The 38B battle is joined

After the 2010 election, where Norm Conway barely carried the Worcester County portion of his former district by 311 votes over Mike McDermott  – and just 665 over third place finisher Marty Pusey – I’m sure statewide Democrats didn’t want to take a chance on an upset in 2014 given Worcester County’s trend toward the Republican Party. So they drew him into a single-member district which mostly held onto the far western end of his existing territory here in Wicomico County but also gave him some new voters close by Salisbury University, knowing that this part of his old district was perhaps the area which backed Norm the strongest.

It took awhile for a local Republican to answer the challenge, but Delmar mayor Carl Anderton, Jr. wrapped up the process of filing yesterday and is now on the June 24 primary ballot. Anderton, who is also the current president of the Maryland Municipal League, seems to be the young, energetic challenger Republicans were looking for once the district was drawn. Conway, who will be 72 in January as the General Assembly session begins, has spent over half his life as an elected official – he was first voted onto Salisbury City Council in 1974, moving to the General Assembly in 1986. (Interestingly enough, according to his official state bio, Conway was also a Maryland Municipal League officer, but only as a regional vice-president.)

Anderton has served as Delmar’s mayor since 2011, replacing longtime mayoral fixture Doug Niblett.

The candidacy of Anderton serves as a reminder why it’s so important to have a political “farm team” in place. While it may seem like a mismatch in terms of political experience, one has to really ask what having an entrenched, longtime politician has really done for a county which has seen its workforce shrink by nearly 2,000 in one year (July 2012 – July 2013) and a net loss of 1,573 jobs during that same period.* The only reason unemployment fell from 8.5% to 8.3% was the bottom falling out of the workforce – otherwise unemployment would be well over 10 percent. If that’s the mark of a successful chair of the House Appropriations Committee I’m afraid to know what failure would be like.

It will be interesting to see the platform Anderton develops, but one thing is clear: the incumbent is going to point to a few key votes where he was allowed to depart from the Annapolis majority in order to save face in his district. Ask yourself: where was his leadership against all these issues in the first place?


* Here are the actual numbers:

July 2012: 54,801 in workforce, 50,161 employed, 4,640 unemployed, 8.5% unemployment rate
July 2013: 52,964 in workforce, 48,588 employed, 4.376 unemployed, 8.3% unemployment rate

Blessing of the Combines in pictures and text

Today my significant other and I wandered down to Snow Hill for the 13th Annual Blessing of the Combines. In its short history the event appears to have placed the otherwise sleepy town of Snow Hill on the map.

(Just so you know, some of the photos I’m featuring come from my girlfriend, and if you can’t figure it out from the enhanced quality of her photography compared to mine I’ll have to clue you in. The one to start this post is by Kim Corkran.)

The event begins with a parade, and seeing a row of combines coming down the road can be impressive.

Some of the combines had politicians on them. Andy Harris joked that it was one of the few times he was on the left, but Norm Conway and Jim Mathias were at home there.

I did get the chance to bend Andy’s ear a little later. The lady in the center is former Delegate candidate and Worcester County Republican Chair Marty Pusey. (Photo by Kim Corkran.)

Now that they’ve wrapped up the budget, I want Andy to work on reducing those government mandates!

Both political parties were represented there, although the Republicans were a little more open about it.

Meanwhile, two tables down the Democrats were trying to register voters as well.

But there was something I noticed about their table – not one item I saw mentioned President Obama. Odd, don’t you think? Maybe the local Democrats are running away from him?

Interestingly enough, the featured speaker was Nelson Brice. He serves the federal government as the District Conservationist for the USDA, and he pointed out how farmers were helping the environment.

Still, most of the people there weren’t interested in politics. The actual blessing was handled by the Rev. Rick Edmund, a former Snow Hill pastor who now serves a church in the village of Ewell out on Smith Island.

For the kids, there was plenty to do – crafts, face painting, a bounce house, a petting zoo, and the chance to play in a bed of soybeans, all tucked away on Pearl Street.

If their parents wandered around the block the kids could have a pony ride as well.

This feathered friend awaited across the way (photo by Kim Corkran.)

And kids of all ages who like to eat had plenty to choose from. I took this while standing in line waiting for some pit beef.

While standing in that line, Kim took this unique crowd shot. (So did I but hers came out better.)

While we were eating, the band began to play. Mike Short, Jr. and Statewide were the featured performers, playing a mix of country and rock originals and covers.

The second photo of Mike is by Kim Corkran.

After listening to his band for a spell, we worked our way down to one of my favorite parts of the event, the Wheels That Heal car show.

