Maryland’s top prize

I have to admit I was shocked as anyone else to hear Barbara Mikulski was not seeking re-election. Although I figured she was closer to the end of her tenure than the beginning, I would have thought she would privately anoint a successor. In that respect it would have been a good landing spot for Martin O’Malley if Anthony Brown won the governorship, giving O’Malley a leg up on the 2016 Senate race once it became clear his Presidential bid was going nowhere fast. Sadly for the former governor, Larry Hogan won.

But among the blizzard of reaction from mainstream state news outlets and other political commentators, there are several things to keep in mind. First of all, this opening in a statewide race would favor those with plenty of money and a team in place. It doesn’t have to be a person who has run statewide, and because this election allows members of the Maryland General Assembly to “run from cover” because their seats aren’t involved in the election, it’s very possible a few may take a shot.

Secondly – and perhaps more importantly from a “bench” standpoint – if you assume that at least three or four sitting Congressmen decide to make a run for the seat, the same rules apply. Consider, if you will, an Andy Harris run on the Republican side – how many local elected officials would be interested in that seat as it suddenly opens? You could imagine Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio taking a shot, along with politicians from the other side of the Bay in Harris’s district. Multiply that by three or four Congressional districts and the prospect for several changes in the General Assembly for the second half of Larry Hogan’s term is significantly higher.

Yet in any of these cases, the decisions will have to be made early, probably no later than June. And that’s not just for the Senate seat, but those who may see themselves on the lower rung of the ladder in the House. Once those dominoes begin to fall, there’s no telling how far the stack could reach because it will all depend on who wins the respective primaries.

But just as the 2014 election proved to create a tremendous shakeup in the House of Delegates, the 2016 election may be cataclysmic for the state’s Congressional delegation. Even if just three or four run for office, the effect would be huge given that no more than two seats of the ten have changed hands in any recent election. The effect may be similar to 1986, when Mikulski first won office and several other Congressional seats picked up new faces (however, that was also a state election year, unlike 2016.)

So rather than try and predict the parlor game of who will run, the point of this piece is to remind people of the importance of a strong political bench. You have one seat that is a six-year term with no term limits and (quite honestly) not a lot of responsibility when you compare it to the governor’s chair. The last time this opportunity came up was 2006, but that was a year when state office holders had to weigh the odds of emerging from a crowded field against the certainty of re-election – not so a decade later.

The question isn’t so much who, but how many. It wouldn’t surprise me if the 2006 total of 28 aspirants isn’t surpassed in 2016. Most of them will be no-names or perennial candidates with no shot, but there will be some turnover in our Congressional delegation because of this sudden opening.

When three should be one

Last month I wrote about the controversy some Central Committees around the state faced when it came to filling vacancies for Senator and Delegate positions. It boiled down to the preference of Governor Hogan to have a selection of names to choose from when it came to these positions clashing with both the desire of local Central Committees to make the choice and the language of Section 13 of the Maryland Constitution.

If you look at those who have been appointed so far to the various positions, there is a level of familiarity involved: Barrie Ciliberti is a former Delegate returning to the House of Delegates, while Andrew Serafini and Justin Ready have moved up from the House to the Senate to fill vacancies there. The seats formerly held by Ready and Serafini are among the three current vacancies in the House of Delegates, with the other being the seat formerly belonging to Delegate Cathy Vitale, who was tapped by the outgoing O’Malley administration to fill an Anne Arundel County judgeship.

In the cases of Ciliberti, Ready, and now Vitale, there has been no shortage of controversy in filling the seats. Supporters of Wendi Peters, who finished fourth in the District 4 primary for Delegate, fumed that a member of the slate also consisting of Delegates Kathy Afzali and David Vogt and Senator Michael Hough leapfrogged Peters in the selection process – Barrie Ciliberti was fifth in that primary, but a Frederick County Republican Central Committee consisting of Hough supporters made the decision with Carroll County’s body tabbing Ciliberti as one of their three finalists as well.

Carroll County’s Republican Central Committee has its own stain, replacing its original choice of Robin Bartlett Frazier for District 5 Senate at the behest of the Hogan Administration, which insisted that they amend the process to permit the elevation of then-Delegate Justin Ready to the Senate.

