Odds and ends number 93

There’s been a lot piling up in my e-mail box as I prepared The Rise and Fall of the TEA Party, so now that I have that wrapped up I can move on to a few long-overdue things, like this one. As always, it’s things I can speak to in a couple sentences to a few paragraphs, wrapped up in a rhetorical bow.

On the Maryland front

I’ve received a number of items from my old friends at the Maryland Public Policy Institute but these few stuck out at me. First was Marta Mossburg’s assessment of our governor’s Presidential election chances:

If Gov. Larry Hogan decides to challenge Donald Trump for the presidency, he will lose before stepping into the ring.

A man who in the State of the State and at his second inauguration tried to out Roger Mr. Rogers with calls for bipartisanship has no chance outside the small neighborhood of Maryland. Anyone with an R beside their name is evil to those on the progressive left throughout the nation even if they never don a MAGA hat. And what in his record will speak to the national Republican base so loudly they would be willing to dump Mr. Trump for him?

“I lowered tolls!” isn’t a rallying cry to stir the masses. Neither is “I stopped Democrat overreach!” And “I supported the most expensive public transportation project in the world” won’t win him an invitation to break bread with wealthy Republican donors who want to shrink government.

“Maryland needs to win for Gov. Hogan to win higher office”, MPPI blog, February 5, 2019.

Not to mention we already have a socially-liberal #NeverTrump in the running for losing the GOP nomination. But the point remains: Donald Trump, for all his faults, is probably more conservative than Larry Hogan is. A conservative Larry Hogan would veto practically everything the Maryland General Assembly passes (instead of caving in to some of their worst proposals) because how often do they even consider his sponsored bills? Add to that the fact that Trump will actually campaign for conservatives (unlike what happened to a certain Maryland U.S. Senate candidate last time around) and the thought that Hogan would be wise to concentrate on Maryland makes more sense.

And if that wasn’t enough, MPPI scored big with their assessment of Maryland’s spending problem and long-standing alternatives to a job-killing $15 per hour minimum wage.

A fast-growing industry

Speaking of Governor Hogan and caving in: despite Maryland’s foolish refusal to get in on the game, extraction is the nation’s fastest-growing industry. But even Andy Harris has been reluctant to advocate for offshore drilling despite its potential benefits, as this op-ed suggests. As I often say, the reason environmentalists oppose seismic testing isn’t the harm to creatures but is truly that of what we may find is out there now that testing methods have improved over those of 30 years ago.

On the other hand, those trying to kill industry in the country are hard at work trying to fool people. Two cases in point come from the Capital Research Center, which posted a couple good pieces on union influence in politics these days in left-leaning states as well as the federal government. But if you really want to take the cake, just listen to what Slow Joe Biden said a few days ago:

It’s time we told the truth about what unions have really done for America.

With the dues they paid, the picket lines they walked, the negotiations they sweated through, those union workers weren’t just standing up for other union workers.

The rights they fought for benefited every American worker.

Minimum wage. Overtime pay. The 40-hour workweek. Safer working conditions. The elimination of child labor, for crying out loud. The list goes on and on.

This country wasn’t built by a few Wall Street bankers, CEOs, or hedge fund managers. It was built by the American middle class.

“It’s Time To Tell The Truth About Unions.” e-mail from American Possibilities.

Here’s a little more truth: I was often told by a relative – who was a union steward, for crying out loud – that “unions are for the lazy man.” When the incentives become perverse, like intentionally slow-walking a task so the productivity expectation remains artificially low, it’s apparent that unions provide a floor level of benefits but also create a ne plus ultra of accomplishment. The most productive and innovative have no place in a union.

Good news for the Constitution (party)

Did you know the Constitution Party has 110,000 registered voters around the country? It doesn’t seem like much but worth remembering is that not all states specifically allow registration to any party but the big two.

But I love the contributions being made by an unknown person who goes by the nom de plume “Digital Paul Revere.” In one statement, DPR said a lot about the type of person the Constitution Party should attract:

I am writing to you because I have witnessed firsthand the absolute horror of socialism. These essays are not newsletters. They aren’t meant to bring you recent Party news. They are long-form commentaries on current events happening in our country. They are viewpoints, seen through the lens of a Millennial American who has lived for a significant length of time under a true socialist dictatorship: China. These essays are meant as an olive branch to young Americans, frustrated by the perversion of the political process today, alienated by the major political parties, crushed under unimaginable debt with little hope of ever having the means to repay it, and “politically homeless”. They are also meant to give older generations of Americans a glimpse into the future that awaits your children and grandchildren, should you fail to act now.

In these essays, I hope to provide a point of view that will help fellow American patriots see the danger that our nation is in and call to action all who wish to see the situation improve. I can tell you with absolute conviction that many Americans do not know the extent to which socialism has corrupted our systems and institutions. I didn’t know either. It is only after having lived under true socialism that I can see the telltale signs of its growing influence on our country.

“Introduction to a Reformed Millennial,” DPR.

In a similar vein, DPR writes that it’s better to be an American. I like that.

The Constitution Party also gained a couple more officeholders thanks to partisan switches – one from Republican and another from a conservative Democrat who was elected based on their votes in a North Carolina race. In looking up the results, though, I found this gentleman was an incumbent county commissioner who turned out to be a primary election loser that took advantage of the CP’s newly-won ballot access to avenge his primary loss. In most cases, “sore loser” laws would prevent this, so his victory comes with an asterisk, too. It’s tough to compete with the duopoly, though.

The Kochs of the Left

The penultimate piece before I go is a groundbreaking report from the Capital Research Center on a left-wing dark money entity called Arabella Advisors. If you ever wonder how these left-leaning “grassroots” groups suddenly pop up out of nowhere, this piece may help you to understand that it’s some serious Astroturf. And they had the nerve to call the TEA Party “Astroturf?” Sorry, I know some of the TEA Party founders and believe me, they are legit. If you’re still not convinced, read this.

Flogging the scamPAC horse

That’s not to say that the TEA Party didn’t eventually sell out, though. Call it flogging a dead horse, but the TEA Party Express is coming off like a scam PAC with an appeal that claims:

The recent polls coming out are showing President Trump behind many of the Democratic candidates.  Now, as financial disclosures are due for the first quarter of the year, we see that these Democrats are raising unheard of millions of dollars – over $70 million and counting.  So Trump is behind in both the polls and in the critical fight for financial resources to communicate with the American people.

We launched the “Tea Party for Trump” to get conservatives off the sidelines and back in the field to preserve the tremendous gains we have made over the last two years and achieve even more victories ahead in a second term of Trump-Pence.

“Fight back for Trump” e-mail from Sal Russo of the Tea Party Express.

There are no less than seven different linked appeals for donations.

Now I’m not sure if the TPX (as I called it for shorthand in my book) ever ran a bus tour for the 2018 midterms – if they did it was nowhere near my radar and I think I have a decently attuned one. But if Lloyd Marcus is to be believed they may get the band back together for Trump 2020. We will see.

Still. it’s a shame how far the TPX has fallen. Luckily my friend Mark Williams isn’t dead or he may be rolling in his grave about this one.

Now that I have pretty much cleaned out my e-mail, I think we can put odds and ends to bed for a few weeks.

