A question of priorities

January 8, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on A question of priorities 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Announcing: the 2014 monoblogue Accountability Project

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

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

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

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

So what can you do with the information?

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

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

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

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

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

Winding down

As I begin to write this, we have about an hour and ten minutes remaining in the 90 days of terror that is the annual Maryland General Assembly session. And because of the Maryland Legislative Watch website, the process of completing my annual monoblogue Accountability Project will be a snap – they’re kind enough to align all the votes taken during session by individual legislator.

So the process of weeding out what I’ll be focusing on has been my task over the last couple weeks. Since I cover 25 different votes, with three of them being committee votes for practically all the legislators (there are three exceptions: Speaker of the House Michael Busch, Senate President Mike Miller, and Delegate Don Dwyer, who was stripped of a committee assignment as punishment for his misdemeanor conviction last year) having them already arranged by legislator is a HUGE help.

Sadly to me, out of the hundreds of votes the General Assembly takes each year, the vast majority are unanimous or have very limited opposition. While there have been occasions I’ve used such exercises in futility for the minority, generally I like to find bills which have a significant number of votes on both sides. Unfortunately, this has eliminated a number of good bills I would have used via what I call the “gutless Senate syndrome” – a bill which may be 96-38 in the House passes 46-0 in the Senate. For example, did you know the state was soon to ban “vaportinis”? (Interesting, since they’re decriminalizing pot in the same session.) It would have been a good vote to use, but our gutless Senate passed it with no opposition. The same went for bills designating new wildlands, financial assistance for so-called “food desert” areas (not “desserts,” by the way), mandating balcony inspections, and several others.

All told, I will probably have 25 to 30 candidates to distill into the final 22 votes – there were a few bills which may have received a vote in their opposite chamber tonight. The “automatics” in this term will be the budget bills, the “bathroom bill”, minimum wage, and the “fix” for individuals who were hosed out of health insurance because the state screwed up. Those were always going to make the cut, even though the Senate vote on the capital budget was 46-0. Talk about gutless!

So when can you look for the monoblogue Accountability Report? I figure it could be done by month’s end.

One change I’ve made from previous editions is that legislators will be arranged into groups based on whether they are retiring, running for higher (or different) office, or trying for another term. Of course, I will still have the Legislative All-Stars and my usual rewards and criticism as well.

The process can go full throttle in less than a half-hour.

A monoblogue year in review

Having a holiday schedule based on Wednesday holidays seems to play havoc with the news cycle, as there’s not much going on with Maryland politics right now. By the time the holiday hangover is done, it’s the weekend.

So over the next four days I’m going to provide for you a look back and look forward. As part of that, tonight’s post will be the look back, with some of the highlights of my political coverage – and a couple other items tossed in for fun as well. This is the first time I’ve tried this, so I’ll see how it goes.

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The year began, as it always does, in January. As will be the case even moreso this year, political fundraising was in the news as there was a surprise leader in the gubernatorial money race on the GOP side. Another highlight of the month was a spirited and enlightening discussion of state issues at the Wicomico Society of Patriots meeting – something all too infrequent this year, unfortunately.

But the highlight of the month was my two-part coverage of the Turning the Tides conference in Annapolis. which had a plethora of good speakers and discussion. It was so good I had to post separately on the morning and afternoon events.

In February my attention was turned to several topics, particularly providing coverage of the financing and the events surrounding the Salisbury municipal elections, for which the primary was February 26th. A key issue brought up was a state mandate for the city to help pay for cleanup of Chesapeake Bay, to the tune of $19 million a year.

Another state mandate took center stage in February, as the Wicomico County Council held a Tier Map forum to find out citizens weren’t exactly enamored with the idea. As part of that I read from my written testimony on a Tier Map repeal bill, which wasn’t the only testimony I wrote – I also put in my two cents on the gun grab bill.

We also found out that month that the Maryland GOP would get new leadership following the resignation of Chair Alex Mooney.

March found me continuing my coverage of the Salisbury city elections, but only backing one candidate. More important were local developments on the state level, where the Second Amendment was a hot topic for a local townhall meeting and our county’s Lincoln Day Dinner.

But the highlight for me, by far, was my day at CPAC. That turned out to be a two-part set of posts.

As the area began to wake up from a winter slumber in April, so did the political world as it turned from the General Assembly session to the 2014 campaign. The Salisbury city elections went as expected, so I turned my attention to the race for state party chair. Interim Chair Diana Waterman ran a campaign which was at times embroiled in some controversy, but prevailed on enough supporters to make it through the lengthy grind of campaign forums (including one in Cambridge on the eve of the state convention) and win the remainder of Alex Mooney’s unexpired term. But even the convention itself had its share of ups and downs, particularly a chaotic ending and a rebuff to new media.

While that was happening, the 2014 election was beginning to take shape, with familiar names both trying their luck again and trying for a promotion. Others had interesting endorsements as feathers in the cap.

But it wasn’t all political in April. The outdoor season began with two local mainstays: Pork in the Park and the Salisbury Festival. I also found out I was immortalized on video thanks to Peter Ingemi, better known as DaTechGuy.

Those things political slowed down in May, with just a little reactionary cleanup to the state convention to begin the month, along with other reaction to the recently-completed General Assembly session. In its wake we also had turnover in Maryland House of Delegates GOP leadership.

But one prospective candidate for governor announced other intentions, leaving another to confirm what we knew all along.

On the fun side, I enjoyed Salisbury’s Third Friday celebration with some friends and stopped by to see them at another barbecue festival, too.

June began with a visit from gubernatorial candidate David Craig, who stopped by Salisbury and in the process gave me an interview. And while he didn’t make a formal tour, fellow Republican Ron George made sure to fill me in on his announcement and establish tax cutting bonafides. We also picked up a Republican candidate for an important local seat and found out political correctness pays in the Maryland business world.

