Anderton among Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC endorsees

Yesterday the Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC announced seven endorsements for the 2014 campaign. All seven of these candidates are Republicans and they are seeking office in most corners of the state, so I will cover them in district order. As a hint to what they are up against, I’m featuring the lifetime monoblogue Accountability Project (mAP) score for incumbents.

  • Robin Grammer, District 6. This Baltimore County district elected three Democrats in 2010 but only Michael Weir, Jr. (mAP = 28), who is seeking his fourth term, decided to run again. (John Olszewski, Jr. decided to run for the Senate seat of retiring Senator Norman Stone and Joseph “Sonny” Minnick opted to retire.) So two of the seats are open in a district which has elected moderate Democrats and just might be amenable to the GOP alternative.
  • Gordon Bull, District 12. Sliced between Baltimore and Howard counties, this used to be a 2/1 split district. But all three incumbent Democrats, who had a combined 52 years in office, decided to get out so the opening is there. Not the easiest territory but hopefully the district’s conservative voters can unite and sneak Bull into the top three.
  • Michael Ostroff, District 14. Ostroff certainly has a tough race. All three incumbents are running again: Anne Kaiser (mAP = 3), Eric Luedtke (mAP = 2), and Craig Zucker (mAP = 3) are in the race. But for Luedtke and Zucker, this is their first bid for re-election so the jury could be out on them – Ostroff provides a conservative alternative for MoCo voters.
  • Philip Parenti, District 27B. Some could write this race off because it’s in Prince George’s County, but a significant part of the 27B district lies in Calvert County, much friendlier to Republicans. It’s the eastern half of the old two-member District 27A, but shifted even a little more eastward into Calvert. Moreover, Parenti is up against a newcomer rather than an incumbent – James Proctor, Jr. is running in adjacent District 27A while Joseph Vallario, Jr. was redistricted himself to District 23B. So this is a winnable race as well.
  • Deb Rey, District 29B. St. Mary’s County has been trending more Republican over the last four years and the opponent is 15-year veteran John Bohanon, Jr. (mAP = 6). True, her section of the 29th district at the southern tip of St. Mary’s County has a Democratic voter advantage – but so does Wicomico County and we see how Republicans do there. This is a case where the Delegate may be a mismatch for the district in terms of voting record.
  • Sid Saab, District 33. Saab is in the catbird seat among these contenders. Two of the three incumbents in the newly-restored District 33 (it was a split district) are Republicans who have represented Anne Arundel County well – Tony McConkey (mAP = 82) and Cathy Vitale (mAP = 80) decided to stay on, while Robert Costa (mAP = 44) opted to leave after three terms. It created the opening for Saab, who should hopefully score about as well as McConkey and Vitale, if not better.
  • Carl Anderton, Jr., District 38B. Most of my readers should be familiar with Anderton, who’s running against a 28-year incumbent in Norm Conway (mAP = 6.) State Democrats tried to assist Conway by excising most of the geography of his old district, removing Republican-heavy Worcester County entirely and centering it in the Salisbury metro area. Voter registration would suggest it’s a leaning-Democratic district but in terms of registered voters it’s also the third-smallest in the state – so the candidate who can motivate best has an advantage and Carl is working extremely hard.

While this PAC isn’t wealthy by any means, they can throw a few hundred dollars into the coffers of each of these candidates should they so choose. But it’s more important to spread the word about these worthy conservative alternatives – imagine what the General Assembly would be like if all six won and pushed the GOP numbers tantalizingly close to 50. Even getting to 47 would be a victory as they could get around the committee process if all stick together.

So those who bought raffle tickets from the group should be pleased with the results.

Stepping into the ring

Yesterday I pointed out the voting records of the two men who wish to represent those of us who live in Senate District 38, but another thing I alluded to was the disparity in amending bills. Granted, it’s rare that Democrats have to make floor motions because much of their work can be done as a collective at the subcommittee and committee level; moreover, Senator Jim Mathias sits on the Finance Committee and that committee reviewed the smallest number of bills among the four main committees in the Senate (Budget and Taxation; Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs; Finance; and Judicial Proceedings.) All but the Senate President serve on at least one of those committees. Some members also sit on either the Executive Nominations or Rules committees, but Mathias isn’t among that group.

As I pointed out, often the only way a member (particularly a Republican one) has to amend a bill going through a committee he’s not part of is via the floor and McDermott has done so on many occasions.

But another thing Mike does well is communicate with constituents, and he also has a good way of getting to the root of the issue. Take this recent example, part of a piece he wrote called “Politically Correct Farming”:

Farmers have always been the first conservationists, even though they are often the last one to get called to a “Round Table Discussion” when policy is being crafted. Those “Round Tables” are reserved for election years. Ask any farmer about fixing the Bay and they will first point to the Conowingo Dam. The next point will be to the metro core area septic plants. They would also point out that the farming community is way ahead of the mandated time lines already placed upon them by the government.

The fact is, we do not need any further mandates on the shore. We need action in the areas that are creating the problem! The areas of the Bay which receive the best environmental scores are those adjacent to the Eastern Shore; and they rest next to the shore county (Somerset) that has the highest number of poultry operations in Maryland. Go figure!

Our water does not travel from lower shore rivers into the upper Bay regions, rather it moves toward the Atlantic. In spite of the obvious, farmers are an easy lot to blame; and politicians often do so with food in their mouths.

It should be obvious that poor water quality at the Bay Bridge isn’t being caused by a Somerset County poultry farmer, but from an Annapolis point of view untreated chicken waste flows as if magnetized toward the otherwise-pristine waters of the Annapolis harbor.

