Playing the Trump card

As if last year’s election results weren’t enough evidence that the Maryland Republican Party is leading a charmed life, look what happens when you schedule your largest fundraiser of the year with Donald Trump as your guest speaker: he decides to announce a presidential run just days before his scheduled appearance. It goes without saying that the media attention and kudos Baltimore County received from having fellow candidate Senator Rand Paul will also accrue to the state party. If the party draws a full house, I’m sure someone will try and take the credit for being smart enough to grab Trump as a speaker.

Yet there are also the possibilities that the room won’t be all that packed, Trump will deliver a horrific stump speech, or one of his hairs will slide out of place. Nor is it unprecedented to have a presidential aspirant at the event – Newt Gingrich was on the campaign trail when he keynoted the 2011 event. Maybe “the Donald” will actually start putting together an issues page for his campaign website based on what he reveals to the Maryland GOP next week, and hopefully we don’t find out he’s all sizzle and no steak when it comes to politics.

But the nice thing about all these happy coincidences is that Maryland may actually matter in the presidential sweepstakes. It’s not likely the field will be more than two to four by the time our primary rolls around on April 26, but we do have proximity to the major media markets. And while the attention is certainly on the early states like Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s a good time for campaigns to get their volunteers in order.

The question, though, is what Trump’s somewhat unexpected entry (after talking about running for several previous election cycles then backing away) means for the rest of the field.

Obviously we have the celebrity aspect to consider. Besides a bank account ample enough to self-fund a presidential run which could cost the winner $1 billion, the thing Trump brings to the race is instant name recognition – love him or hate him, one does not have to be a policy wonk to know the name. Political junkies like me know who John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, and Lindsey Graham are, but the average guy on the street is only aware of two presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton and (maybe) Jeb Bush. With Trump the GOP has star power, enough that few are talking about Jeb Bush’s formal entry into the fray yesterday.

That’s also important given the “top ten” debate rules in place for this cycle on the GOP side. While I had a better idea of multiple debates with randomly-selected groups of 5 to 7 apiece, there are now 12 formal entrants with Bobby Jindal slated to make it official next week and fellow governors Chris Christie and John Kasich still making noises about climbing into this free-for-all. Based on simple name recognition Trump should make that top ten easily and he better know how to deal with being on television.

The debate rule may be the key in culling the field before the summer is out. Those who are already starved for attention because they have no poll traction will probably see their campaigns wither on the vine because they can’t get into the debates.

And if Donald Trump alienates enough people, all his money won’t be able to buy him a spot. That will be the reason to watch his campaign as it unfolds, beginning next week with the Maryland GOP.

A few convention thoughts

For those who don’t know, the Maryland Republican Party had its convention “downy ocean” on Friday and Saturday.

They certainly can go upscale now that we occupy the governor’s office.

Doesn’t seem that long ago we couldn’t scrape up convention sponsors, let alone “Governor’s Circle” or “Chairman’s Circle.”

Since I didn’t have a proxy, nor could I attend anyway because I had work to do for a new employer, I decided to do the Friday night drop-in. To allocate a couple lines from an old Bob Seger song: “I headed east because I felt the change would do me good – see some old friends, good for the soul.”

Unfortunately, poolside at the Princess Royale isn’t great for photos. But truth be told, I wasn’t much into documenting the night anyway. I was having too much fun chatting up folks like my old “partner in crime” Heather Olsen, being a radio guest for Ryan Miner, and talking shop with some others. I did take a few various shots with the cell phone, but they don’t rise to the level of worth commenting on because most are dark or somewhat tiresome.

But I did receive some flak from on high about the piece I wrote Friday, being scolded because I didn’t know the whole story. Yet this bears one question: what would Joe Burns – or those four members of the Carroll County RCC who opposed the change to submitting multiple names – gain from lying or embellishing the truth? Conversely, if they are right, what does the “good old boy establishment” wing of the MDGOP lose? The ability for cronyism at will?

There’s no doubt that Joe’s idea of a properly working MDGOP is different than that of the leadership, and it’s probably a far cry than mine. But it’s my understanding that Diana Waterman chose to address this at the very end of the convention, after the expected move by the Resolutions Committee to not report any resolutions out. Been there, done that. As always, we have plenty of time for rehashes of what’s going on with the various party leaders, but not enough time to put some simmering issues to rest. I’d love to have some input from those on Resolutions to know why nothing made the cut.