With Anne Arundel County now under the gun to replace Vitale, the three vs. one controversy is back. According to an article in the Capital Gazette by Chase Cook and Sarah Haynesworth, Anne Arundel County’s Central Committee is planning to send just one name to Governor Hogan – at least until there’s a formal request to do otherwise. Apparently such a request is on its way.

If it were my Central Committee, though, that formal request would be crumpled up and thrown into the circular file. The Gazette piece quotes current Delegate Tony McConkey at length, noting that he’s advising the AARCC to send just one name.

As I stated in January, the selection of a state officer should be done closest to the district involved, meaning it would be the Central Committee’s task to select the recipient and not the Governor’s. It’s a similar argument to the one we as a Central Committee have made regarding the wisdom of an elected Board of Education for Wicomico County as opposed to the current system of appointees from the governor’s office in Annapolis. Assuming we get the school board as currently envisioned, even the appointees for the hybrid portion of the board and for any vacancies would be done locally.

Yet there’s now another element being thrown into the mix. On her way out the door Delegate Vitale introduced HB1070, which would change the Maryland Constitution to allow for a special election in Presidential years once a vacancy is created. As an example, if the law were in effect today those who were recently appointed would face re-election in 2016 to a two-year term rather than serving all the way until 2018. In its description of the proposal the Gazette is incorrect because the earliest we could see such an election would be 2020 – even if passed this year it would be on the 2016 statewide ballot as a question (most likely Question 1.)

In some respects this is a good idea, but I think this would be very confusing to voters. In certain time frames, it could also be difficult to get a person to serve unless it was understood they would be a caretaker member until the election was over – sort of like the situation we faced in replacing Page Elmore in 2010 during the midst of a primary campaign for his successor. The consensus we reached with Somerset County was to put his widow in the seat until the new Delegate was elected (which turned out to be Charles Otto.)

Nor should we forget that, when the shoe was on the other foot and a Democrat was appointing for a Democratic seat, only one name was turned in by the local party organizations.

If appointments are going to be done in Annapolis from a list of three names, it begs the question: just what function do Central Committees have, anyway? At that point the Appointments Secretary just might as well handle the whole thing. I hope that’s not the overall intent of the Hogan administration, but right now they seem to want to cut the locals out of the process where they can and it’s disappointing.

On ‘Death with Dignity’

February 22, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Cathy Keim, Maryland Politics, Politics · 2 Comments 

By Cathy Keim

“The solution to suffering never is to eliminate the sufferer.” – Dr. William Toffler

I was writing a piece on the Death with Dignity Act but Michael beat me to it by posting on it last Wednesday, so I will address some of the issues that Michael touched on briefly.

I agree with Michael that this bill has a good chance at passing. My reason for thinking this is due to the emotional appeal that is being made by the proponents. None of us like to think about death in general and our own death in particular. Even less appealing is to consider oneself in extremely poor health with no chance of recovery; indeed, only a continued progression downward.

Many people jump from that grim thought to friends or loved ones that they have seen suffer and are ready to declare that they will not submit to such a fate. This is really a very American “I am captain of my ship” type of thinking. We are a free people. Why should we have to suffer a lingering illness and the indignities that accompany such a loss of mobility or mental capacity?

The more libertarian among us declare that the government has no right to keep us from our choice. Perhaps they should stop for a minute and realize that the more present fear is that the government will all too willingly let you have your wish and maybe help you along before you quite decide that is where you want to go.

Now that our healthcare has been taken over by the government and our Republican leaders show no progress in their faint attempts to stop it, people should realize that things are quickly moving to the government being able to refuse care. After all, it costs a lot of money to treat sick or handicapped people and we could save a lot if we helped some of them choose to leave a little sooner.

Insurance companies are already questioning charges on patients that have difficult prognoses and are refusing to cover futile care. I think you can see that this could get pretty scary pretty fast. Or let’s consider that now Maryland hospitals are given a set amount of money at the beginning of each year and they are not to go over budget. The safest way to not go over budget is to reduce the number of patients you see, particularly the really sick ones.