A local doctor gave us his perspective on Obamacare and our area celebrated the chicken in June, too. I also learned of a special honor only a handful of political websites received.

As is often the case, our wallets became a little lighter in July. In the aftermath, we found out who David Craig picked as a running mate and welcomed both of them to our Wicomico County Republican Club meeting. I also talked about another who was amassing a support base but hadn’t made definite 2014 plans at the time.

On the other side of the coin, we found the Democratic field was pressing farther away from the center, a place the GOP was trying to court with the carrot of primary voting. Meanwhile, the political event of the summer occurred in Crisfield, and I was there.

There were some interesting developments in the new media world as well – a plea for help, a shakeup in local internet radio, and my annual monoblogue Accountability Project all came down in July.

The big news in August was the resignation of State Senator E.J. Pipkin, and the battle to succeed him. And while one gubernatorial candidate dropped out, another made his intentions formal and stopped by our Wicomico County Republican Club meeting as well. Even Ron George stopped by our fair county, although I missed him.

It seemed like the gubernatorial campaign got into full swing in September – Charles Lollar announced in an unusual location, the Brown/Ulman Democratic team came here looking for money, Ron George tangled with Texas governor Rick Perry and showed up to make it three Wicomico County Republican Club meetings in a row with a gubernatorial candidate, and Doug Gansler decided to drop by, too. On the other side, Michael Steele took a pass. I also talked about what Larry Hogan might do to fill out the puzzle.

Those up the Shore made news, too. Steve Hershey was the survivor who was appointed State Senator, and I attended the First District Bull Roast for the first time. I’ve been to many Wicomico County Republican Club Crab Feasts, but this year’s was very successful indeed.

September also brought the close of our local baseball season. As is tradition I reviewed the season, both to select a Shorebird of the Year and hopefully improve the fan experience.

October was a month I began considering my choice in the gubernatorial race. That became more difficult as Larry Hogan took an unusual trip for a businessman and Charles Lollar’s campaign worked on self-immolation, while Doug Gansler needed his own damage control.

I also had the thought of going back to the future in Maryland, but a heavy dose of my political involvement came with the tradtional closing events to our tourist season, the Good Beer Festival and Autumn Wine Festival.

Most of November was spent anticipating the Maryland GOP Fall Convention; in fact, many were sure of an impending announcement. Honestly, both may have fallen into the category of “dud.” But all was not lost, as the month gave me the chance to expound on manufacturing and share some interesting polling data.

Finally we come to December. While the month is a long runup to the Christmas holiday, I got the chance to again expound on manufacturing and come up with another radical idea for change. We also got more proof that our state government is up for sale and those who are running for governor place too much stock in internet polling. My choice is still up in the air, even after compiling an 11-part dossier on the Republicans currently in the race.

Locally, we found a good candidate to unseat a long-time incumbent who has long ago outlived his political usefulness. And the incumbent will need to watch his back because Maryland Legislative Watch will be back again to keep an eye on him and his cohorts. I’ll be volunteering for a second year,

And while I weighed in on the latest national diversion from the dreary record of our President and his party, I maintained two December traditions, remarking on eight years of monoblogue and days later inducting two new players into the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame.

You know, it was fun going down memory lane for 2013. But tomorrow it will be time to look forward, beginning with the local level.

Announcing: the 2013 monoblogue Accountability Project

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

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

This guide not only features the General Assembly’s voting records on specific votes in graphical form for easy comparison, but also my take on the bills they voted on this year. Some of the key votes I cover are those on the state’s budget, early voting, and offshore wind, as well as those where foes attempted to petition them to referendum – the (so-called) Firearms Safety Act of 2013, and the death penalty repeal.

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

So what can you do with the information?

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

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

It’s particularly important that this year’s edition came out early and was indeed a fortunate break that no Special Sessions are anticipated for the remainder of the year. There’s still a little time to get together a campaign against some of these entrenched incumbents of both parties who seem to have lost their way. Many of them will be leaving on their own, but newcomers who would be high scorers on this chart are encouraged to get involved.

Before I conclude, I want to point out that there is a relatively new accountability project which perfectly complements the idea of this one by working during the legislative session. Elizabeth Myers (who I have interviewed before for TQT) runs Maryland Legislative Watch, which works during session to determine the merits of each bill and works to keep bad ones from ever getting out of committee. With over 2,500 bills introduced last session, dozens of volunteers are needed to keep track of them all, grade them on pro-liberty merits, and keep the heat on legislators in stopping violations of liberty from proceeding.

Moreover, they actually just completed yesterday a far larger voting compilation which has every single vote – for example, my legislator’s chart runs 91 pages. It may seem like competition but we actually work together in the respect that MLW provides a lot of raw data and I give context on key issues. The Maryland Legislative Watch data is also useful for showing just how many votes are unanimous and how much of the legislature’s time is devoted to local issues; these are the ones which incumbents generally point with pride at bringing home the bacon.

You can judge for yourselves whether legislators vote the correct way on the issues I present. I simply provide this service to Marylanders as a way of being more aware of how the sausage grinding in Annapolis turned out this year.

Methinks there was something rotten in the state of Maryland, now known as the “Fee State.”

Ten Question Tuesday – April 9, 2013

I gave her somewhat short notice, but this week’s guest came through like the trooper she is and provided me with an enlightening TQT chapter. She’s Elizabeth Myers of MD Legislative Watch, a group I was happy to do a little volunteer work for during the recently-completed General Assembly session. I had the pleasure of meeting her at MDCAN in January as well.

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monoblogue: My interviewee today is Elizabeth Myers of MD Legislative Watch, a group which tried to make sense of this year’s General Assembly session. I believe this is the first year you have undertaken this venture, is that correct? What have you learned from the experience?

Myers: Yes, this is the first year (and) I learned quite a bit. First, this year before an election year saw the oppression of liberties and extraction of wealth from the people of Maryland at its peak. Of course, having a governor with eyes on the White House does not help matters and likely made this session one of the worst.