Going forward, though, this is something which needs clarity. Either we allow the governor to have his way simply because he has an “R” behind his name or we have consistency in rules. After all, there was no do-over on any of the other General Assembly nominees.

One other thought I had, thanks to the presence of Don Murphy, was his belief that “you must be present to win.” Where was everyone who is considering a 2016 U.S. Senate bid? Besides Andy Harris, who had a hospitality suite upstairs, away from the pool, I wasn’t aware anyone else hosted a suite. Perhaps they were on the downlow, but now that session is over you would think we would have some movement. We already know a couple of the players lined up on the other side.

From what I heard, the party will be back in Annapolis Solomons this fall so I’m sure all those Senate hopefuls will be out of the woodwork by then – along with the umpteen GOP presidential hopefuls (more specifically, their Maryland proxies.) Hopefully we can be arguing over the merits of Dan Bongino vs. Andy Harris vs. Laura Neuman for Senate and all those who wish to clean up Barack Obama’s disaster because we will have some resolution and direction on the subjects currently at hand.

And who knows? I might just get a proxy for that one, or I might not. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon for all but two things: working (which is what I did) or arguing politics. I only missed it a little bit, which isn’t bad considering.

It might be a good idea this fall, though, to bump the Resolutions Committee report to the front of the agenda – and bring some popcorn.

Contention from the floor

A couple weeks ago I noted a prospective resolution for tomorrow’s business session of the Maryland Republican Party’s Spring Convention, which begins tonight in Ocean City. While that Article V convention was a hot topic, this one is even more blazing – so much so that sponsor Joe Burns is forgoing the usual process and banking that he can introduce it from the floor. He adds:

I expect I will be attacked a variety of ways, and other tactics used to prevent any issues like this from being even (being) discussed!

Therefore, I will need your help and assistance, if we are to reign in and correct these problems, now! The next elections and upcoming redistricting issues are at stake! We need to fix this now!

I am taking responsibility for one of our County’s own members. There may be others you feel also deserve some form of action too. I will leave this to your own good judgments!

If we all work together, we can nip some of these problems now, and save the rest of the Party, possibly winning future elections, and fixing redistricting problems!

(Obviously, Joe is heavily into exclamation points.)

The gist of his resolution is a demand that MDGOP Second Vice-Chair Larry Helminiak be subjected to a “vote of no confidence” and upon the presumed positive result of that vote, step down immediately. Obviously that would make for a much less harmonious convention, but Burns apparently feels the whole situation of submitting one name originally, then being strong-armed into rescinding the original vote and submitting three names for a General Assembly vacancy (as opposed to the tradition of just one) put Carroll County in a bad light. As his resolution reads:

Whereas, through the actions of one significant member of the Maryland State Party, the 2nd Vice Chairman Larry Helminiak, as an elected Officer of the Party’s leadership, participated in actively preventing other members of his own Central Committee, blocking information from being passed between members, plus pressuring other County’s Central Committee members, to violate their Oath of Office, or the unencumbered exercise of their franchise, while fulfilling their duties as fellow elected officials, (Article IV, Section 4.1, Subsection b, Clauses (1), & (5) plus Article XII, Section 12.1, & Section 12.2) and,

Whereas, by stating at an open meeting, that all members of any County Central Committee, were not ‘elected officials, as they do not stand for election in a general election, but were therefore equal to and should be only considered as ‘being appointed to their seats’ thus degrading the status and the earned, recognized, legal position of each elected Committee members, and,

Whereas, by his specific actions, both internally on this Committee, and throughout the state, he has tried to remove the lawful control of the State Party from the Central Committee elected delegates, placing it into the hands of a limited number of Party officials, contrary to traditional government by ‘We the People’ under consent of those being governed as outlined in our Constitution, a situation of Party Leadership tyranny is being fostered and created, and by using the power of the Party treasury to fund lawsuits to the detriment of, and promotion of these changes, no individual Central Committee’s independence or sovereign existence is guaranteed, and,

Whereas, as there was no reasonable excuse for the State Party to be involved in this lawsuit or situation at all, spending State Party assets to do so, unless this were an attempt to destroy the Party’s Central Committee’s function and their existence through these actions, thus destroying the Party itself,

Therefore, I submit a resolution under the By-Laws were these actions should be considered as ‘Conduct Unbecoming for an Officer of the Party’, I hereby request and require that 2nd Vice Chairman Larry Helminiak be given a vote of ‘No Confidence’ by this Convention for his continuing in office, stepping down immediately as an officer of the Party, and an election for his replacement be accorded as outlined in the State Party By-Laws (Article V, Section 5.5, Subsection e, Clause (2) immediately during this gathering of this Spring Convention.

