Helpful aid to democracy, or invitation to fraud?

I was alerted to a bill that was pre-filed regarding automatic voter registration for Marylanders, only to find that there are actually three up for consideration this year.

SB11, introduced by Senator Roger Manno of Montgomery County, and SB19, introduced by Senator Victor Ramirez of Prince George’s County, were both requested for pre-filing over the summer. While neither has been withdrawn, it appears that the two have joined forces with SB350 and gained 18 other co-sponsors from the liberal Democratic wing of the Maryland Senate.

Currently someone who wishes to register to vote has a number of options: most can do so online, although there is the route of doing so at the state MVA. However, this is an opt-in system and apparently it’s not good enough for those backing this bill as they want it to become an “opt-out” system where would-be voters would have 21 days to notify the state board that they do not want to be registered. Obviously these Democrats are counting on people to ignore the notice and be added to the voter rolls.

Those who favor “good government” and honest elections have their concerns about “opt-out” registration, but even more troubling is a proposal in Montgomery County to allow non-citizens and 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections. As it was passed by the county’s delegation, this proposed amendment to the Maryland Constitution will soon be introduced as legislation. The Maryland Voter Alliance has urged concerned citizens to help defeat this measure, stating that:

MC 25-16 must not be allowed to pass, as it will continue to muddy the rolls and flood the already-plagued system with additional ineligible individuals, particularly non-citizens and underage voters, which both are violations of state and federal law.

Of course, the proponents will protest that it’s only for local school board elections, but this is the camel’s nose under the tent for expanding the practice. Just imagine the uproar if we in the city of Salisbury passed a voter ID bill for city elections – you can bet your bottom dollar it would be taken to court by someone like the ACLU and groups from all over the country would become involved in our local issue. (Not that such a common-sense bill would pass our City Council or be supported by our mayor.)

Voting is a right, and I would love it if 100% of the population took the time to become informed on the issues and candidates and took the elections seriously. (If they did, I contend there wouldn’t be anyone left of center elected in the country.) But millions who are registered choose not to participate, and millions more have their reasons for not registering. If we get universal registration, what’s to stop the party in power from allocating the ballots of some of these voters who may not even be aware they are registered, casting votes in their name because they - and only they – know what’s good for them?

Yet if that doesn’t arrest the long-term decline in overall participation – a percentage that would only get worse with universal registration – the next step will be compulsory voting, with legal penalties for not participating. In other words, welcome to North Korea. I wonder who would win then? It sure wouldn’t be the supporters of limited government.

I suspect that these two pieces of legislation will be approved by the General Assembly, and it will be incumbent upon Governor Hogan to veto them. We have heard the discussion about this year being the session that lays the groundwork for the Democrats’ strategy to get “their” governor’s seat back in 2018, and one of these tactics was to make Hogan veto bills that Democrats can demagogue with certain voters. This would be one of them; however, he should still veto these bills.

My first vote

Surely you follow my site and know that each year, once the General Assembly session is over, I compile the monoblogue Accountability Project. Last year I believe I mentioned that some of the bills that I tracked were vetoed by Larry Hogan but would likely be revisited by this year’s group – sure enough, the “travel tax” was passed for a second time despite the efforts of every Republican who stood behind his or her governor. Even Senator Addie Eckardt, who co-sponsored the original bill, voted to sustain the veto.

That was one of the two bills I used for last year’s mAP. The other bill, which allows felons to vote before completing their sentences (as parole and probation are part of the sentence) has not received a veto vote yet. According to the Maryland House Republican Caucus, the reason why is that Mike Miller is one vote short and waiting for an appointee to replace former Senator Karen Montgomery, who resigned effective January 1. Given the fact Democrats hold a 32-14 edge and will get the 33rd vote when Montgomery is replaced, it appears four Democrats are feeling the pressure to stand with the governor. (If I were to guess I would say three of those four are John Astle, Jim Brochin, and Jim Mathias. They tend to be the most willing to cross the aisle in the Senate and represent conservative districts.)

Assuming the Senate gets that vote – and it won’t happen if Miller can’t rustle up the votes – that will be 2 of my 25 votes. I’m debating whether to eliminate one committee vote and one floor vote or two floor votes to accommodate these veto votes – it may depend on what else shakes out.

The felon voting override was particularly galling because it made it by one vote, and the one member of the Eastern Shore delegation who voted to override should have known better. Perhaps a “soft on crime” label will come in handy in four years because Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes won’t have an incumbent to protect her next time. It was an office that should never have received the free ride she got in 2014.