Second, I learned that some politicians respond to being called out publicly for not responding to e-mails.

Third, Assembly members don’t have consistent answers on how bond bills get into the budget – one Delegate voted for the operating budget because she wanted a “bond bill” for a pet project – these “bond bills” are in the capital budget, though. Bond bills in Maryland are similar to earmarks at the federal level. In order for one to find out how his or her Delegate voted on bond bills, one must hound the Delegate and county delegation chair since the delegations meet to prioritize the bond bill requests; that prioritization list is sent on for inclusion in the capital budget. While a Delegate may vote against the capital budget, (the question is) did he/she vote for the prioritization list?

Most Assembly members don’t receive emails from the people on bills that don’t make the news. For instance, many people sent emails about the proposed regulation of process servers, a bill which may have forced some of the smaller firms out of the industry. Delegate Smigiel said that when committee members receive a dozen or so emails about a bill, they start asking questions and pay attention. Emailing the committees is a very powerful and easy method of participating in and influencing the legislative process – once the bills are on the floor, it’s very hard to kill them.

Finally, it was confirmed that often, the rhetoric of most Republicans doesn’t match their actions – they vote for bills that increase the size and scope of government. Voting for bills that increase the size and scope of government, yet voting against the operating budget, is disingenuous. In Maryland, Republicans can vote their conscience – if the vote is to increase the size and scope of government, that is his or her conscience.

monoblogue: Having worked as part of the MDLW team and read a few of the bills, ones to which I was assigned, I know you tried to approach this from a pro-liberty perspective. How would you define your philosophy on this for my readers?

Myers: My perspective in this project is one of a Constitutionalist. We, the people, confer select powers to the government. We retain the rest. From the Maryland Declaration of Rights, Article 45: “This enumeration of Rights shall not be construed to impair or deny others retained by the People.”

I highly recommend the Institute on the Constitution – they teach courses on the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions and the proper role of the jury. The Maryland Constitution and the U.S. Constitution are not perfect documents, which is why both of them leave room for amendment.

monoblogue: And where did you get the idea to do such a study in Maryland? Was it based on something done in another state, or did you just decide to start this because you were fed up with the process?

Myers: Pure “fed up.” I got an email on October 1 about all of the new laws that were in effect that day and the idea was born. Originally, the idea was to recruit some volunteers to read legislation and alert those with mailing lists – when no one with a mailing list responded, the website was started.

I’ve long said that while most citizens are focused on one or two stories, few are watching what the other hand is doing. That is the focus of MLW – show the other bills that affect most Marylanders and extract our wealth, oppress our natural rights, or both. Tyranny does not typically march in wearing stormtrooper uniforms; tyranny creeps and creeps until it’s accepted as normal. We can’t fight some of the big stuff but we can fight much of the creeping tyranny – it’s the only way to reverse the tide.

monoblogue: I also noticed you did a triage of sorts on the bills, immediately eliminating the bond bills, for example. But what was the most egregiously bad bill to be introduced in this session? And what was the worst one which passed?

Myers: The easy answer is SB281 – begging government to exercise an inalienable, God-given right. However, more telling was HB1499, the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013. This act decreased transparency in candidate campaign finance reporting and enabled public campaign financing at the county level. This act was approved unanimously by the House of Delegates and only two Senators voted against it.

On the triage, that was born out of necessity – 1,500 bills were introduced in 2 weeks. There is no way I could ask people to read all of those in a short period of time, so I prioritized bills. This project was in its first year so I flew by the seat of my pants.

monoblogue: I also noticed you were a staple on local radio programs, such as Doug Gill’s WBAL show on Friday nights. Did you see the media as helpful to the cause?

Myers: Doug was exceptionally supportive and I’m so grateful for his time and the opportunity. As the Maryland Statehouse Examiner, Doug’s been fighting this fight for many years and he wanted to shed light on the legislation in Annapolis. By doing so, my website stats on Friday were better than those from most of the week. The aim of the project and my time on Doug’s show was to alert people to the legislation that might otherwise fly under the radar. Bills that increase regulations and fees on small businesses, bills that oppress liberties, and the few bills that reiterate our rights and interpose on unconstitutional federal legislation (e.g. anti-indefinite detention and anti-drone).

Through the session, it’s estimated that the website facilitated 15,000 – 22,000 emails to committee members about legislation. Many Assembly members complained about the volume of emails they received. I hope we were a good part of that.

monoblogue: Finally, now that the session is just about over, to where will you turn your activist energies during the next few months? And can we expect MD Legislative Watch 2.0, the sequel, next year?

Myers: I will continue the project. I and a few friends will meet, discuss lessons learned, how we can improve and automate things, and we’ll be back stronger next year. I’m undecided on my activist energies for the coming months but it is likely they will be directed at a more local level.

monoblogue: I appreciate the time, particularly since I gave you such short notice. Thanks, and I hope this keeps you in mind for new volunteers next year.

Myers: Michael, I appreciate your activism and very much appreciate your volunteer time on and promotion of the (MDLW) project. Your monoblogue Accountability Project is wonderful; at a minimum, this is something that all Marylanders should read before they vote.

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Obviously my goal in doing the mAP was for voters to learn how their legislators represented them and soon I will start working on the 2013 version. But speaking of seat of the pants, I haven’t nailed down my guest for next week. Be assured I’m working on him.

Working on a better Maryland

After the weekend many had, it’s probably good that we are back to work – more of a rest there than in overdoing the Ravens celebration. Maybe Joe Flacco is on his way to Disneyland as we speak.