Odds and ends number 92

The more regular than it used to be look at the pile that’s my e-mail box and dredging out items worth a few sentences to a few paragraphs starts now:

A private fight for $15

My friends at the Maryland Public Policy Institute recently pointed out that there are a number of Maryland companies who are already paying starting employees $15 an hour (or soon will be.) MPPI’s Carol Park notes that, “The main goal for Maryland government should be to incentivize businesses in Maryland to grow larger and more profitable, so that they can become the new Amazon and Target and not only pay their employees $15 an hour but employ hundreds and thousands of Marylanders who are looking for a job.”

While Park is right, she also misses a point. Using that argument, larger businesses may be comfortable latching onto the so-called “Fight for $15” because it allows them to throttle back prospective competition. Small companies running on tighter margins won’t be able to pay the higher wages, so they won’t be able to compete.

Listen, if the SEIU and big business are on the same side (and, according to Leonard Robinson III of the Capital Research Center the SEIU is greasing a lot of Democrats’ palms to get this enacted at the federal level) it just can’t be good for the rest of us.

Returning to the subject of MPPI, they have also recently asked the state to “resist” raising taxes in the wake of the Kirwan Commission report advocating an additional $3.8 billion in school spending – none of which is slated to follow the child as it should. They cite prospective income tax increases on the middle class as well as possible expansion of the sales tax to include more services and business tax hikes as possible outcomes.

Knowing how the Kirwan Commission came together, is it any wonder higher taxes are on the docket? Resist we must.

Did Trump really cave? Or is it “fake news” from the dividers of Indivisible?

This probably deserves its own post, but we all know Indivisible will take credit for anything that’s a loss to America or makes President Trump look bad – naturally, that extends to the end of the recent Schumer-Pelosi shutdown. So this was their “state of play” after the furlough ended.

Pay attention to the “ask” – Republican Senators are asked for “No new wall money. Keep the government open.” It sounds to me like the Democrats have already determined they will shut it down again and try to blame Trump again. Nope, that one would be on you – particularly since Democrats have the majority in the conference committee.

In another Indivisible-related item I found interesting, they laid out a fundraising wish list in an e-mail I received in the wake of the shutdown:

  • $1,475,000 for “doubling our organizing team,” adding 14 state-level organizers, 3 digital organizers, and 3 training organizers.
  • $80,000 for Hubdialer, which, as the name implies, assists volunteers in making phone calls.
  • $114,000 for Mobile Commons, which is a text messaging system.
  • $1,315,820 for digital ads. More money for Mark Zuckerberg.
  • And $140,000 for ActionKit, a “mass e-mailing tool.”

All told, that “ask” is a little over $3 million, which I’m sure they’re going to invest in pushing more propaganda for 2020. Yep, that’s some grassroots for you.

And speaking of Astroturf…

If you wondered why Obamacare has hung tough despite its unpopularity, maybe this is why. From CRC’s Hayden Ludwig:

At least thirteen pro-Obamacare organizations aren’t independent organizations at all, but websites hosted by a handful of mega-funder nonprofits: the Sixteen Thirty FundNew Venture Fund, and Hopewell Fund.

Those three funds are in turn managed by Arabella Advisors, a mysterious consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. Arabella Advisors advises wealthy clients on what it calls “strategic philanthropy.” In practice though, Arabella’s strategic giving involves philanthropic investments to left-leaning causes and organizations.

“Who is Behind the Groups Pushing Obamacare?”, Hayden Ludwig, Capital Research Center, January 10, 2019.

Nor should we forget this tangled web the Left weaved.

And people thought the TEA Party was Astroturf because Americans for Prosperity printed up a batch of signs? Okay then, feel free to be wrong.

More wasteful spending

Another winner from the CRC comes in this investigation by Robert Stilson – employment programs that make work for connected non-profits. It’s yet another case of low-hanging fruit to be plucked and another score for the Capital Research Center, which is beginning to become a (sorely needed) bulldog of the Right. Don’t miss their look at the Census controversy either.

The state of American energy…is strong

At least according to the lengthy (over 120 pages) and colorful annual report from the American Petroleum Institute. It should be required reading for environmentalist wackos, including one Larry Hogan. Maybe he’d learn something and get back to what he promised.

If you want something a little more “official” the far less colorful Energy Information Administration Annual Energy Outlook 2019 is out as well. Both documents are chock full of good news for the energy industry as long as government stays out of the way.

So is the state of American manufacturing

Fresh off “another strong month of job growth,” the folks at the Alliance for American Manufacturing believe, “This strength in factory and overall hiring gives the administration considerable leverage headed into the final leg of trade talks with China,” according to AAM President Scott Paul.

But they’re never quite happy, always wanting something more. On the heels of a Trump “buy American” executive order, the group wants it expanded already. Here’s what it covers, in a nutshell:

Within 90 days of the date of this order, the head of each executive department and agency… administering a covered program shall, as appropriate and to the extent consistent with law, encourage recipients of new Federal financial assistance awards pursuant to a covered program to use, to the greatest extent practicable, iron and aluminum as well as steel, cement, and other manufactured products produced in the United States in every contract, subcontract, purchase order, or sub‑award that is chargeable against such Federal financial assistance award.

“Executive Order on Strengthening Buy-American Preferences for Infrastructure Projects,” issued by President Trump January 31, 2019.

While the additional jobs are good news, I’ve always been a little leery of “Buy American” orders such as these just because it’s gaming the market and making American products just that much less competitive on a global scale. Why invest in new technology and better facilities when you have a captive customer?

Having said that, I do believe President Trump is trying to level the playing field a bit as other nations subsidize their industries to varying degrees, too. For several years I received missives from AAM and others decrying the “dumping” of steel on the American market by Asian competitors, and that’s a case where a “Buy American” law can be of assistance. But I would rather see fair trade as a part of free trade, and there can be instances where “Buy American” may not be the best option.

Fighting the last war

In terms of total votes, the most popular politician in Maryland isn’t Larry Hogan. Instead, the top vote-getter in 2018 was Comptroller Peter Franchot, who drew 1,620,264 votes in winning a fourth term in office. Peter carried all but three counties (Cecil, Garrett, and Washington) in defeating the vastly underfunded Republican challenger Anjali Phukan. (Her campaign, beginning in May, 2017 and ending last December, raised a grand total of $2,051.25. The remaining $460 was donated to charity.)

But Phukan remains convinced that Franchot’s victory was achieved through underhanded means. Recently she attempted to convince the Maryland Board of Elections that an investigation into Franchot’s campaign finance was necessary, but to no avail. So she took the next step:

With no administrative options left, at the suggestion of some fellow Republicans, I filed a “Writ of Mandamus” with the Circuit Court in Anne Arundel County, to make the Board of Elections investigate my concerns, and act accordingly, as required by Maryland law. In this writ I also requested an injunction and declaratory judgement. I had presented my concerns before the election board as I discovered things in the process of reviewing his campaign’s financial records, and yet the account was still deemed compliant enough for Franchot to be certified!

Anjali Phukan, newsletter to supporters, January 27, 2019.

She’s also began plugging an obscure electoral watchdog website that’s had barely 700 visits in the last 2-plus years (as there is still 2016 information on it.) A GoFundMe campaign for it has raised a grand total of $5. But while it seems Phukan is tilting at windmills, she brings up some very troubling concerns about the Maryland campaign finance system.