We go back to the question of whether the Carroll County GOP made the proper play. Thus far the courts have disagreed with Burns, but there is a legitimate question of why the state party had to be involved in the case at all, particularly to the tune of $37,000. On those occasions where previous governors have plucked a member out of the General Assembly for his cabinet, or the more usual death or resignation of a member of either party, the standard procedure was one name picked by the local Central Committee. Carroll County’s first choice wasn’t to Larry Hogan’s liking, so someone requested a do-over. That does seem rather disrespectful of the local officials, yet a majority was fine with that. (You better believe it wouldn’t have been a majority on ours.) Bear in mind that the provision of Article III, Section 13 of the Maryland Constitution does NOT provide for the governor’s rejection of the appointee.

Perhaps the most disappointing part of Burns’ accusation is the paragraph where he alleges Helminiak said members of the Central Committee were not elected officials. In the respects that we are not paid for holding office, need not fill out financial disclosures, and are elected in the primary election rather than the general, this is true; however, we do have to take an almost identical oath of office, have to fill out the campaign finance reports (which include having the bank account and selecting a campaign treasurer), and are given a set of responsibilities which include appointing various officials up to and including members of the General Assembly. I don’t know about Carroll County, but ours takes that responsibility seriously.

In 2010, the last time I was elected, 2,139 people said I was an elected official. I think that carries a little weight, don’t you?

I’ve known Larry for several years and to me he’s a stand-up guy. But there is a part of me who would at least support Burns’s resolution getting to the floor because the whole situation stinks to high heaven and I think Larry Helminiak (as well as the other Central Committee members attending the convention) should explain their actions and answer questions about how much influence was really exerted by the governor’s office.

If we are a party which truly stands for limited government and local control, we should make this an example of executive overreach from Annapolis. Just because the guy in Government House has a “R” behind his name doesn’t mean the party has to bow to his every wish.

The Article V question

Because the GOP is now the party in power in Maryland, the biannual conventions will have more cooperation and less acrimony. The Fall Convention (which I did not attend for the first time in eight years) was described as a “love fest,” so I suspect the spring edition coming up next weekend in Ocean City may be more of the same.

But there will be a couple interesting and controversial pieces of business brought before the body, with the resolution in support of an Article V Constitutional convention the one likely to draw the most spirited argument. Lee Havis of Prince George’s County is spearheading the proposal, which reads:

Resolution in Support of an Application by the State of Maryland for a Convention of the States under Article V of the Constitution of the United States

Whereas, the State of Maryland has a duty to protect and defend fundamental rights of life, liberty and equal protection of the laws of its citizens from abusive actions and repression of these rights by unrestrained government, and

Whereas, the current operation of the federal government imperils these basic rights through excessive centralized control and lack of sufficient accountability to restrain its actions to a proper interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, and

Whereas, Article V of the Constitution of the United States provides that the Congress, on the Application of Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for the purpose of proposing Amendments to this document, such as to restrain these actions and related abuses of power,

Be it therefore resolved by the Maryland Republican Party that:

The Maryland Republican Party supports the application by the State of Maryland for Congress to call an Article V convention of the states for the purpose of proposing amendments to the US Constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government and limit the terms of office for its officials and members of Congress.

On its face, the resolution makes good sense. Because Congress cannot (or will not) place a check on its appetites for spending, regulation, and lifetime tenure, it would have to fall to the people to demand such a change. But opponents argue that there would be no limit on where the convention could go, and fret that regressives on the Left would hijack such a convention to remove the Second Amendment and put onerous restrictions on others in the interest of “fairness” and “equality.” They further argue that the Left is ignoring the Constitution as it is, so why go through the effort.