Next week’s assignment will be to get testimony in favor of our elected school board bill. Those of us who do honest work for a living can’t drop everything and go to Annapolis, but I will make it a point to write up my own statement of support. The hope is that the bill emerges unmolested and we get to decide how we want our school board to be come November.

The 67 percent solution

At 12:01 on Tuesday morning, the Maryland Democratic Party probably had a collective conniption when they found out how much damage they would have to do to Larry Hogan over the next three years in order to get “their” governor’s chair back.

That was the moment that the latest Gonzales Research Maryland Poll came off its embargo and revealed two key points that probably keep whoever is in charge of that party awake at night. In a state which features voter registration numbers 2-to-1 in their favor, even a plurality of Democrats think Republican Larry Hogan is doing a good job. (If five more Democrats had stated in the affirmative there would have a majority – as it was, 48% is a good number.) Meanwhile, 52% of those same Democrats think the state is heading in the right direction.

Overall, a whopping 67 percent of respondents approved either somewhat or strongly the job Larry Hogan is doing as governor, with a paltry 19 percent disapproving. While the margin is only 48-31 as far as Democrats are concerned, it’s that same coalition that propelled him to the governorship.

Yet the Democrats have played with fire a little bit by overriding several of Governor Hogan’s vetoes. It seems to be their priority to make life more difficult (and taxing) for travel agents and allowing felons to vote prior to completing their sentences. The ball will now be in Hogan’s court for his legislative agenda, which didn’t really fare all that well last year.

It’s obvious people like the job Larry is doing, so maybe he needs to get a little more of a bully pulpit. Imagine what his approval could reach if he got a little more Reaganesque with his tax cut proposals. Let’s make Mike and Mike (Busch and Miller) look like the obstructionists they are. I don’t want to predict we can bury the Democrats face down come 2018, but they do deserve a few shovelfuls of dirt for the damage they did to the state over the term of the guy who gets a pathetic 4.5% of the Maryland Democratic presidential primary vote.

The next step in the process

The half-decade or more process of securing a Board of Education in Wicomico County that’s directly elected by the people entered a new chapter late last week with the introduction of the appropriate legislation in the Maryland General Assembly. Senate Bill 145, with Senator Jim Mathias as lead sponsor and Addie Eckardt as co-sponsor, provides for the makeup of the board as well as a three-way referendum to be placed on this November’s ballot. It’s a relatively complex 16-page bill, subdivided into several sections because the sections which would actually become law are dependent on the results of the referendum.

To make a long story short, voters would face three choices in November, from which they can only select one:

  • FOR a Board of Education with seven members appointed by the Governor;
  • FOR a Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members elected at-large;
  • FOR a Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members appointed by County Council.

The method with the most votes wins, regardless of whether it is a majority or plurality.

SB145 was assigned to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs (EHEA) Committee and given a relatively quick hearing date of Wednesday, January 27. The EHEA committee has 10 members and is led by Chair Senator Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City and Vice-Chair Paul Pinsky of Prince George’s County. Other Democratic members are Cheryl Kagan of Montgomery County, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam of Baltimore County, Jim Rosapepe of Prince George’s County, and Ronald Young of Frederick County, while Republicans Gail Bates of Howard County, Johnny Ray Salling of Baltimore County, Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel County, and Steve Waugh of Calvert County also sit on the committee.

At the present time it’s the smallest committee with just 10 members (and a slim 6-4 Democratic advantage) because there’s one vacancy in the Senate. At some point it’s presumed that a Montgomery County Democrat will join the committee to be its eleventh member, but the bill will likely have its hearing and committee vote by then. (Former District 14 Senator Karen Montgomery resigned as of January 1.)

An interesting note regarding the makeup of the committee is that Conway and Simonaire represent counties with appointed boards, while Pinsky, Nathan-Pulliam, Rosapepe, and Salling represent counties with hybrid boards. Moreover, none of these committee members represent the Eastern Shore. It’s worth noting as well that Conway was the chair of EHEA when Caroline County got its hybrid board. It was Senator Conway, who represents a district several counties and a completely different way of life away, that deemed that Caroline County didn’t have sufficient minority representation with a fully-elected board, so if the initial all-elected option is scrubbed for Wicomico it’s likely her doing. (This despite the fact we have one majority-minority County Council district and two others with significant minority populations, out of five.)

