The story on early voting

From its institution (against my better judgment) for the 2010 election, early voting has become more and more of a portion of total turnout here in Maryland.

In 2010, when it was first adopted, only 11.77% of those who actually voted used the option, with 13.07% of Democrats and 10.13% of Republicans partaking, That number increased to 15.75% of voters in 2012 (18.44% of Democrats, 11.98% Republicans), and – once early voting was expanded from six to eight days – to 17.66% of those who voted in 2014, with 19.86% of Democrats and 15.61% of Republicans using the option.

In the last go-round in 2016, however, early voting came into its own: a full 36.02% of Democrat turnout came during early voting, while 24.76% of Republicans who voted used the option. All told, an astounding 31.23% of those who voted did so early.

So it was no shock that Democrats “won” early voting once again: according to the Maryland Board of Elections, 16.72% of eligible voters came out for the eight days of early voting. (19.08% were Democrats, 15.44% were from the GOP.) While this is less than the 22.48% that came out in 2016, bear in mind turnout isn’t nearly as good in a midterm election. The all-important question, though, is what percentage of overall turnout is represented by early voting. In 2014 just under 50% of Republicans waited until Election Day to vote (49.6% to be exact) but only 37.5% of Democrats voted on Election Day.

If the 2014 numbers hold true, though, turnout for Democrats will be over 10% better than the last gubernatorial election, which was for an open seat, as former Governor Martin O’Malley was term-limited, but the GOP will counter much of that increase with a stratospheric 65% turnout of their own. The question, therefore, is whether those extra 10% of Democrats are going to be loyal to Democrat gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous or not – he basically needs them all to be to drive incumbent Larry Hogan’s numbers among Democrats down to the 20% or so he needs in order to defeat Hogan – despite polls that have had Jealous down double-digits all summer.

As evidence of just how early voting may affect the races, I put together a series of charts. The first one is a straight comparison of raw vote totals from the 2016 early voting and the 2018 version, divided by county and by party. It wasn’t worth comparing to 2014 because its totals were blown away just a few days into early voting and the 2016 election provides a better guide for both turnout and proportion of early voters.

D 2016 D 2018 R 2016 R 2018 Un 2016 Un 2018
Allegany 1435 1013 1815 1361 468 263
Anne Arundel 38527 35630 25550 22849 12314 10779
Baltimore City 59562 42176 3054 2055 4983 3129
Baltimore 83525 66160 28522 24597 14654 11071
Calvert 5457 3950 5147 3660 1861 1216
Caroline 1434 1142 1796 1637 465 339
Carroll 6374 5715 10313 8947 2866 2267
Cecil 4058 2996 5062 3738 1707 1105
Charles 17749 11849 5261 3284 2882 1701
Dorchester 1922 1529 1424 1243 355 248
Frederick 14338 11688 10550 8328 5446 3818
Garrett 812 710 2310 1903 309 216
Harford 18221 14926 19496 15994 6647 5025
Howard 35295 28421 12996 10450 10863 8261
Kent 1806 1612 1101 987 461 380
Montgomery 111432 81388 21972 14518 27588 17418
Prince George’s 138257 90120 7974 4933 12681 7551
Queen Anne’s 3648 3103 5546 4710 1517 1188
Saint Mary’s 5120 3907 5829 4388 2065 1406
Somerset 1262 1001 1006 999 253 195
Talbot 3848 3623 4096 3790 1284 1118
Washington 4726 3457 5366 4108 1704 1182
Wicomico 5433 4794 4264 4001 1544 1182
Worcester 2950 2652 3376 3205 1017 870
26.37% 19.48% 19.11% 15.44% 15.76% 10.63%
0.7387 0.808 0.6745

The number at the bottom is a comparison of percentages of voters – Democrats were 26.13% off their 2016 totals, while Republicans were only 19.2% off and all the others were 32.55% off. In no instance did the 2018 total surpass a 2016 total, as can be expected – however, Somerset County Republicans finished just 7 voters short of matching 2016 turnout. That’s most likely good news for incumbent Delegate Charles Otto.

So then I broke it down by county. Rather than do all the counties, I’m just doing top and bottom 6 in terms of how they matched up 2018 vs. 2016. The higher the number (the proportion of turnout in 2018 vs. that of 2016), the more excited the electorate is.

Top 6 Democrat counties Top 6 Republican counties
Talbot 0.9415 Somerset 0.993
Anne Arundel 0.9248 Worcester 0.9493
Worcester 0.899 Wicomico 0.9383
Carroll 0.8966 Talbot 0.9253
Kent 0.8926 Caroline 0.9115
Wicomico 0.8824 Anne Arundel 0.8943
Bottom 6 Democrat counties Bottom 6 Republican counties
Prince George’s 0.6518 Prince George’s 0.6186
Charles 0.6676 Charles 0.6242
Allegany 0.7059 Montgomery 0.6608
Baltimore City 0.7081 Baltimore City 0.6729
Calvert 0.7238 Calvert 0.7111
Montgomery 0.7304 Cecil 0.7384
Statewide average 0.7387 Statewide average 0.808

As you can see, there are some counties where turnout looks to be really, really good and others where it may be so-so – in particular, the Capital Region seems to be taking a beating while the Eastern Shore looked like they were ready from the word go. It’s telling to me, though, that traditionally Republican counties are leading the way for the Democrats while their strongholds lag behind – perhaps it’s the way for the minority to express a message?

But in those same Democratic strongholds Republicans aren’t coming out, either. Could they be believing the re-election of Hogan is a fait accompli  and don’t see the purpose of voting in down-ticket races, or are they simply being traditional Republicans who wait until Election Day?

You may notice some counties have more on the Democrat side and others are looking good for the GOP. I tabulated these differences as well as the decline when it came to independents and unaffiliated voters, which have the steepest dropoff from 2016. The color on the right-hand chart is that of the party which led the county in percentage, as shown in the left-hand chart. So on blue counties it’s the difference between Republicans and the “others” and on red ones it’s Democrats vs. the unaffiliated and minor parties voters.

Intensity difference (R vs. D) Intensity difference (lower of D/R vs. Ind)
Somerset 0.1998 Anne Arundel 0.019
Caroline 0.1151 Somerset 0.0224
Dorchester 0.0774 Prince George’s 0.0231
Baltimore 0.0703 Montgomery 0.0294
Wicomico 0.0559 Charles 0.034
Worcester 0.0503 Baltimore 0.0366
Allegany 0.044 Washington 0.0378
Washington 0.0341 Worcester 0.0435
Kent 0.0039 Howard 0.0436
Harford 0.0012 Baltimore City 0.045
Cecil 0.0002 Talbot 0.0546
Howard -0.0011 Calvert 0.0577
Queen Anne’s -0.0013 Harford 0.0632
Saint Mary’s -0.0103 Statewide average 0.0658
Calvert -0.0127 Queen Anne’s 0.0662
Talbot -0.0162 Caroline 0.0674
Frederick -0.0258 Kent 0.0683
Carroll -0.0291 Saint Mary’s 0.0719
Anne Arundel -0.0305 Carroll 0.0765
Prince George’s -0.0332 Frederick 0.0883
Baltimore City -0.0352 Cecil 0.0897
Charles -0.0434 Dorchester 0.0969
Garrett -0.0506 Wicomico 0.1169
Montgomery -0.0696 Garrett 0.1248
Allegany 0.144

Independent and unaffiliated voters were mixed in turnout: those representing “other” parties (holdovers from the previously-recognized Reform and Constitution parties, for example) led with 12.25% of 32,885 voters, but only 9.06% of the 9,164 Greens and 7.73% of the 21,713 Libertarians made it out. There were 10.66% of the 708,012 voters who list as unaffiliated at early voting, and they make up the bulk of the statistics.

