt this with at least one change. In Section 13, where it reads:

The Chair shall submit one name, however, at the request of the Governor, may submit more than one name.

I would ask the sentence be amended thus:

The Chair shall submit one name.

Here’s the reasoning why we should stay with a one-name approach (and why the Court of Appeals got it wrong.)

It has long been the practice that Central Committees in each county submitted just one name - problems only tended to occur with multi-county districts where more than one name was sent because counties preferred different candidates. (Senate District 36 is a recent example.)

That District 36 situation illustrates the problem with a multiple-name approach. If my memory serves me correctly, two counties selected eventual winner (and then-Delegate) Steve Hershey while the two other ones tabbed former Delegate Michael Smigiel. The choice was eventually made by Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. (Note each of the four counties sent up one name.)

Someday there will be a Democratic governor again who will preside over the selection for filling a vacancy in a conservative Republican district. Based on the language in this prospective amendment, what is to stop this governor from informing the Central Committee that he or she wants ten names rather than just three? Or instead of making a formal selection, the governor simply requested the forwarding of the name of everyone who applied, regardless of merit?

There are not a lot of representative functions for which the local Central Committee is charged – mainly their job is to represent the county at the state conventions. But it does serve at times as the electorate in those situations where it’s not practical to have an election – in recent meetings, the committee I serve with has selected applicants for the Board of Elections and interviewed for vacancies in our Board of Education. In the recent past, our local Central Committees have worked to select members of the General Assembly who died in office - Republicans for Page Elmore in 2010 and Democrats for Bennett Bozman in 2006.

Because Maryland doesn’t have the provision for special elections, we have to take that task seriously as voters won’t be able to correct us for many months or even three-plus years. It’s interesting that Kathy Fuller, who was one of the plaintiffs in the Carroll County case (supporting the submission of just one name) has the idea of prohibiting the selection of a member of the General Assembly for an administration position. With one exception, that’s the root cause of all this commotion.

But I digress. While there are many times we would be satisfied with any of a number of candidates, there is generally one who stands above the others in our estimation; however, there’s no guarantee the Appointments Secretary will feel the same since it’s likely he or she won’t do an in-depth interview.

One name has worked well in the past, and it’s a shame Larry Hogan mucked up the system because he didn’t like the Central Committee’s original choice. That’s what it boils down to. A more stout Central Committee would have stuck with their first choice, so I think we need the rules that will stiffen their collective spines.

Maryland’s top prize

I have to admit I was shocked as anyone else to hear Barbara Mikulski was not seeking re-election. Although I figured she was closer to the end of her tenure than the beginning, I would have thought she would privately anoint a successor. In that respect it would have been a good landing spot for Martin O’Malley if Anthony Brown won the governorship, giving O’Malley a leg up on the 2016 Senate race once it became clear his Presidential bid was going nowhere fast. Sadly for the former governor, Larry Hogan won.

But among the blizzard of reaction from mainstream state news outlets and other political commentators, there are several things to keep in mind. First of all, this opening in a statewide race would favor those with plenty of money and a team in place. It doesn’t have to be a person who has run statewide, and because this election allows members of the Maryland General Assembly to “run from cover” because their seats aren’t involved in the election, it’s very possible a few may take a shot.

Secondly – and perhaps more importantly from a “bench” standpoint – if you assume that at least three or four sitting Congressmen decide to make a run for the seat, the same rules apply. Consider, if you will, an Andy Harris run on the Republican side – how many local elected officials would be interested in that seat as it suddenly opens? You could imagine Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio taking a shot, along with politicians from the other side of the Bay in Harris’s district. Multiply that by three or four Congressional districts and the prospect for several changes in the General Assembly for the second half of Larry Hogan’s term is significantly higher.

Yet in any of these cases, the decisions will have to be made early, probably no later than June. And that’s not just for the Senate seat, but those who may see themselves on the lower rung of the ladder in the House. Once those dominoes begin to fall, there’s no telling how far the stack could reach because it will all depend on who wins the respective primaries.

But just as the 2014 election proved to create a tremendous shakeup in the House of Delegates, the 2016 election may be cataclysmic for the state’s Congressional delegation. Even if just three or four run for office, the effect would be huge given that no more than two seats of the ten have changed hands in any recent election. The effect may be similar to 1986, when Mikulski first won office and several other Congressional seats picked up new faces (however, that was also a state election year, unlike 2016.)

So rather than try and predict the parlor game of who will run, the point of this piece is to remind people of the importance of a strong political bench. You have one seat that is a six-year term with no term limits and (quite honestly) not a lot of responsibility when you compare it to the governor’s chair. The last time this opportunity came up was 2006, but that was a year when state office holders had to weigh the odds of emerging from a crowded field against the certainty of re-election – not so a decade later.