So the goal is to make sure this bill gets through without being tampered with, but that will be difficult since we don’t have a local representative on the board. And remember: last year when we had a bill for a hybrid board, their excuse for stopping it was that only one of the two Senators were supporting it. Now both are sponsors, and thanks to the public hearings we know that a lot of support was there for the all-elected option as one of three choices. Anything less is a disservice to the people of Wicomico County.

Let the terror begin

For years I have dubbed the annual Maryland General Assembly session the “90 days of terror,” and with good reason: no wallet or personal liberty is safe when the statists who inhabit most of the seats therein get together. Over the eight years of the previous two terms we endured tax increases, spending boondoggles, and enough new regulations to choke a horse, not to mention three measures which were petitioned to referendum by angry citizens.

While a new broom swept the governor’s office clean last year, Larry Hogan needed to get his sea legs under him as he took the helm of the ship of state so he didn’t create a huge legislative agenda last year – in a broad sense, it was about easing some of the tax burden Marylanders had been subjected to over the O’Malley administration, including repeals of the rain tax and automatic increases in the gasoline tax. Other items Hogan focused on were charter school reform and public campaign financing, which were among the few items Hogan had passed.

So since Hogan didn’t get his tax relief last year, it’s the front and center item on his 2016 agenda that kicks off later today. Democrats, of course, believe shoveling money into a bloated public education system is more important than giving hard-working Marylanders a tax break.

Something else to keep an eye on, though, are the department-sponsored bills, which now will bear the stamp of Hogan’s departmental appointees. Just like the governor, this is their first full legislative session as well and I’ve noticed a number of interesting measures coming from various departments that have already been pre-filed.

But the tension will be thick as Hogan tries to enact the agenda he promised while Democrats strive to make sure he’s another one-term Republican governor. As of 2018, it will have been 64 years since a Republican was re-elected as Maryland governor; however, Hogan has began his term as one of the most popular governors in the country and this session will occur with the backdrop of a Presidential race in which the Democrats aren’t utterly sold on their potential nominee. (Tellingly, the previous governor couldn’t even be a “favorite son” Presidential nominee from his own state.) In a contest over pocketbook issues, Hogan may have the public on his side.

We will know quickly just how the session will go as several of Hogan’s vetoes will be up for override. This was a rarity in the previous administration, but it’s worth recalling that the Democrats didn’t give Bob Ehrlich much of a honeymoon so I expect there to be at least one Hogan veto rebuffed. Democrats want to raise taxes, give felons the right to vote before completing their full sentences, make some reforms on civil forfeiture, and decriminalize marijuana paraphernalia. Out of those four vetoes, only the civil forfeiture bill originally had enough House votes to override a veto.

On a local level, we will be very interested to see what becomes of our elected school board bill. Will this finally be the year the state relents and lets the voters of Wicomico County decide its fate?

With a projection that we will have a large increase in filings over last session, it should be a year worth watching. I suspect I will have a difficult time keeping it to just the 25 votes I use for the monoblogue Accountability Project given that the veto votes will likely be included. But with a little help from my friends I look forward to the challenge.

Lame duck hunting season?

I normally don’t go into great detail when it comes to internal Central Committee business, but I had already broached the subject when I covered the recent Maryland GOP convention. Moreover, I’m a representative of the county GOP voters so I think it’s only fair to bring my thoughts and opinions on this particular subject out to the public, as it will be debated in the General Assembly and eventually affect the representation of all Republicans in the state. Here Republicans have a forum for response should they choose to.

In the Executive Committee meeting we had as part of our November convention, Senator Bryan Simonaire went over his proposal to change the date new Central Committee members are sworn in. More recently he sent a letter to Central Committee members asking for their input. Simonaire stated in his letter that the change in inauguration of Central Committee members dates from the mid-1980s, when the period was changed from about a week after the primary (then held in September) to after the November election (as it has remained.) With the change in our primary date from September to late June, it leaves a long lame duck period for those who chose not to run or were defeated for re-election. Bryan seems to think the will of the voters was expressed in June and should be reflected more quickly.

In a perfect world, the primary would not have been moved back quite so far – to me, a mid-August primary date would have been appropriate for the federal regulations and better compressed the political season. But we are stuck with late June and the five-month interim between election and swearing-in.

Yet this doesn’t bother me for two reasons. First of all, voters in the many districts where one party or the other is either unopposed or has token opposition already have to wait from June to January for new representation. A local example was Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes, who won her seat when no one stepped up to challenge her (granted, the incumbent waited until immediately after the filing deadline to withdraw and leave her as the only candidate in the race.) She was the Delegate-in-waiting for most of a year before she actually took office.