I know it’s a lot of charts, but we can read a couple things into these, anyway.

For one thing, it does not appear that the feared malaise from constant chatter about a “blue wave” worked to dissuade overall GOP turnout. Granted, the Democrats might come fairly close on numbers, but the GOP should maintain its turnout lead they’ve had almost every election in the last 12 years, the lone exception being the Obama wave of 2008. This should enable Larry Hogan to stay in office, but it makes me question whether he will have coattails enough to get Craig Wolf – the GOP candidate for Attorney General – and the five new GOP State Senators he’s seeking into office. (High GOP intensity, though, is a good sign for the District 38 race – especially when two of the three GOP Delegates or primary winners for the post are unchallenged, save for a “sore loser” write-in effort in District 38C by perennial candidate Ed Tinus, a primary loser on the GOP side despite running for other offices as a Democrat.)

The other key point is that Republican voters outside the scope of the state’s two largest media markets (Baltimore and Washington, D.C.) seem to see this election as once again “the most important of their lives” and they are coming out accordingly. They are also reacting to downballot races – note the top three GOP counties (and two of the Democrats’ top six) are embroiled in perhaps the most heated State Senate race in Maryland, as I have frequently documented. On the other hand, lower turnout and enthusiasm in Democrat areas has to be worrisome to the state party, which has essentially abandoned its nominee Ben Jealous and appears to be concentrating on maintaining its hold on a State Senate majority that can override Larry Hogan’s vetoes. Their advantage in their regard is that none of their targeted State Senators are in traditional Democratic areas – in fact, ten of their number received free rides this year so they need only win half of the others plus one to maintain their vetoproof hold. Republicans also have a couple vulnerable seats they have to work hard to keep thanks to unaffiliated challengers and primary upsets.

But the real fun begins Tuesday. Those who voted early may be pleased to know that the forecast is for rain for most of the state, with the potential for severe weather. (Locally we are looking at just warm but cloudy.) Regardless, grab your umbrella and head out to the polls if you haven’t already.

The giant stack of stuff

October 30, 2018 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The giant stack of stuff 

Last night I took a picture of my dining room table. In this photo – with the exception of the Campbell and Wolf items that I picked up – are all the mailings and dropoffs I’ve had so far this campaign.

Over the last five weeks I have collected a blizzard of stuff. On the left is the pile for Jim Mathias and on the right the stack for GOP candidates. mainly Mary Beth Carozza.

One thing I have found out is that the Maryland Democrats really care about me voting. There are 15 mailings in that left-hand stack, all but one from the Maryland Democratic Senate caucus. Twelve of them have been from the caucus on behalf of Jim Mathias, and they have followed an interesting, perhaps focus-grouped pattern.

Mailings 1 and 2, back in late September, told us how much Mathias fights for the Eastern Shore and even tries to convince readers he’s being helpful to Governor Hogan. But that soon changed: mailings 3 and 4 tried to tell us how Mary Beth Carozza (and frankly, as much as I have to type that all out, I’m going to start calling her MBC) hates education because she voted against certain bills (with good reason, in my opinion.) But number 4 also introduced a main thread that has since permeated most of the remaining mailings: MBC as Washington insider. Mailings 5 and 6 tried to tie MBC to increasing health care costs, then mailings 7 through 10 returned to the Washington insider theme, even invoking the “Swamp.” Numbers 11 and 12 go back to the insider theme, but talk about a Big Pharma-sponsored trip MBC made to Belgium – presumably as a Congressional staffer. (The citation is from a website called Legistorm, which is a subscription-based database covering Congressional staff. Hence, most of its information is behind a paywall.)

So here is the pot calling the kettle black, at least in terms of special interest money. While MBC took travel with a value described as “nearly $7,000” in mailing number 8, a look at Maryland campaign finance records shows that Mathias has easily exceeded that figure from Big Pharma over the last four years – something I noted here. I might add this was before his most recent report that pushed him into five figures.

(As an aside, that most recent report also shows Jim has spent just shy of a jaw-dropping $170,000 on TV in this brief portion of the cycle – a modest $2,500 to Comcast but the real money went in payments of $70,400 and $97,000 to a group called Screen Strategies Media – its client list includes Martin O’Malley and Planned Parenthood. Great company, huh?)

As I mentioned, there were 15 mailings on Jim’s behalf. Two of them came from the Senate Democrats with the intended purpose of boosting turnout – the first urged me to have a voting plan (I already did) and the second listed my “public voting record.” (Which, by the way, is spotless over the last four cycles.) As they warn, “Your voting record will be updated publicly after November, 2018.” Go right ahead and be my guest, folks. But for the average low-information voter that may have an unchecked space or two, nothing like a little intimidation from the “mobs” side of the ledger, eh?

The remaining pro-Mathias mailing came from a group that already “owns” him to the tune of $1,350 this cycle, the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative (MCHI). Regarding the mailing, the MCHI site republished this post from the Maryland Matters website that trumpeted their release and notes:

(MCHI president Vincent) DeMarco said the nonprofit organization spent about $40,000 on the mailings, which were reported as independent expenditures to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Divided by three endangered Senators, that’s over $13,000 more in help for Mathias. It also puts into perspective how much the Senate Democrats are throwing into this race – figuring $40,000 for every three mailings means they are closing in on a $200,000 investment and given the amount of taxing power at stake that $200,000 is probably chump change in their eyes. All told I wouldn’t be surprised there’s over a half-million dollars spent trying to prop up Jim Mathias and save his Senate seat for the special interests.

Back to DeMarco and the MCHI. In case you were wondering where they stand, these are among the “accomplishments” DeMarco cites:

He played a key role in the enactment of Maryland’s life-saving tobacco tax increase of 2007, alcohol tax increase of 2011, and Firearm Safety Act of 2013, and anti-price gouging law for prescription drug prices of 2017 and is working to guarantee health care for all Marylanders.

It’s not session in Annapolis without seeing DeMarco lobbying for a higher tax on tobacco. Yes, MCHI is all for higher taxes, O’Malley gun restrictions, and more tax money thrown down the rathole of socialized medicine. As for the price-gouging law, it was one of those that was close to making my 2017 mAP but ended up on the cutting room floor. It was watered down to some extent going through the MGA, but if that’s your chosen featured bill you should know both Mathias and MBC favored it – they just chose to reward Jim with more campaign cash.

What MCHI is really after, though, is a bill that would force pharmaceutical companies to justify price increases deemed too steep. It may sound good, but taken from their business standpoint it would place a lot of their trade secrets at risk. MCHI’s justification for a previous version of their bill conceded that, “While the bill does not directly decrease the price of drugs, it is a first step on the path to lower, fair, and justifiable drug pricing.” No, it’s a first step to further clearing the market of small, innovative companies that may need to increase prices to cover development costs. Perhaps that’s why Big Pharma likes Jim so much – they just don’t seem to have the juice for MBC anymore. Maybe she wasn’t useful to them?

It should be noted that the Maryland Republican Party has done the heavy lifting to back MBC, and while they are (rightly) critical of Jim’s tax-and-spend voting record, they are really trying to pin a particular bill sponsorship on him – the infamous “Overdose and Infectious Disease Prevention Supervised Drug Consumption Facility Program” known as Senate Bill 288. Jim must have known it was bad news because he was for it before he was against it. This bill, though, was an extension of a 2016 needle exchange bill (SB97) that Mathias voted for and MBC opposed. Even earlier, Mathias voted for a measure eliminating a “one for one” restriction on a long-standing Baltimore City needle exchange program.

Moreso than the record, though, the MDGOP is using the endorsements of three noted individuals and a photo Mathias probably wishes he never stood for. Then again, Jim’s voting record would make Ben Jealous proud.