Or how about another case, this regarding gambling. McDermott called this the “Capitulating vs. Negotiating” piece, from which I excerpt:

For several years, Worcester County and Ocean Downs Casino have been paying off Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. All of that money could (and should) have been utilized for local spending. When I was elected in 2010, I was keenly aware of this wealth transfer and I looked for a mechanism to bring it back home where it belonged.

That opportunity presented itself in 2012 during our 2nd Special Session when the expansion of gaming was being sought. The issue was no longer about whether or not we would have gambling, rather it was about allowing a 6th casino to be built in Prince George’s County at National Harbor. Gambling was no longer the issue.

This bill originated in the Senate and once again, I noticed that the payoffs to Baltimore City and Prince George’s County were still embedded in the legislation. There was no attempt by Mathias to remove these provisions from the bill.

When the bill arrived in the House, the Democrats were hunting for insurance votes to pass the bill. I took advantage of the situation and spoke to the leader on the bill about the possibility of my supporting it. My demand was straightforward: return the local impact money to the citizens where the casinos are located. Depending on revenues, this could amount to $2 million each year that would remain on the lower shore.

To our benefit, they agreed to amend the bill and cut out the funding for Baltimore City and Prince George’s County as soon as Baltimore’s casino was open for business. In turn, I cast a deciding vote for the National Harbor expansion. The amendment was introduced by Delegate Dave Rudolph (D-Cecil) whose county also benefited directly from these local impact grants staying on the Upper Shore in Cecil County.

I could not help but see the irony of these two separate votes from two Delegates representing the same area:

  • Mathias casts the deciding vote that brings gambling to Maryland, establishes a casino in Ocean City’s backyard, and agrees to give Baltimore City and Prince Georges County $2 million of our money every year.
  • I cast the deciding vote that expands gambling to Prince George’s County alone and only after seeing the bill amended to strip Baltimore City and Prince George’s County from receiving one dime of our local impact money (returning $2 million to the Eastern Shore.)

Let me state for the record that both voted for this bill, a stance with which I disagreed because it punted this responsibility to the voters instead of in the General Assembly where it belongs. One could argue that McDermott sold his vote, or it can be termed horsetrading. But what horsetrading have we received from Mathias?

I also wanted to see what those on the other side of the political spectrum think. This is from a blog called Seventh State, which is a liberal site. In handicapping the 38th District races, David Lublin wrote back in March:

Backed by Rep. Andy Harris, one of my Eastern Shore sources describes McDermott as “to the right of Genghis Khan” on both social and fiscal issues. No one would confuse comparatively moderate Mathias with a Western Shore liberal but the difference between him and McDermott cannot be missed.

Actually, I would pretty much confuse Mathias with a Western Shore liberal given the preponderance of his votes. But honestly I don’t think the 38th District at large would truly mind “to the right of Genghis Khan” because it’s a conservative district. (It’s also an interesting comparison given what we know about the Mongol ruler.) Ours is also a district which chafes at the influence of Annapolis in its affairs, and considering Mathias has received a large portion of his six-figure campaign account from PACs and out-of-area donors, you have to wonder which of these two would be fighting out of our corner.

In a recent PAC-14 interview, McDermott said, “(W)e need leaders from the shore to go up there and represent our values.” Having heard Mike McDermott speak on a number of occasions, I think he would be a great addition to the Senate because he has shown over the last four years that he does the better job of that than his opponent.

Jim Mathias is a nice guy, but in this instance nice guys should finish last.

The Hogan side of Franchot’s assessment

After yesterday’s lengthy post about Peter Franchot’s assessment of the state economy, I wondered how the Republican running for the state’s top job would react. Fortunately, I can distill his statement down to a couple short paragraphs:

(Wednesday’s) report is utterly devastating and confirms what we have been saying, that Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown have taxed and spent our economy into the ground. Overtaxed Marylanders are earning less, small business profits are disappearing and people have less to spend on goods and services.

As governor, I’ll put partisan politics aside and work across the aisle to undo the damage of the past eight years. We’ll work together to reign in reckless spending and waste so we can roll back as many of the O’Malley and Brown’s 40 straight tax hikes as possible. It’s time for Annapolis to live within its means so people can keep more of their hard earned money.

I was fine with that until the part about “work together,” particularly with regard to an event last week with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:

The Democrats want to tell you that Governor Christie and I are far-right extremists. Our similarities stem from the fact that we are commonsense Republicans that are prepared to reach across the aisle in order for progress and prosperity. That is why Governor Christie was overwhelmingly reelected in the blue state of New Jersey to a second term. And that is why Marylanders are ready for a Republican governor in Annapolis.

Unfortunately in this partisan day and age, for a Republican reaching across the aisle means getting your arm bit off and used as a club to beat you with. Remember, the reason for Christie’s initial popularity was his get-tough stance with the state’s unions, and I honestly don’t see those sort of stones with Larry Hogan.

It’s obvious we have a problem in this state, as Franchot pointed out. But the problem isn’t just in the governor’s office, it’s in the bowels of the General Assembly as well.

Remember the “doomsday budget” session of a couple years ago, and the big deal many in the General Assembly made that spending “only” went up $700 million instead of the $1.2 billion they eventually received? Imagine that fight every year.

Depending on how many Democrats are returned to Annapolis, the budget that Governor Hogan would send out might only get 50 or 60 House votes, so the overriding question is what tradeoffs will we have to endure? Or will Hogan surprise me and take the bully pulpit, going over the heads of the General Assembly and the press to convince the people to demand action on a leaner budget? We know the unions wouldn’t take cuts lying down, so are those on the side of sanity going to go to Annapolis and tell Big Labor to pound sand when they mass in protest like they did a few years back? Fifty isn’t much against 5,000 and their box lunches.