Secondly, and corollary to this, is the theory that most of the campaign experience comes from those who had been in office for the prior three-plus years. We recruited the candidates and had given them advice and support, experience which a new member might not have. Simonaire points out that the majority of those who seek re-election win, but speaking as a member of the minority that didn’t I was glad my term extended through the November election. It allowed us to bring the new members up to speed, giving them a little bit of on-the-job training for the next cycle. On our group we only turned over three people, with two choosing not to run and one losing in the primary.

When we elect people assuming they will serve from the beginning of a term or session it seems a little unfair to stagger the terms of the Central Committee members that far off the remaining state political offices. We may be elected in the primary, but the idea is to be the representatives of the Republican Party and the job of the Central Committee is to help elect Republicans.

Given how the state runs its electoral cycle, and even though it defies logic to some extent, I think we should keep things the way they are.

A look ahead: 2016 in Maryland

Now that I made my thoughts on the fate of Wicomico County next year known, it’s time to expand the focus to the state as a whole. After the runup to the 2014 campaign and the transition of last year occupied the state over the last two years, it seems that the political class has settled in as we enter the second year of Larry Hogan’s term. His honeymoon was extended to some degree by his cancer diagnosis, but with a clean bill of health I suspect the gloves will be coming off as far as statewide Democrats are concerned. They need to position themselves for both the 2018 state election and, in some cases, the 2016 election as well. The surprise retirement announcement from Senator Barb Mikulski placed several Congressional Democrats into the race to succeed her, with House members Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen leading the charge. Elijah Cummings is also considering the race as well.

Of course, having these vacancies means ambitious state politicians are eyeing a move from Annapolis to Washington. So far five Democrats are considering the move, which in turn could create some vacancies by year’s end as it’s likely some of them emerge victorious. But on a policy note, these Democrats aren’t going to run from the political center so look for a serious turn to the left from the General Assembly this year – particularly if they succeed at overturning some of Larry Hogan’s 2015 vetoes in the opening days of this year’s session.

One place where Hogan can make a difference, though, is on the regulatory front. He doesn’t always need the General Assembly to make progress toward his goal of a more business-competitive Maryland, so look for him to try and do some pruning through his department heads.

With the economy recovering ever-so-slightly and the state addressing the structural deficit to the degree that it ran a small surplus this fiscal year, another bone of contention will be how the state’s budget is set up when it comes out next month. Having reached $40 billion last year, even the $500 million reportedly in surplus only allows the state to increase spending by a little over 1 percent – of course, the Democrats have a wish list twice that large and then some. Being used to the 4 to 5 percent annual budget increases common during the O’Malley era, Democrats consider Hogan’s smaller increases as cuts and that attitude is already in effect as we get ready to see the FY2017 budget.

Conservatives, though, probably aren’t going to see a lot of progress toward cutting the O’Malley excess on other issues. Short of a rejection to Maryland’s 2013 gun law in federal court (not likely), Hogan isn’t going to push very hard to restore Second Amendment rights or bring more school choice to the state. In year one, Hogan hasn’t really used his bully pulpit very much – granted, he was ill and undergoing cancer treatment for a large portion of the year but if you’re expecting Hogan to be another Ronald Reagan you may be disappointed. Besides the toll and fee decreases we were given last year, there’s not been much of a push for overall tax relief either thanks to the continuing structural deficit that Hogan’s predecessors have granted to him.

To the extent that Maryland has a large majority of Democratic voters, perhaps the best a conservative can expect is to slow down the leftward slide into the abyss. Bringing real change to the state is perhaps a multiple-term effort – not just the two Hogan may be fortunate enough to receive, but also with the hope that he paves the way for a more conservative successor. With the exception of one Bob Ehrlich term, the state has shifted leftward more or less continuously for decades so it will take time to undo the damage.

With the national election and the real prospect of conservative change in mind, the Maryland Republican agenda should be one of working the state away from its reliability on Uncle Sam as both employer and provider of funding. Since the Democrats are going to make 2016 about laying some ticking time bombs to go off just in time for them to come save the day in 2018, the GOP needs a plan to defuse them.

Maryland probably won’t make the same kind of news in 2016 as it did in 2015 – given the Baltimore riots and tremendous murder rate, we sure hope not. But the year has a lot of potential for this state, in my opinion more so than we’ve had in a decade. Leadership will be the key: if Larry Hogan emerges as the leader, we should be all right. But Heaven help us if it’s one of those on the loony left.

WCRC meeting – November 2015

November 24, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

We didn’t have the biggest crowd on a Thanksgiving week, but Delegate Christopher Adams made his points during the final scheduled WCRC meeting of 2015.