Now some of these measures may be good, but when you change your basic outlook from “we are here to help sick people” to “we are here to not bust our budget” then you can quickly see how this might not be to the patient’s benefit. This is why we must consider the principles involved before we go to the emotional appeal. Sadly, the emotional appeal is more attractive, which is why it is used over and over again to gain voter support for a myriad of causes.

But on to the less attractive principled approach. This comes down to do we want a culture of life or a culture of death? When you start addressing the big issues, then you have to come clean on your worldview. There are really only two worldviews: we are either created by God (you may choose which one, but America was founded on a Judeo-Christian construct) or we sprang from somewhere with no purpose and no place to go.

If you believe that the world and all that is in it, including men, were created with a purpose, then you will lean towards a culture of life. Since you cannot create life, then you should respect it and care for all men, even those that are not perfect no matter how they came to be that way, whether through accident, age, birth, or war.

You will show compassion to those that need help, starting with your own family and then spreading outward to your community and beyond.

This culture of life says that each life is of value whether they can contribute economically or not.

If, on the other hand, you do not believe that you owe allegiance to any Creator, then you will be quite right to think that you can decide whatever you wish. However, you must realize that Nietzsche dealt with all this and you are heading down a path to a very dark place.

In a very short time, you will go from being captain of your own ship to “might makes right.”

One small aside is that weakness and compassion may have lessons for us all that we will never learn unless we are exposed to situations where we must care for or be cared for by someone. This is not a particularly happy thought, especially to our can-do American spirit, but it is true. Suffering is not something that we seek, but it does bring strength that nothing else can.

Dr. William Toffler, a professor at Oregon Health and Science University, is also the National Director of Physicians for Compassionate Care Education Foundation. Since Oregon passed an assisted suicide law in 1997, Dr. Toffler has had plenty of time to observe the law in action. In a USA Today op-ed he wrote with Dr. Frank S. Rosenbloom, Toffler noted:

At the most fundamental level, the fatal flaw of assisted suicide is that it subverts the trust in the patient-physician relationship. Once a physician agrees to assist a patient with suicide, their relationship is altered.

(snip)

Clearly, the disconnection from the patient under the guise of compassion is contradictory to the long tradition of medical practice: ‘First, do no harm.’

In short, this legislation has not granted, but has actually stripped vulnerable individuals of their worth and dignity. In fact, it has diminished the dignity of us all.

Dr. Toffler’s last quote points us to another danger of the emotional appeal. Vulnerable individuals are not immune to the subtle push of the culture of death which whispers to them: you have no value, you are a burden to your family, you are costing everybody a lot of money and time, you should just take these pills as it would be better for everybody. Mothers carrying babies with handicaps are already told that it is for the best to abort the imperfect baby.

I told you that the principled approach would not be the easy way. Perhaps I have not convinced many to change their mind with such a short essay, but to those who understand I appeal to you to call your Delegate and State Senator and tell them that you do not support HB1021 or SB676.

Speeding in the right direction

In one piece of good news from the Maryland Senate they approved SB44, a bill allowing the maximum speed limit in the state to be raised to 70 miles per hour. The 39-7 vote in the Senate isolated a handful of Senators from urban areas who thought 65 was good enough, but common sense prevailed given most highways were designed for 70 MPH speeds decades ago when cars weren’t built with all the safety features they now have. If the law is passed through the House, it would take effect in October and most likely one of the roads affected would be the U.S. 50/13 bypass around Salisbury where the current speed limit is 65.

To me, it’s a start. While we’re not as open as Texas or other states west of the Mississippi, I could see interstate-grade highways in this area supporting an 80 MPH limit and perhaps even “autobahn” rules (no speed limit in the left lane.) Obviously with the amount of computing and communication around the state (think about those large billboard-style signs on U.S. 50, for example) we could even progress to variable speed limits with 60 MPH as a floor but ranging upward based on traffic and conditions. (I use 60 MPH as a basis because U.S. 50 on the Eastern Shore reminds me of U.S. 27 in central Florida where my parents live – a mainly rural highway with crossroads connecting a few small-to-medium sized towns, and it’s a 60 MPH highway.)

Now we all know that people use the speed limit as a suggestion and drive 7 to 10 MPH over, so 55 becomes 62 to 65 MPH in practice. This Washington Post story on the Maryland Senate vote quoted opponent Jim Brochin making that point. But no one says a municipality or county has to change its limit, although I would encourage them to do so.