Having written and read a few campaign finance reports in my time, I’m sure I’ve pointed out the weaknesses in the system. But a glaring one is how one very minor change in information submitted could conceivably allow an entity to donate far more than the prescribed limit, and seldom does the Board of Elections act on these irregularities. Since I haven’t heard of them overturning any elections due to unlawful campaign finance, I presume the punishment is generally making the campaign return the donation and perhaps a modest fine to the candidate and/or treasurer.

I glanced through Phukan’s summary of Franchot’s issues and, while it wasn’t a vast percentage of his campaign funding, you would think a person who is charged with being an accurate collector of revenue wouldn’t have such large accounting errors. It seems to me that the Board of Elections is just putting these self-reported records out to present a fig leaf of accountability but not really checking into them. (And let’s face it: most campaigns in this state don’t involve enough money to pay the mortgage for a year.)

And, by extension, the lack of interest in checking Franchot’s campaign finance seems to be echoed in their lack of interest in (or utter contempt regarding) cleaning out voter rolls. The erstwhile watchdog group Election Integrity Maryland found thousands of duplicate registrations in a May, 2014 survey. (Third release here, from an archived web page.) It’s now February, 2019, and something tells me that number is twice as high. Just wait until they get the automatic voter registration!

In passing

I couldn’t let this post go by without mentioning the recent passing of my former colleague on the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, Dave Goslee, Sr. Sadly, the 78-year-old Goslee had just in November won a seat on an institution he’d been fighting to reform for the first ten years of his twelve-plus year tenure on the Central Committee, the Wicomico County Board of Education.

Dave showed the value of getting out the vote as he won that Board of Education seat by one vote after a December recount showed that vote was incorrectly credited to his opponent. But the fourth-term WCRCC member couldn’t beat leukemia, and it’s likely his opponent will get the seat back anyway as a 14-member panel mainly comprised from the local schools will select Goslee’s successor – that committee selected William Turner, who Goslee defeated for the seat, in 2017.

Dave and I were not the closest of friends on the committee when we first started, but over the years we developed a respectful relationship as we each came to understand what the other brought to the table. He was also a devoted season ticket holder for the Shorebirds, so I saw him often even after I left the WCRCC. He will be missed, both at the games and certainly in local politics.

Coming up…

I almost put this into the odds and ends, but decided I would devote a stand-alone post to those who would tell me how to do my job. I may use that as the light-hearted stack of stuff to start the weekend.

I also have the third in a quick batch of record reviews to do for Saturday, but that may be the last for a short while. Or it may not.

Longer term, a suggestion I’ve had placed in my hopper once again was to bring back something I tried for a couple seasons in 2014 and 2015: predicting the 25-man Delmarva Shorebird opening day roster. (My 2014 guesses had 10 correct for Opening Day and 5 coming along later in the season. In 2015 I had 11 on Opening Day and 6 later on. That year I did it a week before the season, but it didn’t help.)

This year’s roster may be even more tricky because of the new management for the Orioles – players who may have been favorites under the Duquette regime may not catch the eye of Mike Elias, who will presumably prefer a player more like those in the Astros organization from which he came. (And who am I to argue with their success? Not only was the major league team a division winner in 2018, so were four of their top five farm clubs – the other was a close second. On the other hand, the Shorebirds were barely a .500 team but that was still best among Baltimore’s full-season affiliates last season.)

But since my situation is a little better than it was back in mid-decade I think I’ll give it a shot. Still not going back to Shorebird of the Week but at least I’ll enhance my coverage this way.

So the mailbox is emptier and you’re up to date.

Odds and ends number 90

The first real odd or end is writing this post in WordPress 5.0, which is a completely different interface than the editor I’ve been used to for over thirteen years. It was the upgrade that inspired me to change my theme – although the thought that my old theme may become a “legacy” theme crossed my mind as well.

So again we deal with items that take from two sentences to two paragraphs. But there’s one other neat thing about this new product – being block-based makes it easier to add headings, so maybe this is a good place to begin.

MPPI preparing for new GA session

My friends at the Maryland Public Policy Institute have been busy laying the groundwork for a new session of the General Assembly. 

We know that the new year will bring to Maryland a legislative body that, if you can imagine, will lean even further to the left than previous renditions despite the fact the GOP has a modern record of 15 Senators. (Now they are only losing 32-15! Yeah, there’s a cause for celebration.) And while 99-42 in the House of Delegates isn’t as bad as previous terms where Democrats numbered over 100, it’s not good either – especially when they had 50 last time.

(Although, technically the GOP had just 49 at the very end thanks to the departing Meagan Simonaire going where her political home was anyway. By the same token, though, the Democrats stayed at 91 because another departing Delegate, Shane Robinson, switched to the Green Party. Oddly enough, the MGA site acknowledges Simonaire’s change but not Robinson’s. So the final 2015-18 HoD count was 91 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and 1 Green.)

So imagine my shock when the Kirwan Commission did what commissions often do and recommended more spending. (We should have had an inkling of that from their preliminary report last year, a time when they begged for extra time to finish their plea for massive extra spending.) Noted MPPI’s release on the Kirwan report:

The Daily Record reports that Kirwan Commission member Kalman Hettleman said at the commission’s Thursday meeting, “($4.4 billion) is a very small amount of money for the near-term years to get about the work that needs to be done.”
 
“Four billion in new spending can only be called ‘a very small amount’ by those who make a career out of spending other peoples’ money,” said Christopher B. Summers, president and chief executive officer of the Institute. “Maryland taxpayers should be concerned by the commission’s recommendations. Our in-depth analysis of the commission’s work finds scant evidence that their recommendations will benefit Maryland children and families, while ample evidence shows that historic school spending increase since 2002 has produced disappointing results.”

MPPI Press Release, December 7, 2018. Link added.

The MPPI has been busy lately, adding their thoughts on the Amazon headquarters situation – thoughts that can be described as common sense on keeping and attracting business. Too bad the General Assembly haughtily laughs at these helpful suggestions. 

But wait – there’s more on schools…

It’s a bit of a slog, but thanks to the fine folks at the Capital Research Center I learned another reason why teachers’ unions don’t like school choice. Railing against what’s known as public choice theory, which is described as “ask(ing) questions about government accountability and transparency, the influence of special interests, and the incentives that drive political decision-making,” these teacher’s unions are attempting to smear the legacy of the late Nobel Prize winner James M. Buchanan, who won his Nobel in 1986 on that subject. Public choice theory is popular with libertarians and like-minded conservatives.

On that front writer Christine Ravold not only points out the false charge of racism, but extends the blame for its spread to a union-backed push for colleges to eschew donations from libertarian philanthropists via a group called UnKoch My Campus. That front group lists a number of programs backed by the Charles Koch Institute as ones colleges should divest themselves from, never mind the idea of academic diversity.

Panic in Detroit

While we are talking about the CRC, it should be noted that Michigan-based writer and researcher Ken Braun has been turning a critical eye to a Detroit-originated institution, the Ford Foundation. 

Claiming the Foundation has abandoned the city of its birth, Braun wrote a three-part series for CRC detailing their history of ignoring Detroit as the city decayed over the last half-century.