The question isn’t so much who, but how many. It wouldn’t surprise me if the 2006 total of 28 aspirants isn’t surpassed in 2016. Most of them will be no-names or perennial candidates with no shot, but there will be some turnover in our Congressional delegation because of this sudden opening.

When three should be one

Last month I wrote about the controversy some Central Committees around the state faced when it came to filling vacancies for Senator and Delegate positions. It boiled down to the preference of Governor Hogan to have a selection of names to choose from when it came to these positions clashing with both the desire of local Central Committees to make the choice and the language of Section 13 of the Maryland Constitution.

If you look at those who have been appointed so far to the various positions, there is a level of familiarity involved: Barrie Ciliberti is a former Delegate returning to the House of Delegates, while Andrew Serafini and Justin Ready have moved up from the House to the Senate to fill vacancies there. The seats formerly held by Ready and Serafini are among the three current vacancies in the House of Delegates, with the other being the seat formerly belonging to Delegate Cathy Vitale, who was tapped by the outgoing O’Malley administration to fill an Anne Arundel County judgeship.

In the cases of Ciliberti, Ready, and now Vitale, there has been no shortage of controversy in filling the seats. Supporters of Wendi Peters, who finished fourth in the District 4 primary for Delegate, fumed that a member of the slate also consisting of Delegates Kathy Afzali and David Vogt and Senator Michael Hough leapfrogged Peters in the selection process – Barrie Ciliberti was fifth in that primary, but a Frederick County Republican Central Committee consisting of Hough supporters made the decision with Carroll County’s body tabbing Ciliberti as one of their three finalists as well.

Carroll County’s Republican Central Committee has its own stain, replacing its original choice of Robin Bartlett Frazier for District 5 Senate at the behest of the Hogan Administration, which insisted that they amend the process to permit the elevation of then-Delegate Justin Ready to the Senate.

With Anne Arundel County now under the gun to replace Vitale, the three vs. one controversy is back. According to an article in the Capital Gazette by Chase Cook and Sarah Haynesworth, Anne Arundel County’s Central Committee is planning to send just one name to Governor Hogan – at least until there’s a formal request to do otherwise. Apparently such a request is on its way.

If it were my Central Committee, though, that formal request would be crumpled up and thrown into the circular file. The Gazette piece quotes current Delegate Tony McConkey at length, noting that he’s advising the AARCC to send just one name.

As I stated in January, the selection of a state officer should be done closest to the district involved, meaning it would be the Central Committee’s task to select the recipient and not the Governor’s. It’s a similar argument to the one we as a Central Committee have made regarding the wisdom of an elected Board of Education for Wicomico County as opposed to the current system of appointees from the governor’s office in Annapolis. Assuming we get the school board as currently envisioned, even the appointees for the hybrid portion of the board and for any vacancies would be done locally.

Yet there’s now another element being thrown into the mix. On her way out the door Delegate Vitale introduced HB1070, which would change the Maryland Constitution to allow for a special election in Presidential years once a vacancy is created. As an example, if the law were in effect today those who were recently appointed would face re-election in 2016 to a two-year term rather than serving all the way until 2018. In its description of the proposal the Gazette is incorrect because the earliest we could see such an election would be 2020 – even if passed this year it would be on the 2016 statewide ballot as a question (most likely Question 1.)

In some respects this is a good idea, but I think this would be very confusing to voters. In certain time frames, it could also be difficult to get a person to serve unless it was understood they would be a caretaker member until the election was over – sort of like the situation we faced in replacing Page Elmore in 2010 during the midst of a primary campaign for his successor. The consensus we reached with Somerset County was to put his widow in the seat until the new Delegate was elected (which turned out to be Charles Otto.)

Nor should we forget that, when the shoe was on the other foot and a Democrat was appointing for a Democratic seat, only one name was turned in by the local party organizations.

If appointments are going to be done in Annapolis from a list of three names, it begs the question: just what function do Central Committees have, anyway? At that point the Appointments Secretary just might as well handle the whole thing. I hope that’s not the overall intent of the Hogan administration, but right now they seem to want to cut the locals out of the process where they can and it’s disappointing.

Hostility to cuts

It’s been a little while, but the political hijinks of Cecil County return to my site via a dispatch I received from Bob Willick and their Campaign for Liberty chapter. The purpose of the dispatch was to relay the open hostility from a couple members of their pubic school faculty, making the point that:

Apparently, even though you and I have funded the local school system millions above the maintenance of effort level for years—we are still “slackers.”

Thomas went on a public rant last week writing a post on her new blog demanding that citizens fork over whatever outrageous increase CCPS asks for this year.

You see, Cecil School Superintendent, D’Ette Devine, is lobbying the County Executive and County Council for a taxpayer funded $8 million dollar spending hike over last year’s budget.

This when CCPS has been fully funded and given millions in extra funding for years.

Regardless of this fact, some CCPS teachers are showing their disdain for the hard working folks that pay their salary.

These attacks are coming from a government sector employee who receives competitive pay, sick days off, vacation time, summers off and a pension.