When I moved here from Ohio a decade ago, I noticed that Maryland had quite a few nanny state driving laws. So while we are looking at changing the speed limits, can we also dump the full-time headlight requirement on certain two-lane highways like U.S. 113 and Maryland Route 90? Long stretches of both highways affected are now divided.

North of the border, I would love to see Delaware get with the program and raise a lot of its 50 MPH roads at least to 55 MPH.

I’m sure the insurance industry is already screaming bloody murder about the speed limit change, so I doubt that my pet projects will go anywhere because they have a lot more lobbying cash than I have. Yet this is the state that can’t even bring itself to discuss the possibility of self-driving vehicles with a task force (although they’re trying again in 2015 with HB172/SB778.)

We talk about making the state more business-friendly, but it’s not just financial – getting goods to market and being able to provide rapid service through improved utilization of transportation infrastructure is quite important, too. Adding 5 MPH to the interstate speed limits is a nice tiny step, but only one of many needed.

To save the terminal

February 18, 2015 · Posted in Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · 1 Comment 

A few weeks ago the Maryland Right to Life group sounded the alarm about a proposed doctor-prescribed suicide bill intended for introduction to the Maryland General Assembly. Sure enough, on February 6 the Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer Death with Dignity Act was introduced in the Senate as SB676. The companion HB1021 was introduced a week later, and differs from the Senate bill in that it has modestly bipartisan support as two Republicans are among the co-sponsors.

In principle, MRTL should be against the bill as it interferes with the natural death process. But in reviewing the reasons MRTL gives for their specific opposition, they lean heavily on the experience the state of Oregon has had with a similar bill. Maryland’s version addresses some of these issues.

The bill is one of those which splits the Republican community, though. Libertarian-minded members see this as a “death with dignity” issue – one example is this piece from Joe Steffen at his Darkness Revisited website. It’s a piece where he asks that:

I’ve heard EVERY counter argument, like, a million times. So, please don’t throw any pro-life/anti-abortion stuff or “unintended consequences” type crap at me.

Hearing every counter-argument isn’t the same as refuting them, however. Truthfully, I can see both sides of this bill and while the MRTL may be going a little overboard with their reaction, I don’t think this bill is going to be the final answer.

First of all, the bill which is supposed to give more freedom to those who would like to end their suffering makes them jump through a number of hoops in order to get their relief. It’s a very complex process, and perhaps that’s by design given some of the alleged abuses detailed in other localities. In most cases, the biggest fear is that of an elderly family member being bullied into making the decision to end his or her life in order to provide personal gain to the heirs or other family members.

Or – even worse – they may be bullied into the decision by the state, such as in this example from Oregon.

But one big problem with Maryland’s proposed law is that it requires the cause of death to be listed as the underlying illness rather than noting the assisted suicide. While there are legitimate reasons for this, such as patient privacy, I think it’s also going to lead to significant underreporting of how many people actually use the procedure.

Regardless, this is a bill which has a reasonably good chance of passage. It’s worth noting that the House version of this bill went to two committees, which is often done if there’s reason to worry about getting through a particular committee. But assuming the bill makes it through second reading, there are enough Democrats in both houses to pass the bill. A handful of Republicans will likely vote yes as well while most vote against it. Governor Hogan, who avoided social issues like the plague during the campaign, will most likely bend to the will of the General Assembly and sign the bill into law.

I understand the emotional appeal to the bill, as most of us know someone who succumbed to a lengthy and painful terminal illness. But the potential for abuse from future amendments to the bill has to be considered as well so I’m not sure I can be on board with this one.

Wicomico elected school board takes a big step

Update 2/18: Hearings are scheduled for both bills now: SB730 on March 18 and HB1040 on March 19.

Friday the 13th may be considered an unlucky day by many, but it was the day a crossfiled pair of bills allowing the changeover to a partially-elected, partially-appointed “hybrid” county board of education was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly.

HB1040/SB730, sponsored by the Wicomico County Delegation (comprised of Delegates Chris Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes) in the House and Senator Addie Eckardt in the Senate, both got their first readings and were referred to committees. The House version went to Ways and Means while the Senate version went to Rules because of its late introduction there. Chances are it will be re-referred to the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Senate. (Update: It was.)