There are a number of interesting bills being heard this week in the General Assembly. Of course, we all know about the setup for the eventual gun grab better known as Senate Bill 281, which will be heard Wednesday afternoon along with House Bill 106, a bill I’ve been following to repeal last year’s Septic Bill (which created the Tier maps we all know and despise.) As promised, I spent part of my weekend and today working on testimony since I can’t be in Annapolis Wednesday. (Alas, the days which work best for me aren’t days testimony is normally heard, Monday and Friday.) I’ll post my thoughts at an appropriate time.

But it’s worth noting that SB281 isn’t the only thing on the Senate Judicial Proceedings agenda – Senator Brian Frosh has three other bills being heard that afternoon, with all three having him as a lead sponsor. They’re all gun-related as well, but in hearing that testimony you may get a sense of where SB281 is going and where Frosh stands on the issue. (The other three bills are Senate Bills 228. 266. and 420.)

The same is true on the House side Wednesday, as seven other bills share the docket with the HB106 repeal bill.

It’s getting to the time of year where most of the bills which won’t end up locked in a Committee Chair’s drawer have their hearings, although the schedule has been known to run into March. It seems to me, though, that bills which Committee chairs want buried (in instances where a hearing is granted) have them as late as possible – so it’s a little surprising HB106 got its hearing early. Yet there are a number of other bills being heard on the same day, with the biggest being the Senate gun measure.

Now that the House and Senate have eclipsed the 1,400 bill mark as an aggregate, the rules will change a little bit as bills now have to go to the Rules Committee first (because a certain number of session days have passed.)

Yet if you’re not good at writing testimony, there is something else you can do. I’m part of a worthwhile effort of volunteers called the Maryland Legislative Watch, where dozens of volunteers are assigned legislation to read and assess on the simple basis of whether it conforms with the Maryland Declaration of Rights. So far I think I’ve provided input on 8 or 10 bills, and have five more on my plate once the opportunity presents itself. So it’s not a huge time commitment; certainly Elizabeth Myers, the leader of the project, puts in her share of time but most of the rest of us can have it comfortably done in an hour or two a week. (Most bills are under 10 pages; once you figure out the legalese and method of writing it’s easy.)

If I get another 50 people to sign up, not only would Elizabeth likely love me forever, but we would only have perhaps a dozen apiece to deal with because many have already committed. There are people who say they want to get more involved and educated; well, here’s a great opportunity.

The campaign to change Maryland may not bear fruit until 2014, but the work is already underway. More help is always welcome.

Turning the Tides 2013 in pictures and text (part 2)

I covered the events of Saturday morning in part 1, so if you enjoyed the “lunch break” I pick up the events with one of the most popular conservative politicians in Maryland.

Yes, on the far right of the picture is Dan Bongino. He was the star attraction of a panel discussion called “Changing the Ground Game in Maryland.” Moderated by Kari Snyder, the other participants were 2012 Congressional candidate and author Ken Timmerman and Delegate Neil Parrott.

As he stated in his interview here, Bongino had some definite criticism of the MDGOP’s efforts and suggestions for improvements. For example, “if you’re not registering voters at the gun shows in Maryland in the next two months, you should be arrested for political malpractice.”

Obviously Dan harped on the voter registration aspect – “they’re kicking our butts” – and how badly we were trounced there, although not to the extent he did in our conversation. But he also spent a lot of his time on the concept of message vs. marketing, rhetorically asking “do you know what the most dangerous branch of government is right now? The media!” Dan also restated the point that “(Barack Obama) ran on our message.”

“We’ve never had a message problem,” continued Dan. “We’ve always had a marketing problem.”

Meanwhile, the effects of economic neglect are apparent in Baltimore. “Baltimore City is in a catastrophic economy. There is no economy in Baltimore City,” added Bongino.

Another facet lost in this recent campaign was the school choice issue. He called on us to “isolate and humiliate every one of our opponents” who don’t support the issue. “It is the civil rights issue of our day,” Dan stressed. Yet he had the awareness to realize “we’re in the echo chamber now…action matters.”

After Bongino received a standing ovation both at the introduction and the close, Ken Timmerman had the unenviable task of following Dan. He chose to focus on his race with Chris Van Hollen, noting that opposition research is very important. Van Hollen “did not know what hit him” when portions of his record were released, so much so that he stopped doing joint appearances.

Other observations made by Timmerman were somewhat obvious to us: first, “Democrats will not vote Democrat lite,” and second, “the media is not our friend….don’t let them get away with anything.” (The easily ascertained evidence of that was the camera crews showing up for the protest outside.)

Ken also spoke on the role of the Maryland (and national) GOP, stating that “They didn’t give me any assistance to speak of.” It would have been helpful to get good, reliable voter data, for example. Timmerman also warned that “it’s easy to introduce malicious software into these electronic voting machines.” The technology simply isn’t secure.

Timmerman also made the statement that “we have to start with trench warfare” in the Maryland General Assembly and “hit their core beliefs.” Ken then went through a list of proposed bills, many of which I noted to myself have been tried. “It doesn’t matter if they fail,” he went on to say, because “we force them to engage.” It provided a nice transition to Neil Parrott’s remarks.

However, Neil began by rehashing the previous ballot initiative campaign, saying “we won by getting (them) on the ballot.” He went over the several steps to get a referendum on the ballot: approval of the ballot language by the Board of Elections, gathering of signatures, the inevitable defense in court, and finally the writing of the language by the Secretary of State – often that can require another trip to the judicial system to clean up misleading statements, like 2012’s Question 5 on gerrymandering which alluded to the Constitution, making it sound like the ballot issue had that imprimatur.

The one thing missing was any sort of campaigning. One obvious problem was a lack of funding; for example on Question 4 we were outspent $1.7 million to $60,000. All that money allowed the proponents of Question 4 to successfully shift the narrative from one of illegality to one of “fairness.” “We need to reinvent MDPetitions.com,” Parrott explained.

One other well-taken point by Parrott was that Question 7 “sucked the oxygen out of the room.” More money was spent on that than the 2010 governor’s race.