(By the way, I should point out the link above was one of the posts where I lost all my pictures when Photoshop folded into Adobe Revel and rendered all my photo links obsolete. I spent a good half-hour fixing it for presentation last night because it was important to convey the sort of protest Larry Hogan can expect if he stands his ground.)

I certainly hope Larry wins and comes out with budgets which reflect sanity and not just a 4-6 percent increase each year. But be warned it won’t come without a fight. And we can live with Larry’s middle-of-the-road, reach-across-the-aisle tendencies if we can get some conservatives to Annapolis to keep him in line, with the rest of us having his back when he makes those promised cuts.

Never surrender

I’ve been seeing some comment about a blog post recently penned by outgoing Delegate Michael Smigiel regarding the Maryland GOP not assisting Mike McDermott in his Maryland Senate run against Jim Mathias. There are two damning allegations therein, so I’ll speak to both.

First, we have the financial angle:

The Republican Party found it possible just two years ago to support three Republicans running for local county council seats to the tune of $40,000 in a Cecil County race! Now in a pivotal State Senate Race they can not offer the same support? Correct that, they can not offer any support? Even if the party claims financial inability, where are the dollars from Congressman Harris who two years ago gave $40,000 to the party to help those local candidates? Where is the help from the State Senators who have no challengers in their races but have tens of thousands of dollars in their war chests?

I know Smigiel has some sour grapes against certain Cecil County Republicans, but a quick check of campaign finance records finds only a few thousand dollars in contributions to these candidates from the local Republican club and Central Committee – nowhere near $40,000.

As for Andy Harris, he’s already assisted Delegate candidate Carl Anderton (as have others) and it may be he’s going to chip into McDermott’s cause as well.

But the last sentence of Smigiel’s is a valid question, particularly in light of his next paragraphs.

Republican State Senators have been told by the Democrat Senate President, “If you get in the McDermott v. Mathias race, you will be punished.” So Republican Senators with the ability and the desire to help are not helping because of a concern over their own political comfort. Shame on any Senator in a position to help who fails to help out of fear they may be punished by the Democrat Senate President.

I call it Political cowardice to kowtow to the Democrat leadership on the decision of whom the Republicans should support for election to State wide office.

The Party and individual members of the Senate need to stand up to Democrat leadership and show they will not be intimidated into allowing the Democrat leadership to keep the growth of the Republican party stifled. Rhetoric about freedom and liberty rings hollow when you fail to stand up to tyranny when confronted with it in government. Republican Senators need to stand up and be counted. If you have no opponent and have tens of thousands of dollars in the bank you need to donate to and assist in every way possible in elected fellow Republicans. If you are threatened with loss of your committee seat or any other punishment by the Senate President, then make it public and double your efforts on behalf of the Republican candidate.

So is this a Senate or a fiefdom? Bear in mind that Senate President Mike Miller (Maryland’s version of Harry Reid) has a Republican opponent himself, Jesse Peed. Those of you reading this in District 27 should note accordingly.

I did take a peek at Smigiel’s last filing, which was the May filing, and it showed he had about $21,000 remaining in his account (with loans outstanding.) Obviously we have nothing newer to go by, but I haven’t seen any transfers out from his account yet.

Now I don’t know anything about the inner workings of the Maryland General Assembly but I do know bullshit when I smell it. Simply put, the way those bodies are conducted during the 90 days of terror we endure each year reeks to high heaven. Bills which would do a lot of good are stashed in the desk drawers of committee heads, arms are twisted in grotesque ways to get other less palatable bills to pass, and the public’s voice is often ignored.

Thus, it doesn’t really surprise me that such a punishment threat as Smigiel alleges might exist, but we need someone to stand up and say so. There are some who are no longer in office who could verify such statements because I’m sure these threats aren’t new. Maybe Senator Simonaire would have something to say since he was the lone voice of opposition to Miller’s re-election as Senate President.

As for the would-be Senator McDermott, he’s come out with some interesting items of his own lately. I had intended to take a look at them, but there’s one thing I need to put it all together so it can wait a few days. It’s all good.

The drive to be Delaware

As you can see, the state of Maryland is once again exhibiting its generosity by not charging sales tax this week on clothing and certain other goods. (I took the picture at my local Walmart, actually to send to Kim as a reminder.)

I’ve often advocated for the reduction or elimination of the sales tax – at least for those counties on the Eastern Shore – as a way to compete with nearby Delaware, which charges no sales tax. However, unlike my recent idea of ridding ourselves of the corporate income tax, which raises about $1 billion annually, I realize it would be a lot more difficult for the state to rescind the sales tax entirely. The state expects over $4.4 billion a year from the sales tax – about 11% of revenue – so getting rid of that would be a lot less likely. The sales tax is the third-largest revenue stream for Maryland, behind the individual income tax and the 27% of our revenue we receive from Uncle Sam.

But would it be a bad thing to make the Eastern Shore a tax-free zone? Obviously I can hear from here the wailing and gnashing of teeth from those of you on the other side of the bridge, but when you think about it the chances are pretty good those from the Western Shore have to pay a toll to get over here anyway. So why not give yourselves that break?

In rough terms, the Eastern Shore is 1/10 of the state’s population, so in theory it would cost the state $440 million a year to exempt the Eastern Shore from the sales tax. I’ll assume we do a little better than that given the tourism attraction of Ocean City and several close outlet malls, so call it $500 million. Certainly the state can figure out a way to excise 1% or so from its budget, with the additional income and jobs created for people on this side of the Bay making a significant dent into that perceived loss to the state. That’s borne out in part by what Comptroller Peter Franchot told the Daily Times – lost revenue from exempt items is partially made up by extra non-exempt items purchased. By that same token, the sales tax loss would come back in the form of extra gasoline tax collected, more income tax from increased employment, and other revenue from enhanced economic activity.