As you may have guessed over the years, growing up an hour or so south of there and following their sports teams gives me a soft spot for the Motor City and a rooting interest in their success.

More smarts from Bobby Jindal

Another of my favorite conservative thinkers had a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (alas, behind a paywall for those who don’t get the daily) so I will give you his conclusion and my thoughts (for free, which may be all they are worth.)

The left’s effort to shut down free and open debate and banish people with opposing views is a tacit admission that they lack confidence in their own arguments.

Conservatives are often described as underrepresented and under siege on college campuses and in newsrooms. Even as professors and students continue to be disproportionately liberal, conservatives should take comfort that their ideals concerning free markets, the American dream, the traditional family structure and liberal democracy continue to prove themselves on their merits to each rising generation.

“Conservatism Isn’t Dead Yet,” Wall Street Journal op-ed by former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, November 25, 2018.

Why are conservatives underrepresented in those areas? Well, for one thing, the welcome wagon doesn’t seem to be out for them there and people like to go where they are wanted. (Plus the capitalist business world makes them a better living.)

Not to give away a lot on my forthcoming book, but there is a quote from columnist Kira Davis that I use in my epilogue that goes into discussing the fields conservatives should begin focusing on. This isn’t the quote I use in Rise and Fall, but later in the same article Davis adds: 

As it stands now,the people with the power to shut down our voices at places like Google and Facebook are largely millennial liberals who moved directly from the insulation of a progressive college campus to the insulation of a progressive technological campus often housed inside the bubble of a progressive large city.

(…)

It’s a culture, not a grand plot. The only way to change that culture is to flood it with a counter culture.

“Dear Conservative Parents: Stop Raising Politicians and Pundits,” Kira Davis, RedState.com, March 2, 2018.

People need to use a bit of an Alinsky-style tactic against Google, shaming them for their lack of diversity in thought by their witch hunt against online conservatives and their lack of conservative employees in general.

More election postmortems 

I just can’t get enough election analysis. Worth reading is a piece from Charles S. Faddis at AND Magazine written while the votes were still being counted. It make the case that both Democrats and Republicans are being torn apart by forces within their respective parties, leaving a lot of folks on all sides outside a political home and the parties in need of “soul searching.”

And this came from the Constitution Party, which managed to duck under the “blue wave”:


We maintained ballot status in all ten states where we ran candidates. The Constitution Party was the only minor party that did not lose ballot status in the states where we ran candidates for office.

“Constitution Party Bucks National Trend” e-mail, December 3, 2018.

This is in contrast to Maryland, where both the Libertarians and Green Party will have to have ballot access restored before the 2020 elections. While Maryland had a Constitution Party for one term (I believe it was 2006-10) they could not keep their momentum going. However, given the direction of the state Republican Party (or, more specifically, its standardbearer) the time may be ripe for a renewed push for ballot access in 2020.

In Delaware, their ballot access may be as simple as convincing some of the other smaller parties to disband and cast their lot with the Constitution Party. (One example: the American Party, which has a platform relatively in line with that of the Constitution Party, has more registered voters in Delaware but not enough for ballot access, nor is it as well organized nationally.) They could also get disgruntled Republicans who aren’t happy with the state party apparatus that has no statewide elective offices. 

And so, in conclusion…

Now that I have emptied out most of my mailbox, I’m closing in on the end of another edition of odds and ends, done the WordPress 5.0 way. But a heads-up on a couple pieces: One, I’m really interested in the vote proportions of the midterm election here in Maryland given the national oddity of 14 Congressional races all tilting to Democrats after the election night totals were released. The second is a discussion of new tactics from the Indivisible crowd upon the changeover in Congress.

Look for those in coming weeks.

Odds and ends number 88

As you might guess, the mailbox groans with new items when it’s election time. So this is a fresh edition of stuff I can deal with in a sentence to a few paragraphs.

I regret not bringing one of these items up a few months back when it came out, but as we get ready for state elections there are two key pieces from the Maryland Public Policy Institute that voters should not miss.

First of all, you all know that I have done the monoblogue Accountability Project for several years, with this year’s intention to wrap up that work.** While it doesn’t evaluate individual voters or bills like my evaluation does, their 2018 Annapolis Report is a useful, broad look at the overall picture and where it can stand some improvement in the next term, It’s nice work by Carol Park and our own Marc Kilmer.

It seems like a new Democrat strategy (besides cutting and running to Virginia) to combat Larry Hogan’s effective campaign is to talk down the state’s economy, but Park puts the lie to that in a more recent piece. Notes Park:

(I)t may be more helpful to look at Maryland’s future economic prospects than to focus on the historical figures to assess the validity of Jealous’s claim. After all, 2015–2017 was a period of strong growth nationally, so it may not be fair to attribute every aspect of improvement of Maryland’s economy to Hogan, nor may it be fair to criticize him for perceived shortcomings relative to other states.

There are a number of indicators that macroeconomists consider important for predicting a region’s long-term economic growth prospects: wage, entrepreneurship, innovation, and income inequality. We can look at these figures one-by-one to assess whether Maryland is in fact faring poorly compared with other states in the Mid-Atlantic region under Gov. Hogan.

It turns out Maryland isn’t doing so bad after all according to the selected figures. Now I know the whole deal about lies, damned lies, and statistics, but if you ask almost any Marylander whether he or she is better off than they were four years ago, the answer would likely be yes – unless you work for the federal government, in which case times may be a bit difficult. If – and this is a really, really big if considering we are over two years out – the Republicans can maintain their grip on Congress for the next two cycles and President Trump is re-elected – we may see a significant rightsizing of government that will likely put Maryland into recessionary status given our addiction to the federal crack pipe of taxpayer money and government jobs. (I’ve said it before – if not for the federal government, Maryland would be *pick your chronically high unemployment state.*) It will be painful, but it is necessary.

The MPPI also pointed out that small businesses will be able to take advantage of a modest tax break made necessary by the adoption of paid sick leave. (I say modest because it’s a pool of $5 million – as originally envisioned, the pool was far larger and assisted more employers. Both those provisions were killed or watered down in committee.)

Sliding over to another campaign, Dr. Ben Carson called him “a true patriot who has served our nation and made personal sacrifices for its well being.” But before he debated his two most prominent foes for the U.S. Senate seat on Sunday (more on that in a few paragraphs) Tony Campbell had one simple request: Pray.

This campaign is David vs. Goliath.  As a dear friend of mine told me this week, our job is to be in position to take advantage of God’s providential miracle.  Your prayers are crucial for our campaign’s success.

Now before the anti-“thoughts and prayers” crowd has a cow, they need to explain to me what harm comes from prayer. If it’s in the Lord’s plan to give Maryland a far more sane representative than that which we have now, why not give encouragement that thy will be done?

From calling on the Lord to calling out larceny: that’s the segue I make for the next item.

One minor topic that takes up a couple pages in my forthcoming book on the TEA Party is a look at the “scam PACs” that started up in the wake of Citizens United, conning well-meaning small donors into supporting the lavish consulting fees of companies related to the overall PAC rather than the candidates or causes they purported to support. A three-part series from the Capital Research Center called Caveat Donator delves into that topic as well, and is worth the read.