Here’s a pair of Pontiac Firebirds from a bygone era.

My dad used to have a truck like this but it was in nowhere near this good of shape.

For those who wanted to really relive a bygone era, there was the opportunity to ride a horse-drawn carriage.

It also was a chance to meet friends old and new. Kim took this last picture of this couple, who have been married 55 years. Surely they saw a lot of people they knew and probably recalled a lot who are no longer with us.

If you weren’t there, you missed a chance to celebrate our rural heritage with a family-friendly event. Come the first Saturday in August 2012 you just might find us there again!

An alternative arises

I actually learned of this group a couple months ago, but it took awhile for them to get their website off the ground.

Like it or not, money talks in politics. That’s the way the system is set up and no matter how much some on the Left pine for public financing of campaigns that’s not a viable model. To begin with, who decides what the criteria is for a candidate? The hypocrisy shows most clearly in their chosen 2008 candidate eschewing the public finance laws and raising hundreds of millions of dollars – this time he’s shooting for a billion.

So a group of conservatives got together and realized a shocking truth – we on the right may have let some close races slip away by not having enough financial backing. For want of 641 votes, Michael James could have eliminated Jim Mathias from state office after just one term and a few weeks – now we’re stuck with him for at least four long years. A number of House seats could have turned if Republicans had gained additional vote totals like 284, 319, 398, and 491. That would have put the GOP delegation in the House of Delegates right at the magic number of 47, a total which would guarantee relevancy because, united, they could bypass committees on key bills. (It’s sort of a nuclear option, but it can be done.) Locally, Mike McDermott flipped the House seat formerly held by Jim Mathias but imagine the impact if Delegate Norm “Five Dollar” Conway had been defeated by Marty Pusey, the queen of eliminating two laws for each one passed? Now that would be leadership in the right direction.

Of course, the CCforMD group is seeking to raise money. First among their fundraisers is a raffle for a Beretta shotgun, to be held in late October at the MarylandCAN conference. (Tickets start at $5.)

Granted, making money $5 at a time isn’t going to raise a significant sum right away but it’s seed money for the real fundraising the group will need to do by 2014. And in focusing on local, comparatively low-dollar races I’m sure the group feels it will get more bang for the buck. (Yes, the pun was intended. I’m here all week.) Contributing $1,000 to a House of Delegates race will help a conservative candidiate more than donating $5,000 to a statewide race (although both are necessary.)

Perhaps the future of politics is within organizations such as these which work outside the party apparatus. Lord knows the Maryland Republican Party doesn’t have a great deal of resources to work with, but part of the state party’s problem is in the brand name created by their national big brothers; for every conservative firebrand like Michele Bachmann or Jim DeMint the Beltway establishment seems to back at least one or more squishy moderates – cases in point: Maine’s Senator Olympia Snowe, House candidate Dede Scozzafava of New York, or former Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Conservatives tend to look past the party affiliation and kingmaking done by party leaders on high to donate to individual campaigns. (DeMint has taken it upon himself to back conservative primary challengers to establishment-backed candidates.)

Obviously CCforMD joins a crowded field of political groups looking for money in tough times. But at least you have a shot (again, those gun puns!) at something tangible in return soon and better political leadership down the road.

WCRC meeting – November 2010

For a meeting which didn’t feature a speaker, we heard an earful from one person.

But as usual, we began with the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. Then we departed from tradition a little bit because there were several candidates present who wanted to say their thanks, just in time for Thanksgiving. (We didn’t get to the Treasurer’s report until about midway through the meeting and the minutes from the October meeting were inadvertantly left at home by our secretary.)

We began with newly-elected Councilman at-large Bob Culver, who thanked us for the financial and moral support and told us the new Council members had their orientation today in preparation for their swearing in the evening of December 7th. They’ll elect new officers that night and chances are we’ll have a new Council vice-president.

“I’m pretty confident this will stand.” Bob Caldwell was talking about his razor-thin two vote margin of victory. He figured David MacLeod would request the recount he’s entitled to due to the closeness of the race but it’s not likely to change the results. Bob’s a living reminder that every vote does count – if just one person had changed their mind and voted for MacLeod, we’d be awaiting a coin flip.

Charles Otto said the support the club gave “was a blessing to us” and thanked us for it. He pointed out that the budget took a turn for the worse (conveniently after the election, of course) and told us these were the “most challenging times I’ve seen in my lifetime.” But tax increases were not the answer.

Even though she didn’t win, Marty Pusey had some of the most interesting remarks.