The MDGOP keeps touting the Hogan endorsement of MBC, but has more recently sent out letters of recommendation from First District Congressman Andy Harris, who called MBC “an authentic, dependable leader who shares our values and will do what’s best for our community,” and Mathias’s predecessor, former Senator Lowell Stoltzfus from Somerset County. Wrote Stoltzfus in part:

I’ve stayed out of State elections since my retirement in 2011 but I feel obligated to make an exception because of a recent negative mailing by the Senate Democrat Caucus in support of Jim Mathias.

The mailing ridiculed Mary Beth Carozza as a “Washington insider” and labeled her negatively because she has worked for the federal government.

Here’s what they didn’t tell you.

Stoltzfus goes on to relate that MBC was on the job at the Pentagon on 9/11, and conducted herself in such an exemplary manner after American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building that she received the Secretary of Defense’s Medal for Outstanding Public Service.

Out of the five mailers I’ve received on MBC’s behalf, 2 1/2 were positive toward her and 2 1/2 negative toward Jim Mathias – well, more specifically, his voting record and/or tying him to locally unpopular Democrats like Ben Jealous or Martin O’Malley.

That’s a stark contrast to the Mathias side having 10 out of 12 mailers be negative toward his opponent, with only a few referring to specific votes. They’re obviously hoping voters fail to understand there’s a bit of a difference between being a Congressional staffer and an Executive branch appointee, the latter of which is much of what comprises the Swamp. MBC did a little of both, but more of the time was spent working in Congress and not being a holdover of the previous administration causing headaches for the new boss.

To be so negative at this late juncture most likely means the incumbent (or, to be more candid, his special-interest backers) are worried. They have only one more recourse, and it’s going to be interesting to see if they fire that last bullet in the chamber before it’s all said and done. I know one thing, if nothing else: Annapolis Democrats are all about maintaining power by whatever means necessary, principles be damned. So I won’t be surprised if there’s one more special mailing from the Mike Miller swamp in Annapolis.

Democrat gubernatorial hopefuls invade Salisbury

April 15, 2018 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on Democrat gubernatorial hopefuls invade Salisbury 

There are eight candidates on the Democrat side of the ballot hoping to be the challenger to current GOP Governor Larry Hogan. On a gorgeous, almost summer-like day on the Eastern Shore, only four of them could be bothered to come to Salisbury University to address their would-be primary electorate.

Originally that was supposed to be five of the eight, though.

An empty table...sort of like their bag of new ideas.

The lineup as originally intended: Alec Ross, Krish Vignarajah, Rushern Baker, Jim Shea, and Richard Madaleno.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker was slated to be there, but informed the event organizers 15 minutes beforehand that he had an “emergency” and could not appear. According to his Twitter feed, he had begun the day campaigning in Baltimore City but the trail grows cold afterward. Yesterday evening there were Tweets and social media posts touting his previous endorsement by Congressman Steny Hoyer (who represents a portion of his county) and a piece touting his partnership for STEM training, but no mention of the forum or an apology for missing it. A Democrat friend of mine remarked afterward that “I know quite a few people who were definitely upset and said they wouldn’t vote for him now even if they had considered him before.” Unfortunately, that left us with a group of what would be defined as “second-tier” candidates who are polling in low single digits – combined they’re not Baker’s equal polling-wise.

On top of that, State Senator Richard Madaleno was a few minutes late, missing the opening statement but being allowed to make up for it when he answered his first question. Apparently there was an accident on the Bay Bridge, which was the topic of a subsequent question.

So the order was set, and placeholders were rearranged. This photo was taken once Madaleno arrived.

State Senator Richard Madaleno (right) answers a question as moderator Don Rush of Delmarva Public Radio (far left), Alec Ross (second from left), Krish Vignarajah (center), and Jim Shea (second from right) look on.

The Wicomico County Democratic Central Committee co-sponsored the event with the Salisbury University College Democrats, and aside from the horribly uncomfortable chairs we were forced to sit in for two hours the event was well-conducted for the 100 or so in attendance on this beautiful afternoon. I learned that a group of liberal Democrats can sit and listen attentively, so now I expect that same behavior at the next Andy Harris town hall that I attend. Moderator Don Rush instructed the audience early on to keep their reactions to themselves, and they complied.

I debated whether I wanted to handle this by candidate or by question, and decided that keeping the candidates’ answers together for each question would present a better, more comparative format. But first I wanted to mention something that was said by WCDCC chair Mark L. Bowen. (Just to be clear, this Mark Bowen is not Mark S. Bowen, the current Democrat Clerk of the Court for Wicomico County.) Bowen assured the gathering that “our work is being done for us…all we have to do is close the deal.” He was also the one who informed us that Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and former NAACP head Ben Jealous were absent due to “previous commitments.” (That would be their personally lobbying the state’s teacher’s union, which endorsed Jealous yesterday at their meeting. Perhaps endorsing Kamemetz or Baker would have been problematic for the teachers given educational scandals in their respective counties.)

So after an opening statement, the four remaining candidates answered questions on these topics:

  • New “economic engines” for the Eastern Shore
  • Balancing the interests of agriculture and environmentalists
  • Offshore wind energy development
  • How they would assist watermen and the Bay
  • Transportation priorities for our area
  • A new Bay Bridge
  • Their focus on education
  • Health care – a single-payer system?
  • Redistricting

But I want to begin with separate categorizations of their opening statements, and I’ll proceed in the order that they spoke. This means Alec Ross goes first and Richard Madaleno goes not at all because he was tardy.

You may recall that I spent a few minutes speaking to Alec at the Tawes event last year, when he informed me that he had a rather unique view on education for a Democrat, since he focused more on vocational education than college readiness. Obviously coming over here is something he cherishes, as he recalled childhood vacations spent in Ocean City and told the crowd his blood pressure comes down when he crosses the Bay Bridge as part of his opening statement.

His main point, though, was that “talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not.” And while “we are bringing new faces and new ideas to the Democratic Party,” Ross noted their voter registration numbers are trending downward.

I could have spent a couple minutes speaking to Krish Vignarajah, but I didn’t realize she was one of those waiting with me on the elevator to arrive. With her husband in tow and a young child, she could have been an interested observer. (She was also somewhat casually dressed.)

Krish came to America as a infant, emigrating from Sri Lanka with her parents. (A few years later, Sri Lanka would be embroiled in a civil war, so tensions were rising at the time.) She also painted a gloomy picture of Maryland, telling the audience that “opportunities are declining” but she would be “Larry Hogan’s worst nightmare” as a candidate. “We need to give people a reason to vote,” she exhorted.

Jim Shea used the Bay Bridge as an example of how infrastructure could help the economy. He was running to “invest in Maryland,” with a focus on three areas: education, transportation, and infrastructure.

Leading off the questioning was one about new economic engines for the Eastern Shore. All of them agreed agriculture was going to remain the primary driver, but they also wanted to add green energy to the mix in various ways.

For Vignarajah, the object wasn’t to attack “Big Chicken” but to address its environmental issues through research. She also touted the idea of tourism, both as part of an “outdoor economy” and “heritage tourism.” Shea stressed his belief that we need to bring the two sides of farmer and environmentalist together. Corporations want a good environment, too, he said, but “we need clarity on the regulations.” Jim also believed that we needed to grow our own businesses and not work as much at attracting those from other states.

Madaleno, after giving a brief introduction, talked about keeping agriculture sustainable, both environmentally and economically, but also brought up the idea of “eds and beds” – our educational institutions and tourism industry. Richard also pointed out the impact from Wallops Island and its space industry. He had one other point, but he joked that “I feel like the Secretary of Energy” because he couldn’t recall it. Later, he said Shea reminded him it was offshore wind – it was a byproduct of seeing each other so much and knowing their talking points, as Shea mentioned later: “(Madaleno) did the same thing for me at another forum.”