To buttress the point of opponents, it should be noted that regressives in the Maryland General Assembly introduced their own Article V resolution (SJ2/HJ2), but in their case it was intended to preserve what they consider voting rights and overturn the Citizens United decision:

WHEREAS, The General Assembly of Maryland favors the proposal and ratification of a “Democracy Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution to affirm every citizen’s individual right to vote, reject the doctrine that artificial entities have inalienable political rights, regulate campaign contributions and electioneering expenditures, and restore free and fair elections in America, and desires the convention to be limited to that purpose…

The Senate bill passed the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee with a 7-4 vote, and it’s passed the Senate by a 29-18 vote. (I don’t have that roll call yet.)

It brings up an interesting legal question as to the specificity of the state’s request for an Article V convention: if Oklahoma passes a call for a convention to deal with the balanced budget amendment, limitation of powers, and term limits while Maryland passes its version, do both states count toward the 2/3 needed? In both instances, the idea is to limit the purpose of the Article V convention but as one opponent pointed out, the idea of the original constitutional convention was to repair the Articles of Confederation, not replace them – instead, we came up with a whole new document.

Regardless, a Washington Times story from yesterday by David Sherfinski highlights a new approach by proponents; in this case Virginia State Senator Richard Black is being targeted for defeat. (In Black’s case, though, it would have to come from an independent candidate as the deadline to contest the GOP primary has passed.)

Presumably Republicans would like to not have regressives like Maryland General Assembly Democrats tinker with the Constitution, yet two Republican Delegates (Susan Aumann and John Cluster) were co-sponsors of HJ2 and Senator Bryan Simonaire voted for SJ2 in committee. It’s possible that other Republicans may have voted for it in the Senate, but as I noted the roll call is not up yet. We have close to four years before the next election, but the proponents (led by Mark Meckler, one of the founders of the Tea Party Patriots) will likely have more than a few Republicans in Maryland to target.

If this state party resolution even makes it to the floor – a dicey prospect at best – I don’t think it will pass. I would tend to agree with the opponents because there’s nothing in Article V that places a restriction on what can be accomplished. I understand Congress isn’t working on the issues conservatives care about, but we run a great risk of losing what freedoms we have should an Article V convention be called.

Stacking the deck by rule?

March 4, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

If you’re not aware of this, the saga of appointing new legislative members in Carroll County came to an inglorious end when the state Court of Appeals ruled it was within the Carroll County Republican Central Committee’s right to send multiple names to Governor Hogan for the selection of a new member of the legislature. Personally I think it should remain as one name, but apparently Larry likes having choices.

But you may not be aware – in fact, I wasn’t either until it was alluded to at Monday night’s Central Committee meeting – that the next state party convention, to be held next month in Ocean City, will feature a push to have counties adopt a standardized policy on filling legislative vacancies.

Indeed, there is logic and sense behind this as a whole. However, if it’s up to each county to make this official I would recommend the Central Committee in Wicomico County adopt this with at least one change. In Section 13, where it reads:

The Chair shall submit one name, however, at the request of the Governor, may submit more than one name.

I would ask the sentence be amended thus:

The Chair shall submit one name.

Here’s the reasoning why we should stay with a one-name approach (and why the Court of Appeals got it wrong.)

It has long been the practice that Central Committees in each county submitted just one name - problems only tended to occur with multi-county districts where more than one name was sent because counties preferred different candidates. (Senate District 36 is a recent example.)

That District 36 situation illustrates the problem with a multiple-name approach. If my memory serves me correctly, two counties selected eventual winner (and then-Delegate) Steve Hershey while the two other ones tabbed former Delegate Michael Smigiel. The choice was eventually made by Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. (Note each of the four counties sent up one name.)

Someday there will be a Democratic governor again who will preside over the selection for filling a vacancy in a conservative Republican district. Based on the language in this prospective amendment, what is to stop this governor from informing the Central Committee that he or she wants ten names rather than just three? Or instead of making a formal selection, the governor simply requested the forwarding of the name of everyone who applied, regardless of merit?

There are not a lot of representative functions for which the local Central Committee is charged – mainly their job is to represent the county at the state conventions. But it does serve at times as the electorate in those situations where it’s not practical to have an election – in recent meetings, the committee I serve with has selected applicants for the Board of Elections and interviewed for vacancies in our Board of Education. In the recent past, our local Central Committees have worked to select members of the General Assembly who died in office - Republicans for Page Elmore in 2010 and Democrats for Bennett Bozman in 2006.