Back to that Senate debate. I have found my way onto Neal Simon’s mailing list, and his spin doctors were ready:

Throughout the one-hour debate, Simon focused much of his criticism on Cardin’s lack of leadership in moving forward legislation that focuses on Maryland’s interests. Simon went on the offensive right out of the gate, painting a picture of a career-focused politician focused on placating the party leadership and cow-towing to establishment donors in order to keep his job. Cardin’s voting record is the most partisan of all current sitting senators as he has voted with Chuck Schumer more than 97 percent of the time.

When referring to the numerous internal threats and dangers facing America today, Simon said, “I’m not sure which is most dangerous, Trump’s Twitter feed or Ben Cardin’s rubber stamp.”

As I watched the debate, I noticed it was Simon who was the more aggressive toward Cardin, which is to be expected because he really has to swing for the fences now. There’s a month to close what’s a 40-plus point deficit between him and “our friend Ben” (who’s no friend of common-sense voters.) To that end, Simon is emphasizing Cardin’s fealty to Democrat leadership based on voting record.

But we need to pray for Tony to get another bite of the apple because his debate performance was “meh…” Whoever prepped him needs to step up his or her game because there were a couple “deer in the headlights” moments for Tony – on the other hand, while Simon seemed scripted he was very personable. Cardin was his normal low-key self, almost like “okay, I have to do this debate, let’s get it over with.” But he was more or less prepared for what he would get.

The best possible scenario for this race involves Republicans staying loyal while slyly inviting their Democrat friends to send a message to Cardin by voting Simon – after all, what Republican ever wins in Maryland? I don’t care if it’s one of those 35-33-32 deals: as long as our guy has the 35, he has 6 years to build up the next campaign.

You may remember in the last Presidential go-round that the most centrist of Democrat candidates was onetime Reagan administration official Jim Webb of Virginia. While his campaign didn’t gain much in the way of traction, Jim landed on his feet nonetheless: he now draws a paycheck from the American Petroleum Institute and advocates for offshore energy exploration, to wit:

The United States can increase these advantages (in energy exploration) through renewed emphasis on safe and technologically advanced offshore exploration, which is increasingly in use throughout the world. Ninety-four percent of federal offshore acreage is currently off limits to energy development. The Trump administration’s National Offshore Leasing Program for 2019-2024 would change that by opening key areas off the Atlantic Coast and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Recent advances in safety solutions, plus improvements in business practices and tighter government standards, guarantee that offshore exploration can be safe, targeted and productive.

Maybe that’s why Ben Jealous had the commonwealth on his mind the other day. But that’s the place I’ll use to bring this post home, and I have an old friend of mine to credit. My old “Rebeldome” cohort Bob Densic spied this in the Daily Signal and knew I’d be interested – it’s a piece on the current state of the TEA Party in Virginia.

So that will (almost) be a wrap for now. I might get enough to do another one before Election Day, but we will see.

**I’m thinking of getting the band back together, as it were, for a limited engagement. To me, it may be a useful exercise to maintain the Maryland edition of the mAP, but restrict it to the three districts (36, 37, and 38) on the Eastern Shore. Anyone else can do their own research on their members of the General Assembly.

Odds and ends number 86

As I culled the vast number of possible items I had in my e-mail box down to a manageable few for this latest excursion into stuff I can handle in anything from a couple sentences to a couple paragraphs, I took a break – then promptly forgot I’d started this and let it go for several weeks. Sheesh. So, anyway…

The election season is here, and it’s blatantly obvious that the Maryland Republican Party feels local Senator Jim Mathias has a vulnerable hold on his position. One recent objection was the vote to both pass and overturn Governor Hogan’s veto on House Bill 1783.

If you want a cure for insomnia you could do worse than reading all 53 pages of the House bill. But what I found interesting is the vast difference between the amended House version and the Senate version that never made it past the hearing stage. The bills were intended to codify the recommendations of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission, but the House bill added two new wrinkles: eliminating the input of the Board of Public Works by upgrading the current Interagency Committee on School Construction to a commission and adding to it four new members (two appointed by the governor and two by the leaders of the General Assembly) and – more importantly for the fate of the bill – adding an appropriation to prevent it being taken to referendum. All those amendments came from the Democrat majority in the House Appropriations Committee, which meant that bill was put on greased skids and the other locked in a desk drawer.

Yet there wasn’t a Democrat who objected to this, and that’s why we have government as we do. It also proved once again that Senator Mathias is good at doing what the other side of the Bay wants – obviously since I have done the monoblogue Accountability Project since the term Mathias was first elected to serve in I know this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

But the fair question to ask is whether anyone else is listening? Results of a recent poll tended to be a little disheartening to me. According to the Maryland Public Policy Institute:

Marylanders support spending more money on school safety and career and technical education, according to a new statewide poll. But they are less enthusiastic about expanding pre-kindergarten or paying teachers more if those initiatives mean higher taxes or reductions in other services.

(…)

Broad majorities oppose paying more in income or property taxes to expand pre-K. Voters are against making cuts to roads and transportation (70% total less likely), public safety (70% total less likely), or children’s health insurance (77% total less likely) to afford expansion of pre-k education.

They should be opposing universal pre-K in general. Far from the days when kindergarten was optional and getting through high school provided a complete enough education to prosper in life, we are now working on taking children as young as 4 or even late 3 years old and providing schooling at state expense for 16 to 17 years – pre-K, K through 12, and two years of community college. This would be more palatable if public schools weren’t simply Common Core-based indoctrination centers, but as the quality of education declines quantity doesn’t make up for it.

For example, a real public school education would teach critical thinking, exhibited in these facts about offshore drilling and steps the industry is taking to make it safer. After all, logic would dictate they would want to recover as much product they invested in extracting as possible – spills benefit no one.

Interestingly enough, my friends at the Capital Research Center have also embedded a dollop of common sense into the energy argument.

This goes with the four-part series that explains the pitfalls of so-called “renewable” energy – you know, the types that are such a smashing success that the state has to mandate their use in order to maintain a climate that, frankly, we have no idea is the optimal, normal one anyway. (For example, in the last millennium or so we’ve had instances where vineyards extended north into Greenland – hence, its name – and times when New England had measurable snow into June due to the natural cause of a volcano eruption.)

Solar and wind may work on a dwelling level, but they’re not reliable enough for long-term use until storage capacity catches up. The series also does a good job of explaining the issues with the erratic production of solar and wind energy and the effect on the power grid.

On another front, the summer driving season is here and we were cautioned that prices would increase by the American Petroleum Institute back in April. Oddly enough, a passage in that API piece echoed something I wrote a few weeks later for The Patriot Post:

But while it isn’t as much of a factor on the supply side, OPEC can still be a price driver. In this case, both Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC Russia have put aside their foreign policy differences and enforced an 18-month-long production cut between themselves – a slowdown that has eliminated the supply glut (and low prices) we enjoyed over the last few years. And since those two nations are the second- and third-largest producers of crude oil (trailing only the U.S.), their coalition significantly influences the market.

Finally, I wanted to go north of the border and talk about 2020. (No, not THAT far north – I meant Delaware.)

Since Joe Biden has nothing better to do these days and needs to keep his name in the pipeline for contributions, he’s organized his own PAC called American Possibilities. (He’s also doing a book tour that comes to Wilmington June 10, but that’s not important for this story.)