While the bills have been introduced, though, there’s still a long way to go. First of all, neither bill has a hearing scheduled and that’s the logical next step. It’s also worthy of note that Senator Jim Mathias, who has sponsored our elected school board bills before, is not a co-sponsor this time. I’m sure he’s aware the bill would be placed in the hopper but I suspect he and Delegate Sample-Hughes – being the lone Democrats in the delegation – are getting some pushback on the issue from certain constituency groups who like things just the way they are. Those groups, though, are the squeaky wheel minority.

All this comes at an interesting time as two of the seven members of the existing Wicomico County Board of Education have tendered their resignations while a third has stayed on for months beyond his term expiration because no successor has been appointed. These openings affect two Democrats and one Republican; however, with the election of Larry Hogan the board composition is set to become 4-3 Republican instead of 4-3 Democrat as it was with Martin O’Malley. So two of the three slots would be filled by Republicans, and the Central Committee is in the process of collecting applications, reviewing them and deciding on potential nominees at the next meeting March 2.

While I’m an erstwhile member of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, I think I can speak for them when I say they would rather not have the job of selecting candidates – that should be up to the voters. I would have preferred a fully-elected board but for now we can try for a first-step victory by getting this through the Maryland General Assembly this session.

Creating his own outlet

To be perfectly honest and up front about it, I have not listened to the subject of this post, as my life and items are still in some disarray after our recent move. (This includes my headphones, which are in some box somewhere.)

But last week Dan Bongino released the second of what is now a weekly series of podcasts. And given the fact he’s used the political world and running for office twice in the last two federal cycles to make a name for himself in the media world, I wanted to use this post to ponder whether if we would see Bongino go three-for-three with the 2016 U.S. Senate race or a rematch with John Delaney in Maryland’s Sixth District.

Let’s look at a little history first. At this time four years ago, no one outside of the world of the Secret Service and law enforcement knew who Dan Bongino was. But in the spring of 2011 he made the decision to begin his political career with a run for the U.S. Senate seat in Maryland, and with an engaging personality and conservative stands on many issues, Bongino made enough of a name for himself to win a crowded primary and the right to face incumbent Ben Cardin.  While Bongino had some good fortune in the fact no former candidate like Eric Wargotz or Michael Steele, regionally known officeholder like Pat McDonough, or former governor Bob Ehrlich decided to jump into the race, it’s likely he weighed all these possibilities and had an idea they would skip the race before he got in.

Something Bongino succeeded in doing with his 2012 Senate race, though, was nationalizing his effort. In most northeastern states, a Republican running for a statewide office against long odds would attract little notice outside the state, but Bongino made waves with his race once he received a Sarah Palin endorsement. His 2014 Congressional effort continued on the same path.

But something else we learned about Bongino was that he was a natural at broadcasting. Over the last few years he’s graduated from occasional guest to guest host, taking over for both Sean Hannity and Mark Levin on occasion. If he ever lands a spot sitting in for Rush Limbaugh we’ll know he’s in the big leagues.

So it brings up the question for a multimedia player like Bongino: what’s in it for him to make a 2016 run?

Bongino is in a spot in Maryland similar to the one which Sarah Palin occupies nationally. Dan’s support for a candidate is looked upon with approval from a large number of conservative voters in Maryland, just like a Palin endorsement appeals to a particular subset of voters nationwide. Both, however, are becoming more well-known in media circles than for accomplishments in office (which is a shame on Palin’s part, since she has been elected several times.)

If Bongino runs again and loses again, will that tarnish his standing among conservatives who can’t point to electoral success on his part? On the other hand, will he feel that the media exposure he’s gaining is going to put him over the top? With just a few hundred plays on his Soundcloud (I cannot discern how his iTunes podcasts are doing) it’s a nice outlet but not one which gets him a lot of exposure like a guest-hosting slot would give.

Over the next few months, the 2016 races will begin to take shape. I would expect at least a couple members of the Maryland General Assembly to run from cover for federal positions but not to announce their intentions until later this summer. Those who have less name recognition will probably start in the next month or so since the primary is less than 14 months away – depending on how the Presidential race shakes out, we may see more attention paid to the downticket races like U.S. Senate.