Because Maryland doesn’t have the provision for special elections, we have to take that task seriously as voters won’t be able to correct us for many months or even three-plus years. It’s interesting that Kathy Fuller, who was one of the plaintiffs in the Carroll County case (supporting the submission of just one name) has the idea of prohibiting the selection of a member of the General Assembly for an administration position. With one exception, that’s the root cause of all this commotion.

But I digress. While there are many times we would be satisfied with any of a number of candidates, there is generally one who stands above the others in our estimation; however, there’s no guarantee the Appointments Secretary will feel the same since it’s likely he or she won’t do an in-depth interview.

One name has worked well in the past, and it’s a shame Larry Hogan mucked up the system because he didn’t like the Central Committee’s original choice. That’s what it boils down to. A more stout Central Committee would have stuck with their first choice, so I think we need the rules that will stiffen their collective spines.

Citizens’ Mandate a sign of the times

By Cathy Keim

A few days ago Michael posted the question: How will people respond if Jeb Bush is the GOP nominee this time around? He gave quite a few options to choose from. So far only one comment has popped up on the blog comment section and it was not positive towards Jeb.

Personally, I am not in favor of another Bush running for president, even if he was the one that was supposed to be president according to GOP folklore. We are not a kingdom, but a republic. We do not have royalty and do not need another Kennedy, Clinton or Bush for our survival. In fact, a Clinton or Bush as our next president might be more detrimental than other choices. I know that Bush is considered the lesser of two evils in a Clinton-Bush match up, but he still has terrible positions on Common Core and immigration, which are two huge issues.

Rather than waiting for the elites in the GOP and the donor class to tell us whom we may vote for, we should be actively working towards vetting and then getting behind a conservative candidate early. Marylanders do not have much of a part to play in the early primaries, but we can still do our homework and then support our candidate early so that they have a better chance of making it through the primary process without being picked off one by one as we have seen in the past.

The GOP leadership has already shown itself to be arrogant and disinclined to actually listen to their base. They are willing to campaign to the base, but not to actually govern for them once elected. Jeb Bush has made it clear that he will win the nomination his way or just go home. He is not going to “pander” to the base.

In an effort to talk some sense into the GOP elites, a group of conservative leaders got together and wrote a Citizens’ Mandate after the November 2014 landslide elections. The hope was to motivate the GOP majorities in the House and Senate to actually stop the unconstitutional overreaches that the Obama administration has made a daily occurrence.

Despite the November landslide election, the first things the Republicans did was pass the CRomnibus bill in the lame duck session and then re-elect Boehner as the Speaker of the House. The current DHS funding fight was supposed to be where the GOP finally stood their ground against the executive overreach. So far, this has been less than an awe inspiring fight as Mitch McConnell frantically tries to pass the hot potato back to the House rather than pressuring eight vulnerable Democrat Senators to vote for cloture. The House loudly proclaims that they have done their duty, but that the awful Senate won’t do their part.

Finally, you begin to figure out that it is all showmanship to make the rubes out there think that they really, really did try hard to beat back the out-of-control executive branch, but it just wasn’t possible. Next stop, immigration “reform” as the Chamber of Commerce and business leaders wanted all along.

This means that many people will not see the point in voting Republican again. If we give them a landslide victory and this is what we get, then if Jeb Bush is the nominee, I predict that many people will just stay home.

The GOP is quite sure this will not happen as the Democrats are so much worse. But are they?

It is time for the GOP leadership to read the Citizens’ Mandate carefully and think about their choices. Andy McCarthy in National Review wrote about the Mandate. Please read the whole article, but McCarthy concludes:

Conservatives fear that Republicans, with their eyes on 2016 and their ears on professional political consultants, have drawn the wrong lesson from last November’s good fortune. Voters are not suddenly infatuated with Republicans. Voters are alarmed at the direction in which President Obama is taking the country, and they elected the only available alternative.

The fate of 2016’s race for the White House will be decided by how well Republicans heed the mandate of 2014’s referendum on Obama’s policies. Will Republicans use the next two years to stop the president? If, instead, they use the next two years to further enable the president’s fundamental transformation of the United States, they will not have convinced the country that they can govern. They will have convinced their base that they are not worthy of support.

Then Ann Coulter piles on:

Why don’t Republicans spend all their airtime attacking the media for lying about what Obama’s amnesty does and what the Democrats are doing? It’s hard to avoid concluding that Republicans aren’t trying to make the right arguments. In fact, it kind of looks like they’re intentionally throwing the fight on amnesty.