A few weeks ago his American Possibilities PAC announced its first set of candidates, and so far they’re uninspiring garden-variety Democrats. Supposedly they were suggested by AP members, but we have two incumbent Senators in vulnerable seats (Tammy Baldwin and Jon Tester both represent states that went to Donald Trump), current freshman Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida (another Trump state), and challengers Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey.

As of this writing, all are still in contention; however, this comes with caveats. Baldwin and Tester are unopposed in their upcoming primaries for Senate seats, Houlahan and Kim are unopposed for nomination as well, and Murphy has token opposition. The one race that will test Biden’s “pull” is the NJ-11 race, where Sherrill is part of a five-person race on the Democratic side to replace retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a GOP moderate. All three House challengers Biden is backing are trying for GOP seats, as a matter of fact – no insurgents here. We’ll see in November if he fails.

Shifting sides on the political pendulum, here’s some good political news from our friends at the Constitution Party:

We received great news this week! The Constitution Party effort to gain ballot access in North Carolina exceeded the required number of registered voter signatures to qualify for ballot access in 2018 and 2020.

To do this they needed 11,925 valid signatures in a timeframe that stretched about five months – so far they have over 16,000 total signatures and 12,537 have been declared valid (at least until the NCGOP sues to deny them access because it will be deemed to hurt their chances – see the Ohio Libertarian Party cases for examples of this.) If that development is avoided, it will be the first time the Constitution Party has had ballot access in the state.

Honestly, I believe the two “major” parties should be made to live with the same petitioning for access standards the minor parties do. If they are that popular then it shouldn’t be a problem, right? Once the 2018-22 cycle gets underway, perhaps the same thing should be tried in Maryland.

Lastly is a housekeeping note: in updating my Election 2018 widget, I’ve decided to eliminate for the time being races that are unopposed and focus on the primary races only. So you’ll notice it’s a bit shorter.

After seven weeks of interim, now you know the truth: writing delayed is not writing denied.

Odds and ends number 84

After resurrecting one long-dormant series over the weekend, today we make it two. It hasn’t quite been a year since I did an ‘odds and ends” and there’s not a year’s worth of stuff, but the creative juices are flowing anyway.

Let’s begin with some good news from our national pastime. If you recall, back in July the Shorebirds made headlines for playing the longest game in their 21-season history, spreading out the drama against the Lexington Legends over two days thanks to a storm that broke over the stadium after 20 innings were in the books. It took just one inning the next evening to settle Delmarva’s 7-6 defeat, but the contest was the Fans’ Choice for a MiLBY Award. It had (ironically enough) 21% of the vote among 10 contenders. (Alas, the actual MiLBY went to some other game.)

The other sad part about that story, besides the folks at the Minor League Baseball site misidentifying us as Frederick: it turned out that one inning of baseball would be all that was played that evening as another heavy storm blew through just at scheduled game time. (I remember it well because I was at work.)

The Shorebirds were also a MiLBY bridesmaid in the blooper department with their September “goose delay.

And while Astros-Dodgers didn’t have the same cachet as the Cubs finally breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat last season, the 28 million viewers of Game 7 completed a World Series where it again kicked the NFL’s ass (as it should, since football season doesn’t start until the World Series is over anyway.) And with the erosion of the NFL’s appeal thanks to the anthem protests and – frankly – rather boring games where fundamentals are ignored, the window of NFL dominance may be closing.

Speaking of things that are dominant, a few weeks back I detailed the effort to bring the sanity of right-to-work to Sussex County, Delaware. An update from the Daily Signal detailed some of Big Labor’s reaction when it came up again. And again I respond – having the choice to join the union is better than not having the job at all.

Delaware was also the subject of one of a series of pieces that ran over the summer and fall from my friends at Energy Tomorrow. They cleverly chose a theme for each of the 50 states and the First State’s July piece was on “the beach life in Delaware.” Now what I found most interesting was just how little energy they produce compared to how much they consume, given they have no coal mines and little prospect of fracking or offshore drilling. And I was surprised how little tourism contributes to their state economy given the beach traffic in the summer.

Maryland’s, which came out last month, is quite different, as it has a companion piece about prosthetics. It obviously made sense with Johns Hopkins in the state, but what struck me was the quote included from Governor Larry Hogan. He’s the guy who betrayed the energy industry by needlessly banning fracking in the state. Unfortunately, Larry seems to suffer from the perception that energy companies are solely interested in profit when the industry knows they have to be good neighbors and environmentally responsible, too.

That’s quite all right: he doesn’t need those 22,729 votes in Allegany and Garrett counties when he can have a million liberals around the state say, “oh, Hogan banned fracking” and vote for Ben Jealous or Rushern Baker anyway.

Regularly I receive updates from the good folks at the Maryland Public Policy Institute, which tends to look at state politics in a conservative manner. But I can’t say this particular case is totally conservative or for limited government:

If Maryland lawmakers want to get serious about combating climate change and reducing pollution, they can simply tax the emission of carbon and other pollutants, thereby encouraging lower emissions and greater efficiency. No one likes a new tax, but it is a much cheaper and more effective way to cut pollution and fight climate change than a byzantine policy like the renewables mandate. Besides, revenue from a carbon tax could be used to reduce other taxes and fund other environmental initiatives. Problem is, though a carbon tax would be good for the environment and human health, it wouldn’t funnel money to politicians’ friends in corporate boardrooms and on Wall Street.

Maryland’s renewables standard isn’t about the environment and human health; it’s about money.

The last two sentences are the absolute truth, but the remainder of the excerpt is a case of “be careful what you wish for.” If the state indeed enacted a carbon tax, businesses and residents would waste no time fleeing the state for greener (pun intended) pastures. You can bet your bottom dollar that a carbon tax would be enacted on top of, not in place of, all the other taxes and fees we have.

Now it’s time for a pop quiz. Can you guess who said this?

Soon, our states will be redrawing their Congressional and state legislative district lines. It’s called redistricting, and it will take place in 2021, after the next Census takes place. That may seem far off, but the time to get started on this issue is now.

This is our best chance to eliminate the partisan gerrymandering that has blocked progress on so many of the issues we all care about. Simply put, redistricting has the potential to be a major turning point for our democracy. But we need to be prepared.

Maybe if I give you the next line you’ll have the answer.

That’s where the National Democratic Redistricting Committee comes in. Led by Eric Holder, my former Attorney General, they’re the strategic hub for Democratic activity leading up to redistricting. In partnership with groups like OFA, the NDRC is building the infrastructure Democrats need to ensure a fair outcome.

Our former President is now involved in this fight for a “fair” outcome – “fair” being defined as gerrymandered like Maryland is, I suppose.

To be honest, we won’t ever have truly fair districts until the concept of “majority-minority” districts is eliminated and districts are drawn by a computer program that strictly pays attention to population and boundaries such as county, city, or township lines or even major highways. With the GIS mapping we have now it’s possible to peg population exactly by address.