If I were to take my educated guess, I think Dan is going to pass on 2016 unless the Senate seat becomes open through the retirement of Barb Mikulski. With 2016 being a Presidential year, turnout will be more like the 2012 turnout and that tends to favor Democrats in this state.

On the other hand, 2018 creates a host of possibilities on both a state and federal level, giving Dan more options should he decide to jump in a race.

Once I get my stuff together I will take about 45 minutes and listen to what Dan has to say – chances are I will enjoy it. But my thoughts always work to the next cycle and all the possibilities within. If the question is whether Dan Bongino will be in the mix, I think the answer is yes. I’m just not sure where one of the many young guns the Maryland GOP has will fit in.

Pessimistic part of the state

I said the other day that I wanted to look more deeply at a poll done by the Washington Post last week, and my focus is on how the outstate areas that overwhelmingly supported Governor Larry Hogan compare with the rest of the state on these issues.

For example, the right direction/wrong track polling showed statewide respondents had a 48-40 opinion that the state was on the right path, but those who answered from outstate were the most pessimistic by a 36-55 margin. It was eight points down from any other group.

Yet those who voted for him from the hinterlands were still not sold on Hogan’s efforts. Their 43-24 approval of Hogan’s performance was almost identical to the 42-24 statewide numbers. On the other hand, they were slightly more confident in his ability to turn things around, believing he would by a 61-30 margin compared to the statewide average of 58-33.

Tellingly, the number of outstate repliers who believed the state should be governed more conservatively was several notches above the average, with 44% agreeing we need a more conservative direction as opposed to 36% overall. Only 22% favored more liberalism among outstaters compared to 28% as a whole.

And when the polling turned to the performance of General Assembly Democrats, the 49-43 favorable margin among all voters melted down to a 36-58 disapproval outside the I-95 corridor. The strong disapproval of 35% from those polled outstate was by far the highest. Outstate voters also differed from the norm as they believed the hot issue the General Assembly needs to work on was the state economy (21%) followed closely by public education and taxes at 20% each. Overall, Maryland picked public education at 26%, with taxes at 18% and the state economy at 16%.

We on the geographic fringes also didn’t fondly recall Martin O’Malley, giving him a 37-57 approval-disapproval number compared to 49-43 for the state at large.

There was also a tendency to see particular issues in a more conservative way, which is to be expected from the regions of the state which aren’t urban or suburban. In general, the Post lays out its geographic regions to specifically cover Prince George’s, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, and Howard counties, along with Baltimore City and its suburbs. The rest of us are lumped into the “rest of state” category, which covers a wide swath of the state from border to border in both directions.

One thing the Post did not poll on was the Phosphorous Management Tool, the enactment of which Hogan delayed within hours of taking office last month. Naturally, counties where this was sold as another tactic to clean up Chesapeake Bay would likely be against this change, which the rest of the state (particularly the Eastern Shore) may be solidly behind Hogan’s action.

If you ever wanted real proof that there is more than one Maryland, this poll is a pretty good indicator of the differences.

Post poll appears to have mixed results

An initial survey from the Washington Post claims that Marylanders are willing to give Larry Hogan a chance. However, his job approval ratings wouldn’t be called stellar as Hogan rests at 42% in the poll - granted, he only has 24% disapproval so the ratio is quite good. If everyone were pressed to give an opinion, chances are Hogan would be in the low 60s for approval and that’s very positive.

One place in which the narrative needs to be shored up, though, is the perception that Maryland is cutting education spending. It may not be the increase those in the field desire to have, but in FY2016 Maryland will spend more on education than it did in FY2015. Numbers don’t lie, but people seem to be operating under the mistaken belief that cuts in education spending were actual reductions – in many cases it’s simply not true. “Cuts to education” is an easy message for Democrats to send, though. (Honestly, I’m not surprised the liberals in Maryland haven’t dubbed Hogan’s idea to cut income taxes for retired first responders as “tax cuts for the rich” given their generous pensions.)

I haven’t taken the time to dig into the Post poll but there are some factors I want to look for. One example is the geographic breakdown on results, since we also have the election results to look back at. One would suspect places which voted heavily for Hogan are willing to give a little more slack.