Adams was down the agenda this time, as we chose to do our usual opening routine with the exception of me giving the treasurer’s report for the absent Deb Okerblom. We slotted the Central Committee report first, which meant Mark McIver could detail the “huge success” of the Lincoln Day Dinner.

McIver chalked up the success to a couple factors: good profit from the silent auction and the use of several database lists – and 150 hand-written personal invitations – to target our advertising.

Briefly going over the state convention, McIver detailed how we heard from the three leading Republican U.S. Senate candidates. Ann Suthowski chimed in that Muir Boda was mentioned twice during the convention for his success and Mark Edney did a good job explaining the succession by-laws amendment. The Salisbury University College Republicans were also mentioned as part of the state CR report for co-hosting the Lincoln Day Dinner.

McIver also announced he would host a joint club and Central Committee Christmas Party next month.

Finally, we heard from Delegate Adams. He was pleased to see the change in government in Salisbury, which he said has more sway than he does locally.

Adams noted that with $20 trillion in debt, it was likely the GOP would win this year’s election. He suggested they make cuts to the “fourth branch,” as cost-saving measures.

In Maryland, Adams continued, the Augustine Commission determined that federal spending accounted for 25% of the state’s GDP, so government cuts would affect Maryland disproportionately. The state needed to develop an “entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he added.

Most of Chris’s message dealt with legislation he was introducing to allow counties to opt out of sprinkler system requirements once again. It’s something they’ve been asking for, Adams added, but they were up against a powerful firefighter lobby. Adams noted he had a meeting slated with the state!s deputy fire marshal.

Yet the $5 to $7 per square foot cost for a small, affordable home was one that couldn’t be added to the value. Mandates like this are putting new homes out of reach for young families,

He explained that the 2012 International Residential Code had this mandate, but prior to last year counties were allowed to opt out. Taking back local control “has to be a grassroots effort,” said Adams, and it requires action on a local level.

Adams was asked if many new home builders voluntarily put in sprinklers, but few did. He added that some states prohibit the mandate, including several neighboring states.

Mark McIver noted that the state was “taking away the American Dream…it’s bankrupting the younger generation.”

Adams was also asked about sprinker systems affect insurance rates. He believe they made little difference in the rates, because alleviating the fire risk was balanced against the leaking and water damage potential.

Finally, Adams was asked about last year’s bill, introduced by Delegate Jeff Ghrist, to address this. He noted it was late-filed, so it never got a hearing. His bill is pre-filed.

Christopher concluded by announcing he has a unique fundraiser at the OC Hilton December 12 and 13. You would get 2 nights’ stay and lunch with special guest Bob Ehrlich for one price.

Since we had a number of other state legislators in attendance, we got brief updates.

Carl Anderton spoke with Delaware officials, trying to get their perspective on agricultural issues. He also has a fundraiser coming up at the Delmar VFW on December 3.

Johnny Mautz believed “this year will be different than last year” in the General Assembly, with “a lot of activity.” Federal campaigns will drive some of that activity, so it would be up to Eastern Shore Republicans to kill bad bills as they could.

Addie Eckardt thought it would get “testy,” with pressure to spend our new-found surplus on items that were cut from last year’s budget. The idea was not to let ourselves get splintered, she concluded.

All in all, it was a nice little pre-session update – and timely, since we won’t meet again until after the session starts in January. To be exact, the WCRC will reconvene on January 25, 2016.

The lab of democracy

November 10, 2015 · Posted in Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

You wouldn’t think much about South Dakota, which is a state squarely in flyover country and fated to be close by – but not the center of – several economic, cultural, political, and geographic phenomena. It lies just off the booming North Dakota oil fields, dosen’t have a major league pro sports team like neighboring Minnesota does, misses the campaign excitement of Iowa just across the Big Sioux River, and is one state east of the majesty of the Rocky Mountains.

Yet South Dakota has one neighbor that it’s trying to emulate, and the impetus behind that is, in part, from a candidate who’s been destroyed electorally in that state by running as a populist liberal, Rick Weiland. He’s a guy I’ve quoted, featured, and snickered at on occasion here, but give him credit for not giving up. At least he’s not tossed me off the mailing list – perhaps bad press really is better than no press at all.