Perhaps Alec’s drop in blood pressure stemmed from the produce he’s purchased at an Eastern Shore roadside market. As the produce was bigger and better than ever at his last stop, Ross asked how they did it. “Precision agriculture,” the stand owner beamed. Agriculture in the state needs to continue to evolve, he added, the combination of analytics and agriculture would allow that to happen. And to help small farmers, Ross was proposing a billion-dollar investment in a “green bank” model – a model already in place in New York and Massachusetts. (In looking this up, perhaps Ross misspoke: I found programs in place in New York and Connecticut as a way to promote “clean energy.” What Ross proposes may have a slightly different focus.)

So how do you balance agriculture and the environment? Would you add restrictions to the poultry industry?

Madaleno, Shea, and Vignarajah all touted the Community Healthy Air Act, a measure Madaleno sponsored during the last General Assembly session, and one that Shea said “made sense.” (It did not get beyond the hearing stage.) Alec and Krish also brought up the Phosphorus Management Tool, with Krish calling it a “win-win.” She also proposed to “empower” farmers with a Farmers Rights Act.

Ross wanted all sides to play by the same rules as well, saying that neither side thinks they are lying when it comes to the facts.

Needless to say, all of them were supportive of wind energy development. Madaleno said they “will make a lot of sense,” believing the won’t impact the viewshed and be the basis for job growth. They can “drive the economy ahead,” added Shea; however, he was concerned that there was no way to store their energy. We need to invest in that technology, he added.

Ross and Vignarajah were just as aggressive, with Alec comparing areas that don’t “embrace the future” through wind to the coal country he grew up in and assuring us that windmills would not keep them from the beaches. Vignarajah promised 2,000 megawatts of wind power in her first term and chided Larry Hogan for not being proactive. We are exporting our dollars and importing their pollution, she said regarding the current situation.

This question also provided a couple of shout outs: Madaleno praised fellow Senator Jim Mathias: “No one fights harder for the Eastern Shore – I have some of the scars.” Alec Ross said of Salisbury mayor Jake Day. “I like the work (he) is doing as mayor.”

When it comes to watermen and the Bay, the answers were again rather similar because they focused more on the Bay, with some expressing the recovery of the oyster population as one positive development. It’s a “win-win” to support the oyster industry, said Vignarajah, but don’t forget the tributaries to the Bay like the Choptank, Potomac, and so forth. Shea warned that it’s “too soon” to harvest oysters as watermen are pleading with Governor Hogan to allow.

Madaleno, though, expressed the opinion that the Bay’s recovery was evidence that “government can do and does good things.” And while he joked that being a member of the General Assembly meant he had to become an expert in crabs, oysters, and chicken, he added that cleaning the Bay has to be a multi-state effort. Richard also pledged to give waterman “a voice at the table.”

And while Ross would do “whatever it takes” to accomplish this difficult and expensive work, he spent part of his time noting that “when you drive into Maryland, you should be entering The Resistance.” Chiding the “abhorrent” leadership at the EPA, he wanted a set-aside to sustain watermen. Shea temed a similar concept as an “investment” in the needed vocational training for the “social costs of our advancement.” On the other hand, Vignarajah expressed the “unpopular” view of crediting Larry Hogan with trying to protect Chesapeake Bay funding.

As far as transportation priorities for our rural areas are concerned, there was no real shock in their answers. Krish led off by saying “let us try to be innovative,” making the investment in our economy of extending the MARC system to Salisbury and Ocean City as “an attraction” to provide “more mobility.” Jim Shea agreed that the Eastern Shore has a lack of mass transit.

Madaleno and Ross blasted Larry Hogan’s transportation plan, with Ross calling it “a press release” and “not realistic” because it mainly focuses on DC and Baltimore. Hogan was “one of the luckiest politicians around,” said Madaleno, who noted that the Purple Line was “placed on a credit card” while the gas tax Hogan criticized was now being used for highway widening. Richard would invest in “smart mass transit,” meaning on demand.

Shea was more realistic, calling transportation “anathema” for career politicians because projects take so long. He termed the high-speed rail project backed by Hogan “pie in the sky” and would vet his plan with citizens around the state.

Most telling to me was part of Alec’s answer, where he called widening U.S. 50 “looking backward” and mass transit “looking forward.” So I wasn’t shocked by their answers to the next question, about a third Bay Bridge.

At least Jim Shea was honest enough to answer “I don’t know what the correct answer is.” (Hint: look at how close Dorchester and Calvert counties are.) His bigger issue was funding education. Madaleno was more worried about whether the current bridges survive, as the Hogan toll reductions “restrict the decision” on these bridges, which Madaleno would replace there.

Alec and Krish were even more blunt. “People need investments in them,” said Ross. High-speed connectivity and schools were a higher priority in his eyes, with another Bay span “way down the queue.” Vignarajah echoed the sentiment: “A lot of priorities are ahead in the queue” over the Bay Bridge, adding “we have a 1950s budget in many respects.” She would spend money on universal broadband, too, noting 1 in 12 Maryland residents don’t have high-speed internet access.

Since it had been hinted around at, the focus shifted to education. Education “will be the centerpiece of (a Madaleno) administration,” said Rich, and “this is why (Ross) is running for governor,” he said, but all of them were ready to give free stuff out: universal pre-K and community college were most mentioned.

Madaleno touted his membership on the Kirwan Commission, while Krish advocated for a “cradle to career” educational policy, including “hot and healthy meals.” Shea’s “bold and comprehensive” plan (which he mentioned was there in full on his website) included as well what he called “wrap-around services” and “funding solutions.”

One thing I did like about Alec was his advocacy for vocational education, rather than the “terribly elitist” idea all kids have to go to college. He promoted an online academy to assist rural students in receiving services not otherwise available to them and advocates for universal computer science education.

We also waited until nearly the end to learn about their proposals for health care, and whether it included single-payer?

Of course it does, but not everyone is as honest as Jim Shea, who, while he told the audience that “a single-payer system is something we will eventually move to,” it wasn’t practical for a single state to adopt. That push had to be at a federal level, but we could control costs locally through a collaborative approach.

Otherwise, it seemed the consensus was that Obamacare was just a start, or a “strong start” in the words of Vignarajah. For her, “health care is a basic human right” and she advocated for a public option to lead to single-payer. Madaleno insisted that Obamacare “has worked to reduce costs” and brought Maryland down to 6% uninsured. He warned the gathering to not fall for the “trumped-up theory” that the ACA has failed. The fight was against insurers and Big Pharma to cut costs. (This also gave Madaleno a chance for a second Mathias shout-out: he was a “hero” as a voice for rural health care.)

Alec called on us to “resist the evil that is coming out of Donald Trump’s Washington.” While he admitted that “we have to continue to play defense,” he gave an example of something he would do differently: because of the waiver system Maryland was benefiting from, Medicare for All wasn’t possible – but Medicaid for All as a public option was.

I was honestly surprised by the final question, which had to do with redistricting. Had there been five participants, the health care question would have likely been last.

Only the American system allows for politicians to pick their voters, said Krish, but it was a “problematic” issue that had to be addressed at a national level. Shea disagreed, saying that while gerrymandering had polarized us, it wasn’t a federal problem – but the solution wasn’t (as he called it) “unilateral disarmament” here in Maryland. It needs to be “fair and smart,” Jim added, but he warned there’s no such thing as a non-partisan group.

Madaleno admitted that the gerrymandering “got out of hand” during the O’Malley administration (but failed to mention his lack of objection at the time.) Going with the theme that “the Koch brothers have bought the Congress they wanted,” Rich wanted to reform as part of a multi-state compact.