She told us that she didn’t decide to run until a townhall meeting held by the Worcester County Americans for Prosperity and featuring Delegates Jim Mathias and Norm Conway. Marty recalled how she asked herself, especially about Conway, “is this the best we can do?” She decided running would be a “win-win” – either she would win or she’d at least make Norm Conway fight for the seat. (Perhaps she was successful since Conway didn’t have enough coattails to pull Gee Williams in.) Marty was also amazed how our message became their message at election time, as suddenly liberal-voting Democrats had a conservative message.

(And you wonder why I told her I’m starting the ‘Draft Pusey for 2014’ movement.)

Marc Kilmer chimed back in that “2010 was a lot better than 2006,” considering our record of local successes. Then he turned the floor over to newly elected WCRCC Chair Dave Parker for the Central Committee report.

First of all, those of us present received our certificates for being elected. (Unfortunately, they are signed by Martin O’Malley.)

But he may have surprised a few people by saying, “I view my job as training a younger leader (for the local party).” And if that wasn’t enough, Dave then told us, “You now have two TEA Party activists on the top of your Central Committee.”

Wait until Audrey Scott, Mary Kane, and the other establishment Republicans read that; in fact, let me repeat it:

“You now have two TEA Party activists on the top of your Central Committee.”

Dave continued by saying the TEA Party and the GOP are “working hand-in-hand” in Wicomico County. Ain’t that a beautiful thing?

The job for the rest of us was pretty simple: “we gotta educate the voters” and “hold people to the fire.”

Parker also shared his “concern” about the Victory Centers, where local candidates and supporters were disappointed to find that their intent seemed to be pushing Bob Ehrlich and Andy Harris moreso than getting local hopefuls elected. He also recounted the Rule 11 controversy for those not in the know.

Turning to the state party, Dave argued “the Chair (of the state party) has to be a fundraiser.” Unfortunately to that end, “we still can be totally ignored in Annapolis.”

Yet, with our local success of getting 6 of the 7 County Council seats (thus, holding veto power over anything Rick Pollitt does) the onus is on the GOP to do things right – if things are screwed up, “it’s our fault.”

Finally, Dave reminded us that the Lincoln Day Dinner is actually slated for Abe’s birthday, February 12, 2011 at Salisbury University.

Yes, it was a much longer Central Committee report than usual, but there was a lot to say. It more than made up for the lack of a Lower Shore Young Republican report or the many candidate campaign reports we heard in months past.

To close the affair, Marc reminded us about our Christmas Party on December 12th and Ann Suthowski brought up the Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Meeting upcoming on December 16th.

As usual, the WCRC won’t have a regular December meeting; their next gathering will be January 24, 2o11.

Fire Pelosi tour comes to Salisbury

This morning there was a big red bus out front of the Salisbury GOP Victory Center.

Eventually we saw there were a number of special guests on the bus, and our small city will get a little love from Fox News as well. Bret Baier sat in our headquarters taping an interview with Michael Steele for later broadcast.

Apparently Bret’s aboard the bus for today. But people were excited even if they’re not on the bus, and passers-by were greeted by about a dozen sign wavers – that’s the first picture below.

Overall well over 100 people crammed into our South Salisbury Boulevard headquarters, including practically every local candidate and state party Chair Audrey Scott. As you’ll see in the second picture below, that guy running for governor is also a popular fella to be pictured with. Bob referred to the group as “the James Gang”, playing off the rock band of yore. Bob made sure to point out that “I don’t support Jim Mathias, despite what he may say.”

It was also an excuse for GOP candidates to see and be seen. Marty Pusey was out making her rounds.

Mike McDermott, her fellow District 38B House candidate, was also there but had this high-visibility item nearby as well.

So after the bus made a show of re-arriving, leading to the quip of the day – Michael Steele joked as he was departing that, “I tell my Democratic friends the bus is a little understated, but it gets the job done” – we all crammed into the headquarters building itself to hear what they had to say. When I say crammed, it was pretty crowded.

State chair Audrey Scott, who you may see in the middle of the above picture, served as the emcee.

As I write this, I’m uploading the videos from today’s remarks for a special edition of FNV. But Michael Steele didn’t get right back on the bus after his remarks were through. He also gave a pep talk to the volunteers who jumped on the phones to make the calls we need for victory.

He also had time to tape a quick interview with local radio host Bill Reddish and talk to other reporters.

Michael noted the 2010 campaign, “is unreal…a tidal wave that’s brewing.”

We will find out on Tuesday, but the group here sounded pretty confident of victory.