After having his doors blown off in the midterm Senate run last year, he put his energy into a website called TakeItBack.org, which has lent itself to an initiative called South Dakotans for a Non-Partisan Democracy. Its goal is to scrap partisan elections in the state via a referendum on next year’s ballot in order to match its neighbor to the south, Nebraska. Not only is Nebraska the only state to have a unicameral legislature, but they elect all of its members on a non-partisan basis with the top two finishers in the primary advancing to the general election regardless of party.

Given that South Dakota has Republican domination, certainly the cynic can easily argue Weiland is just trying to fool the voters, albeit with the backing of a popular local talk radio host. Yesterday they announced the initiative had more than enough signatures to make the ballot for 2016 – South Dakota is a state which allows citizen-driven referenda without a corresponding act from the legislature.

I’m sure this is a rhetorical exercise because Maryland doesn’t allow citizen initiatives, but it makes me wonder how the Maryland conservative movement would fare under such a system if it were introduced here? Obviously there are thousands upon thousands who almost reflexively vote for the first Democrat they see on the ballot, but what if that security blanket were taken away? The Justice Department didn’t want to find out in one city, but eventually relented.

We didn’t have a primary in the recent Salisbury election, but if we had (as was the case in previous elections) the lone white candidate would have been eliminated in District 1 (a majority-minority district), one minority candidate would have moved on in District 2 (also a majority-minority district), and a minority candidate would have been eliminated in District 3. Racial minority hopefuls ran in three districts but won just one seat in these non-partisan elections.

But Salisbury scrapped its partisan primaries some years ago, allowing candidates who are unaffiliated to run on an even playing field with those having partisan backing. Arguably this may have helped Muir Boda, although he was successful in far greater measure based on the work he put in. We’ll never know if not being specifically identified as a Republican would have helped or hurt his cause, although having a slew of statewide Republicans helping him may have yielded a clue to the discerning voter.

Unlike South Dakota, which doesn’t have a Congressional gerrymandering issue because there’s only one House member from the state (it’s less populated than Delaware), Maryland Denocrats stand in the way of non-partisan solutions because they run the show. They even complain about the Hogan redistricting commission because (gasp!) drawing boundaries in a way that makes geographical sense could make the Congressional delegation 5-3 Democrat – never mind it’s a closer proportion to voter registration than the result of the current scheme Martin O’Malley put in place. While the House of Delegates comes relatively closer in proportion to registration numbers, the districts there were still drawn in such a fashion that safe GOP districts on average have more population than safe Democrat ones.

If my home state can do a redistricting reform, so can Maryland. If going to non-partisan elections is a worthy goal – and I suspect some of my unaffiliated friends may agree – the first step should be getting the districts in order.

The process of change (part 1)

October 19, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Last week the state wrapped up a series of hearings on the state’s redistricting process. Unfortunately, the local hearing was neither local (held in Easton) nor convenient (held on a weekday afternoon.) While the Eastern Shore is well-ensconced in the First Congressional District, it endured plenty of change in the last state redisrtricting as boundary lines were shifted dramatically and former multi-delegate districts broken down for single delegates.

To be more specific about the points I mentioned above, the Democrats in charge of the 2010 census redisrtricting placed two Republicans in a single-member district based mainly in Somerset County. To form the revamped District 38A, they chopped off the southern portion of Wicomico County that freshman Republican Charles Otto was elected to represent in 2010 and pushed the district eastward into Worcester County to include fellow freshman GOP member Mike McDermott. Otto kept the seat in 2014, but McDermott lost a bid for Senate to incumbent Jim Mathias.

The part of Wicomico County formerly represented by Otto shifted mainly to District 37B, a fairly safe GOP district then represented by Delegates Addie Eckardt and Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio. After neither sought re-election in favor of higher office, the district became home to two freshmen Republican Delegates: Christopher Adams of Wicomico County and Johnny Mautz of Talbot County.

The rest of the old 38A was placed into a greatly diminished District 38B, one which encompassed territory from Delmar to Fruitland through the eastern half of Salisbury. Removing the rural portions of a former two-delegate seat was supposed to make it easier for incumbent Democrat Norm Conway, but he was still ousted by Republican Carl Anderton. The rest of District 38B not taken by Otto’s district was rebadged District 38C, a fairly solid Republican area now represented by Delegate Mary Beth Carozza.

The only district that stayed relatively the same was District 37A, a majority-minority district where Delegate Rudy Cane retired and left the field to freshman Democrat Sheree Sample-Hughes. As it turned out, the only incumbent Delegate to survive out of the two districts was Charles Otto. Wicomico County is now represented by five freshman Delegates, four Republican and one Democrat.

