WCRC meeting – January 2015

For awhile, given the pessimistic weather forecast over the weekend, we weren’t certain this meeting was going to come to pass. But the wintry weather held off long enough for the Wicomico County Republican Club to gather and, despite the lack of a featured speaker, come up with a spirited discussion about recent events and its own internal affairs.

So we began with our usual opening ceremonies, with a somewhat sparse attendance because of the weather.

The recent events in question were the procedures of getting an elected school board here in Wicomico County. Council members Marc Kilmer and Joe Holloway were present and made the case that what was presented to the General Assembly was a compromise which had the backing of the full Council, a step which was lacking in previous efforts. But they also encouraged the public to attend next Tuesday evening’s County Council meeting and provide input before the final package is provided to the Maryland General Assembly for introduction. As envisioned, it would be a hybrid board with the first members elected in 2018 to four-year terms. Members appointed by the County Executive would take office sometime before that so their terms would be staggered.

There really wasn’t much objection from tonight’s group, although my previous objections were noted. Basically, the hybrid idea is a concession to the NAACP, which was concerned about the prospect of a lack of minority representation on the school board. Holloway and Kilmer argued that the hybrid compromise was the way to get everyone on board and increase the chances of passage; they were also credited by some observers of the Council meeting with pushing the process forward, along with the insistence of Council President John Cannon that the elected school board be on a crowded agenda.

The other large task was that of making a change in how the WCRC operates. For years the club had seven officers whose duties weren’t always made clear by the bylaws. At tonight’s meeting we streamlined the future operations of the WCRC’s Executive Committee to just five officers as we reduced the four vice-presidential slots to two. Yet the two vice-presidents will have a significant say in the operations of the club as they will be in charge of several standing committees, with the functions of these committees more clearly spelled out in the club’s bylaws.

It’s a concept I’ve favored for several years, but with the help of Joe Ollinger we have made this a reality. The timing of this was important because we were also getting the Nominations Committee report for new officers for next term and there were only five officers listed. So once the revisions to the bylaws were approved, we could approve the committee report with the five officers. While nominees from the floor are welcomed, the Nominations Committee submitted the following names for each position:

  • President: Shawn Jester
  • First Vice-President: Muir Boda
  • Second Vice-President: Joe Collins
  • Secretary: Michael Swartz
  • Treasurer: Debra Okerblom

Only the latter two would be holdovers, although Jester was First Vice-President under Jackie Wellfonder this year.

The elections will be next month, although I also want to use the time to populate various committees we have now created as standing committees.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few other announcements and reports. As a club, we funded the WCRC Scholarship for next year (2016) as the process is already underway for this year’s competition. That led to a consensus as a group that we needed to make fundraising a priority – much easier to spend money than to raise it, even for little things like a storage room for the WCRC’s stash of stuff like tables and chairs. That’s another minor item we were alerted to as an expenditure approved by the Executive Committee.

Ann Suthowski gave the Central Committee report in Mark McIver’s stead, noting that our convention was a “love fest” and revealing that our Lincoln Day Dinner would be a quad-county affair with a special guest most of you know. I wasn’t sworn to secrecy or anything like that, but I will let the official announcement come out rather than spill the beans.

We also received final reports on our Christmas party and headquarters – the former was deemed quite the success because we made money, while the latter had mixed reviews due to its poor location. (I guess it could be the reason the restaurants in that location also failed, but the WCRC has made a tradition out of operating out of recently-failed business locations for its biannual headquarters for many years now.) We were troubled by the lack of support from the state on certain issues, though.

Our next meeting will be February 23 – same bat-time, same bat-channel.

The power of one

The return of a Republican to Government House has been a boon to the state party, but it has created no shortage of chaos in the General Assembly and in counties where erstwhile members of that body reside. One example of this is Carroll County, which has had to replace two members of its delegation as both Senator Joe Getty and Delegate Kelly Schulz were tapped for administration jobs.

Replacing the latter brought significant strife to neighboring Frederick County, where most of District 4 lies, but since a small portion lies in Carroll County they also get their say. But one change in their process was agreeing to Larry Hogan’s request to send him three names, which Carroll did. Since former Delegate Barrie Ciliberti is on both lists, it would presumably be his seat once Schulz is confirmed the Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation by the Maryland Senate.

But if you look at the three men Frederick County advanced to their final interview stage, you would notice that Ciliberti was the only name agreed on – however, it’s been reported that Carroll had Ciliberti as their second choice behind Ken Timmerman, who didn’t make Frederick’s top three.

