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

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 

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 

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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50,000 strong – but where does it go?

Last week, in another story sort of buried in the runup to the Tawes event, the fine folks at Change Maryland hit the 50,000 “like” mark on Facebook. (Today it appears they have surpassed 51,000.) It bears recalling that in the spring of 2012 they were just at 12,000 – although I noted at the time their cake was much more optimistic. Perhaps by the spring convention of 2014 that extra zero will come in handy.

It seems the rule of thumb is that their membership grew in year two at a rate twice as fast as it did in Change Maryland’s first year – if this continues they would be in the 115,000 range by this time next year. But is that too optimistic of a goal?

The bread and butter of Change Maryland has been its strident opposition of Martin O’Malley’s numerous tax hikes and pointing out his incompetence at job creation, especially when compared to peer states. But having covered many of those revenue enhancements now – and knowing 2014 is an election year for his anointed successor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown – the process of raising taxes may come to a halt. Bear in mind as well that most of O’Malley’s increases are now occurring automatically like clockwork; for example, the sales tax charged on gasoline increases in July during both 2014 and 2015.

A second item affecting Hogan’s organization is a change in personnel. Jim Pettit, who worked with Change Maryland during its run to 50,000, recently joined the campaign of gubernatorial candidate David Craig. Perhaps this is a good time for a transition, knowing that much of the issue advocacy occurs during and immediately after the General Assembly session, but I don’t discount the experience Pettit brought to the table. He’s been replaced by Matt Proud, who has plenty of political experience for a youngster and may bring some youthful enthusiasm to the effort, but will still need a little time to transition into the task.

But what does having 50,000 Facebook followers really mean? Change Maryland explains:

(Change Maryland) has built a dominating presence on social media with more people engaged online than the Maryland Democratic Party, the Maryland Republican Party and all of the potential statewide candidates of either party, added together. Change Maryland’s Facebook page has a total weekly reach of over 341,153 people. No other citizen group in the state has ever accomplished what Change Maryland has, in just over two years.

So they are influencing over 300,000 people of all political stripes with a fiscally conservative message. But will founder Larry Hogan upset the apple cart by making his own bid for Governor? Hogan was coy at Tawes, being quoted in an AP story as noting:

I just think it’s very, very early to be here in the hot, dog days of July the year before the election to be out campaigning. At some point, we might have to take a serious look at it. I don’t think we would do that for quite some time, though.

The way I interpret that is the question of whether Michael Steele jumps into the race later on. None of the others on the GOP side could reasonably be interpreted as Bob Ehrlich loyalists in the way Hogan or Steele would be.

In some respects Hogan is faced with a similar question Newt Gingrich faced in 2008: fresh off the formation of American Solutions, Newt had to decide whether to jump into the presidential race or continue to grow his group. He eventually decided to take a pass on the 2008 race, choosing to maintain his American Solutions leadership role. Conversely, once Newt decided to enter the 2012 presidential race his group withered on the vine.

If Change Maryland becomes interpreted as a campaign entity for Larry Hogan’s gubernatorial bid, its influence would wane. But if Hogan becomes a kingmaker of sorts, using his organization to promote candidates with a fiscally responsible track record in the same manner Sarah Palin lends her hand to certain conservative hopefuls on a national scale (such as Dan Bongino) he could retain his following and influence the 2014 election up and down the line.

There’s no question Maryland needs a change from the liberal philosophy dragging the state down, and Hogan’s group is succeeding in getting out the message. The next step is motivating these disciples to action, and we won’t know the success of that mission until November of 2014.

The declaration of (courting) independents

It doesn’t seem like this issue will ever die.

You might recall that after our Maryland GOP Spring Convention earlier this year I posted a piece critiquing the thoughts of Don Murphy, a former Delegate and longtime party activist who has been fighting a crusade for many years to open up the Republican primary to unaffiliated voters, perhaps with the idea of welcoming them to the party eventually. His reasoning seemed sound: a number of like-minded Northeastern states open their primaries because they have a plurality of unaffiliated voters.

But the MDGOP appears to be interested in revisiting the process, as Erin Cox writes in the Baltimore Sun, and it may set us up for yet another contentious convention this fall in Annapolis. And while Brian Griffiths uses the evidence of past election results in his post on Red Maryland today, I honestly believe that’s a little bit of a red herring argument.

In Maryland today, the registration numbers lay out as follows (from the June report):

  • Democrats: 2,073,619 (55.6%)
  • Republicans: 959,120 (25.7%)
  • minor parties – Libertarian, Green, Americans Elect, and other unrecognized: 59,644 (1.6%)
  • unaffiliated: 636,716 (17.1%)

Four years ago at the same point in the cycle, the percentages weren’t a lot different. There are now 300,000 more voters in Maryland, but numerically they line up similarly:

  • Democrats: 1,942,336 (56.9%)
  • Republicans: 909,848 (26.7%)
  • minor parties and other unrecognized: 80,034 (2.3%)
  • unaffiliated: 478,817 (14.0%)

A number of the unaffiliated are likely former Independents, which is no longer a separate category.

And I’m sure some fret that eventually the unaffiliated will catch up to the Republicans – a 3% gain every four years coupled with a 1% loss in Republicans would put that date sometime early next decade. My contention, however, is that there are a significant proportion of Democrats who are so because their primary is the only race they can vote on.