Pusey: ‘The Lower Shore needs jobs. We deserve jobs.’

So what is she going to do about it?

It’s needless to say that she’s in favor of lowering taxes, as most candidates are this year. Reducing the sales tax seems to be the weapon of choice, but Marty would also like a “clear cut reduction in corporate tax rates.”

So far so good; this is a basic and solid conservative approach to drawing business in. But given Maryland’s long border with Virginia, part of which borders her district, she’s come up with another idea I wholeheartedly support and the remainder of the state should embrace.

It is crucial to the citizens of this state to bring labor reform to Maryland. Through the “right to work” legislation, there would be no pre-set wages, breaks, benefits, no Union requirements for dues, and local contractors can participate in State contracts. States that have passed this have better economic conditions and more jobs; that’s why it needs to be a top priority in Maryland.

Yes, Virginia is a right-to-work state. Courtesy of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, this is Virginia’s law on the matter. Most right-to-work states are in the South, though there are a string from Texas to North Dakota and into many of the Rocky Mountain states.

It also cuts the union influence. Do you think that AFSCME Local 1081 would have $3,800 to donate to opponent Norm Conway if there were right-to-work legislation? Or would AFSCME Local 3478 push $500 his way? Even out-of-town unions like UFCW Local 1994 from Gaithersburg ($2,000) or the SEIU out of Baltimore ($1,000) might become more interested in selling their advantage to prospective members than buying politicians. Fellow Democrat Gee Williams seems to be more the favorite of teachers’ unions.

If we are to re-establish any sort of manufacturing capacity in the district, it’s going to be helpful to present a package that attracts businesses to our state and region. Government can be of assistance in doing things they are supposed to do, like infrastructure (how about upgrading the U.S. 13 corridor to interstate level northward from Salisbury to a connection to I-95 near Wilmington?) but they can also help by eliminating costly regulations and making it fiscally feasible to locate a business here.

That’s the sort of thinking we need in Annapolis; right now there’s a shortage.

Pusey receives key business group endorsement

One of several local candidates to score 100 percent on the Maryland Business for Responsive Government questionnaire, Marty Pusey was proud to announce her endorsement from the group. As they wrote, “your election to the state legislature will provide a much needed commitment to improving Maryland’s business climate.” Their criteria of having both a good score on the questionnaire and a solid business background placed Pusey in the position to garner the group’s support. 

(continued on my page…)

Obviously I think this is a big deal but in looking at the questions I would have only scored 92 percent. I disagree with their position on eminent domain for economic development purposes because as I interpreted it they’re okay with taking private property from one or more landowners who aren’t adding much to the tax base (for example, a neighborhood of modest single-family homes) just to seize it for the benefit of another favored private interest who will add more to the tax base. This was the basis of the 2005 Kelo v. New London Supreme Court decision.

LORA meet and greet in pictures and text

The sun is setting on this election cycle, but last night a few dozen candidates or their surrogates were out for eleventh-hour campaigning at Black Diamond in Fruitland. The parking lot certainly indicated the location, as did the entrance.

Obviously the local Republicans were ready for this – good job guys!

Yet unlike a number of other forum-style events I’d been at where candidates nearly outnumber members of the general public, this one had respectable attendance. The first picture was taken as I walked in the door, the second perhaps an hour later from the opposite side of the room.

And besides the usual cadre of bloggers covering the event, there was the television and print media as well. I spied Michael James preparing for a WMDT-TV interview and Mike McDermott talking to the Daily Times.

I know the cameraman was standing behind me as I was speaking to Marty Pusey so if you see the back of a big guy in a brown shirt, that was me. Speaking of Marty, she’s part of the best team for District 38B.

Of course, perhaps the better draw was the food. Naturally since LORA (the Local Owners Restaurant Association) sponsored the event, there had to be food!

They also had a cause as LORA was collecting money for their scholarship fund.

While the event was interesting and productive overall, the sentiment I heard was that it should have occurred about two or three weeks ago, not on the eve of early voting. Still, the setup was outstanding as you had as long as you wanted to discuss whatever you wished with the candidates.

One in particular fascinated me so I’ll close with the best (by far) sidebar story among one of the participants.

This woman is Kenniss Henry, and she’s the Green Party’s candidate for U.S. Senate. A month ago she was helping to manage the campaign of the woman originally selected to run for the post, Natasha Pettigrew.

But in September, Pettigrew died from injuries suffered in a bicycle accident and Henry stepped in to replace her; it was a natural progression since Henry is Natasha’s mother. Obviously she’s still grieving over the accident but decided to carry out her daughter’s campaign to its conclusion.