Carroll County has also been feeling the heat for sending up the name of Robin Bartlett Frazier as their choice to replace Senator Getty over Delegate Justin Ready, among others. Frazier was a county commissioner until losing a bid for re-election this year; her biggest claim to fame is ignoring a judge’s order and beginning commission meetings with a prayer. One argument in Bartlett’s favor was that selecting Ready would have only set up a second search for his vacant position.

These incidents serve as a reminder to the issues Republicans had with replacing Senator E. J. Pipkin and Pipkin’s eventual successor Steve Hershey back in 2013. But imagine if all four counties in the District 36 jurisdiction had to send up three names, and they were all different? It would be chaos.

Here’s what the Maryland Constitution has to say about the process of replacing General Assembly members:

SEC. 13. (a) (1) In case of death, disqualification, resignation, refusal to act, expulsion, or removal from the county or city for which he shall have been elected, of any person who shall have been chosen as a Delegate or Senator, or in case of a tie between two or more such qualified persons, the Governor shall appoint a person to fill such vacancy from a person whose name shall be submitted to him in writing, within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, by the Central Committee of the political party, if any, with which the Delegate or Senator, so vacating, had been affiliated, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, in the County or District from which he or she was appointed or elected, provided that the appointee shall be of the same political party, if any, as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and it shall be the duty of the Governor to make said appointment within fifteen days after the submission thereof to him.

(2) If a name is not submitted by the Central Committee within thirty days after the occurrence of the vacancy, the Governor within another period of fifteen days shall appoint a person, who shall be affiliated with the same political party, if any as was that of the Delegate or Senator, whose office is to be filled, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Delegate or Senator, and who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in the District or County.

(3) In the event there is no Central Committee in the County or District from which said vacancy is to be filled, the Governor shall within fifteen days after the occurrence of such vacancy appoint a person, from the same political party, if any, as that of the vacating Delegate or Senator, at the time of the last election or appointment of the vacating Senator or Delegate, who is otherwise properly qualified to hold the office of Delegate or Senator in such District or County.

(4) In every case when any person is so appointed by the Governor, his appointment shall be deemed to be for the unexpired term of the person whose office has become vacant.

(b) In addition, and in submitting a name to the Governor to fill a vacancy in a legislative or delegate district, as the case may be, in any of the twenty-three counties of Maryland, the Central Committee or committees shall follow these provisions:

(1) If the vacancy occurs in a district having the same boundaries as a county, the Central Committee of the county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(2) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion of one county, the Central Committee of that county shall submit the name of a resident of the district.

(3) If the vacancy occurs in a district which has boundaries comprising a portion or all of two or more counties, the Central Committee of each county involved shall have one vote for submitting the name of a resident of the district; and if there is a tie vote between or among the Central Committees, the list of names there proposed shall be submitted to the Governor, and he shall make the appointment from the list (amended by Chapter 584, Acts of 1935, ratified Nov. 3, 1936; Chapter 162, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 8, 1966; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 649, Acts of 1986, ratified Nov. 4, 1986).

One can argue this both ways, but since the language states “a person whose name shall be submitted” it’s taken to mean one person. In the case of District 36, the choice was made by then-Governor O’Malley between two names because two counties backed Hershey and two preferred Delegate Michael Smigiel. All of them submitted one name.

And this brings me to a message those of us who serve (or ran for) Central Committees around the state received from Kathy Fuller, who serves on the Carroll County Republican Central Committee. After she went through the process Carroll County used, she made one key point:

We have the constitutional requirement to provide one name. To do anything else usurps the constitutional authority endowed upon the Central Committee. If a Central Committee decides upon one name and submits it, the Governor must appoint that person. The power of the appointment then rests with the Central Committee. If the Central Committee can be convinced to submit more than one name then the Governor actually chooses who is appointed, and the power of the appointment rests with the Governor.

The Constitution designates Central Committees to choose who is appointed and the governor to carry out the appointment. This is separation of power. The Governor is the executive branch; the House and Senate are the legislative branch. If the Governor picks the members of the legislative branch then this corrupts the separation of powers and the checks and balances necessary for good government.

Think of it this way: The Governor has hundreds of appointments he is able to make. If he were to appoint legislators to most of those jobs and then tell the central committees who to send as replacements he would control most of government, both the executive and legislative branches. This is an extreme example, but illustrates the danger of allowing the authority endowed upon the central committees to be usurped by giving the governor more than one name or by allowing him to tell the central committee who that name should be. This is the same reason many gubernatorial appointments are made with the consent of the legislature. It is the check and balance of good government.