And if you figure that most people with common interests tend to gather together anyway – particularly in an economic sense – simply paying attention to geography and creating “compact and contiguous” districts should ensure fair representation. To me it’s just as wrong to have an Ohio Ninth Congressional District (where I used to live) that runs like a shoestring along the southern shore of Lake Erie and was created so as to put incumbent Democratic Congressmen Dennis Kucinich and Marcy Kaptur in the same district – Kaptur won that primary – as it is to have a Maryland Third Congressional District that looks like a pterodactyl. When I was growing up, the Ninth basically covered the city of Toledo and its suburbs where we then lived but as the city lost population they had to take territory from the Fifth District that surrounded it at the time. After the 1980 census they decided to follow us and take the eastern half of Fulton County, west of Toledo – much to my chagrin, since my first election was the one Kaptur beat a one-term Republican. (She’s been there that long.) Since then, the Ninth has been pulled dramatically eastward along the lakeshore to the outskirts of Cleveland, connected at one point by a bridge.

Finally, I guess I can go to what one might call the “light-hearted stack of stuff.” Again from MPPI, when it came to the Washington Metro and how to pay for it, this was a tax proposal I could really get behind. I’m just shocked that it would make $200 million a year.

On that scary note we’ll see how long it takes before I get to the next rendition of odds and ends.

Maryland: contrarian again

It’s been awhile since I looked at the energy industry, what with legislation, riots, and other general mayhem. Fortunately for me, I have several sources in that industry to return me to speed and one is writer Marita Noon, whose piece on NetRightDaily today detailed the efforts of forward-thinking states to repeal their renewable energy mandates – some by whopping margins in their legislature. In those states, the market-bending allocations to renewable energy are coming to an end, leveling the playing field and perhaps saving their taxpayers millions of dollars.

Unfortunately, Maryland isn’t one of those states rolling back its mandates; in fact, the only piece of legislation dealing with the renewable portfolio was a liberal Democrat-backed scheme to expand it some more. House Bill 377 and Senate Bill 373 both were aimed at significantly increasing the percentage of renewables up to 40% by 2025 – current law peaks renewables’ share at 20% by 2022. (Both these figures are a pipe dream.) The Senate version lost in the Finance Committee by an 8-3 vote, and the House version was withdrawn before it was voted upon.

It was good that a bad bill was thwarted, but it was unfortunate that no bill was introduced to repeal these mandates. Maryland would be in far better shape energy-wise, eventually with lower utility rates, if true reform was achieved: repeal of the renewable energy portfolio, the withdrawal of the state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, repealing the subsidy for offshore wind, and encouraging energy production from hydraulic fracturing and offshore drilling.

Over the course of the O’Malley administration, energy companies took the brunt of new regulations and changes in the market; in particular, their cost of doing business was affected by the renewable energy portfolio and the RGGI. If you assume the goal of the utility is to provide energy as cheaply as possible to make a profit – while keeping prices low enough to maintain and grow a customer base – having the dead expenses of the “alternative compliance payment” made necessary by falling short of renewable goals and the CO2 allowances auctioned off by RGGI as a sweet redistribution scheme aren’t helping the cause. Meanwhile, more exploration and investment in energy infrastructure could bring Maryland closer to being at least even as opposed to a net energy importer.

I wouldn’t expect any repeal of these bills to pass on the scale that they’ve moved through some state legislatures, but 71-70 and 24-23 are perfectly fine margins to me. It would also likely require getting around the committee process and bringing the package directly to the floor. (The portfolio repeal, RGGI withdrawal, and repeal of the offshore wind subsidy could be one bill: call it the Maryland Energy Reform Act of 2016.)

The trick is getting the right people to advocate for the changes by showing how much can be saved by consumers. That portion seems like a job for a group like the Maryland Public Policy Institute, while the lobbying on the part of the energy providers should include a pledge of reducing rates. Shaving 2 cents a kilowatt hour off the bill may not sound like much, but it translates to about $216 a year based on average residential usage of about 900 kWh a month. I don’t know about you, but an extra $18 a month would be nice for me. Just think of the economic benefits we received last year when gasoline skidded to $2 a gallon – benefits being lost now as prices have edged back up over $2.50 a gallon.

To help in prosperity, Maryland needs cheap energy. As it stands now, we don’t have it but I think we can get it if the political will is there.

A debate worth having

Unfortunately, I can’t make the event with my work schedule but I was asked to at least spread the word.

Christopher Summers of the Maryland Public Policy Institute invited me to a Maryland Policy Forum on A Better Way to Restore the Chesapeake Bay, to be held Tuesday night (the 28th of October) at Washington College in Chestertown. (It would be a close trip for my friends and fans up Cecil County way.) The event is billed this way:

Maryland officials expect that it will cost over $14 billion in the next decade to meet EPA pollution mitigation targets for the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. Yet Maryland has pointedly ignored a single, enormous source of the pollutants—the massive amount of water-scoured sediment and trapped nitrogen and phosphorus behind the Susquehanna River’s Conowingo Dam. Periodic discharges from the dam, such as the one following Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, spill enormous amounts of sediment and nutrients into the Bay, dwarfing the most optimistic cleanup targets that have been set for the watershed.

What should Maryland do to reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution, and is current policy too much or too little?

In looking at the bios of the three panelists and moderator, it looks like a good mix of opinions will be had. Of course, there are those who believe the MPPI will put its thumb on the scale for the conservative side but it’s a side which isn’t often listened to in this state.

Personally I believe the cleanup behind Conowingo should take precedence over the regulations which have been adopted. Ditch enforcement of these tier maps, the seven-lot subdivision limit, and septic regulations which only serve to curtail growth in rural areas of the state like the Eastern Shore until the sediment behind that dam is cleaned up and we have a year or two of testing to see the difference. Instead of picking on agriculture, figure out ways to upgrade the real problem: failing urban sanitary sewage treatment plants.

I doubt either of the two candidates for governor will be there, but I think Larry Hogan should send a surrogate to hear what the MPPI and their panelists have to say. Obviously job creation is the key issue in this election, but a different, localized approach to cleaning up Chesapeake Bay would be a good secondary issue to discuss in the waning days of the campaign.

Missing in action again

It’s almost becoming a running joke now.

Larry Hogan can crow as he wishes about raising $450,000 in the initial months of his campaign (although a significant portion was his own money, as I’ll document later this week) and make hay about being on both TV and radio in most parts of the state, but the reputation he’s building as a guy who avoids debates and tough questions is getting harder to shake.

Let’s begin with the television ads. As I speculated when I first wrote about it, it was indeed a cable buy, but now it’s spread across most of the state:

Two days after his campaign reported raising more than $450,000 in its first filing period, gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan significantly expanded his TV and radio advertising campaign.  His first 30-second ad entitled “Dedicated” which began running in 11 Maryland counties on April 3 is now airing on cable networks in a total of 19 counties.

The presser mentions radio, and I can vouch that the Hogan campaign is on our local talk station since I heard the ad Thursday. It’s a fairly good spot, but using the live audience feed on what Larry had to say in his stump speech was a little distracting because of the applause lines used. He also mentioned last Saturday when I spoke to him before our Lincoln Day Dinner that he had done another interview that day with WGMD-FM out of Georgetown, Delaware – a station popular in the Ocean City/Ocean Pines area. This is one area Hogan has used to advantage – one-on-one interviews where he can take his time to answer questions and steer the conversation back to his main campaign topics. When the questions depart from those areas, in at least one well-known instance Hogan’s called them “crazy.