Kenniss is interesting in her own right, though, as we discussed her picking up of the torch and previous interaction with TEA Party members at Washington, D.C. rallies. She noted there’s a lot of common ground between what would be on the surface two passionately differing groups and that she felt at home in their midst, not threatened at all.

Obviously I renewed acquaintance with a number of candidates and met some for the first time. But to me this was by far the best story to tell.

Words to the wise

Just a little something before bed, from Dick Morris:

The danger, here, is not overconfidence, but under-confidence, and that Democratic incumbents who could be defeated will skate to victories. Despite a massive victory in the offing for Republicans, there could be great gnashing of teeth when they see how narrowly some of the icons of the Democratic Party are reelected.

I take this to a local level as well, because I tell people I’m greedy: I want the Eastern Shore of Maryland red from the Susquehanna to the beaches of Assateague. That means we keep the General Assembly seats we have and wave goodbye to Rudy Cane, Jim Mathias, and Norm Conway – men who talk conservative when they are here but vote like good, docile little liberals once they’re back up Route 50 about 100 miles. Democrats should be an endangered species here because what have they done for us?

And before you answer that question, consider what genuflections they’ve had to do to the rest of the state to get our crumbs.

I moved to the Eastern Shore in 2004 convinced it could be a boom area; a place where the rural character could be maintained but the enjoyment of a resort area was easily within reach. We have most of the tools we need to succeed, with the possible exception of a highway or rail system more conducive for moving goods to the markets of the Northeast.

Yet in the time I’ve been here it seems we have gone backwards, and for that I blame the state’s leadership. The concept of ‘One Maryland’ seems to be that of coddling the I-95 corridor at the expense of our more rural areas. Sure, we are a fairly small percentage of the state’s population and probably always will be unless we strike gold under this peninsula we call home. Still, we seem to be stuck in what I call ‘flythrough country’ – the Baltimore and DC slickers fly through on their way to their beachfront condos.

I believe in walking the conservative, limited-government walk as well as talking the talk, and most Democrats I know (there are exceptions, but none of them are running for these offices) can’t do both.

So let me return to that quote. In Dustin Mills, Charles Otto, Marty Pusey, Mike McDermott, and Michael James we have a great team who would stand up for our part of Maryland. It’s sort of amazing that all of them have the potential to learn and grow as state legislators simultaneously under the tutelage of our area stalwarts Rich Colburn, Addie Eckardt, and Jeannie Haddaway, leaving us the potential of a decade or two of solid representation.

Beginning Friday, those of us who claim to be conservative can’t be lured by the siren song of ‘oh, Jim Mathias is such a nice guy’ or ‘Norm Conway is head of the Appropriations Committee.’ As I see it, that and five bucks will get you a sub at Subway. (If those two raised it, chances are it was raised at a big-bucks fundraiser coordinated by someone across the bay anyway.) It’s time for our representation to reflect who we really are, and we are not so easily seduced by the power games being played in Annapolis. Instead, we stand up for principles like limiting government, creating jobs, and allowing us to give each other a helping hand without the nanny state stepping in.

People have had enough, and I want to see the Eastern Shore come home to its conservative roots. It’s time to finish the job Rich Colburn said he began about three decades ago and paint the Eastern Shore all red. We can do better, and given the chance, we will.

Autumn Wine Festival 2010 in pictures and text

Call it the invasion of the politicians. However, it was a well-attended event thanks to the good weather.

I took this photo about 2:30 on Saturday – despite the cooler, windier conditions there were more people who came on Saturday. The first picture below came from in front of the stage around 3:30 Saturday, the next one down was from 5:30 Saturday, and the last 3:15 Sunday.

As you can see, the AWF was a well-attended event. Of course, being an election year that means a lot of politicians were there too. I’m going to start with the Democrats, who were well-represented Saturday because part of their statewide ticket was present.

Along with Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (center in above photo with blue shirt), Congressman Frank Kratovil was also here to shore up his support. Here he’s pictured with Wicomico County Councilman Sheree Sample-Hughes.

While the lady next to him was much more camera-shy, County Executive Rick Pollitt was also gladhanding Saturday morning.

He was standing next to the Democrats’ tent, which served as their home base for the event. Much like a walkaround in Crisfield, the Democrats did a brief tour around the Wine Festival.

You really can’t miss those nearly day-glo green O’Malley shirts, much as you might like to. But they had their table full of info as well.