Activists were well-aware of most of these facts, though. The next session turned our focus to energy issues.

Moderator Andrew Langer of the Institute for Liberty was joined on this panel by journalist Mark Newgent, blogger of Junkscience.com Steve Milloy, and Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute – a source which regularly appears on this page.

Newgent opened by making a salient point: despite the push by the O’Malley administration and the adoption of ill-advised renewable portfolio standard goals, the 1.6% of electricity provided by renewable sources at the turn of the century was now a punier 1.3% as of 2010. Mark also explained that the purchase of a “renewable energy credit” was a purchase of “absolutely nothing,” but it was a fine excuse for crony capitalism. Sometimes it even had a negative effect, like a (now-expired) federal tax credit for the usage of the “black liquor” by-product of the wood pulping process; one which produces more carbon dioxide than burning coal or natural gas because they mix black liquor with diesel fuel to burn it.

Newgent followed the money to the Town Creek Foundation, an Easton-based environmental organization. “We’re up against some stiff competition,’ he added.

“This is the game that’s going on,” Mark concluded.

Milloy derided the concept of global warming as an excuse to advance policy. “They don’t want to know anything about science,” he opined. But the small number of people on our side concerned with environmental issues had to deal with a swarm of so-called experts on the Left. “Their fondest dream is to saddle the country with some sort of climate legislation that enables them to have control of the economy,” said Steve. “Climate is the best scam they’ve ever worked.”

One statement I enjoyed was Milloy’s call to rip your ‘Save the Bay’ plates off your car. The point was that there’s nothing we can do about carbon dioxide emissions, or to fix the Bay, so save your $20.

CEI’s Ebell bluntly assessed that “the (energy) myths are winning; in particular, they’re winning in states like Maryland.” But there was some good news: unlike other states, there was very little potential for vastly more expensive wind or solar power here in Maryland. Other states had much more ambitious schedules for renewable standards; for example, California’s goal is 33 percent renewables by 2020. As a result, “they’ve already driven out most of the manufacturing in their state,” said Ebell.

“This is the level of intelligence you’re dealing with…you should be shocked, but you should also be really angry,” he added.

But the problem with any renewable source of power, explained Myron, was that they weren’t terribly reliable. Wind costs more because you also had to build a natural gas plant for the 3/4 of the time the wind didn’t blow, particularly in the summer when demand was higher but winds were generally calmer.

Even on the oil front, Myron noted that the 3% of the proven reserves it’s claimed we have is a number so low simply because we can’t explore many other areas which could potentially have large reserves, such as the North Slope of Alaska.

Speaking of energy, my friend Jackie Wellfonder happened to return with some goodies about this time.

These were handed out at the CC4MD table, an organization for which Jackie serves as treasurer. She must have sensed that I like my chocolate.

As opposed to me not being cheated out of some goodies, the next group was dubbed “The Cheated Generation.”

Blogger and radio host Jimmie Bise was the moderator for this group, which included Gabby Hoffman of the Leadership Institute, Baltimore Area Young Republican president Trae Lewis, Brandon Cooper, a campaign coordinator for Dan Bongino, and businessman Brian Meshkin.

Bise opened his segment a little differently, urging people to turn on their cellphones and spread the word on social media using the #TTT13 hashtag for Twitter. (I did, quite a bit.) He added that entitlements are shifting the cost burden from older Americans to the youth, from a group which can’t afford this because, among other things, there’s $1 trillion in college debt.

Cooper opened up the remarks by remarking on a handout he passed around, one which explained the economic realities younger people face. These mainly stem from student loans, which hamper the average student to the tune of $23,300. “Government spent $500 million on student loans in 1978; $115.6 billion in 2012,” the handout revealed. Brandon went on to add that, because the federal government was now the sole distributor of student loans, there were no more price control incentives.

Brian Meshkin chastised the government’s tendency from our kids to pay for “selfish excesses.” As the only elected Republican in Howard County (a member of the school board) he told us that “education was a huge, huge winning issue.”

“No child should be held back by the street they live on,” said Meshkin to raucous applause.

There was more cheering as Gabby Hoffman revealed her story as the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants, parents who were now seeing “too many parallels” to the situation they grew up under in the former Soviet Union. And she saved severe criticism for Sandra Fluke, who she called a “repugnant human being…no young woman should look up to that trash.” Obviously it followed that Hoffman also believed that giving up on social conservatism was “a completely BS move.”

But her message overall was blunt: if you don’t learn from communism’s failures, we will have it in America. We have to scare young people with the truth, Hoffman concluded.

Trae Lewis began by giving us some bad news: if Martin O’Malley is the Democratic nominee in 2016, we are likely spotting him 215 electoral votes. (Actually, we are doing so regardless of the nominee.) The reason: “he’s hitting us where we ain’t,” meaning the urban centers of America. “The American city is the epitome of what liberal leadership will do for this country,” warned Lewis, and there’s no reason not to harp on wedge issues like school choice.

“You can’t turn a tide from the middle of the ocean,” Trae pointed out, “you have to start at the shore and work your way out.”

That wrapped up the “cheated youth” segment, but there were several other “cheated” groups. With so many speakers and panels and only a one-day timeframe, there were bound to be some issues which received less coverage so we had what was called the “coalition round-up.” This had representatives of groups focusing on immigration, election integrity, the General Assembly, school choice, pro-life issues, and the Second Amendment.

While much of his ground was covered by previous presenters, Paul Mendez of Help Save Maryland repeated the fact that 90,000 more people in Maryland voted against Question 4 than voted for Mitt Romney. And there was an economic benefit even in failure: not only did they delay the implementation of the bill by over a year – saving Maryland taxpayers thousands – over $1 million was pumped in from out of state to pass Question 4.