Alec saw the issue as part of the “damage to democracy,” which has led to both far-right and far-left factions in Congress. “We need representatives to engage with everyone in the district,” he said.

It should be noted that Vignarajah used part of her answer time to express her disappointment that no question was asked on opioids. “We need action” on both the over-prescription and treatment aspects of that problem.

In conclusion, Jim Shea said Democrats needed to unite as a party. “We’re going to pull together because we are a great party and take the governor’s seat back.”

Richard Madaleno contended that the GOP of Donald Trump is “in the process of imploding.” Yet since there will be gridlock in Washington, it make the governors more important, and Maryland has one of the most powerful chief executives in the nation. “It matters who the governor of Maryland is,” he continued, and “this is the time to have serious experience in office.” That was a nod to his years in the General Assembly, but his goal was to “move the state in a progressive way.”

Alec Ross told the local Democrats that it’s “more about ‘we’ than ‘me,’ but disagreed with Madeleno on one point: the GOP is not coming apart. “We’ve got to work for it,” he said. He also promised “no one will be more anti-Trump than me,” but warned the group they “can’t just resist,” they have to have an “aspirational agenda.” It was time for new faces and new ideas to come forward., Ross concluded.

“How do we beat Larry Hogan?” asked Krish Vignarajah. “No man can beat Larry Hogan, they say. Well…?” While Hogan “fakes left and moves right,” Vignarajah pointed out that 61% of those who toppled incumbent Republicans in this cycle were women. She pledged a “fiscally responsible. socially progressive” administration.

I’ve noted above that Jim Mathias was in the building, but there were a handful of other Democrats seeking local and state office there: Michael Pullen for Congress (who sat two seats away from me and never said a word), Holly Wright for Senate District 37 (who did introduce herself to me), Delegate 38A candidate Kirkland Hall, and county-level candidates Bill McCain (County Council) and Bo McAllister, who I had spoken to at last fall’s Good Beer Festival. (You would have known that had my old cell phone not crapped out the next day, before I could write the post.)

They did their thing and I did mine, but mine is done.

Willful ignorance?

According to multiple news reports on both the state and national level – apparently this was, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a “big f’ing deal” – Larry Hogan is now an official member of #NeverTrump. Welcome aboard.

Hogan said he doesn’t plan to vote for Trump, but was coy on his choice otherwise. “I guess when I get behind the curtain I’ll have to figure it out,” Hogan said. “Maybe write someone in, I’m not sure.” That sounds vaguely familiar, although even as moderate as Hogan can be I would imagine he’s not a Hillary supporter.

Certainly the governor would prefer to keep his questioning confined to affairs of state, but after being bugged about his choice for months once his endorsed candidate Chris Christie exited the race he obviously threw up his hands and gave the most honest answer he could. Of course, it wasn’t good enough for the Democrats who want Hogan to condemn Trump for his statements so they can beat up the downticket candidates this year, but the goal shouldn’t be to satisfy a party that’s nominating a candidate who, if she were not Bill Clinton’s wife, would likely be in prison for her actions as Secretary of State.

What’s interesting to me about this whole thing is that Hogan’s appeal cuts across many of the same lines as Donald Trump’s does. Both had crossover attraction in their election, as thousands of Democrats voted Hogan in 2014. Many of them switched parties two years later to cast a ballot for Donald Trump. At the end of last year the Maryland GOP had 971,806 voters but gained over 29,000 by the end of April to eclipse 1 million for the first time at 1,000,915. (As of the end of May they had 1,004,083.) Unfortunately, the Democrats are growing even faster as they gained 68,000 in the same December-May period. So there may be a little bit of a political calculation going there.

(Contrary to popular opinion, however, the Libertarian Party has not gained in Maryland despite Republican threats to leave if Trump was nominated. In the month after the primary they actually lost 87 voters.)

It’s worth noting that Donald Trump got 54.1% of the GOP primary vote, which translated to 248,343 votes. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton received 62.5% of the Democrat vote, which turned out to be 573,242 votes. Even Bernie Sanders outpolled Trump with 309,990 votes. GOP turnout was right about 45%, so Trump would have to get a whole lot of unaffiliated voters to have a shot. Having Hogan come out publicly against The Donald probably doesn’t assist that cause.

But the more important number to Hogan is 70 percent, which is roughly his approval rating right now. I don’t think Trump can touch that number in Maryland, and while there may be the most radical 10 percent of Trump supporters who won’t vote for Hogan in 2018 because Hogan is withholding his support, that’s only about 25,000 voters at risk – not even 1/4 of his victory margin in 2014. If 70 percent of the population likes you, it’s a pretty good bet you’ll be re-elected. (This is why the Democrats have tried to pin Trump to Hogan every chance they get.)

While I suspect that his reasoning may be a lot different than mine, I’m pleased to have Governor Hogan on my side on this one. The GOP still has an opportunity to correct course at the Cleveland convention, and I think they better take it.

Not too late for change

June 28, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Not too late for change 

It was 2009, and Americans were still captivated by a shiny and new (or articulate, bright, and clean, if you prefer) President. Yet deep in the nether lands of liberalism there were people already thinking about how to maximize the political gains they could make. In November of that year I wrote about a scheme dubbed the “10-0 project” where Maryland Democrats would gerrymander their way to having all eight Congressional seats by pairing up the few Republican strongholds in the state with large Democratic enclaves, such as wrapping the First District into Baltimore City. The person who developed that plan bragged how it split the McCain voters out so that no district had more than 40 percent McCain support.

While the redistricting plan developed after the 2010 census wasn’t quite that extreme, there were still some of the shenanigans of rerouting the Sixth District toward Washington, D.C. to pave the way for that district to turn Democrat (canceling out the GOP strongholds west of Frederick) and dissecting other heavily GOP areas in Carroll and Anne Arundel counties into multiple districts. They also made the First District a nearly impenetrable Republican fortress, an R+13 district in a state which is nominally D+26.

But while we are past the halfway mark to the 2020 census, there are still those out there who believe the state’s Congressional lines were drawn for partisan advantage rather than true representation. Last week a number of plaintiffs – one from each Congressional district – utilizing the assistance of Judicial Watch filed a federal lawsuit alleging the current setup “harms all Maryland voters, regardless of their party preferences or how they would vote in a particular election, by giving State legislators the power to make choices regarding the State’s congressional delegation that only the voters should make.”

As relief, the suit seeks to have the current districts tossed out and a new district plan drawn which better conforms to the Polsby-Popper compactness test. As it stands currently, Maryland has the worst score of any state, but the plaintiffs allege (through a map they created) that significant improvements can be made. (Unfortunately their map is somewhat confusing because the district numbers assigned on it are quite different than the ones in use now. As an aside, if this map were adopted we would likely be placed in the equivalent of the Fifth Congressional District while both Andy Harris and GOP challenger Michael Smigiel would land in what’s basically our Second Congressional District shifted more to the north and east.) Regardless, the plan appears to keep more counties and areas together rather than the Rorschach test we have now.

While Judicial Watch has stepped in, though, it’s obvious that the battle will be an uphill one. As the suit notes, this is not the first time there has been an objection to the Congressional redistricting plan, and the current scheme was maintained through a misleading referendum in 2012. Thus, the chances for success aren’t very good.

But this should come with a parallel effort to change the system once and for all by putting it into the hands of an independent commission comprised of citizens from each district or even each county. As an example of this, Wicomico County had a commission to redraw County Council districts and its end product had few complaints regarding compactness or gerrymandering. (The most unusually-shaped district here is the one mandated to be majority-minority.) Let them come up with the maps away from the General Assembly and have our legislature give them a simple up-or-down vote. The same goes for state legislative districts, which also should become exclusively single-member districts – no more jungle elections where the top two or three get in.