Just because Larry Hogan wants three names to choose from doesn’t mean he is entitled to those three names. Unfortunately, most Republican politics turns the process on its head as they desire only one person to run in any primary (to avoid a GOP candidate spending money in a primary fight) but more than one person in this instance so that the state elected official farthest from the people (and perhaps representing the opposite party) makes the choice. Given the choice between a hardline conservative and someone more moderate and “bipartisan” we know who Larry Hogan would pick 95 percent of the time – so Carroll County should have maintained their fealty to the original process. If Maryland had a provision for a special election to fill these seats I would be happy to have plenty of choices, but it does not and I think Fuller’s argument is the correct one.

And to me there is no better illustration of what went wrong with the process than our experience with the District 4 Wicomico County Council vacancy some years ago. By charter, we had to submit four names to County Council, which did their own vetting process after we did our interviews and voted on who to send. At the time it was also an overly rushed process because we only had 30 days to get through the process – a charter change adopted in 2012 extended this to 45 days. But had we only been required to send one name, there would be a different occupant of the office because the eventual appointee was not our top choice. This would be a good charter change to consider since the county charter is different than the state’s Constitution on this manner.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that, in one respect, all of these appointments are moot because none of the principals have resigned yet. They all await confirmation to their positions but the process was started early because the General Assembly would be in session during the time. But I think it needs to be clarified that the duty of the Central Committee is already spelled out in the state’s Constitution and we need only submit one name for these positions.

Let’s do what’s right under the law, not the personal preference of the new governor.

A quick score for the good guys

Facing a 4 p.m. deadline today, in the first few hours after Larry Hogan was sworn in as Maryland’s 62nd governor he found a few minutes to inform the Maryland Register that the proposed Phosphorus Management Tool regulations should be pulled from Friday’s edition. However, Phil Davis of the Daily Times notes there is some question about the legality of Hogan’s move, with the lack of precedent cited as a concern. I would rate the chances of a legal challenge from one or more of the state’s environmental groups as good, although Timothy Wheeler of the B’More Green blog noted yesterday:

According to an opinion issued last month by then-Attorney General Douglas Gansler, the rules can be withdrawn or simply held up by preventing them from being published in the register, which is printed and posted online every two weeks.

Naturally that doesn’t mean new Attorney General Brian Frosh wouldn’t side with environmentalists, but it sounds like Hogan has the legal leg to stand on.

So the attention now will turn to the General Assembly, where it’s expected legislation with the same goal will be introduced in the next few days. Because of the way regulatory language is written for the Maryland Register, it’s relatively easy to translate to bill form. And as the Eastern Shore delegation only makes up 9 House seats and 3 Senate seats, their objections mean little when suburban Montgomery County has 24 Delegate and 8 Senate seats by itself. (Out of 124 Democrats in the General Assembly, that county makes up over one-fourth.) Few, if any, of those General Assembly members have been on a working farm – for the most part, their impression of the Eastern Shore seems to be that of knowing where all the speed traps are on the way to the beach.

But just taking the delegations from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City – areas which range mostly from urban to suburban, with little in the way of agriculture – gives that side a bloc of 63 House members and 22 Senators, meaning that prospective PMT legislation has a very good chance of passing. Add in the fact that the relevant committee chairs and vice-chairs mainly represent the three areas in question, with the fourth from a similarly suburban section of Baltimore County, and the skids are probably being greased right now. The Democrats aren’t going to let Larry Hogan get away with an opening victory that easily; it’s in that spirit of bipartisanship that they’ll demand these rules be enacted, you know.

Since word came down on this Hogan action late in the day, the environmentalists didn’t get a chance to formally react but some took to Twitter.

I look at it as withdrawing overly punitive rules when we haven’t even figured out yet whether the last set had an impact. When the entity that grades the Bay also solicits donations based on its assessment, we’re not exactly dealing with an honest broker.

So Larry Hogan’s initial major action as governor was a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a moratorium on these environmental regulations so we can evaluate the effectiveness of what we already have and see if dealing with the sediment that periodically leaches out of the pond behind the Conowingo Dam will make a difference.

Wicomico’s Fab Five

Tomorrow a unique chapter in Wicomico County history will begin as our five-member delegation to the Maryland House of Delegates will all simultaneously begin their careers in Annapolis as part of an overall freshman class in the House that’s one of the biggest in memory.

While Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes took divergent paths to get to that point, they will all meet in the same place. And with the exception of Anderton and his slim 52.2% of the vote, there was a clear mandate from their respective districts for these newcomers – combined Adams and Mautz racked up 78.6% of the Wicomico County vote while Carozza was close behind at 77.6%. (Sample-Hughes was unopposed.)