Cathy Kelleher of Election Integrity Maryland gave a short history of the group, which was inspired to begin after activist Anita MonCrief appeared at the first Turning the Tides conference in 2011. It “started with four people at a kitchen table,” but after pointing out thousands of voter roll irregularities over the last year EIM could claim the success of removing 15,000 1,500 dead people from Maryland voter rolls. (Thanks to Cathy for pointing out my overexuberant typo.)

On the flip side of the electoral process was the legislative process, and Elizabeth Meyers introduced her Maryland Legislative Watch group to the audience. This group of volunteers (of which I’m one) reviews every bill introduced to the General Assembly to determine if it’s an anti-liberty bill.

While activist and writer Doug Mainwaring wasn’t affiliated with a particular pro-traditional marriage group, he worked closely with them in an effort to defeat Question 6. And when asked how an openly gay man can possibly be against same-sex marriage, he quipped “You’re an adult. You have children. How can you possibly be a liberal?” Needless to say, Doug brought down the house with that remark.

But Doug was concerned that Republicans and conservatives “are crumbling on this issue.” Some examples were National Review, the Washington Times, and Newt Gingrich.

David Spielman, the outreach coordinator for National School Choice Week, told us he was “giddy” about all the school choice talk at this forum. But the problem we had was deeper than just one issue, for Spielman assessed that “Obama was talking to everyone; we were talking to ourselves…we were outmatched, we were beaten.”

School choice will take outreach, he continued, but so far over 3500 events had been held over the period School Choice Week had been celebrated. (The 2013 edition begins January 27, but there are no events on Delmarva.)

Jack Ames of Defend Life, who was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the pro-life message he said was free for the asking, but with the promise it would be worn in public regularly, claimed that most people are philosophically pro-life, they’re just not actively pro-life. Still, “we’re literally killing God’s creation.” The Defend Life organization, he went on to say, works in three main areas: a lecture tour with several speakers which is available for groups, a magazine, and the “Face the Truth” tours, which feature photos of aborted fetuses. He urged pro-life activists to “be fearless” and do what we can to embarrass Martin O’Malley. (Isn’t he Catholic? Wonder how he reconciles his pro-abortion stance in his church?)

Finally, decorated Vietnam veteran and retired NRA attorney Jim Warner gave a roundup of the Second Amendment. He also gave us some sage advice: the only way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a gun. Finally, we should “tell the Marxists to go to hell!,” Warner shouted.

The “words of encouragement” to wrap up this long day were delivered by 2010 U.S. Senate candidate Jim Rutledge, who took the stage to the chant of “A-G, A-G!” Many (myself included) would like to see Rutledge make a run for Attorney General in 2014.

Rutledge pointed out that “a storm…cannot be avoided. We’re getting ready to learn some very profound, painful lessons. And that lesson is this: unlimited, centralized power cannot coexist with liberty.” Jim blasted the concept of machine politics, one which Maryland had lived under “for far too long.” Baltimore City was “a great example” of this; a philosophy where Jim postulated that the machine asks “what you’ve done to serve the machine?”

On the other hand, liberty asks what your rulers have done for you, Jim thundered in his distinctive, appealing style. Yet too many in Washington, D.C. are “uncomfortable promoting liberty.” To that he strongly asserted, “Washington, D.C. cannot fix Washington, D.C.”

Meanwhile, Maryland is no better: “We’re on our own in this state,” said Jim.

There’s no doubt that Rutledge was a good choice to motivate the crowd and renew their spirit. It’s too bad he’s not utilized by the Republican party here in Maryland, but his may be a case of alienating the wrong insiders.

Finally, the day was done. Well, there was a Happy Hour sponsored by the Conservative Action Network, Conservative Victory PAC, Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC, and the Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women. I was also cheered to see some of the Maryland GOP leadership dropped by, as First Vice Chair Diana Waterman and National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose were present for at least part of an event where the party wasn’t always shown in the best light.

But the question is one of continuing the effort beyond the walls of the Doubletree Hotel. There were perhaps 300 of us who attended the event, but, for example, in 2010 1,044,961 voters were foolish enough to re-elect Martin O’Malley. On the other hand, only 67,364 Republicans voted for the more conservative Brian Murphy in the primary election and just 74,404 voted for the aforementioned Rutledge in his Senate bid. Indeed, we have a problem with our message insofar as not enough people are making the educated, real world proven choice of conservatism.

Yet if 300 people can both reach one voter a month and, in turn, convince that voter to reach one other voter a month, the force multiplier will get us to the 1.2 million votes we will need in 2014. But we have to step beyond preaching to the choir and get in the faces of the opposition. Stop being afraid.

Several people at the conference, both speakers and in general conversation, suggested reading and studying how the Democrats succeeded in several areas, with the closest parallel being the state of Colorado. Obviously they had the weaker message, but the better techniques of making people believe in voting against their interests. So it’s our job to remind Maryland voters that the government which is large enough to give you everything is also powerful enough to take it away – don’t say we didn’t warn you when the excrement hits the fan.

Turning the Tides 2013 in pictures and text (part 1)

Yesterday was a good day at the Doubletree Hotel in Annapolis.

Somehow I had managed to miss the first two renditions of Turning the Tides, but when this year’s date was announced I pounced on making my way into the event this year. Part of this was the opportunity to network with over 200 of the state’s finest conservative minds, but part of it was a guest list dotted with nationally recognized speakers.

Unlike the many GOP conventions I had attended in the same building, there were no hospitality suites on Friday night. Turning The Tides was a one-day affair, which started with a breakfast I unfortunately missed. But I was set up on bloggers’ row next to a variety of state and local bloggers (including my “biggest fan” Jackie Wellfonder,) which gave me the opportunity to live-Tweet the event throughout.

The Tweets didn’t take long to build up steam once we dispensed with the preliminaries and heard from our first guest speaker, the exceptionally quotable Pamela Geller. Most people know Geller from her website Atlas Shrugs, which briefly covered TTT here, but she has been a tireless leader in the ongoing battle against radical Islam. (If you follow the link you can also see the extent of the crowd in the conference.)