We’ve tried to exempt ourselves from the sales tax increases before, but all those General Assembly members from the other side of the Bay want us to pay our fair share – never mind we are already taxed, regulated, and dictated to death over here. We carved out certain parts of the state to pay a “rain tax” so why not go the other way and allow some counties the economic relief?

When Larry Hogan is trying to figure out some of the taxes he can cut to assist hard-working Marylanders, why can’t he do those of us who have to compete with Delaware a favor and make this part of the state a sales tax-free zone? You just might bring some business back from Delaware as a bonus.

The life of one (soon to be) former Delegate

August 9, 2014 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

While we have to wait and see what November brings, the chances are pretty good that there will be an additional few dozen Marylanders walking around with the unofficial title of “former member of the General Assembly.” Some, like outgoing Senator Nancy Jacobs or Delegate Donna Stifler, decided well in advance, while our local Delegate Rudy Cane cynically waited until after the filing deadline to insure no one would oppose his apparent choice for successor, Sheree Sample-Hughes.

And then we have the handful who lost in their primary – among them was Delegate Don Dwyer, whose well-documented personal struggles and legal issues, along with redistricting, made his an uphill battle. But as he wrote a few days back:

I simply couldn’t walk away without committing to continue my efforts in regaining liberty and true freedom. I believe as many do, that the one best solution to federal tyranny is the doctrine of NULLIFICATION under the 10th Amendment of the US Constitution. I would like to introduce the States Rights Foundation and new blog The Rightful Remedy.

Washington will not fix itself. Our intent is to partner with other groups and people who are dedicated to advancing the 10th Amendment movement. It is the solution to the out of control Federal Government. If enough States say NO, the Federal Government will be unable to enforce its unconstitutional laws, lacking the resources to do so without aid by the States.

Whether intentional or not, The Rightful Remedy was officially launched on Bastille Day, July 14.

As has been his modus operandi in the past Dwyer is holding a gun raffle to raise funds for his project, which he explains further:

As a Maryland State Delegate, I introduced several bills considered Nullification Legislation, by which the State of Maryland would refuse to comply with Federal “laws” for which the Federal Government has no Constitutional authority to impose. The legislation essentially prohibits the State to use any resources to assist the Federal Government in taking action against Maryland Citizens who are not complying with any Unconstitutional Federal Act. The result, should such legislation pass, profoundly affects the ability of the Federal Government, which rely (sic) heavily on resources from the state, such as police, to effectively enforce their “laws.” (Emphasis in original.)

Nullification is an intriguing practice, although it’s not often tried (here’s one example.) It brings arguments about whether it should be up to the states or left to the judiciary to decide what is in accordance with the Constitution.

But states are generally reined in under the federal judiciary’s interpretation of the Supremacy Clause (such as the case with Arizona’s SB1070 in 2010) as well as the prospect of losing needed federal funding if they don’t perform a particular action – examples I’ve often used are the .08 blood alcohol level standard and legal drinking age of 21, for which the lack of acceptable state law resulted in a deduction of federal highway funding. It would take a state willing to endure the penalties of perhaps defying the Supreme Court (as in a fictional example I recently reviewed) and losing a significant part of its federal funding to openly adopt nullification, and I can tell you Maryland politicians are way too gutless to try either. (Given his go-it-alone attitude, I daresay Rick Perry and Texas might come the closest to using the approach.)

Yet there is a logical argument to non-enforcement as well. We’ve often heard about the prospect of gun confiscation, but there’s an open question as to whether law enforcement – particularly in rural areas like the Eastern Shore – would be willing to go on what’s been described as a “suicide mission.” At the time, Dwyer was calling for the formation of a “voluntary militia” in each county. On the other hand, we have constant complaints about the federal government not enforcing certain other laws, such as the ones dealing with illegal immigration – a backhanded form of nullification unto itself.

I guess the problem is who decides which laws to not enforce, and if they’re not enforced, are we still a nation of laws? A stricter adherence to the Tenth Amendment and Constitution in general would help, but for that we need to clean out our judiciary swamp. I think an equally productive avenue for Dwyer to pursue with his States Rights Foundation would be to work for repealing the Seventeenth Amendment, which has been argued in some circles for several years and is something I’ve advocated for on both a federal and state level as well. That would help to assure the interests of the several states are represented in Congress, so nullification may not be as necessary.

Fighting ‘behavior modification’

Fortunately, we are about five months (and one election) away from the “90 days of terror” which comprises a regular session of the Maryland General Assembly. We have no idea yet just who will be representing us in Annapolis, but there is one agenda item a familiar group is out to stop in its tracks.

As Bob Willick of Maryland Liberty PAC puts it:

Maryland Liberty PAC is ramping up efforts to drive a stake in the heart of the proposed VMT tax before it gains any more traction.

Their aim is to pass a bill prohibiting the practice, similar to one which was introduced last year but went nowhere. In that effort, they have compiled a half-page flyer and video describing their reasons for concern.

Aside from blaming a few current and former legislators for their votes on the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2009 – indeed, a poor vote but just one – the video does a nice job of illustrating what the bureaucrats of the state have wrought and why it should be stopped.

But let’s leave aside the peak-hour tolls and tracking just for a moment and look at the impact a simple VMT might have.