And while only Sample-Hughes and Anderton have previous experience in elective office – Sample-Hughes with eight years on Wicomico County Council and Anderton with nine years in Delmar as a commissioner and mayor – the life experiences of the others can’t be discounted. Mautz and Carozza have worked in government before on the Congressional and state levels, while Adams has represented a professional association in legislative matters. Naturally Adams and Mautz were placed on the Economic Matters Committee, while Carozza garnered a seat on Appropriations. Anderton was placed on the newly-rechristened Environment and Transportation Committee, and Sample-Hughes will be on Health and Government Operations.

So Wicomico is in very good hands, and there’s a lot of work to do.

While the overriding priority for all of these representatives is that of getting our economy back on the right track, the more pressing local issues will come from the environmental and budgetary fronts. The Phosphorus Management Tool may be placed via the regulatory route – and if so may instead be the target of a repeal effort – but it’s a battle more likely to be fought on the legislative front, despite the assurance of a veto from incoming Governor Larry Hogan.

But the real battle will be to return the state’s highway user funds back to the county, a $7 million transfer that Anderton would like to see returned in order to address the tax differential issue in Wicomico. Most of the $1.4 million is ticketed for the city of Salisbury, but Fruitland and his hometown of Delmar would also benefit. Carl may get the double dip as the PMT legislation would be argued in his committee, while he may also get a say in the highway user funds as well.

Over the next 90 days, these five and all the others will go to work and hopefully begin to turn this ship of state around. And as all that is going on, rest assured I’ll be watching the legislation and considering which votes go onto the monoblogue Accountability Project – one of these five is very interested to see how the scores will come out and has peppered me with questions about how this all works, so I may as well explain.

As the session goes along, I watch the process and try to pick out a total of 25 key votes. 22 of these will be floor votes on bills I find interesting and have votes where there is significant opposition, although I have occasionally used a unanimous (or nearly so) vote on something like the capital budget. For example, I think the operating budget vote has been on every version of the mAP, with the “no” vote always being the correct one. That may change if I see Larry Hogan making significant progress on rightsizing state government – if the budget comes in under $40 billion I may be satisfied with a green light. We will see.

In the few years I have done committee votes, the three votes have actually been 30 between ten committees in the House and Senate. In some committees it’s hard to pick just three votes while in others I have to scrape together three. But they are included in the 25 for each member.

25 votes is the magic number because math is easy: four points for each vote. Since I use a system where points can be deducted (one point for an absence and two points for intentionally not voting) working with even numbers is much easier. I also have a rule for House members who can change their votes after the fact that changing to the right vote is only worth half the credit while flipping to the wrong side is a penalty of 1.5 times the vote.

This year will also have the unique situation of members joining mid-session. Since Larry Hogan has tapped a number of  sitting General Assembly members to serve in his administration, there will be a number of vacancies filled after the session begins. That will affect their score for this year but won’t adversely affect their lifetime score for future sessions. Votes which occur before they are seated won’t be marked as absences.

But that is something to be determined 90 days from now. In the meantime, it will be up to our Fab Five to do what they can do to make life better for residents in their districts.

A question of priorities

The “90 days of terror” I call the General Assembly session do not begin until next Wednesday, but once some incumbent members were safely re-elected they pre-filed a small number of bills in each chamber – 39 in the House and 15 in the Senate.

Pre-filed bills are interesting because it gives a glimpse into what those members who introduce them believe to be burning questions. In the Senate, it’s apparent Senator Joan Carter Conway is most worried about the availability of prescription drugs in a state of emergency while Delegate Cheryl Glenn believes the establishment of the Hattie N. Harrison Memorial Scholarship for “students who pledge to work in fields of critical shortage in the State on completion of their studies” is top on her list. (Harrison was a longtime Delegate from Baltimore City who died in office early in the 2013 session.) Respectively, these bills were dubbed SB1 and HB1, presumably since they were the first bills requested for filing.

This stands in opposition to our Congress, which tends to use the lowest number bills for priority items. For example, there is no H.R. 1 yet in the 114th Congress because they reserve the number for the Speaker’s use on a bill he deems a priority. (It was used for the Tax Reform Act of 2014 in the last session.) S. 1 this term is the bill to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which Congress has tried to pass on several prior occasions.

Of the 54 bills in the hopper so far, most deal with mundane issues. But there are a few interesting Senate bills which could have merit: Senator Jim Brochin is trying to eliminate the annual indexing of the gasoline tax to inflation, while bills to exempt certain non-profits from paying a state-mandated minimum wage increase and to open up the election canvassing process to outside observers were introduced by Senator Joe Getty before he took a position in the Hogan administration. (This is interesting as Delegate Kelly Schulz also pre-filed bills on the House side. I’d be curious to know who would be considered to be the lead sponsor in the cases where that sponsor is no longer in the MGA.)