Yet the cynicism wasn’t just limited to our area. According to Delegate Jeff Ghrist, there are 71 districts that have an above-average population while 70 fall below the average. It’s just amazing that 44 of the 50 Republicans represent districts in the larger-than-average category, while 64 of 91 Democrats come from “small” districts. Given that a variation of 5% is permissible, there could be 4,000 more residents in a GOP district than a Democratic one, allowing the party in power an extra 6 or 7 seats across the state.

Ghrist also complained about the size of the districts. He lives near the border of District 36, but noted adjacent District 37B spans from Denton to the Somerset County line and from the Delaware border to the far reaches of Oxford and St. Michael’s as a two-member district. His District 36 takes in the northern part of the Eastern Shore as a three-member district. While most of the counties on the Shore are too small to support their own district, it is possible for the Shore to fill four full three-member districts with a little help from the eastern end of neighboring Harford County.

The key, though, is single-member districts. A county like Wicomico could have two members to itself, while sharing the majority-minority district in existence with Dorchester County. Geography may dictate some crossing of lines, but the districts can be made much more compact and contiguous.

Obviously Senate districts will need to span several county lines. The remedy to this is to go back to a system which, unfortunately, was dealt its mortal blow by the ill-advised passage of the Seventeenth Amendment and formally died with the Reynolds vs. Sims decision in 1964. Until then, each Maryland county had its own Senator to represent county interests. The right thing to do would be place the Senate in the hands of each county’s legislative body, allowing them to choose two (for a total of 48) and staggering the terms to having them pick a new one every two years. (Like the U.S. Senate, it would be the job of the Lieutenant Governor to break tie votes.)

If they had the cojones to challenge the 51-year-old Reynolds ruling Maryland can be a leader in moving forward into the past, restoring the original intent of our founders in balancing the interests of the people and local governments.

In part two, I want to consider our Congressional districts.

Hogan’s uphill battle

For several years I have cited an annual survey of business friendliness put together by thumbtack.com. It was useful in illustrating how poor the Maryland business climate was.

Unfortunately, year one of the Hogan administration finds the state in a deeper hole, narrowly missing the bottom five of the 36 states for which the survey had sufficient data to compile. It is noteworthy, however, to point out Baltimore’s grade basically drove the state grade so they may bear a significant share of the blame.

As for what the survey asked and found specifically:

Small business owners found Maryland to be one of the least friendly states for microenterprise, though they widely approved of local training opportunities, according to Thumbtack’s annual Small Business Friendliness Survey.

Nearly 18,000 U.S. small business owners responded to the survey, including 442 in Maryland. The study asked respondents to rate their state and city governments across a broad range of policy factors. Thumbtack then evaluated states and cities against one another along more than a dozen metrics.

“Small business owners on Thumbtack have consistently told us that they welcome support from their governments but are frequently frustrated by unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles,” said Jon Lieber, Chief Economist of Thumbtack. “Maryland offers decent programs to support business owners directly, but they tell us the regulatory environment is just too hard for them to understand and navigate.”

“The taxes here are high,” commented a property manager in Baltimore. “There is no support from the government, especially the housing office.”

Here’s where entrepreneurs will pin their hopes on the new Regulatory Review Commission, which should try and reach out to as many of these businesses as possible to get suggestions.

The biggest problems with our state insofar as this subject goes is that its grade is getting worse – declining from a C- last year to its D+ this time – and Virginia got an A on the same survey. (Delaware had fewer than the 50 responses needed to get a grade.) Business owners hated the state in particular for its environmental and zoning regulations and government friendliness, both of which were given big fat Fs from those surveyed. (The former category also gets a “see, now what have I been telling you for the better part of a decade” from this writer.)

If a state is going to brag that it’s “open for business” it needs to be better than a D+ state. The work on regulatory reform should be in tandem with other avenues toward success like lowering the corporate tax rate (or, even better, figuring out a way to cut three cents out of every dollar in state spending and scrapping it entirely) and telling the liberals in Annapolis who keep whining about the need for combined reporting to pound sand. Another proposal I would have is adoping the proposed moratorium on new Chesapeake Bay regulations until the sediment at Conowingo Dam is addressed,

We have models for success all around the country so why should we be 31st out of 36? I can’t fault Larry Hogan for a lack of effort or his difficult circumstances, but we need leadership in this regard and if it means telling the people the truth about where the problems lie (hint: they hold 124 seats in the General Assembly) so be it.