Let’s say you work here in Salisbury but choose to live in a rural part of Wicomico County, such as around Tyaskin or Powellville. Every day you may drive 20 to 30 miles round trip to work, plus there are those 15 to 20 mile round trips for grocery shopping, taking the kids for extracurricular activities, and the like. It would be easy to put 20,000 to 25,000 miles annually on your car and if a VMT is set for every mile above some artificial limit such as 10,000 miles it could run into several hundred dollars a year, almost regardless of what kind of car you own. (Chances are certain models would be exempted from a VMT, regardless of how useful they are to one’s needs.)

The VMT became seriously discussed when the effects of the fuel economy standards adopted by the federal government in the wake of the 1970s oil embargoes became painfully obvious. As cars became more efficient, they used less gasoline so a per-gallon tax became less and less lucrative. If you drive 20,000 miles a year in a car that gets 40 miles to the gallon, you’re only using 500 gallons of gas a year as opposed to a 20 MPG car that takes in 1,000 gallons. At a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, that’s a “cost” to Uncle Sam of $92 a year for being a “good citizen” and purchasing a more efficient car. As they often say, “no good deed goes unpunished,” so with the advent of GPS tracking systems it became more possible to accurately gauge a car’s true mileage and perhaps make up all of that $92 or even more.

As I see it, though, the VMT tax is just a small part of a larger drive to decouple people from their cars. Maryland is doing little to enhance the traffic situation in parts of the state insofar as highway work is concerned. Sure, they may replace the occasional bridge or repave a perfectly good highway, but the bulk of their transportation money and effort is going to be concentrated on two boondoggles called the Red Line and Purple Line. Before that, it was the ICC toll road, which should serve as a signal for what’s to come: variable tolls based on time of day, collected by electronic means with an EZPass or – for a “service fee” – a bill sent to the car’s registered owner. I predict this same “makeover” will be on the Bay Bridge within the next decade, with sky-high tolls at rush hour and on weekends.

Obviously this process of enhancing specific, politically correct traffic is well underway – witness the HOT lanes in urban areas or proposed “transitways” for busses only. Maybe that’s great for urban dwellers, but that doesn’t help people trying to get into Ocean City or through Cambridge or Easton at the height of tourist season. Forget the logic of building another Bay Bridge connecting southern Maryland and Dorchester County to save motorists coming from the Washington area time and hassle.

There’s no question we need to invest money in our transportation infrastructure. The problem with Maryland is that it seeks to create demand where none exists and ignores logical extensions of the existing overburdened system in the name of addressing a “global warming” problem we couldn’t change if we tried.

The idea of the VMT should be the first thing scrapped, but let’s not stop there. It’s time to give up on the folly of reducing our greenhouse gas output because that equates to reducing our standard of living as well as our liberty.

By the way, since I’m on the subject of boondoggles like the Red Line, Purple Line, and VMT, I’ve been meaning to work this editorial on ethanol by my Patriot Post cohort Mark Alexander in for a few days. Here’s a good chance to read it.

Addressing the challenge

Many years ago, when I was a mere political babe in the woods, I volunteered to help out a candidate by the name of Maggie Thurber. At the time, she was running for a full term as Clerk of Courts in my former home of Lucas County, Ohio, having won the office in a huge upset two years earlier. She went on to win that election and one more, plus serve a term as a County Commissioner before leaving politics.

She parlayed that political success into a stint as a radio host and also has blogged for several years at a site called Thurber’s Thoughts, although now that seems to be used as additional material for her work on Ohio Watchdog (a subsite of Watchdog Wire.) And that’s where I pick up the story.

I happened to come across a piece she wrote regarding the “Live the Wage” challenge, something set up by this website. This movement is backed by the same people who connived Maryland into raising its minimum wage earlier this year.

The premise of this challenge was to buy groceries and gas on $77 a week, which was the amount deemed to be left over once taxes and housing expenses are paid. Thurber writes that:

Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland gave up. He started on a Sunday, but ran out of money by Thursday, he explained in a column for Politico. He said he skipped meals to save money and ate smaller, less healthy meals.

“Because fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find at a price within a minimum wage budget, I turned to bread, peanut butter, bananas and bologna more than anything else,” he wrote. “That was what I could find when I took this budget to the grocery story (sic) last Sunday. And that’s why I ate lunch from the McDonald’s dollar menu.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, spent his money foolishly, paying $7 for sardines and crackers, $5 for a Burger King Whopper, $2 for a cup of coffee and his “last couple of dollars to buy trail mix,” he explained on his Facebook page.

It’s obvious to me Strickland and Ryan didn’t take this seriously; otherwise they would have done as well as Thurber and her husband did. She bought a week’s worth of gasoline for $44 (using points from her local Kroger grocery store) and spent $82.83 on a basic menu of groceries for the week, with a couple splurge items. As for the leftover money?

We approached the challenge as if we had both lost our jobs and taken minimum wage jobs to get by. Under this scenario, we’d have some items on hand, like paper towels, detergent, aspirin, condiments and corn to make popcorn for snacks.

But with $27.17 remaining in our budget, or going without our two splurge items, we’d be able to purchase those supplies as we needed.

Of course, the banshees came out of the woodwork in the comments section and shrieked that she should live like this for a year or so before talking. Well, these (very well-paid) politicians didn’t even try hard to make it through a week – what does that say about their compassion, let alone their eating and cooking habits?

As I noted above, Thurber expanded on this Ohio Watchdog piece on her own site, which gave politicians a new challenge:

Don’t you think it’s funny that no one ever tries to live like a small business owner for week? To feel what it’s like to try to make a payroll, deal with government forms and mandates, handle local government rules and regulations, deal with happy and angry customers, supervise a work staff, promote your business, do the accounting and somehow find time for family and friends and an actual life outside of work?