On the House side, Delegate Glenn also wants to accelerate the already-adopted $10.10 per hour minimum wage from 2018 to 2015 while Delegate Aruna Miller seeks to ban e-cigarettes from indoor venues. On the good side, Delegate Schulz wants to make sure only citizens register to vote, stop Common Core in its tracks, and eliminate one piece of the gun law.

Obviously there will be a lot more than this. Just as an example, one prospective bill that aroused a spirited discussion at an event for Delegate-elect Carl Anderton earlier tonight is Anderton’s as-yet-unreleased proposal to address our tax differential, an idea for which Salisbury mayor Jim Ireton (a possible 2018 opponent) is also pushing - however, the two probably differ on how to accomplish this goal. Once the legislation is written and introduced, it can get a fair hearing.

This also gives me the opportunity to remind readers about a great organization of volunteers called Maryland Legislative Watch, for which I have read and evaluated bills the last two sessions (and would gladly do so again.) They are a key to a more informed public, so I encourage you to check them out. Chances are we will once again see over 2.500 bills introduced and if the first 54 are any guide, it will be yet another intriguing session. And we haven’t even seen Larry Hogan’s legislative agenda yet.

A look ahead: 2015 in Maryland

While many of the fiscal issues that dogged the state in 2014 are still around – and have continued to worsen with each revelation of another revenue shortfall – the personnel in place to address the problem has undergone significant changes thanks to a wave election which pulled Maryland into its tide.

At this time in 2013 when I wrote the look at 2014, the election seemed to be the molehill Anthony Brown thought it would be as the Maryland GOP was divided and despondent. But Larry Hogan’s Change Maryland movement was enough to overcome the built-in advantage in Democrat voter registration; meanwhile, Brown ran a highly uninspiring campaign that led to the lowest Democrat turnout on record. The drag from the top of the ticket allowed Republicans to pick up seven House seats and two Senate seats despite the gerrymandered redistricting done by Democrats after the 2010 elections.

November was the easy part, though – now Hogan has to govern. Job one will be finding $420 million to squeeze from this year’s budget, while the gap for next year is an estimated $750 million. While that number is daunting, it should be pointed out that the FY2015 state budget was $1.886 billion higher than the FY2014 version. That’s a 5.1% increase, so being $420 million short equates to a 1.07% cut. Simply holding the line on the budget for FY2016 and keeping it under $40 billion (in essence, level funding) should cover a lot of the problem. In fact, holding the budget to $40 billion rather than another 5.1% increase to match last year’s would net a difference of $1.224 billion – more than enough to cover the shortfall.

I realize it’s not as easy as I make it sound, but the budget is in Larry Hogan’s hands. The other key is a bill normally introduced immediately after the operating and capital budgets each year called the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, or BRFA. This is where the mandated spending that makes up over 80 percent of the budget is tweaked, and this is the bill for which Larry Hogan will have to sharpen his pencil and will want to keep a close eye on. Generally it is introduced by the administration’s request in the body which considers the other budget items. Although a version goes to both the House and Senate, by tradition budget consideration alternates yearly and 2015 will be the House’s turn.

And starting it in the House is important because a significant number of members are freshman legislators, many of whom were elected by receiving the message that voters were looking for change and fiscal responsibility. Over half of the Republicans in the House are newly-elected, with at least one appointee as well to replace Delegate Kelly Schulz, who was tapped to lead the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. This process will be a sidebar story as two current members of the General Assembly have already been chosen for positions in the new administration (Schulz and Senator Joe Getty.)

On a local level, the entirety of Wicomico County will be, for the first time in memory, represented in the House by a delegation entirely made up by freshmen. A combined 83 years of experience among six members was wiped out by a combination of redistricting, retirements, promotions, and electoral losses, leaving the county with five freshman representatives – Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes all begin their tenures next week. It’s perhaps a situation unique to the state; fortunately, the combined legislative experience of the county’s Senators is 28 years (20 for Addie Eckardt in the House and 4 years apiece for Jim Mathias in the House and Senate.)

Yet the change in leadership in the state could make things easier on the counties as well, provided Hogan makes the right departmental selections. As I pointed out yesterday regarding Wicomico County, a change at the Department of Planning could make county-level tier maps become more suited for local needs rather than state mandates. (Certainly counties with approved maps should consider tweaking them to address perceived inequities.) Hogan has also promised steps to allow fracking in western Maryland, to consider a plan to clean the Bay by addressing the sediment trapped behind the Conowingo Dam, and will maintain strident opposition to phosphorus regulations which would affect poultry production on the Eastern Shore. All these endeavors can be assisted with prudent selections at the departments of Environment and Agriculture.