Pamela praised the conference attendees, who she termed “smeared, defamed, and marginalized for standing in defense of freedom” by the “enemedia.” Her key point was defending the freedom of speech, without which “peaceful men have no alternative but to turn to violence.”

“Evil is made possible by the sanction you give it,” she continued, “Withdraw your sanction.” She also called Delegate Nic Kipke, who ignored a boycott call by the pro-Islamic group CAIR, a “rare bird in today’s environment (because) truth is the new hate speech, and just telling the truth is an extreme act.”

She went on to explain how she purchased ad space on the New York subway in response to anti-Israel ads, but was rebuffed because “the word ‘savage’ was demeaning. So I had to sue…and I won on all points. Freedom of speech protects all ideas.” Ten of her ads were destroyed within an hour, which she termed “a physical manifestation of this war on free speech.”

She also detailed her battle against the Ground Zero mosque, telling us the images of 9-11 have been “embargoed” because they offend Islamic sensitivities. “You defeated that mosque (when) everyone was against you.”

Yet there is a “sea change” occurring in attitude, she said, citing how comments used to be highly stacked against her, but now run strongly in her favor.

“No war has ever been won on defense,” she continued. She begged us to use our “spheres of influence” to fight this fight. “Silence is sanction.” We have to contest acceptance of Shari’a, since Mohammed “ain’t my prophet.”

Geller finished by taking a number of great questions on anti-Shari’a legislation, a nuclear-armed Iran, and the “cultural war” of politics which will include the sale of Current TV to Al Jazeera.

The next speaker, author Diana West, touched on the Current TV sale in her opening remarks as well, as well as the foreign ownership of Fox News. But her remarks centered on her choice in foreign policy, of which she remarked “I’m debuting it here” – with one option to follow the “neoconservative” foreign policy based on universal values. “This has been a disaster.” The other side was a more libertarian-style idea: “I subscribe to ‘coming home America,'” said West, but they suffer the same flaw in that negotiations with Islamic nations “worse than fruitless (and) dangerous to our liberty.”

It begins with love of country, said West, and we would keep the allies with the closest philosophical views. But it would require one radical change: “It would…require leaving the United Nations.” (That was perhaps her best applause line, which she said did far better here than the “blank stares” she gets at the Washington Times.)

It would also be designed with the interests of the American people in mind. “We should fight for the American people.” Instead, we’ve begun to negotiate with terrorists, defend Shari’a-based regimes, and tell our military to look askance at “absolute outrages against American beliefs and sensibilities” in Afghanistan and other Islamic nations.

“And why? Why – nobody’s answered this – why did the Obama administration lie for two weeks that lawfully-protected free speech in America caused the Benghazi attacks?,” asked West. “Why didn’t Mitt Romney ask any of these questions?”

The key question, said West, was whether we were fighting abroad to protect liberty at home. “American interests have been blown to smithereens” by leadership, Diana asserted. Our borders are “essentially open” while National Guard troops protect Afghan citizens. Moreover, this is a contradiction to American values because 3/4 of Hispanics want bigger government while just 2/5 of the population at large feels the same.

West outlined a number of changes she would make, from a secretive foreign policy without much Congressional oversight over “a President run amok.”

“I have not seen terrible damage from Wikileaks,” she continued. “I have seen much corruption and lies on the part of our public officials.”

“I don’t believe that’s the way a republic functions. That needs to change,” said Diana. The war of our next generation is not the one we’re fighting, but a war against Shari’a. “Liberty is imperiled right here in our back yard,” said West, who also called the Islamization of Europe “the great uncovered story of our time.”

Our first group discussion panel, moderated by writer and columnist Marta Mossburg, featured a solid bank of speakers: Frederick County Commission president (and 2014 gubernatorial candidate) Blaine Young, writer and author Stanley Kurtz, and Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild.

Young started out in a jovial manner, joking about the Geller controversy and about once being a Democrat: “Well, everybody can be misinformed, ill-advised, and brainwashed.” But he turned more serious about his assigned topic, telling those gathered “I’m a very pro-property rights person, always have been…property rights is where I’m at.”

Stemming from the very first attack on property rights, zoning, which began in the 1920s and has been accepted in most places – Young pointed out Garrett County is an unzoned exception – Blaine turned to the state as it stands and told us “we’ve never seen an attack like this on the state level,” referring to PlanMaryland. “This is a tool, to slow down the rural areas for growth.”

But Young’s most brilliant point was equating things done “for the Bay” with laws passed “for the children.” As I Tweeted:

 

Indeed, I have mentioned this a number of times over the years – here’s one. Great minds think alike?

Stanley Kurtz quickly asserted that “President Obama is not a fan of the suburbs.” As a community organizer, those who mentored Obama had the main goal was to abolish them because they were drawing away tax money rightfully belonging to the cities. To that end, Obama “has been a huge supporter” of that movement. “Barack Obama wants to redistribute the wealth of America’s suburbs to the cities,” said Stanley. He identified the philosophy as the “regional equity movement.”

But among the federal programs imposed on the state, the Sustainable Communities Initiative is perhaps the one affecting Maryland the most. “Nobody pays attention to the Sustainable Communities Initiative,” despite the fact Baltimore was a “regional planning grant” recipient. It’s a program where the federal government pays for regional planning, such as PlanMaryland but on a smaller scale. The goal, though, is to make the receipt of federal aid contingent on adopting these plans, much like schools which accept federal money do so with stipulations placed on them.

And while everyone has heard of Agenda 21, not so many are familiar with the workings of the Smart Growth movement, concluded Kurtz. “Conservatives are missing where the real threat is coming from,” warned Kurtz, “We haven’t studied the home-grown (regional equity) movements.”