One day in the life of small business owner is much more difficult and stressful than trying to live on $77 a week.

That’s the reality of this ridiculousness – and that’s why the whole “live the wage” publicity sham is such a travesty.

I talk about business climate a lot on this site because, as a state, Maryland is far too dependent on one industry – the federal government. In that, it mirrors the city of my birth which is overly reliant on the auto industry. But in catering to the auto industry you at least do things which benefit other businesses around the state, and overall Ohio is a diverse state with several distinct metro areas as well as a significant rural component.

In contrast, Maryland seems to work only toward enriching government and those businesses connected to government by hook or crook. So raising the minimum wage was no big deal to most of Maryland – it’s a world of almost automatic annual raises and the job security one receives when you work for a government which rarely, if ever, cuts itself. People can shoulder that burden more easily along the I-95 corridor.

But when you come out to the forgotten parts of Maryland, a minimum wage raise means jobs lost – there’s no other way around it. There were efforts to waive or slow down the increase for counties here on the Eastern Shore, but they were rebuffed in the General Assembly.

And if you think buying groceries on minimum wage is difficult, just try it being unemployed. That’s going to be the result of these shortsighted policies once the political stunts and game playing are forgotten.

Bye bye Beretta

We were warned about this all along, but everyone seems shocked that gun maker Beretta has followed through and decided to relocate its production to a new plant in Tennessee next year. The loss of 160 manufacturing jobs from its Accokeek plant will be the gain, once production ramps up, of Gallatin, a town which is a few miles outside Nashville and is about the same size as Salisbury. Here’s what Maryland is losing, from Beretta’s release:

Beretta U.S.A. anticipates that the Gallatin, Tennessee facility will involve $45 million of investment in building and equipment and the employment of around 300 employees during the next five years.

It’s worth noting that Beretta is not the only gun manufacturer potentially leaving Maryland. LWRC of Cambridge said last year “we simply couldn’t do business here” if the gun law passed, with 300 jobs at stake. Rumors of a purchase of LWRC by Colt were rampant earlier this year,  yet while no formal announcement has been made the Bob Owens piece I’m citing is useful as a reminder of what such a company means to a rural area.

Needless to say, Larry Hogan had the expected reaction on Beretta’s plight. Yet the question isn’t one of “high taxes and punitive regulations” so much as it’s a question of repealing a knee-jerk law passed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting – not that any law was going to stop Adam Lanza anyway, nor does this law stop a single homicide in Maryland. It was all feelgood legislation from the start; unfortunately, the powers that be chose not to back the referendum route which would have placed the law on the ballot at the same time as many who voted for it.

To change Maryland’s fate in this respect, not only does the state have to improve on its business friendliness but it also has to find the political will to overturn its onerous gun laws like 2013′s Senate Bill 281. Elections mean things, and not only do we need a governor willing to backtrack on this mistake but also enough of a General Assembly coalition to get a bill through the legislature. That part may be the most difficult, because getting to just 50 Republicans in the House and 19 in the Senate would be a minor miracle – yet Republicans need 71 and 24, respectively, to actually control the chambers. It’s mathematically doable but the odds of hitting the Powerball are probably much better.

So say goodbye to Beretta’s production, and know that it won’t be missed at all by the Democrats in Annapolis.

Time to get serious

While I mentioned the other day that not much fresh news would come from the political races until after the Independence Day holiday, that doesn’t mean that “Maryland’s top conservative blogger” (at least according to David Gerstman, contributor to Legal Insurrection) won’t have his say on things. I wanted to open up by taking a look at Larry Hogan’s “Hogan’s Plan” for the state’s finances.

Over the course of the primary campaign I was critical of Hogan for having such a vague “to-do list” of priorities he would have as governor, and this wasn’t a whole lot better. Be that as it may, I’m going to try and work with it in the real world anyway.

In Maryland, the governor perhaps has the most power of any such chief executive in the country – particularly if he wants to get serious about cutting the budget. The General Assembly can’t come back with a larger budget total, although they can tweak around the edges to some extent. So let’s go with the baseline established by Martin O’Malley when he set the FY2015 budget that takes effect tomorrow at $39.224 billion. Hogan promised that:

On day one, he will begin to run the government more cost-effectively and honestly. The Hogan-Rutherford administration will implement the recommendations of past audits, conduct additional independent audits of every state agency, and immediately get to work eliminating duplication, fraud, and waste to make sure that every cent of taxpayer money is spent efficiently.

By his reckoning, there is “$1.75 billion in waste and abuse” in state government. Figuring this with my public school math, that is 4.46% of the state budget – which seems like a nice little chunk of change until you realize the difference between the FY2015 and FY2014 budgets is $1.886 billion. In other words, the “waste and abuse” only accounts for about the same amount of money as an average annual increase. Something tells me there’s more low-hanging fruit than that. Yet Hogan says:

By cutting the waste and abuse from state government, he will be able to save the taxpayers of Maryland billions of dollars without having to cut our priority programs and agencies. It is a simple solution to a problem that has plagued our state for the last eight years, and it will enable him to cut and eliminate the regressive taxes that have crushed middle-class families and small businesses.

Nothing is ever that simple, but on the other hand his opponent is willing to blow up the budget with millions and millions of dollars in additional spending. If Anthony Brown simply maintains the Martin O’Malley glide path of 4% budget increases each year, this is what the next four budgets would look like:

  • FY2016: $40.793 billion
  • FY2017: $42.425 billion
  • FY2018: $44.122 billion
  • FY2019: $45.887 billion

Compared to level-funding the budget, that’s an additional $16.331 billion in tax dollars needed and you can bet your bottom dollar the Democrats will take all that and more from hard-working Maryland families.