Regulatory reform comes to Maryland

I harbor no illusions that my post from the other day regarding the declining optimism of Maryland business owners goaded him into action, but today Governor Hogan announced the formation of a Regulatory Review Commission (RRC), charged over the next three years with “(f)ixing our burdensome antiquated, broken and out-of-control regulatory environment in Maryland.” The ten members of the RRC are volunteering their time to “focus like a laser beam on these issues”, said Hogan.

It’s interesting that the Democrats are claiming the Augustine Commission (which was created in the waning months of Martin O’Malley’s second term) was intended to address these issues and saying Hogan shouldn’t need three years to address the problem. How soon they forget that Larry’s Change Maryland organization was convening business summits over the last three years to gain the business perspective, not to mention the fact it was their administration which put out a number of these job-strangling regulations in the first place.

To me it’s just sour grapes. Ask yourself: had Anthony Brown won, would curtailing regulations be a priority? Thought not. The Augustine Commission report would have been filed and ignored.

But I hope the RRC has the latitude to go beyond just regulations and into other areas like taxation and, more importantly, looking into where other states succeed. Take a state like Texas, where hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created (as a net gain over jobs lost, not as a one-for-one swap) over the last decade. What attracts these entrepreneurs and leaders, and what assets can Maryland use to emulate their gains? Granted, a good portion of the Lone Star State’s gain came from abundant energy resources that Maryland can’t match, but there are other areas we may be able to do as well or better if we make that a goal. Unfortunately, over the last eight years our state took its cues from states like California and New York, places where capital and population have been fleeing.

Another question is just how cooperative these Democrats, who are already trying to take credit for the little bit done in 2015, will be to the RRC’s agenda as they submit their findings.

Take the “rain tax” as an example – a Democrat introduced the vastly watered-down bill that eventually passed, so they will surely henceforth try and take credit for ending the “rain tax.” But the mandate for affected counties to have a watershed protection and restoration fund did not go away (page 4 here) – it’s just up to the county to fill it, and most will likely retain some version of the “rain tax.” The actual repeal of the “rain tax” on this Hogan-sponsored bill was killed in committee by the Democrats therein on a straight party-line vote. (I used that vote as one of the committee votes on the monoblogue Accountability Project.) So it’s a fairly safe bet the Democrats are only paying lip service to the issue of regulations now because to them more is better – that’s how they’ve run Annapolis for most of the decade I’ve lived here and probably my whole life before that.

So the RRC can’t just exist in a vacuum. Now that Larry Hogan has experienced the way Democrats in the General Assembly basically gave the finger to his mandate, he will need in the coming months and years to take a page from the Reagan handbook and go straight to the people. Democrats may claim the last election was about “divided government” but the motivation was clearly behind a more conservative direction for the state.

While I would have preferred a more rapid formation for the RRC, this is a definite feather in the cap for Larry Hogan. Let’s hope that it’s not just for show but instead gives us an agenda even the Democrats can’t stop.

Next Page »

  • I haven't. Have you?
  • February 2016
    S M T W T F S
    « Jan    
     123456
    78910111213
    14151617181920
    21222324252627
    2829  
  • Locals flock to monoblogue

    More and more locals come here for 'News and views from Maryland's Eastern Shore.'

    Click on the photo for details on advertising opportunities.

  • Link to Maryland Democratic Party

    In the interest of being fair and balanced, I provide this service to readers. But before you click on the picture below, just remember their message:

  • For Policy Wonks

    TrackBill is a great way to follow both Congress and state legislatures in a customized manner.

  • Categories

  • The Road to 2016

    Maryland Primary Election will be April 26, 2016.

    President:

    Republican:

    Jeb Bush
    Ben Carson
    Chris Christie
    Ted Cruz
    Carly Fiorina
    Jim Gilmore
    John Kasich
    Marco Rubio
    Donald Trump

    Democrat:

    Hillary Clinton
    Bernie Sanders

    U.S. Senate - Maryland

    Republican

    Rich Douglas
    Chrys Kefalas
    Anthony Seda
    Kathy Szeliga
    Dave Wallace

    Democrat

    Donna Edwards
    Chris Van Hollen

    U.S. Congress - Maryland District 1

    Republican

    Andy Harris (incumbent)
    Sean Jackson
    Mike Smigiel

    Delaware State Primary Election will be September 13, 2016. (Presidential is April 26.)

    Governor

    Republican

    Colin Bonini
    Lacey Lafferty

    Democrat

    John Carney

    U.S. Congress - Delaware

    Republican

    Hans Reigle

    Democrat

    Bryon Short
    Bryan Townsend

  • Archives

  • Part of the Politics in Stereo network.