All through the state government there’s an exciting potential for reform – if the right choices are made. Hogan’s early picks have been of a bipartisan nature, which may frustrate GOP activists who saw the same practice help to undermine the Ehrlich administration, but could be argued to be necessary with the political reality that a lot of Democrat votes went to electing Hogan. (Statewide Democrats down the ticket, on the other hand, were selected by comfortable margins.) That also becomes the price to pay for having a majority-Democrat General Assembly.

Something else to watch in Maryland will be how much more Second Amendment erosion takes place under newly-elected Attorney General Brian Frosh. A gun grabber in the Maryland Senate, Frosh now takes a bigger role and it will be up to Hogan to prove his Second Amendment bona fides by championing the eventual repeal or overturn in court of the ill-considered Firearm Safety Act of 2013 – although the law may see its day in federal court first.

Another probable line of demarcation will be how to deal with the certainty of more illegal aliens thanks to Barack Obama’s policies of amnesty. With Maryland’s reputation as a sanctuary state, anything short of a localized get-tough approach will be a further drain on the budget and another headache for Hogan.

All this and I haven’t even touched on economic development or educational reform, which will also be items to watch in 2015 but currently have far too many known and unknown unknowns, to borrow a phrase. On the latter, Hogan has made it known he’ll work to strengthen charter schools but true reform is probably some years away.

The story of 2015 in Maryland will be the story of how Larry Hogan leads after he takes the oath of office January 21. By then we’ll have some idea of what the priorities of the General Assembly will be as they’ll have already put a week of session under their belts and the hearing process should be underway on the highest-priority items. Success may be as simple as plugging the financial hole by tightening the state’s fiscal belt and the faster that happens, the more of the conservative agenda could be debated.

The required renovation of Andy Harris

For the four years he has been in office, Andy Harris has generally enjoyed the support of his conservative Eastern Shore constituents. He’s not had a serious primary challenge since he was elected and garnered over 70% of the vote in 2014 against Democrat Bill Tilghman, whose centrist posture was well right of mainstream Democrats but far out of step with the district.

But since that resounding November victory, Andy’s actions in Congress during the lame duck session have earned him further enmity from the strong libertarian wing of the party and alienated conservatives as well.

By inserting a provision into the so-called CRomnibus bill preventing the District of Columbia from enacting its Proposition 71 marijuana legalization, Harris again became the target of District residents and leaders who demanded a tourism boycott of Andy’s Eastern Shore district earlier this summer. Accusations of being in the pocket of Big Pharma followed, but Harris defended the role of Congress spelled out in the Constitution [Article 1, Section 8] as overseer of the District’s affairs.

Yet while the libertarians of the Shore make up a small slice of the constituency – a Libertarian candidate ran in the First District for three successive elections from 2008-12, but never received even 5% of the vote – the conservatives are upset about Andy’s vote in favor of CRomnibus. That segment of the electorate is Andy’s bread and butter.

In the TEA Party community, there are whispers about who could challenge Andy from the right, as several feel he is on the same glide path that Wayne Gilchrest took during his long Congressional career. His 2008 primary defeat (by Harris) came after a bitter campaign where Andy stuck the “liberal” tag successfully on the longtime pol as well as fellow Maryland Senate opponent E. J. Pipkin.

Ironically, a politician long allied with Pipkin could be a prospect to make that challenge. Michael Smigiel, a delegate who was defeated in the 2014 District 36 GOP primary, is popular among the TEA Party community for his strong Second Amendment stance. But it would be difficult for anyone to raise the money Andy has at his disposal and Harris has bolstered his profile among local elected officials and the state Republican party by being generous with his campaign funds through A Great Maryland PAC.

It’s also worth mentioning for context that CRomnibus is probably roughly the same deal which would have been made if the budget were completed in regular order, given the partisan divide between the House and Senate.

Instead, while most functions of the government will continue through next September, the Department of Homeland Security budget has a February expiration date. This sets up a showdown between Congress and Barack Obama regarding the latter’s executive actions to give de facto amnesty to millions of illegal aliens; however, some hardliners already feel the damage is done.