And if you look at what Anthony Brown is promising, particularly in the area of education with universal pre-kindergarten, student loans for children of illegal aliens, creating a new Office of Educational Disparities, and providing extra money for HBCUs, assuming 4% annual increases may be on the low side.

The other part of Hogan’s Plan deals with business climate:

Maryland’s unemployment rate is 75% higher today than it when the recession began. In fact, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation ranked Maryland #41 in the nation for business climate. The main reason for this unfortunate reality is that it costs too much for job creators to stay in or come to Maryland. He will reduce the burden on job creators, open Maryland for business, and make our state more competitive with others in our region. The Hogan-Rutherford administration will overhaul the Department of Business and Economic Development to focus on aggressively attracting and retaining job creators in order to bring more and better-paying jobs to Maryland.

This is where the lack of specifics is really aggravating, particularly when Hogan’s vanquished opponents directly addressed the issue by proposing corporate tax cuts. In the FY2015 budget, corporate taxes bring in $1.011 billion so eliminating them entirely is affordable if you assume Hogan has the $1.75 billion of waste and fraud elimination in his pocket. Now THAT would turn some heads, but Hogan refuses to make the commitment.

Let’s look at Brown’s “Competitive Business Climate Tour” plan, though. There are nine “areas of focus” therein, but I’m going to focus on five of them:

Tax Liability: Reform our tax code to ensure that it reflects our current economy, enables state and local government to adequately fund our shared priorities, and encourages job generating investments in Maryland.

If you want the tax code to reflect our current economy, rates should be decreased to match the zero growth Maryland is enjoying right now. Unfortunately, it will instead be certain to “enable…government to adequately fund” all the brilliant schemes these liberals come up with. And don’t be surprised if combined reporting isn’t among those items designed to “encourage” investment in the state by hiking taxes on national companies.

Cost and Reliability of Energy: Promote the cost-effective generation of energy and improve the reliable delivery of energy through the grid to businesses and residents while transitioning to more sustainable energy sources.

There’s either one of two ways to go here: we get a “grand bargain” where fracking is finally allowed on the western end of the state in return for “investment” in wind turbines off Ocean City (perhaps via a tax on natural gas producers), or we just get the necessary subsidies to make these unsightly and inefficient wind turbines and land-wasting solar panel farms a reality. Look for the “renewable energy portfolio” to increase the percentage of “sustainable energy sources” to levels unsustainable for utilities to address without huge increases in consumer bills.

Cost of Living: Expand access to affordable housing and healthcare, healthy food options and cost-effective transportation to create a reasonable cost of living for all Maryland families.

When you see the words “expand access to” they really mean “spend more on,” with two exceptions: expanding access to “healthy food options” will involve the elimination of those options deemed unhealthy, such as fast food outlets. You will eat your broccoli and like it. The same goes for “cost-effective transportation” because, for many, transportation will become cost-ineffective: gas taxes will increase in order to subsidize mass transit, which is only cost-effective to the inner-city user whose farebox donation isn’t nearly enough to cover its cost.

And just how is a “reasonable cost of living” determined by the government? To me, that is determined by the market and the desires of those families as to their priorities.

Reliable and Predictable Legal System: Provide a civil justice system that allows deserving individuals to get justice and hold wrongdoers accountable while ensuring that awards are fair and equitable.

That is called tort reform, and the chances of pigs flying in Maryland are probably far higher than passage and enforcement of anything of the sort – especially if Brian Frosh is elected as AG.

Small- and Medium-sized Business Access to Working Capital: Ensure all viable small- and medium-sized businesses have access to affordable capital by working with lenders and businesses to maintain a strong environment for growth.

When I read this, I immediately thought: nice little financial institution you got there, be a shame if something happened to it. It’s the market’s job to figure out if a business is capital-worthy, not government’s.

My gosh, Larry Hogan, you have to do better than this. There are so many holes and code words in Brown’s plans that it should be easy to come up with something actually viable for keeping businesses and people from leaving the state.

A thin case of semantics

I haven’t weighed in much on the Senate District 4 primary race between incumbent David Brinkley and challenger Delegate Michael Hough except to point out that Hough’s score on the monoblogue Accountability Project has been significantly better over the last four years as part of my summary within.

But the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance is reaching back 18 years to reinforce its belief that David Brinkley is pro-abortion, as they dredged out a procedural vote on a 1996 bill which would have banned partial-birth abortion in the state. It was a bill which failed in committee, so its sponsor tried to bring it back as a substitute bill and Brinkley voted against consideration, as did a handful of other Republicans whose names I recognize from that long-ago session.

I also noticed another name among the opponents, and that was Addie Eckardt. I don’t think she’s pro-choice in the least, but it’s interesting that the Senate version of that 1996 bill was co-sponsored by Richard Colburn.

Now I can better understand the logic of equating a vote for a budget which happens to have abortion funding as a tiny proportion of the whole, or not advocating more for the advancement of the PCUCPA bill - which didn’t even get a committee vote – than using this particular vote to paint a candidate with that broad of a brush. I know my opinions on some subjects are different now than they were in 1996, in particular the so-called War on Drugs and term limits, so this is an overreach in criticism as I see it. What Brinkley didn’t vote for in 1996 isn’t as relevant as what no one got to vote for in 2014.