If a Republican majority in both houses of Congress can’t stop Obama from issuing illegal immigrants Social Security cards and years of back welfare payments, there is no reason to vote Republican ever again.

In January, Diana Waterman, the head of the Maryland GOP, sent out a letter saying:

If we want to be successful next year and beyond, we must continue to work together!! Please work with me to foster this unity – we have shown we can do it. We must not lose sight of our goals – victory in 2016 and 2018!!!

No, my goals are not victory for the GOP in 2016 and 2018. My goals are to stop the fundamental changes that the Obama administration is ramming down our throats each and every day. The Republican Party is currently the only vehicle available to me to try and stop the disaster. If the Republican Party continues to show that it cannot or will not make the effort, then no, I will not support them in 2016.

There are many others that feel the same way. We may not be a majority, but I suspect there are enough of us to keep the GOP nominees from winning. I will not stay at home. I will vote, but it will not be for Republican candidates if they continue this farce.

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.

To the left, the world is not enough

I’ve probably given as many pixels to failed candidate Rick Weiland as anyone outside his native South Dakota, but it’s because I think he’s very useful as a gauge of reactionary liberalism in a part of the nation which has maintained a streak of populism surprising for such a rural area. While the South has gone almost completely Republican, those in the rural Midwest will occasionally elect Democrats they deem to be centrists or populists on a statewide level. South Dakota has rejected Weiland several times, but it doesn’t mean he’ll stop trying and to me that exhibits precisely how the far left operates and why it’s important to hear about their desires. (He could also use the money since he can’t manage his campaign funds, but I digress.)

So yesterday, in the wake of the debate about CRomnibus, I received a missive called “We can’t breathe!” from which I quote in part:

The revenge of the money changers is in full swing in Congress today.

Let the big banks have their swaps back. Let Las Vegas advertise itself with your tax dollars. Increase by 1000% the amount billionaires can contribute to buy off our political parties.

Men of color are not the only ones they have in a choke-hold – now they’ve got all of us – and it’s way past time to tell them none of us can breathe!

Emboldened by the Obama-haters they just elected, Wall Street is readying the nooses for Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. They think they can’t be stopped.

But WE can stop them!

24 states allow initiatives and referendums – 24 states where you can show them exactly what you think of their choke-hold on the rest of us.

So let’s put what they are doing to us on the ballot in those 24 states and find out who is right.


Help us close down the debt on my just completed Senate campaign, and fire up our initiative and referendum team. Because we are going to turn our little state into a laboratory for direct democracy.

A laboratory and an export market.

Let’s put Citizens United, Ferguson, and Big Bank plutocracy on trial at the ballot box.

Because when you go down fighting instead of whimpering, a funny thing often happens: people notice, then they think a little, and pretty soon they’re fighting too.

If you have to vote on it you have to think about it.  So let’s put our ideas directly on the ballot and pick a fight. (All emphasis in original.)

This is the mirror-reverse of the strategy Maryland Republicans tried in 2012 to petition already-enacted legislation to referendum, which failed. Looking back, I wonder if the Maryland Republican Party isn’t kicking itself for not placing the “bathroom bill” or 2013 gun bill on the ballot this year – we may have even had a more shocking victory by repealing both laws. (The counter-argument, of course, is the “sleeping dog” school of thought which liked the Democrats’ low turnout – perhaps the inclusion of those ballot measures would have hurt Larry Hogan’s chances by bringing out more liberal Democrats.)

It’s also true that, even in the face of a Republican wave election, four states that had a minimum wage increase on the ballot, including the aforementioned South Dakota, passed these measures while electing Republican Senators – in Alaska and Arkansas the Democrats seeking re-election to the Senate were defeated on that same ballot. (Nebraska was the fourth state.) Again, this shows the streak of populism which occurs in the Midwest.

Obviously Weiland sees a trend, exhibited in his home state, where direct democracy can succeed in accomplishing those things a representative republic would not. As the minimum wage example shows, people can be fooled into voting against their best interests – that’s why we were founded as a Constitutional republic.

Weiland’s mindset is shared by a lot of people, though. Witness the populist appeal to Southern voters espoused by the writer of the linked New Republic piece, Michael A. Cooper, Jr., who pleads with his party:

Speaking as a southerner, we need help, not from the DCCC but from government to deal with issues like homelessness and drug addiction.