In our case, unless it sees significant growth, the Eastern Shore will likely always have to share its Congressman with someone else. But that someone else should be close and accessible neighbors – surely the folks in Carroll County are nice people but they really don’t belong in our Congressional district. If we have to take some of Harford and Baltimore counties to make up the population that’s understandable.

Maybe in the next Census I’ll draw a real map that shows the way it should be done. But if Judicial Watch somehow gets its way I can always move that timetable a little closer.

Taking less of a toll

It wasn’t completely unexpected. but just in time for the height of tourist season travelers around the state will retain a little extra in their pockets when they cross one of Maryland’s toll roads or bridges, including the Bay Bridge. Yesterday Governor Hogan announced a toll reduction he claimed would save Marylanders $270 million over the next five years. For those coming to the Eastern Shore, it will save them $2 on the trip – not much, but the symbolism is strong.

Commuters, though, will get more of a break as their tolls drop from $2.10 to $1.40 per trip. Factor in the elimination of the EZPass service charge – which cost Maryland drivers $1.50 a month and probably drove some of that business to other states which don’t charge a service fee – and you’re closing in on a $30 per month break. That’s the same as getting a 15-cent an hour raise.

Of course the Maryland Democratic Party found fault with this:

Today, Larry Hogan announced that tolls at the Bay Bridge would go down.

Meanwhile, the cost of in-state tuition at State Universities went up 7%.

Despite his campaign promises, Marylanders are paying more under Larry Hogan.

Since I don’t go to an in-state university but occasionally use the Bay Bridge, this is yet another desperate attempt at spin by Democrats. It’s also worth pointing out that July 1 will also see a 2.5 cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax – an increase Democrats failed to stop when they had the chance this term. This will decrease the benefit for commuters who use the Bay Bridge and other toll facilities and take more from the pockets of the rest of us, to the tune of a dollar or two per month.

The complaint I’m waiting for from the mouths of Democrats is the one where they will begin to complain about the prospect of neglecting maintenance on these toll roads and spans. But Hogan’s Secretary of Transportation was confident the money will be there:

“I have thoroughly reviewed the toll-reduction plan, and I’m confident the MDTA will continue to maintain its sound financial footing and commitment to safety and quality services,” said MDTA Chairman and Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn. “A lot of hard work went into the development of this proposal, and I’d like to thank MDTA board members for their careful analysis and approval of this toll-reduction plan.”

Another gripe sure to come from our tax-and-spend friends on the left is that the O’Malley fare increases for mass transit weren’t cut as well – I can see the carping by representatives in areas dependent on mass transit. That, however, is a money pit as farebox revenue comes nowhere close to meeting the expenses of those services.

This all leaves one other transportation shoe to drop, and advocates for the Purple Line are pressing for Hogan to keep the rail line going. However, if Hogan pulls the plug on that and the Red Line in Baltimore most of the justification for the O’Malley gas tax and farebox increases is gone, or the funding could be used for more important projects like some I’ve detailed before, such as completing the intended route of I-97 with Virginia’s help or improving the U.S. 13 corridor through Delaware with their assistance.

So I consider this news to be a pleasant surprise in a situation where input from the General Assembly majority was not needed. When the chips are down, though, it seems the Republicans are the only ones we can count on to truly help the working family.

Ambitious agenda? No, a vapid response

February 5, 2015 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Ambitious agenda? No, a vapid response 

I was somewhat remiss last night in not mentioning the Democrat response to Larry Hogan’s State of the State address. Delivered by Delegate Anne Kaiser, I was expecting more of a robust set of disagreements but a pledge to work toward a better state in a bipartisan manner.

Then I remembered we were talking about Maryland Democrats here. Party Chair Yvette Lewis exhibited their true attitude in a pithy statement:

Today, Marylanders expected to hear from Governor Hogan a clearly stated vision for our State’s future. Instead, we got another campaign speech, even though the campaign for Governor ended almost three months ago. With cuts to education, and higher tuition being forced on our students, the Governor should look for ways to lessen the load on the middle class, instead of balancing his budget on their backs.

Governor Hogan’s campaign speech today does not reflect the actions he has taken or has told us he will take in the future. He said our students deserve a “world class education”, yet he cut $143 million from education. He said he knows that nitrogen and phosphorus run-off is the cause of the bay’s pollution, but he overturned an executive order on the Phosphorus Management tool that would decrease nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, and announced he will try to get rid of the storm water management fee. Simply put, the rhetoric doesn’t match the record.

Voters chose him to “Change Maryland”, but it looks like we, the taxpayers, are getting short changed instead.

Well, let’s see here. I would say Hogan’s vision is one of prosperity based on the tried and true approach where helping business succeed makes a state more prosperous. It’s embodied in a phrase attributed to a Democratic President, John F. Kennedy: “a rising tide lifts all the boats.” If you heard this as a campaign speech, given the opportunity Hogan wished to take in introducing himself and comparing and contrasting his agenda to the failed one of the last eight years, well, be my guest. But you’d be wrong.

Now, about those “cuts to education.” I admit I have a public school education, but I think I did pretty well in math. So when I look at the FY2016 budget and I see that the two figures under the FY2016 column for Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education are both larger than those same two figures under FY2015, I wonder where the “cut” is.

Expressed in millions of dollars, it’s FY2016 (7,513 + 5.954) – FY2015 (7,451 + 5,855) = 161.

I will grant it’s not a huge increase like you may think education deserves – but we were running a deficit here, Mrs. Lewis, mainly because the last governor and member of your party spent money like it was going out of style. Now the adults are in charge, so increases are more modest – if you call $161 million modest, that is – but they are paid for without raising taxes. (I know you hate that, but those of us in the hinterlands think it’s a refreshing change.)

And speaking as a person who would like a balanced approach to improving the Chesapeake Bay, why is it you wish to penalize the farmers who are doing their part while dismissing the upstream participants from responsibility? Oh, and the term is not “storm water management fee,” it’s “rain tax.” Own it, because it was your idea.

So the fact that Hogan is spending only a few hundred million dollars more this year than last is considered “short changing” Marylanders speaks volumes about the fact the other side is still in shock that the natural order of things was disturbed and a Republican became governor. In their entire responses, it was all about spending more money. Can’t Democrats come up with a solution which doesn’t involve more money out of our pockets or more government?

Democrats always claim to be the party of the working man, but too many Marylanders aren’t working and aren’t keeping ahead in this state’s moribund economy. In November, voters decided a new approach was necessary and it’s clear by their responses that Democrats haven’t been getting with the program.

Getting to know…the real me?

August 11, 2014 · Posted in Campaign 2014, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on Getting to know…the real me? 

This will be a fun little post.

In an effort to have further blog fodder (and sometimes a good laugh) I’m on the mailing list of the Democratic National Committee.

So on Saturday I received an e-mail with the subject line “Getting to know you.” I found out a couple neat little tidbits about that “powerful, dedicated community” on that side of the spectrum:

  • 853,185 have been on their e-mail list for five years. I think I’m one of them, but that number seems surprisingly low. They must cull their list based on response/open rate.
  • 11 people signed up as Barack Obama and “think they are pretty funny.” Hey, with the history of failed hard drives around Washington, D.C. perhaps Barack Obama was being intentionally redundant or he simply wanted to tailor the message to his multiple favorite vacation spots.

And they “consider me a critical part of their team.” Well, I am pretty critical about their intentions, motives, and methods of operation.

But the idea behind the e-mail was to flesh out the information they have on me. I actually trashed the e-mail then decided to bring it back because I was curious what they wanted to know. Truthfully, I was disappointed.

They already had my first and last name, along with my e-mail address (duh!) And of course, they know I live in the 21804 zip code so things are pegged to Maryland. The character string attached to the link has all that, along with the particular e-mail date they would harvest the information from.