Something that was voted on in 2014, in both the Senate and the House, was an amendment to remove taxpayer funding for elective abortions. Needless to say, neither version passed as the House amendment from Delegate Susan Aumann failed 84-48 and the Senate version lost 29-16. The sponsor of the Senate version? David Brinkley. This is based on information from Maryland Right to Life, which did a three-vote scorecard covering both the Brinkley and Aumann amendments as well as an amendment from Delegate Tony O’Donnell to limit taxpayer funding of third-trimester abortions. Delegate Hough went 2-for-2, as did most other Republicans in the House (Delegate Robert Costa didn’t vote on the O’Donnell amendment and Delegate Bill Frank missed both votes), while all but one Republican voted for the Brinkley amendment – Senator Allan Kittleman was the lone no vote. (If only the GOP were as united on several other issues, but I digress.) They also pointed out the failure of PCUCPA to get a vote.

This is what I mean by seriously reaching. It’s pretty likely that a Republican will be pro-life to one extent or another; on the other hand pro-life Democrats are few and far between. Of course, the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance could pick almost any of those standard-issue Democrats as the “Pro-Abort Legislator of the Year;” my choices would be the committee chairs who wouldn’t even give PCUCPA a vote.

Some may say I’m the pot calling the kettle black given my criticism of certain Republicans in various races. My beef is generally in one of two categories: issue obfuscation or pandering to a particular audience. Thus I have a preference for candidates who spell out a platform which is bold. Say what you will about Heather Mizeur’s views on the issues, but at least she makes no bones about being way out on the last strands of that left-wing feather and clearly states her reasoning.

But there is a point where the perfect becomes the enemy of the good. The pro-life movement could do far worse than have David Brinkley re-elected, so maybe the MPLA should train its fire where it will do more good. Check out the pro-abortion votes from Norm Conway and Jim Mathias, for example – wins there from Carl Anderton, Jr. and Mike McDermott, respectively, will do far more good for the pro-life community than this internecine squabble.

Announcing: the 2014 monoblogue Accountability Project

For the seventh consecutive year, covering sessions since 2007, I have completed my annual guide to the voting record on key issues from the 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly.

There will also be the sidebar link I maintain for future reference.

This guide not only features the General Assembly’s voting records on specific votes in graphical form for easy comparison, but also my take on the bills they voted on this year. Some of the key votes I cover are those on the state’s budget,expanding pre-kindergarten, various fixes required due to Obamacare, and the “bathroom bill.”

I began this project in 2008 as a continuation of the former Maryland Accountability Project, which was a similar attempt to catalogue legislators’ votes that ended with the 2006 session. (Here is a cached version of its website, which is no longer active.) Over the last eight legislative years I have focused on over 200 votes by the General Assembly. Once committee votes became publicly accessible in 2010 I began adding those as well, giving me a total of more than 400 separate tallies over the life of the mAP. This year I looked at 52 separate votes – 22 floor votes and 30 committee votes, or three from each of the ten voting committees in the General Assembly.

So what can you do with the information?

Well, while the mAP is by its nature reactive because it documents events which occurred in the recent past, we can learn from history. While I can count the number of legislators who have attained a perfect 100 percent rating in any given year’s legislative session(s) on one hand, the sad truth is that Maryland has far too many who score 10 percent or less year after year cluttering up the General Assembly. Our job is to learn who they are and educate the voters of that district as to why their legislators are voting against the interests of the people in the district. That’s why the bulk of the mAP is a summary of why I, as someone who favors liberty, would vote in the way I denote in the report.

On the other hand, there is a group I consider the Legislative All-Stars, those who score 90 percent or above or at least lead their legislative body if none reach 90 percent. (Sadly, this happened this year in the Senate, and that leader is among those retiring.) If the Maryland General Assembly had those legislators as a working majority we could vastly improve our state’s lot in life.

Before I conclude, I want to once again thank someone for her work, a task which perfectly complements the idea of this one but occurs during the legislative session. Elizabeth Myers (who I have interviewed before for my old TQT feature) runs Maryland Legislative Watch, which works during session to determine the merits of each bill and works to keep bad ones from ever getting out of committee. With over 2,500 bills introduced last session, dozens of volunteers are needed to keep track of them all, grade them on pro-liberty merits, and keep the heat on legislators in stopping violations of liberty from proceeding.

Moreover, they cover every vote a legislator makes during session and recently updated the site to provide this information for legislators all the way back to 2005 for Delegates and Senators. It may seem like competition but we actually work together in the respect that MLW provides a lot of raw data and I give context on key issues. The Maryland Legislative Watch data is also useful for showing just how many votes are unanimous and how much of the legislature’s time is devoted to local issues; these are the ones which incumbents generally point with pride at bringing home the bacon.

You can judge for yourselves whether legislators vote the correct way on the issues I present. I simply provide this service to Marylanders as a way of being more aware of how the sausage grinding in Annapolis turned out this year. Methinks there was something rotten in the state of Maryland, now known as the “Fee State.”

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  • More Campaign 2014

    Contested races only.

    First District - Congress

    Andy Harris (R)
    Bill Tilghman (D)

    ___

    Maryland General Assembly (local)

    Senate District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R)
    Christopher Robinson (D)

    ___

    House District 37B

    Republican

    Christopher Adams (R)
    Johnny Mautz (R)
    Rodney Benjamin (D)
    Keasha Haythe (D)

    ___

    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

    ___

    House District 38A

    Charles Otto (R)
    Percy Purnell, Jr. (D)

    ___

    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

    ___

    House District 38C

    Mary Beth Carozza. (R)

    Judy Davis (D)

    ___

    Wicomico County

    County Executive

    Bob Culver (R)
    Rick Pollitt (D)

    ___

    County Council at-large

    John Cannon (R)
    Matt Holloway (R)
    Laura Mitchell (D)

    ___

    Council District 2

    Marc Kilmer (R)
    Kirby Travers (D)

    ___

    Council District 3

    Larry Dodd (R)
    Josh Hastings (D)