In response to a lengthy Facebook post by Harris explaining his CRomnibus stance, though, local activists summed up the frustration TEA party activists felt, noting:

  • “(Harris) does a nice job of listing those riders and amendments that might seem to gain the approbation of the conservative and Republican audiences, while omitting anything that might serve as a balance – what effectively was the PRICE paid for what was had, the PRICE of ‘compromise.’”
  • “It is rather sad that Andy thinks that he can list a few paltry gains and that will make us overlook the whole thousand page monstrosity. The obvious question is that if he got in a few tidbits that he wanted, then who else got in their tidbits and what are those?  I would imagine that they will far outweigh any small gains that he is bragging about.”

These activists agree one way Harris could help to restore his image would be to take the lead in the conservative grassroots push to replace John Boehner as Speaker of the House. Bear in mind that this could come at some cost as Andy serves on the Appropriations Committee and a Boehner victory over any challenger for whom Andy shows support could bring repercussions such as the stripping of his position there, but on balance I believe a potential sacrifice such as that is worth the opportunity to have a stronger conservative leader as Speaker. It’s a sentiment shared by commentators at American Thinker, WorldNetDaily, and RedState.

On November 4, people hungry for real change went to the polls to reject the Democratic Senate and place Republicans firmly in control of Congress. The events leading to the CRonmibus, though, shook the confidence that Washington would depart from its business-as-usual benefits to the ruling class by allowing the outgoing defeated members one last hurrah. While all of this blame cannot be laid at the feet of John Boehner, there is a mood in this country that a strong counterbalance is needed to the increasing use of Executive Branch power by Barack Obama, particularly on immigration and Obamacare. The fear of many conservatives, particularly those in the First District, is that John Boehner doesn’t have the spine to rein in the executive.

Just like in 2008, when Andy Harris first ran for Congress, the potential is there in 2016 for state elected officials to “run from cover” as their Delegate or Senate seats aren’t on the ballot. During the similar 2012 election, 7 members of the Maryland General Assembly ran for Congress – one for the Senate and six for various Congressional seats. While none were successful overall, two won their party primary and ran through November.

No member of Congress is universally loved, and being a representative at any level of government means you won’t please everyone. But there’s a growing number who want Andy Harris to be a conservative leader and not just talk a good game.

The spread of success

December 7, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

A few days ago I, along with other Central Committee members and “interested parties,” received a memo from the Congressional campaign of Andy Harris. While the information I received probably isn’t public knowledge in its format, it is possible to find all of the facts provided through diligent searching and I believe revealing a little bit of it will help me to make a larger point.

In this memo, Harris outlines the “work (the campaign) did this cycle for candidates in Maryland and around the nation.” Just before the election we found out about A Great Maryland PAC and some of the assistance it gave in promoting candidates or pointing out flaws in the record of incumbent Democrats, but Harris did more – a lot more. As the memo explains:

On the Eastern Shore, maximum contributions through the Andy Harris campaign and Chesapeake PAC were made to delegate candidates Carl Anderton and Kevin Hornberger, both of whom defeated long-time Democrat stalwarts. Carl defeated 28 year incumbent Norm Conway, who also is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, in a Wicomico County based district. Kevin defeated 16 year incumbent David Rudolph, who is the Vice Chair of the Economic Matters Committee, in a Cecil County district. Every seat on the Shore other than the democratically drawn majority-minority district is now held by Republicans. The lone Democrat State Senator on the Shore, Jim Mathias, regrettably, barely held on to his seat despite investments of time and financial resources in the race. All three delegate seats in his State Senate district went Republican, but Mathias held on by the skin of his teeth.

Another big highlight on the Shore was the defeat of Democrat Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt by Republican Bob Culver. Congressman Harris donated significantly to Bob’s campaign, and Culver was able to pull it out. In addition to these Democrat-held seats, four candidates running in open seats and supported by Harris were able to put their races away with ease. Mary Beth Carozza (Worcester) won 74% in her single member district. Chris Adams (Wicomico) and Johnny Mautz (Talbot) each doubled the amount of votes received by their Democratic challengers. Jay Jacobs (Kent), Steve Arentz (Queen Anne’s) and Jeff Ghrist (Caroline) all ran strong victorious delegate campaigns. With the election of Jeff Ghrist, Caroline County has for the first time in decades a resident delegate.

Every Republican Delegate or Senate candidate who represents a part of the First District received some level of financial support from Congressman Harris.

A good illustration of the impact outside help can make is found with Anderton’s race. Throughout the campaign. incumbent Norm Conway’s bankroll fluctuated in a range of $75,000 to $100,000 on hand. With most candidates, it’s difficult to overcome that much of a financial disadvantage; indeed, it turned out Carl was outspent in the race by more than 4 to 1. While Anderton put in a tremendous amount of sweat equity, having the money to wage a little bit of a media campaign and not completely cede the airwaves made a big difference.