Needless to say, there were other Democrats who made time over the weekend to do some campaigning and perhaps drink a little wine. Among that group was County Council hopeful David Cowall (left-center in picture below) along with Orphan’s Court Judge candidate Peter Evans, who was a fixture at the festival.

District 38B Delegate candidate Gee Williams came over from Berlin on Sunday to shake some hands as well.

I didn’t get a picture of her, but also looking for votes was Patrice Stanley of District 37B. And lest you think the GOP didn’t get into the game, here are the two current ladies who represent that district, Addie Eckardt and Jeannie Haddaway. They’re joined by one of my volunteers, Woody Willing.

The other District 37 Republicans were present, too. Here’s Rich Colburn talking to County Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich.

Rounding out the District 37 slate was Dustin Mills (left) with his campaign manager Mark Biehl.

Two other state candidates from District 38 were in the house as well – in the first picture, Mike McDermott made sure to keep a sign with him. Below that, fellow District 38B hopeful Marty Pusey (left) was campaigning with a friend Sunday.

Of course, county GOP hopefuls were represented too. County Council at-large candidate Bob Culver stopped by our tent to say hello. Stevie Prettyman did too, but I didn’t get her picture.

Perhaps topping everyone, though, was this guy, Matt Maciarello.

He didn’t use our tent as a base since he had his own, cleverly bringing to the crowd’s attention some key endorsements.

Our tent was a little more low-key, with part of the reason being the heavy wind – less stuff to chase!

Bob McCarroll and Leonard Jett (pictured) are two of my helpers who I need to thank for their efforts. I also owe a shout of over the last two weekends to Mark McIver (for the tent), Ann Suthowski, Greg Belcher, Woody Willing, Ryan Hohman, Bob Miller, Bob Laun, and the Jesters (Jim, Cindy, and Shawn) for their assistance.

I also had fun with some of the photographic opportunities and wanted to give some free advertising to the people who make GREAT ice cream!

I just liked the way the banners looked from these two. It’s worth noting that the Cygnus tent had a minor collapse with Saturday’s winds; fortunately, no one was injured.

Bottle shots make a nice and colorful still life – these are from Far Eastern Shore Winery.

This one appealed to me because of the round shadow created by the large tent behind me and the perfect sun angle.

Finally, a sun-dappled reminder of the whole point of the event.

Given the attendees present, I think a growing number did and will.

Pusey reveals economic plan

In a bid to break a decades-long Democratic stranglehold on District 38B Delegate seats, GOP challenger Marty Pusey has put together a three-pronged economic approach to bring jobs back to her district and Maryland as a whole. With unemployment in both Wicomico and Worcester counties above the state average and increasing quickly, her district may be receptive to pro-growth policies.

(continued on my page…)

CAR/Chamber forum part 2 (District 38)

By far this was the more interesting of the debates; perhaps it’s because it covered my personal district. But just as a review from my other part:

The group asking was relatively diverse and included local businesswoman Dawn Tilghman, Terrence Lee of WMDT-TV, and Jennifer Cropper-Rines, president of the Coastal Association of Relators (CAR). Susan Parker of the Daily Times served as moderator. After an opening statement, candidates had to answer one question from each panel member and, with six to eight candidates on stage and two minutes allotted, there was really little need to get questions from the audience (hence my first post on the forum last night.)

Because of how the forum was set up, I’m going to evalute each question and answer in turn rather than summarize what each candidate said as a whole. I run the risk of writing this in a more dry fashion via this method but I think it would be more informative. This begins with the opening statements.

Opening statements:

Marty Pusey talked about limiting government and her respect for the other candidates in the race. “I believe strongly in protecting the public dollars,” she stated. Calling the election a “critical point for our country,” she further claimed “our state has an addiction, they raise taxes…we need to send our state to rehab.”

Michael James told the crowd “we need good representation now” and the “budget is in peril.” You raise revenue by creating jobs, and the worst thing the state did was raising taxes. We need a private sector person in office.

Recounting how as a child he built a paper route into a lucrative business, Norm Conway talked about his “work ethic” and how he set a goal to become a member of the House of Delegates.

Adding just a little humor to the proceedings, Mike McDermott talked about how he wasn’t cut out to be a chicken farmer. Instead, he went back into law enforcement and was happy there until he “saw a need” to get involved politically at the local level.

Since he served as Ocean City mayor, Jim Mathias claimed the “stable economic environment” he created helped the town grow. He would “strongly, proudly” represent the lower Shore in the Senate and “make one become 24”, referring to getting a majority in the Senate.

My faith “defines who I am,” said Mike McCready. He also spoke of his work ethic, his agricultural background and experience with MAFOs and CAFOs, and promised regular meetings with stakeholder groups like watermen and farmers.