But Rothschild was the most strident speaker. “The question of the War on Rural Maryland begs a bigger question: why does this happen?” Richard went on to postulate that it happens “because we let them.”

“Those people that disrespect the Bible and the Constitution are invariably the ones who know the least about either of them,” said Rothschild. “We (conservatives) are abdicating our responsibilities at all levels of government to do what needs to be done.”

“Being a Constitutionalist requires practice,” opined Richard. Elected officials need to ask themselves not just ‘what would Jesus do,’ but a second question: what would Jefferson do?

Elected officials aren’t trained to uphold their oath of office and the Constitution. “We’re not thinking the right way.” As an example, he stood alone in his county in an effort to nullify SB236. A further test was when he went to the recent Maryland Association of Counties meeting and asked six random county officials about what they would do if an order was passed down to confiscate guns in their county.

“Three of them said they don’t know, and the other three said they would resign from office,” Richard charged. “Not one said they would nullify, interpose, or engage their locally elected sheriff to defend their citizens’ Constitutional rights.” That was the fundamental problem.

Richard even spoke on comments he made regarding the SB236 Tier IV opt-out provision proposed right here in Wicomico County. (The original post is on the Conduit Street blog.) “They do this because we let them…we are tolerating the intolerable.”

“I don’t negotiate one-sided contracts…we shouldn’t even engage,” Richard opined, “Constitutional rights are non-negotiable.” Rothschild vowed to work with the Institute on the Constitution to put together a training course on how to uphold their oath of office.

“(Liberal groups are) going to spend a fortune to try to defeat like Blaine and people like me during the next election because they hate us,” Richard concluded to a raucous standing ovation. And he’s right.

The final session of the morning discussed the “War on Jobs,” with Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton and Delegate Nic Kipke, who was introduced as a member of the Maryland Health Reform Coordinating Council. Fitton focused on illegal immigration while Kipke naturally looked at Obamacare. “Nic knows more about Obamacare than the legislators who voted for it in 2010,” noted moderator Paul Mendez of Help Save Maryland.

Fitton described his work with Help Save Maryland and other legal groups interested in upholding the idea that workplaces should have workers here legally. But that fight began with Montgomery County Community College giving in-state tuition to illegal aliens. “They thought they could get away with it,” noted Fitton. A nice thing about Maryland law, he continued, was that it has a provision allowing citizens standing to sue the government to prevent illegal expenditures of funds.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been given to illegal aliens who can’t work, stated Tom, “Maryland is a magnet for illegal immigration, and the impact on jobs is obvious.” Most affected were the construction trades where the majority of contractors, who are law-abiding, are “competing against crooks.”

“It’s a racket” to keep certain politicians in office, Fitton charged. And speaking of Maryland politics specifically, Tom also alleged there was corruption behind the passage of the ballot initiatives. “(O’Malley) was using his office to promote the approval of the referenda,”

Tom also had kudos for Delegate Neil Parrott, who he’d worked with on the ballot issues, calling him an important figure in Maryland democracy. “We’ve been proud to stand with him,” Fitton beamed.

The lesson here, Fitton said, was that the illegal immigration issue is not automatically a turnoff to Hispanics. He cited polling data which said, in the most recent election, 40% of Hispanics “agreed with the idea of an Arizona-style approach to illegal immigration.” It was 13 points more than Romney received among Hispanics at large. “This is a majority issue for us,” Fitton claimed.

“We’re really in a battle for our lives in a lot of ways,” Kipke opened. “It used to be we were in a battle for our rights, but we’re also in a battle for our way of life.”

He went through a couple examples of the “trainwreck” of Obamacare, one being the fact that the age breakdowns – lumping everyone from age 21 to 60 in a group – will create a spike in rates making insurance unaffordable to young people. (One estimate pegs the additional cost as anywhere from $280 to $400 a month.) “It’s almost designed to fail,” said Kipke.

The second problem is that the exchanges will essentially all offer the same programs – health insurance has to be approved by and purchased from the state – generally these are the “richest packages available.” At this time, Maryland is one of just eight states with an exchange in place. “If Obama is successful, health insurance will be purchased through the state, and it will be the state design,” Kipke said.

The Delegate urged us to use him and Delegate Parrott as a conduit to the General Assembly. “If you have access to technology, you should see the stuff that goes on. Bring a camera, we’ll tell you where to stand and we’ll put you up in front of the next Delegate who embraces socialism. We’d love to get that on video.”

That brought us to the lunch break. While most of us grabbed a quick bite to eat, there was a lot going on both inside and outside the lobby.

On the inside, a total of fifteen groups had information tables and other items set up. Here are a few of those:

In order, these were Accuracy in Media, Defend Life, Maryland Republican Network, and Election Integrity Maryland. Other groups in attendance were the Franklin Center (sponsor of Bloggers’ Row), the Red Maryland Network – which did a live broadcast from the lobby – Institute on the Constitution, Americans for Fair Taxation, Montgomery County Republicans, Stop Agenda 21, Help Save Maryland, the Leadership Institute, Maryland Legislative Watch, Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC, and Conservative Victory PAC.

There were also merchants, with event T-shirts and Breitbart design shirts on sale.

We also had a chance to meet some of the speakers and purchase their books.

From left to right, represented were Stanley Kurtz, Diana West,  Pamela Geller (crouched), and Tom Fitton. Dun Scott (husband of organizer Cathy Trauernicht) is standing in the center; thanks to Ann Corcoran for the correction.

As I noted, there was also action outside the building. The CAIR protest of Pamela Geller finally showed up two hours after she finished speaking. (Photo by and courtesy of Jackie Wellfonder.)

Yet the ten protesters got media attention. If it weren’t for them, I doubt the TV stations would have showed up.

So that’s where we stood as lunch concluded. In part 2 I’ll cover the four intriguing seminars which occurred afterward and the closing remarks by Jim Rutledge.

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