But another local race illustrates the problem a statewide minority party has. That “skin of the teeth” victory by Jim Mathias also was won at great cost – like Anderton, Republican challenger Mike McDermott was outspent by better than 4 to 1. For Mathias, though, the victory was won on the airwaves as he spent $268,850 over the last month at a company called Screen Strategies, which is a really big gun in that it’s worked for several statewide Democratic campaigns and leftist interest groups, including anti-traditional marriage and pro-abortion entities. On just that firm alone, Mathias spent 2.3 times what Mike McDermott spent on his entire campaign. And since it’s a more far-flung Senate district – as opposed to the relatively compact confines of House District 38B in the immediate Salisbury metro area – the impact of media is much greater because no candidate can be everywhere in three counties every day.

What the Maryland Republican Party needs is more people to pull in money like Harris does and spread it around. While Democrats have a registration majority of roughly 2 to 1 over Republicans and 56% of the overall electorate, they hold a margin larger than their proportion in the Maryland Senate and prior to this year’s election did the same in the House – and that’s not to mention their 9 to 1 advantage in Maryland’s Congressional delegation. When Jim Mathias and Norm Conway needed financial help, their party and interests were able to provide it. Unfortunately, it’s only because of Andy Harris that the First District is the one portion of the state where the GOP can counter this – the rest of the state exists more or less on its own. The loss of Dan Bongino in the Sixth Congressional District was troubling because that end of the state could have received the same assistance down the road.

One big, big problem with the Republican Party in Maryland is that they can’t fill out their ballot throughout the state, and even in certain county races. While Republicans have outdone their registration disadvantage in Wicomico County for the past several years, we still could not find candidates willing to go after two open seats, one for Delegate and one for County Council, in majority-minority districts. Granted, one only became open when the current Delegate withdrew at the last possible minute AFTER the filing deadline, but the GOP still could add a name to the ballot for a few days afterward. We tried, but no one would make that commitment. Now that people are becoming aware they could get at least a little financial help, though, that problem could be solved in 2018.

Though they have an uphill battle at best, those sacrificial lambs serve a noble purpose by making the Democrats spend money on their campaigns, money that they can’t send off to a vulnerable fellow candidate someplace else in the state – as many “safe” Democrats did to help Mathias. With few exceptions, Democrats found people willing to carry their banner in Republican-held areas so we had to pay some attention to them.

And there’s always the possibility of catching lightning in a bottle because once in awhile miracles happen – everyone and their brother thought District 38B was gerrymandered into a safe seat for Norm Conway, but the voters proved otherwise.

Those District 38B voters were better informed because they have a Congressman who’s willing to not just vote conservatively in Congress, but help in building a viable conservative movement in Maryland. In the meantime, state Republicans could stand some lessons from Carl on how to win an uphill battle.

The rookie class

November 10, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

I tell you, it’s the mundane things I do…

Last night I was setting up the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project charts, to save me a little work come next spring. (One key change: I’m going to alphabetical order to make it so, so much easier to compile votes since the state legislative chart lists tallies alphabetically.) Something I note on the mAP is the “years of service” and there are a lot of people who will have “1″ next to their name.

In the House of Delegates, there will be a whopping 58 rookie legislators, while the Senate will boast three rookies. Out of those 61, which make up almost a third of the General Assembly as 29 are Republicans and 32 are Democrats, it’s worth noting that all three Senate rookies come from the GOP, which has changed over half its 12 members that were elected in 2010 in expanding back to the 14 they had from 2006-10.

While the GOP House caucus is at a modern high of 50 members, over half of them will be new to the General Assembly. Just on a local level, the District 38 delegation has two rookies while District 37 has three. Between the primary and general elections, the three local politicians who have 20 or more years in the General Assembly were whittled to one (newly-minted Senator Addie Eckardt.) Next in seniority is Senator Jim Mathias, who was first appointed to the House in 2006, then Delegate Charles Otto, who won re-election last week for a second term.

The learning curve for all these newbies will be steep, but it will be fascinating to see if they come up with new and better bills than the old veterans have done over the last eight years. Another interesting angle will be the bills sponsored by the Speaker and Senate President – since the governor cannot introduce a bill, it’s normally introduced by the Speaker or President “by request” of the administration – here’s one example. Imagine a tax cut bill being introduced by a Democrat – but that will be the case as Governor-elect Hogan outlines a legislative agenda.

(Another thing to watch is whether Martin O’Malley will leave some sponsored bills as parting gifts walking out the door, since the General Assembly reconvenes a couple weeks before the inauguration of Larry Hogan. Honestly, I doubt it.)

This will be an exciting time to watch the General Assembly.

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.

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