But opening up the GOP primary to unaffiliated voters isn’t going to be enough of a draw for voters who have no local Republican candidates on the ballot for whom to vote. For example, in Prince George’s County’s 2010 primary – perhaps the most unbalanced in the state – once you departed the federal and statewide races there were exactly zero contested GOP races at the legislative level and just two local races (both for Central Committee seats) where the GOP had more contenders than winners. I admire the Prince George’s GOP for their efforts (my “partner in crime” Heather Olsen hails from there) but what would help them more than anything are candidates willing to stand up and hoist the GOP banner. Allowing unaffiliated voters into the GOP primary wouldn’t change the game.

Now I’m sure those who favor the idea will argue I used the most extreme example. Yet even if every single voter not connected with the Democratic Party decided to become a Republican, AND we could attract the 10 percent or so of Democrats statewide who are affiliated that way because their daddy was a Democrat but vote straight-ticket Republican – we’re still a minority. Barely, but still looking at a deficit and up against the hardcore elements of a power-drunk party.

Personally, though, I think the idea seems to come up when the Republicans are threatening to run conservative candidates for office. When I was living in Ohio, their Republican Party always seemed to anoint the most moderate candidate and overtly try and eliminate any more conservative primary competition for that person. And what did we get? Sixteen years of ruining the Republican brand with tax-and-spend governors, particularly Bob Taft. (Unfortunately, John Kasich isn’t doing much better now that he’s been spooked by the unions.)

Here in Maryland, the talk of opening up the primary died down when Bob Ehrlich won and through the three cycles where he was the all-but-endorsed choice of the Maryland GOP apparatus there was no chatter about adding unaffiliated voters to the mix. But now that we have a more spirited competition between several good candidates, the powers-that-be are presumably trying to make sure the most moderate, “electable” candidate prevails. As a conservative, pro-liberty Marylander who would like to see a governor tell the Democrats it’s his way or the highway, I would like a leader and not someone who sticks his finger up to see which way the wind is blowing. Mitt Romney and John McCain were supposed to be “electable” in a way that Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, et. al. were not.

If unaffiliated voters want to vote in a primary, it’s very easy to change your registration to Republican. Get good candidates worth voting for and they will come.

Update: A non-scientific poll by Jackie Wellfonder at Raging Against the Rhetoric found that support was perfectly mixed: 44% for, 44% against, and 12% undecided out of 75 who responded.

Divided parties

Over the last few weeks the media has reveled in the divisions which became apparent in the Maryland Republican Party, first in the party chairman race which was only decided on the second ballot and later with an upheaval in House of Delegates leadership which I’m told succeeded by a two-vote margin – Nic Kipke actually only won a plurality of the 43 House members (but a slim majority of those present.)

But there is new leadership in both entities and folks seem satisfied with the final result, at least insofar as the Maryland GOP leadership is concerned because the runner-up in the race for Chair won the consolation prize of 1st Vice-Chair. Incidentally, for the first time in my memory, both Diana Waterman and Collins Bailey will be sworn in at an event outside the convention setting as they will jointly be sworn in May 13 in Annapolis. (Key question: will bloggers be invited to the “media appreciation lunch” afterward? I guess my invite was lost in the mail.)

So the GOP is more or less united and ready to do battle. But what of the Democrats? Well, they seem to have hit a little snag, which was mentioned in more detail at my Politics in Stereo counterpart on the left, Maryland Juice.

On Friday the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee hosts their annual Spring Ball, which, like a Lincoln or Reagan Day Dinner for local Republicans, serves as a key fundraiser and a chance for party faithful to hear from a number of local elected officials and a keynote speaker. But their event is threatened as a fundraiser because a number of prominent Democrats are boycotting the event. Why?

I’ll pass along the explanation from the Washington DC Metro Council of the AFL-CIO:

Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown and the Montgomery County Young Democrats are among those who have announced that they’re honoring a boycott of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee’s May 11 Spring Ball. The metro Washington-area labor movement is boycotting – and picketing – the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee’s Spring Ball because the Committee took a position in favor of the 2012 Question B referendum, which took away the police union’s right to bargain the effects of management decisions.

But I nearly spit up my drink when I read this line, from UFCW 1994 president Gino Renne:

Labor will not tolerate being treated as an ATM and foot soldiers for a party which is often indifferent – and sometimes openly hostile – to working families in Montgomery County.

As the Republicans often seem to ask the pro-liberty movement, where else are you guys going to go? Trust me, they will have this ironed out in plenty of time to give extorted union dues and “representation fees” to those Democrats in Montgomery County and elsewhere in the state. The point will be made at this event, but like any other “family business” they’ll come to an understanding and things will be quietly made whole at a later time when the heat is off.

I find it quite amusing, though, that members and candidates from the party which regularly chastises Republicans for signing an Americans for Tax Reform pledge to not raise taxes or kowtowing to the National Rifle Association on gun issues scurry like cockroaches once it’s learned they would have to cross a picket line to attend a party event. It would be interesting to see how many people brave the picket line (if one occurs; perhaps the threat was enough to make the point) and attend the Spring Ball. I’ve seen Big Labor when it feels slighted, so the question might be whether there will be more people inside the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel or picketing outside.

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