These aren’t esoteric concerns Beltway liberals tut-tut about like global warming or political correctness, but true pocketbook issues which unfortunately tend to affect the poorest among us. Conservatives would prefer these issues be dealt with on more of a faith-based level through private charity but it can also be addressed by local and state governments. (By the way, thanks to Jackie Wellfonder for bringing the New Republic piece to my attention just in time for me to add it in because it fit the point so well.)

Just as the right has its TEA Party movement which has cooled to the mainstream Republican party – and for good reason – many activists on the left are embracing their new savior as Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose populist screed against Wall Street has won the backing of elements of the Democrat Party who think Barack Obama sold them out and Hillary Clinton is too close to the right wing. They are also fed up with the government, but stare at the problem from the other side of the fence because they want the power of government to regulate corporatism out of existence, or rein it in as fascism dictates.

Meanwhile, while these Warren acolytes whine about what Barack Obama is not providing them, they fail to see that many of their goals are being realized anyway. Truly it’s the Right that’s not being served.

As the new year arrives and Republicans take over Congress (along with the governor’s chair in Annapolis) we will begin to see all the stories and tales of woe unreported on over the last six years. There’s a lot of work to do, and Republican leaders in Congress didn’t get off on the right foot by passing CRomnibus. We must demand, now that we’ve granted them the opportunity to complete the FY2016 budget in regular order as they’ve wished to do for several years, that our priorities be the ones funded and the mistakes of the last six years deleted.

Perhaps we can also do our part in using the referendum system in advancing conservative causes as well. Two can play that game, and it’s just as important to motivate our voters as it is for the other side to buy theirs.

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.

Same boss – but a couple new underlings

As many who read this space might be aware I took a pass on this year’s quadrennial Maryland GOP organizing convention, so I have Jackie Wellfonder to thank for this picture of our returning Chair.

It’s suitable for framing and sending to Mike Miller. Two years ahead of schedule, bro.

So while there weren’t as many on the ballot as there were for the very contentious 2010 organizing convention, this year still featured some interesting races with the results being perhaps slightly unexpected. But they could be considered a blow to the libertarian wing of the Maryland Republican Party, as the two candidates most directly tied to their effort both lost – Joe Fleckenstein falling far short against incumbent Secretary John Wafer and incumbent 1st Vice-Chair Collins Bailey losing decisively to Mary Burke-Russell by a weighted 298-249 vote, according to observer Dave Wissing. Bailey was the only incumbent to run and lose, while Burke-Russell wins a position she unsuccessfully sought last year in the wake of Diana Waterman’s ascension to Chair.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Vice-Chair race turned out as I expected, with Larry Helminiak easily winning another term over Greg Holmes.

Perhaps the most interesting dynamic was the 3rd Vice-Chair race, which went to a second ballot when none of the three contenders could garner a majority. On the opening ballot Rob Willoughby held on to a narrow lead over Eugene Craig III with Tommy Rodriguez bringing up the rear. Before the second round Rodriguez dropped out and endorsed Craig, enabling him to come from behind.

Since it may have been that endorsement that made the difference, I asked Tommy Rodriguez why he backed Eugene Craig:

I had great respect for Eugene coming into this race, and I am personally familiar with his charisma and willingness to help our party grow. His Young Guns initiative is exactly the kind of innovative thinking that will help grow the Republican bench and make our party more appealing to young voters.

It was a good enough reason to propel Craig to the victory.

As the party hierarchy preached unity to the convention, though, there was one element which couldn’t resist its sack dance:

Stay classy, guys. I don’t think Collins Bailey will be going away anytime soon, and the libertarian wing of the party may be more feisty than ever during the General Assembly session.

Now that we’ve made it through the convention in a more or less united fashion, the party can begin planning strategy for the aforementioned session. But perhaps the best news of all that came out of the convention was that the party can apparently finally retire its long-term debt. It was something which always concerned me during my tenure on the Central Committee and now that we’ve finally broken into the black we can more easily continue painting Maryland red in 2016 and 2018.

So, to borrow a term from my incoming Delegate, let’s get back to work!

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss

Tomorrow, unless some last-second nomination is made from the floor and somehow gathers enough support to prevail, Diana Waterman will be elected to a full two-year term as Maryland Republican Party Chair. It would be the first re-election of a Chair in my eight years of involvement, and proves that hard work and success is its own reward. Her tenure has been successful enough to scare off any opposition, so she joins party Treasurer Chris Rosenthal as Executive Board members who presumably have an unopposed re-election.