Gee Williams stated the obvious: “We’re living in extraordinarily challenging times.” Recounting his business experience in the publishing industry and with nonprofits, he ticked off four bullet point items he’d like to accomplish: creating jobs, reducing fees, targeting tax cuts, and streamlining regulations. As a “principled, pragmatic” leader, he tried to paint himself as a centrist: “I reject extremism.”

Charles Otto went over his background and experience with the Maryland Farm Bureau and Farmers and Planters. In a nod to his predecessor, he praised the late Page Elmore by saying “he made a difference” for Somerset residents.

The first question, from Jennifer Cropper-Rines, asked about the possibility of alternate sources of funding for municipalities like a piggyback tax.

Mike McCready stated, “I wouldn’t be in favor of raising it any” and talked about the surplus they had in Somerset.

Similarly, Charles Otto was in favor of “limited” taxes, but the state does play a role.

Michael James would allow it if the voters wanted it, but personally would oppose this. Municipalities needed to watch their spending.

Norm Conway thought municipalities “should have options” through enabling legislation.

To Marty Pusey, “a tax is a tax is a tax.” She would try to have state funding restored first, in order to create as much of a positive business environment as possible and would vote against such measures.

Gee Williams wouldn’t support new revenue streams, since government should live within its means.

Jim Mathias wouldn’t initiate new tax mechanisms, but we needed to build a consensus on taxes with the business community. He also talked about the concept of “local courtesy” and how it would apply to this situation.

More bluntly, Mike McDermott said the power to tax was the power to destroy. Our legislature “understands destruction” but needed instead create a better environment for business.

Terrence Lee used an audience question asking about the education background each candidate had in economics.

In truth, only Marty Pusey and Charles Otto had taken college-level classes in economics, so most candidates cited their real-life experiences.

Mike McDermott talked about balancing his checkbook each month and how Maryland was living outside its means. We had gotten “off track.”

Jim Mathias told us “my degree in economics is the real world” and explained that he vetoed two Ocean City municipal budgets which included tax increases.

Again, Gee Williams spoke of his life experiences running 12 newspapers, working for the State Highway Administration, and various nonprofits. “Life is too complicated” right now and we should lower our expectations until we rebuild the economy.

Besides the college course, Marty Pusey cited her experience with creating budgets and working with the state’s accounting system for doing so.

Norm Conway said that as a youth, “my goal was to make money” – it was real-life economic training. He claimed the state had reduced spending $5.5 billion this term and that his goal was fiscal prudence with social responsibility.

“Maryland’s economics will not work long-term,” countered Michael James. We need to have business profits to create the revenue from businesses that the state needs.

Charles Otto put it simply and eloquently: “You learn to balance a budget when you get a 60 bushel crop and you expected 180.” His more formal economic training came from his agribusiness studies at Virginia Tech.

Mike McCready said that in his life, he set aside 10 percent as a tithe and 10 percent for a rainy day before he even considered which bills to pay. This is “not a time for a weak mind or inexperience” and referred again to lowering Somerset’s tax rate. He also claimed that, “we’re in better shape than the other Lower Shore counties, dollar for dollar” and how tax credits they could afford created or saved jobs at Rubberset and other companies.

Dawn Tilghman asked about the aggressive regulatory climate in the state.

Again talking about quarterly meetings with stakeholders, Mike McCready decried “one size fits all” solutions but supported a concept of the state picking up part of the salaries of people hired off the unemployment rolls. He would work across party lines to find solutions.

Charles Otto believed it was “time to restructure government” and these fines were “extortion.” It was a symptom of a “state government that knows best,” in the meantime “we have problems to solve.”

Michael James warned us we shouldn’t lose local control and needed to eliminate the perception that government is out to get businesses.

It was an “out of line, out of control” situation that needed to be modified, according to Norm Conway. He also blasted as “totally unreasonable” the University of Maryland law school for getting involved in the Hudson farm lawsuit on the environmentalists’ side.

We take away choices every time we pass regulations, said Marty Pusey. Environmental regulations should be “based on real science” and the assault on the poultry industry was “unacceptable.” But my favorite line of the night was when she said for every new law we create two old ones should be removed. That brought a “hell yeah” from me!

Gee Williams agreed with the tenor of the group, saying “they don’t give towns breaks.” While the goals of the Maryland Department of the Environment were noble, the application was unreasonable. “Litigating first and asking questions later is setting back our community,” concluded Williams.