A question I don’t think was asked (but should have been in the wake of the Democrats’ reaction to Hogan’s State of the State address) would be the approval rating of the General Assembly. Mysteriously, we don’t hear a lot of talk about the need for bipartisanship and cooperation with the state’s chief executive right now – not that we heard much of it with Martin O’Malley, but the reason there was the lack of need for it as Democrats could easily ramrod through all of MOM’s agenda without a single Republican vote.

So let me dig into this poll and see what I find. It’s been a busy week for me and there’s not much sign of a letup. Good thing I added a second contributor.

The state of our state: an ambitious agenda

Now that the shoe is on the other foot for the first time in eight years, thousands were interested in how newly-inaugurated Governor Larry Hogan assessed the state of our state. And it didn’t take long for him to assess that:

But while our assets are many, and our people are strong and hopeful, their state is simply not as strong as it could be – or as it should be.

Yet in reading through the speech, I didn’t see it as a negative in any way. Instead, Hogan proposed a number of solutions which, instead of spending money or growing government, generally worked in the opposite direction. Breaking the laundry list into eleven parts, it’s easy to summarize the Hogan plan for year one:

  • Analyzing and enacting portions of the upcoming Augustine Commission report on business competitiveness. The idea here is to make Maryland more business-friendly and hopefully wean the state’s economy off a long-term dependence on federal government jobs.
  • Restructure government to be more efficient and effective, using the new faces placed at many of the Cabinet-level departments.
  • Legislation repealing the “rain tax.” This may get some serious opposition from the environmentalist groups who believe this is a fair way to pay for Bay restoration efforts, even though the fees were set by county and only affected ten of 24 county-level jurisdictions.
  • Legislation proposed to exempt military, police, fire, and other first responder pensions from state income taxes. Eventually Hogan would like this to cover all retirement income. It’s an effort to improve Maryland’s dismal standing and reputation as a place not to retire.
  • Legislation to exempt the first $10,000 of personal property from taxation, a move Hogan claims would eliminate the tax for half of Maryland businesses.
  • Legislation to repeal the automatic gasoline tax increases baked into the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013.
  • Restoring the local share of Highway User Revenues, a sore spot among the state’s rural counties in particular.
  • On education, strengthening the charter school laws. More controversial will be the oft-tried BOAST tax credit, which gives a tax credit to those who contribute to parochial or private schools. Hogan noted previous iterations have passed the Senate only to fail in the House.
  • Hogan has already shelved the Phosphorus Management Tool, and called for farmers and environmentalists to work on a better, more equitable solution. He also promised to address the “long-ignored impact of upstream polluters,” including the problems at Conowingo Dam.
  • An executive order to deal with the heroin epidemic. Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford has been tasked with this issue.
  • Reinstating the Fair Campaign Financing Act fund by bringing back the checkoff on the tax returns, and also establishing a commission to examine the state’s redistricting process via executive order. If I have the time, I’d love to serve on that one because we really do need to reform the system.

Certainly it’s not the strongly conservative agenda some may prefer, but I would consider it a good first step. Much of the reform will have to go through the General Assembly, and perhaps the strategy is that of picking off just enough Democrats on various issues to build an ever-shifting coalition with the Republicans. The fifty Republicans in the House and 14 in the Senate would be joined by one group of Democrats who consider education reform a must, but may not agree with Hogan’s approach to cleaning up the Bay. Yet some Democrats may like that idea, but won’t budge on changing the gas tax – and so on and so forth. Just as long as Larry gets 71 votes in the House and 24 in the Senate, the means do not matter.

Because of the nature of how our state’s political process, the honeymoon for Hogan was barely existent. He had to have a budget mere hours after taking office, and some legislation he probably wouldn’t support was already being discussed in the General Assembly. Obviously Larry was working in a shadow government of sorts as he awaited inauguration, but once he took the reins that horse quickly accelerated to full gallop.

So while it’s not necessarily less government, at least Larry is working on making things more efficient and streamlined. Hopefully we can get it to such a level that it wouldn’t be missed when the reductions occur. That’s the next logical step.

WCRC meeting – January 2015

January 26, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

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

January 25, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

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.

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