So those things are spotted. The next information they wanted was my phone number. Since most people use cell phones, there was also an opt-in checkbox to receive “periodic automated text messages and calls on my mobile number from the DNC.”

The next items were my birthday and gender. I’m thinking they are going to tailor specific messages to specific people – if I had put down “female” my e-mail would be filled with items dealing with the so-called “war on women.” Older folks would certainly be given the usual scare tactics about cuts to Social Security and Medicare, although it’s likely their targeting is a little more sophisticated. It will be interesting in my case to see how messages change when I make it to a half-century next month and slide into a different age category.

The next item asked where I primarily got my news: internet news sites, newspapers and magazines, TV, social networks like Facebook or Twitter, e-mail, or friends and family. It’s surprising they ask this considering they cater to the low-information crowd.

Finally, they asked where I go for my updates on Democratic candidates and races: the DNC, local campaigns in my community, the state Democratic party, the DCCC (House Democrats), the DSCC (Senate Democrats), the Democratic Governors Association, or friends and family. Interestingly, the DNC Services Corporation didn’t include the local news or internet.

Obviously I get similar e-mails from the Republican side as well. But one thing they often ask for that these Democrats don’t are the issues I’m most interested in. To me, that would seem like a missed opportunity for the other side until you figure out that they are on the wrong side of practically everything, and often focus on issues of little actual importance: witness the whole “Redskins” name controversy, for example. If thousands of people came back and said we needed to do something about securing the border, those Democrats have no solution.

So they didn’t get anything else out of me: just name, rank, and serial number. Maybe “Barack Obama” needs to transform into a 25-year-old woman just to see what kind of soap they try to sell her.

More of the same

I let this go by in the midst of my series looking forward at 2014, but on Monday Change Maryland released yet another in a series of Chinese water torture-style droplets of allegations on Maryland’s “pay-to-play” political patronage system. $650,000 in contributions to a governor for a $4 million contract is a pretty good return on investment in anyone’s book.

There’s no doubt kudos are due to Change Maryland for finding and releasing this information, but my serious question is simple: how would they do things differently?

Listen, political corruption is not something restricted to Democrats in Maryland, although they seem to enjoy finding new methods to perfect the art. Give certain people the authority and lack of oversight to flout the rules and those certain people will be quick to slide their grimy fingers into the pie. I think that has less to do with the political party in power than it does a political philosophy, since there are likely a number of scoundrels inhabiting the Republican-controlled states of Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and so forth who are in the party just for the access to power it has.

I think people – for the most part – understand and agree these allegations are just the tip of the iceberg of a much larger problem endemic in Maryland and across the country. But what I’m missing here is Change Maryland’s prescribed solution, for it may take many forms, with the most likely cure coming from the aspect of campaign finance reforms. Sure, these may be necessary – but are they the real solution?

The problem to me isn’t in the health care exchanges, the bidding process for state contracts, or within any of the several other contributions noted by Change Maryland over the last couple weeks. It’s not even the “healthy and competitive two-party system” Hogan was quoted as wishing for during a previous release. I think it’s the very existence of a huge pot of money in Annapolis called the state government, an entity which has become so vastly bloated and too powerful for our own good. Shrink the size and scope of government and there’s less incentive to “pay-to-play.” I’m surprised Change Maryland is overlooking this simple solution, unless the idea is just to change the list of cronies benefitting – I damn sure hope for better than that out of a Hogan administration.

I would feel somewhat more comfortable that ne’er-do-wells would be less tempted by a $27 billion budget than a $37 billion one. There’s no way the state of Maryland, doing its legitimate functions, can subsist on no money at all but trimming back to essential functions is a first step in the cleanup process, long before any restrictions on campaign finance take hold. That’s a good way to change Maryland.

A radical proposal (or two)

I got to thinking the other day – yes, I know that can be a dangerous thing – about the 2014 electoral map for Maryland and an intriguing possibility.

Since State Senator E.J. Pipkin resigned a few months back, a sidebar to the story of his succession – as well as that of selecting a replacement for former Delegate Steve Hershey, who was elevated to replace Pipkin – is the fact that Caroline County is the lone county in the state without resident representation. However, with the gerrymandering done by the O’Malley administration to protect Democrats and punish opponents, it’s now possible the 2015 session could dawn with four – yes, four – counties unrepresented in that body based on the 2012 lines. Three of those four would be on the Eastern Shore, and would be a combination of two mid-Shore counties and Worcester County, with the fourth being Garrett County at the state’s far western end.

Granted, that scenario is highly unlikely and there is probably a better chance all 23 counties and Baltimore City will have at least one resident member of the General Assembly. But what if I had an idea which could eliminate that potential problem while bolstering the hands of the counties representing themselves in Annapolis?

The current composition of the Maryland Senate dates from 1972, a change which occurred in response to a 1964 Supreme Court decision holding that Maryland’s system of electing Senators from each county violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Furthermore, Marylanders had directly elected their state Senators long before the Seventeenth Amendment was passed in 1913. Over time, with these changes, the Senate has become just another extension of the House of Delegates, just with only a third of the membership.

So my question is: why not go back to the future and restore our national founders’ intent at the same time?

What if Maryland adopted a system where each county and Baltimore City were allotted two Senators, but those Senators weren’t selected directly by the voters? Instead, these Senators would be picked by the legislative body of each county or Baltimore City, which would give the state 48 Senators instead of 47. Any tie would be broken by the lieutenant governor similar to the way our national vice-president does now for the United States Senate.

Naturally the Democrats would scream bloody murder because it would eliminate their advantage in the state Senate; based on current county government and assuming each selects two members of their own party the Senate would be Republican-controlled. But that would also encourage more voting on local elections and isn’t that what Democrats want? It’s probably a better way to boost turnout than the dismal failure of “early and often” voting, which was supposed to cure the so-called ailment of poor participation.

If someone would argue to me that my proposal violates “one man, one vote” then they should stand behind the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment. How is it fair that I’m one of 2,942,241 people (poorly) represented by Ben Cardin or Barbara Mikulski while 283,206 people in Wyoming are far more capably represented by John Barasso or Mike Enzi? We have counties in Maryland more populous than Wyoming.

No one questions the function or Constitutionality of the U.S. Senate as a body, knowing it was part of a compromise between larger and smaller states in the era of our founding. It’s why we have a bicameral legislature which all states save one copied as a model. (Before you ask, Nebraska is the holdout.) What I’ve done is restored the intent of those who conceived the nation as a Constitutional republic with several balances of power.

But I’m not through yet. If the Senate idea doesn’t grab you, another thought I had was to rework the House of Delegates to assure each county has a representative by creating seats for a ratio of one per 20,000 residents. (This essentially equals the population of Maryland’s least-populated county, Kent County. Their county could be one single House district.) In future years, the divisor could reflect the population of the county with the least population.

The corollary to this proposal is setting up a system of districts which do not overlap county lines, meaning counties would subdivide themselves to attain one seat per every 20,000 of population, give or take. For my home county of Wicomico, this would translate into five districts and – very conveniently as it turns out – we already have five ready-drawn County Council districts which we could use for legislative districts. Obviously, other counties would have anywhere from 1 to 50 seats in the newly expanded House of Delegates. Even better, because the counties would have the self-contained districts, who better to draw them? They know best which communities have commonality.

Obviously in smaller counties, the task of drawing 2 or 3 districts would be relatively simple and straightforward. It may be a little more difficult in a municipality like Baltimore or a highly-populated area like Montgomery County, but certainly they could come up with tightly-drawn, contiguous districts.

And if you think a body of around 300 seats is unwieldy, consider the state of New Hampshire has 400 members in their lower house. Certainly there would be changes necessary in the physical plant because the number of Delegates and their attendant staff would be far larger, but on the whole this would restore more power to the people and restrict the edicts from on high in Annapolis.