It’s worth noting that Third Vice-Chair Eric Grannon is the only incumbent taking a pass on another term, and his seat has the most competition with three contenders: Eugene Craig III, Tommy Rodriguez, and Rob Willoughby are all trying for that position.

Each of the three comes at the position with different perspectives. Craig and Rodriguez were most active in the 2014 campaign, as Craig ran for Baltimore County Clerk of the Court and Rodriguez was the campaign manager for the Ron George for Governor bid. Willoughby, on the other hand, comes from a more traditional route as he is the Chair of the Caroline County Republican Central Committee and as such has the longest list of endorsements.

All three are active in social media, with Rodriguez stating his priorities as:

We have an unprecedented opportunity as Maryland Republicans to restore prosperity, accountability and personal liberty to the Free State. As your Vice Chair, I will commit my time and talent towards recruiting the next generation of conservative leaders and building a statewide network of donors and grassroots volunteers who will help them towards victory. Together, we can build a Republican Party committed to growing the middle class, reining in big government and providing the best array of education opportunities in the nation.

Craig has the biggest endorsement in Dan Bongino, a blog post by Jason Boisvert explaining Eugene’s thoughts on priorities, and may have the largest brush with fame of the three candidates. Craig was the first one in the race but both he and Rodriguez may have a difficult time against Willoughby as he is familiar to many more potential voters.

Another intriguing race is the one for Secretary, where incumbent John Wafer has a challenge from Joe Fleckenstein.

While it’s not quite as simple as a description as I’ll give it, basically the job of a secretary is to take notes. (It’s why I do a similar function in two organizations because I also have that mindset as an outgrowth of this gig.) But it also has a vote on the Executive Committee because we changed the bylaws in 2013 to allow this. (I recall it was my former Chair Dave Parker who introduced this as an amendment to a bylaws proposal to also grant the YRs and College Republicans an Executive Committee vote.) Fleckenstein is a steering committee member in the Harford County Campaign for Liberty, reflecting a push by the pro-liberty forces in Maryland to have more of a say in the state party.

In the race for Second Vice-Chair, incumbent Larry Helminiak faces a challenge from Greg Holmes, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress from the Fourth Congressional District this year, losing in the primary. Of the three Vice-Chair races this seems to the the most low-key one.

On the other hand, I am being bombarded by e-mails in support of re-electing Collins Bailey to the First Vice-Chair position, So far here is a list of e-mailers from whom I’ve received Bailey endorsements:

  • Christina Trotta, Harford County (and a Campaign for Liberty member)
  • Larry Helminiak (current Second Vice-Chair)
  • Gordon Bull, Baltimore County (ran for Delegate in District 12)
  • Tyler Harwood, Wicomico County (a Republican activist)
  • Mark Crawford, Charles County
  • Grant Helvey, Worcester County Chair
  • Gary Clark, Howard County
  • Carol Frazier, Worcester County Vice-Chair
  • Richard Rothschild, Carroll County Commissioner
  • Kellee Kennett, Worcester County Tea Party
  • Republican Liberty Caucus of Maryland

The list of endorsements for Mary Burke-Russell isn’t as long, but it does include former gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar. She also has the backhanded support of Red Maryland‘s Brian Griffiths, who wrote a scathing piece on Collins Bailey yesterday. Griffiths’ piece comes off as remaining sour grapes from the ill-fated Chair campaign of Greg Kline, but Burke-Russell already appears to be one of the “establishment” choices against the pro-liberty insurgency which you can put Bailey, Fleckenstein, and arguably Eugene Craig into. If all three win the MDGOP may be a more activist vehicle during the General Assembly sessions – perhaps they should be.

Without speaking to any of the candidates personally – and not having a vote in the matter since I chose not to take a proxy offered to me – I’m not going to make any official endorsements in the race. I’m on record as supporting Diana now although at the time I preferred Collins Bailey be the Chair. Larry Helminiak has also done a fine job.

I will say, though, that I believe those who have been in office by and large deserve re-election but the voters would still be served well by the challengers. And given certain winners the Maryland GOP would be far more diverse in all respects than its Democratic counterpart, which seems to try and balance based on external characteristics and not diversity of thought.

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