A more educated regulator would help, argued Jim Mathias, yet we need to communicate our strengths and advocated for what we have. Agriculture was a “tremendous asset” to the state, and when we talk about it the governor and his staff listen.

Mike McDermott disagreed strongly, rebutting to Jim that the talk goes in one ear and out the other. Because of one-party rule in Maryland, “we are myopic.” He thought it was funny to hear liberals talk about conservative values. “Don’t tolerate that nonsense,” he said.

Closing statement:

Charles Otto believed part of our problem was the federal government – we are living in a “broke country…it’s time to change.” On the environmental front it was a question of compliance vs. stewardship, and he believed that some of the most recent and draconian regulations needed to be rolled back.

Gee Williams wanted our representative to “sit at the table and not at the back bench.” We needed to elect people who can make government work and disagree respectfully.

“Experience counts,” said Mike McCready, “and being County Commissioner counts for something.” He pointed out that his county was the only local county whose board of education didn’t request a maintenance of effort waiver from the state.

Jim Mathias rested on his “proven record” in securing capital projects and again promised to make one Senator into 24 by working with like-minded Senators.

“This is the election of our lifetime,” Mike McDermott said. “If we don’t see a change (we’ll get) bigger government and more taxes.” It’s not about edifices, but wholesale change from liberal values to conservative values.

Norm Conway “doesn’t consider himself a liberal or a conservative.” He was proud of the credibility he’d earned and believed in One Maryland.

Michael James accused the two incumbent Democrats of “reinventing their records” and asked where they were on sex offender laws before Sarah Foxwell. He promised to follow in the footsteps of outgoing Senator Lowell Stoltzfus.

Marty Pusey expounded on her “unique combination” of experiences and skills, though “we do need a change of culture in Annapolis. She pointed out the low marks business groups gave Conway based on his voting record, and promised to do right by the Maryland Constitution, which she waved a copy of during her close.

One item not used during the first session was the rebuttal. But both Mathias and Conway wanted to rebut Michael James’s assertion they’d voted for tax increases.

Mathias claimed that he’d voted for the House version of one package but it was changed in the Senate before the final vote, when he voted against it. (See below.) Norm Conway added that he voted for the one-cent increase of the sales tax, but half of that was supposed to go to the Transportation Trust Fund – without it, U.S. 113 would not have been dualized nor would future work on Maryland Route 589 (once Ocean Downs is renovated for slots) be on the radar.

Mike McDermott pithily rebutted Conway, noting that over the 40 years dualization of U.S. 113 was discussed they’d done one mile per year, it would already be done.

Michael James wanted to rebut Conway and Mathias, but moderator Susan Parker of the Daily Times denied his request, saying he’d made the original point. Fellow blogger G.A. Harrison commented from the crowd on the unfairness of that ruling but it stood. It ended a forum that became heated and contentious at the end.

My take:

First, as a service to readers, Mathias is correct that he voted against the tax bill (SB2) that became law in 2007. (The fiscal note explains the provisions which changed pretty well.) However, many of the same provisions were present in the House bill (HB2) that Mathias voted in favor of. (It also has a fiscal note.) Conway voted for both versions (along with the sales tax increase of HB5 that Mathias voted against), so his objection came from the substance of the legislative package as a whole.

It’s obvious that we may have a good cop-bad cop scenario here among the Republicans. McDermott and James are very forceful in painting their Democratic opponents as liberals, and here’s why – they are liberals! Just look at their voting records.

But Marty Pusey avoided being as confrontational and that may score her some points. In many respects she’s the most conservative of the bunch and her two-for-one line was my favorite.

Again, the Democrats who aren’t in office did their best to talk about crossing the aisle and bipartisanship, but I liked how Mike McDermott slapped that argument down. There are very few Democrats in Annapolis who give Republicans the time of day, and the limited number of instances where local Democrats are right is akin to a stopped clock being right twice a day – any other time it’s far from reliable and perhaps even detrimental.

There’s a reason that I get day after day of mailings from Jim Mathias explaining how, despite his Baltimore roots, he’s an Eastern Shore conservative at heart (today it’s being against “liberals” and for the death penalty.) Annapolis Democrats wouldn’t be backing him if he weren’t useful to them – they know the score and the fact they need Republicans to have fewer than 19 Senate seats to keep them meaningless. He will be no such thing as a loose cannon.

And Gee Williams will have to be happy with his back bench even if he wins – the real Democratic power in Annapolis represents the urban areas. We all know this.

Indeed, we can do better and last night’s forum showed why we need conservative leadership from the Eastern Shore.