Tonight I was listening to Jackie Wellfonder launch into a brief discussion of whether the Maryland Republican Party should adopt open primaries, an idea she’s leaning toward adopting – on the other hand, I think it’s nuts. In my estimation, though, these sorts of proposals are nothing more than tinkering around the edges – these ideas I’ve dropped onto the table like a load of bricks represent real change. I think they should be discussed as sincere proposals to truly make this a more Free State by restoring the balance of power between the people, their local government, and the state government in Annapolis.

A tough time for a challenger

The news hasn’t been kind to Democratic gubernatorial challenger Doug Gansler. Thought to be a frontrunner early on because of his massive financial war chest, buoyed in part from being unopposed in the 2010 election, he’s found his financial advantage diminished by the union of current Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who were the next two on the fiscal totem pole. The selection of Delegate Jolene Ivey as Gansler’s running mate won’t help much in that regard as she had only $32,754.59 in her coffers as of the last reporting period in January.

But a pair of scandals have done their part to cripple the Gansler effort. In the short span of a couple weeks we’ve learned that Doug Gansler fancies himself above the law insofar as driving regulations go and isn’t exactly practicing the anti-teenage drinking message he preaches, as evidenced by his involvement in a Delaware house party over the summer.

Now one can argue whether word of these imbroglios were planted by the rival campaign of Anthony Brown, which has the advantage of knowing where the bodies are buried thanks to the current officeholder and Brown supporter, Martin O’Malley. One can also question whether this will end up being a fatal blow to the Gansler campaign, and if so, when. Considering the polls have Gansler 20 points behind at this stage, the odds are against Doug being the nominee.

My purpose this evening, though, is to provide my thoughts on answers to these and other questions.

First of all, if there is weakness from Gansler being sensed by those in Democratic circles, I would interpret this as a signal that could bring Second District Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger into the race; indeed, he’s now talking about an announcement around Thanksgiving. Much has been made about the absence of a Baltimore-area politician from the race for the first time in decades, and the argument for his entry is bolstered by Gansler’s foibles.

My theory about a four-person race being too much for a Republican primary is also true for Democrats, but the current dynamic there for 2014 is much different because one candidate (Heather Mizeur) is polling far weaker than any of the would-be GOP contenders in their race, at least according to the unscientific polls which are publicly available for the Republican contest. I suspect Mizeur would soldier on just to make a statement, but should Dutch jump in he would likely become the strong #2 in the gubernatorial race with a Baltimore base which recalls his executive experience and push Gansler to third.

There’s another side to the story, though. Given the situation in Maryland – or any other state controlled by one party for a significant length of time – the road to the top is generally set in a manner of “wait your turn.” Yet in Maryland the lieutenant governor has never succeeded his boss (although our first modern LG, Blair Lee III, served as acting governor in the late 1970s when then-Governor Marvin Mandel was incapacitated by a stroke.) Lee, though, lost in the 1978 Democratic primary, as did Melvin Steinberg in 1994. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend made it one step further, winning the 2002 Democratic primary but losing in the general election to Bob Ehrlich. So Brown is running against history despite the fact the skids are seemingly being greased for his ascendancy.

Thus, when statewide positions open up in such a situation, there are normally a number of ambitious politicians who jump at the chance for the brass ring. Once the Martin O’Malley/Anthony Brown ticket won the 2010 election, with Gansler and Peter Franchot securing re-election as Attorney General and Comptroller, respectively, the state was set for a contentious 2014 as all were thought to be possibly running for the open seat as governor. Franchot diffused some of that energy by opting to remain as Comptroller, but one other statewide prize still remained.

At this point there are four main Democratic contenders for Attorney General, all of whom currently serve in the General Assembly from what would nominally be considered safe seats. So what would happen if Doug Gansler decided to drop his bid for governor and revert to the job he already holds? Chances are that he wouldn’t do this, but if Doug did there would be a lot of angry Democrats cascading back down the line to General Assembly seats they would rather vacate for a higher office. Gansler would probably find himself in a contested AG primary with his opponents using the same information gathered against him in the governor’s race.

The second reason this wouldn’t happen, though, is the chance that Gansler survives the AG primary but faces an actual Republican opponent this time around. There’s no way the Maryland Democratic Party wants those damaged goods on a statewide ballot because that photo of Doug Gansler standing in the middle of teenage revelers would be seen 2 or 3 times an hour. Someone would make sure of that.

The key to holding a one-party state is having the opportunity to move up the food chain, and those who would succeed would-be statewide officers are counting on those veterans taking their shot. Losing control of one or more statewide offices would certainly cramp the Democrats’ style, since they’re accustomed to being treated like political royalty. And while multi-candidate primaries are okay for seats which open up due to term limits, Democrats seem to prefer to unify behind one candidate when the rare necessity of taking a statewide Republican seat opens up – for instance, Martin O’Malley was the only main Democratic gubernatorial contender in 2006. The state party did all sorts of gymnastics to try and avoid a divisive primary there, including an unsuccessful bid to move that year’s primary up to June; fortunately for them then-Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan abruptly exited the race days before the filing deadline and ceded the nomination to O’Malley.

If you add up all the General Assembly members, county executives, and other muckety-mucks in the Democratic party – who feel, of course, that they are entitled to statewide positions in perpetuity – there are a whole lot of ambitious politicians and only six such posts available (governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, attorney general, and 2 Senators). So the thought of Doug Gansler being damaged goods may well terrify Maryland Democrats enough to convince him that a nice four- to eight-year sabbatical to rehabilitate his image may be in order.

Bridging the gap

Sitting here and catching up from what was an extremely busy week (with next week promising more of the same) I had something of an “aha!” moment – not to be confused with the ’80s pop band by the way – where two seemingly disparate pieces of information just clicked together.

Let’s examine piece number one, shall we? For days (or is it months, or years? I sense a continuing theme here) Maryland Republicans have been divided into a number of camps, tribes which rarely come together except on a small handful of issues. In the last year, I think resistance to Martin O’Malley’s draconian Second Amendment upheaval (legally and laughingly officially known as the Firearm Safety Act of 2013) was about the only issue drawing universal resistance from Republicans, and even then they parted on how best to fight its enactment, whether through the court system of via referendum. In the end, the court system won out but, as it stands, in a month the law will take effect.

In the meantime, we couldn’t even get the GOP to vote as a group against Martin O’Malley’s bloated budget – yet we call ourselves the party of fiscal responsibility? I understand our alternative budget is DOA in the General Assembly, but at least put up a united front against O’Malley’s principles.

The long introduction I just completed leads me into an Examiner post by J. Doug Gill, where he takes a long look at how the party has been divided since the Ehrlich era of 2003-07.  This “bare knuckle brawl for irrelevancy” makes a number of valid points, although I don’t agree with its somewhat pessimistic outlook for the future. As Gill notes:

Any citizen of Maryland who has had it up to their well-spelunked pockets wants a strong, vibrant and relevant opposition party – and there are untold numbers who don’t care if it’s the Republican Party, the Libertarian Party, or the Tupperware Party.

The sooner some entity – any entity – sorts itself out and provides a credible opposition to the Democrats the better for all of us – including our friends on the left whose bank accounts are just as empty as ours – well, save for the union leaders and cronies and appointees, and, well, you get the picture…

But right now, and in its current incarnation, the only thing the Maryland Republican Party has learned from history is that they never learn anything from history.

Yet it’s not just about credible opposition – it’s also about creating a choice. This is something the majority party won’t do.

There was something about this Ballotpedia report which caught my eye. See if you can spot it, too – I’ll give you a moment and even put in a page break for the fun of it.

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