Thomas knows that this type of angry rhetoric will motivate the employees of the largest employer in Cecil County (CCPS) to pressure local government to once again award them with more tax payer funds.

Aside from the oversimplification that teaching is a nine-month profession given some of the training they may have to receive during the summers, there is a lot to be said about the Campaign for Liberty’s point. How many government agencies are protected by law against cuts in such a way that Maryland public schools receive thanks to “maintenance of effort” laws? The state dictates how much money counties have to fork over in order to match their goals, and whether the county can afford it or not (or passed a revenue cap as Wicomico County did a decade ago) does not matter to the state – if the county doesn’t comply the state treasury will hijack the county’s allotment of state money and make sure the schools are paid what the state thinks they are due. It’s a ridiculous constraint on county budgets.

Whenever conservatives take over in government, the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Left is all but intolerable. Listen to them whine about cuts to education in the state budget and you’d quickly forget that the allocation to education (both pre-K to 12 and state-funded colleges) increased for the Hogan FY2016 budget – just not as much as the education lobby expected or demanded. Structural deficit be damned, they aren’t satisfied with any less than the massive increase they assumed they would get when Anthony Brown was elected.

The same holds true locally. Hours after being sworn in, County Executive Bob Culver announced he wasn’t going to borrow for a new West Salisbury Elementary School, triggering outrage in the local community. But after a January tour of the building by experts in the construction field as well as Wicomico Board of Education members and administration, it’s been quietly determined that spending $2 million would be enough for most of the desired upgrades. (The cynic in me thinks the folks at West Salisbury just took too much pride in maintenance and didn’t let the building go far enough to pieces, as opposed to the former Bennett schools.)

More recently the alarm sounded when Culver brought up the idea of keeping the old Bennett Middle School, which is being replaced by a new building away from the current Bennett High School site, as an office complex for the Wicomico County Board of Education. The Bennett community was outraged as the old middle school is supposed to be torn down for athletic fields to complete the planned three-phase replacement of the old Bennett Middle and High Schools with a new high school building and facilities on the existing Bennett site and a middle school built near Fruitland. (The middle school is slated to open next school year.) Proponents have taken to social media to make their case.

But perhaps the better question no one is asking is why more office space is needed? Over the years claims have been made that county government is very lean, but I question that assessment if the BoE needs more room for administration. The county has already bonded millions for the Bennett construction (among other projects, big and small) so debt service is a concern at our level as well as for the state.

It’s a problem because increasing debt load doesn’t help citizens in any way but takes money from needed services, such as snow plowing and otherwise maintaining roads. (I say that because the plows just went by here.) It doesn’t matter which county you are in, citizens feel they have enough taken from them by government but the public sector demands more. Martin O’Malley’s solution of tax increases and additional debt was bad for Maryland, so the new approach promised by Larry Hogan is in the process of being enacted. It’s not our fault the schools aren’t thrilled about the prospect of making do with less. Welcome to the real world.

Wicomico elected school board takes a big step

Update 2/18: Hearings are scheduled for both bills now: SB730 on March 18 and HB1040 on March 19.

Friday the 13th may be considered an unlucky day by many, but it was the day a crossfiled pair of bills allowing the changeover to a partially-elected, partially-appointed “hybrid” county board of education was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly.

HB1040/SB730, sponsored by the Wicomico County Delegation (comprised of Delegates Chris Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes) in the House and Senator Addie Eckardt in the Senate, both got their first readings and were referred to committees. The House version went to Ways and Means while the Senate version went to Rules because of its late introduction there. Chances are it will be re-referred to the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Senate. (Update: It was.)

While the bills have been introduced, though, there’s still a long way to go. First of all, neither bill has a hearing scheduled and that’s the logical next step. It’s also worthy of note that Senator Jim Mathias, who has sponsored our elected school board bills before, is not a co-sponsor this time. I’m sure he’s aware the bill would be placed in the hopper but I suspect he and Delegate Sample-Hughes – being the lone Democrats in the delegation – are getting some pushback on the issue from certain constituency groups who like things just the way they are. Those groups, though, are the squeaky wheel minority.

All this comes at an interesting time as two of the seven members of the existing Wicomico County Board of Education have tendered their resignations while a third has stayed on for months beyond his term expiration because no successor has been appointed. These openings affect two Democrats and one Republican; however, with the election of Larry Hogan the board composition is set to become 4-3 Republican instead of 4-3 Democrat as it was with Martin O’Malley. So two of the three slots would be filled by Republicans, and the Central Committee is in the process of collecting applications, reviewing them and deciding on potential nominees at the next meeting March 2.

While I’m an erstwhile member of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, I think I can speak for them when I say they would rather not have the job of selecting candidates – that should be up to the voters. I would have preferred a fully-elected board but for now we can try for a first-step victory by getting this through the Maryland General Assembly this session.

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