In the release, Hogan is quoted as saying:

Through our one-on-one meetings with voters in their homes, places of work and communities and now with statewide advertising, Boyd and I are bringing our message of fiscal restraint and common sense reform to Marylanders who simply can’t afford another four years of single party rule and  incompetence by Annapolis elites.

Yet that message can’t seem to stand the scrutiny of direct questioning with other candidates present. On May 9 the Maryland Public Policy Institute is hosting a GOP gubernatorial debate and just three of the four candidates are participating. I’ll give you three guesses as to who declined, first two don’t count. You would think Larry can change pre-scheduled events with a month’s advance notice when he had a late change to his official announcement due to a predicted snowstorm (which indeed occurred.) So the excuse that “we have a lot of scheduling conflicts” won’t wash if he misses the May 31 debate scheduled for here in Salisbury.

Another candidate who developed the reputation of missing events early in the campaign has cleaned up his act to a large extent, and the party he’s promoting at the upcoming state convention in Bethesda promises to be a tightly-packed gathering if the guest list is accurate. Emceed by WMAL radio’s Larry O’Connor, the sponsor list includes “Ben Carson, Jr, Jimmy Kemp, Henry Marraffa, Richard Rothschild, Armstrong Williams and many others.” Most readers know who Ben Carson, Sr. is but this event features his son. Similarly, Jimmy Kemp is the son of onetime GOP Vice-Presidential nominee Jack Kemp (1996) and, like his dad, a former pro football quarterback. Marraffa and Rothschild are local elected officials, but Armstrong Williams is best known as a syndicated columnist. So it’s an eclectic group of conservatives who will be featured at Lollar’s soiree, and perhaps Lollar will get a Carson endorsement after all.

Ceding the field

I can’t really say I predicted this, since I more or less just added a quick dose of my opinion to a post the other night by stating the obvious: “rates will either have to increase, or insurers will cede the field. Neither is a good choice, but that’s where we are going.”

But reports yesterday stated that Aetna, a leading Maryland health insurer, is indeed pulling out as it was denied the rate increase needed to stay profitable in Maryland given the uncertainty of the state’s insurance situation. While those who hold policies through Aetna may be able to continue on, a significant portion will have to shop in the newly-created state exchange at a time when rates are much more expensive – up to 83 percent, according to a release put out by gubernatorial hopeful David Craig:

Craig announced today that Marylanders can expect a dramatic increase in health care insurance premiums under Obamacare, calling it a “massive new tax.” Maryland’s least expensive Obamacare plan will be 83% higher than the lowest-cost plan sold in the state this year. The analysis comes from a Government Accountability Office report that compares rates this year to what the Maryland Insurance Administration announced they will be under the new state exchange scheduled to launch October 1.

The state’s insurance agency locked down rates with private carriers last month and the new exchange for individuals is marketed as the “Maryland Health Connection.”

“What we have here is Maryland’s health disconnection,” said Craig. “This entire contraption will fall apart unless untold thousands of healthy people inexplicably decide to go online and buy expensive insurance instead of making a car payment. Private insurance carriers are not participating and not enough healthy, working people will either, and this is not going to work.”

Craig also commented on the Aetna situation.

It is deeply troubling that Maryland has yet again soured relations with major employers and job creators. Another company acquires one of Maryland’s last remaining Fortune 500 companies and takes their business elsewhere because regulators tell them what to charge. This irony is lost only on the one-party political machine in Annapolis.

Fellow gubernatorial candidate Ron George also weighed in:

This insurance exchange is already resulting in expensive rate increases for cash-strapped Maryland families. Maryland currently has one of the lowest discretionary income rates in the country, and this exchange will take more money away from your family vacation, school funds and holidays.

Noting that the exchange, which is supposed to increase competition, is comprised of just seven companies owned by only four separate entities, George went on:

This is a classic example of the Democratic machine in Annapolis picking winners and losers based on political relationships instead of free market realities. Additionally, the higher costs to businesses will lead to less job creation. Also, many physicians are now considering earlier retirement.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the exchanges is the broad coverage they have to provide. Marc Kilmer of the Maryland Public Policy Institute illustrates this well in a recent Baltimore Sun op-ed, pointing out that:

To be fair, the lowest-cost plans for sale today are not the same as the lowest-cost plans that will be sold in the exchange. The exchange plans will be much more comprehensive. Many of the cheapest health insurance plans available for sale in the individual market today have high deductibles and may not cover as many situations as do the other plans. But that’s not a bad thing — it gives Marylanders choices in prices and in how much risk they’re willing to carry themselves or put on the insurer. For most Marylanders, the cheaper plans are excellent choices, but for some Marylanders they’re not.

Currently, you can also buy both the cheap plans and the comprehensive plans in the individual market. But you won’t have the choice to buy high-deductible, low-cost plans in the exchange. You have to buy a plan that is designed by bureaucrats and politicians in Washington and Annapolis.

These plans basically come as a one-size-fits-all, take it or leave it proposition with a limited variety of choices – remember, there are only seven approved players in the game, and just four if you consider just the separate entities. Vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and butter pecan might be great for most, but if you prefer cookie dough like I do you’re out of luck.

And what happens when the exchanges only have six insurers? Or three? Unless new entries can figure out a way to make a profit, they’re not going to get into the game. Perhaps they can build wind turbines on the side to gain the state’s favor?

The point is our system was flawed, but the solution is equally (if not more) flawed because of the heavy hand of government. Why not come up with some true free-market solutions – for one, allowing insurance to be sold across state lines so we can buy a policy out of a state with fewer mandates – and let the market dictate its direction? Not in Martin O’Malley’s and Anthony Brown’s Maryland.

Odds and ends number 64

Since my e-mail box is filling up with items I’ve been meaning to get to and I spent part of my day today cleaning out our garage, it’s in that spirit that I present to you yet another heaping helping of items I figure are worth a couple paragraphs or so.

First of all, it seems our newly elected friend up Cecil County way, County Executive Tari Moore, is just getting everyone mad at her. Cecil County GOP head Chris Zeauskas chastised the woman he called “whichever way the wind blows” Moore for appointing Winston Robinson as her finance director. Robinson was a loser in the Democratic primary for the post Moore now holds but has lengthy experience in the financial field, according to the Cecil Whig. Zeauskas also blasted Moore for not hiring either one of two people who she presumably passed up for the appointment: county treasurer Bill Feehley and budget manager Craig Whiteford. Both are Republicans.

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Liberty is raking Moore over the coals for promising to appoint a person to run economic development in Cecil County. Their point is that:

Businesses and individuals build our economy, not government officials.

The idea that we need more bureaucrats to help those in the private sector to navigate red tape is proposterous. (sic)

Why not eliminate the onerous regulations that businesses face and eliminate the “need” to hire a government employee?

(snip)

In a Cecil Whig news article, Tari Moore “promised to create a business advocate position to create incentives and work with businesses to create jobs in Cecil County.”

The key here is provision of incentives.  Why should government have the authority to pick winners and losers in the market place?

Why should county government be giving your hard-earned tax dollars to private companies?

Every time the government uses your tax dollars to give hand outs to private businesses, it distorts and inhibits a truly free market.

It seems to me that both of these parties make valid arguments, particularly the Campaign for Liberty. However, I suspect in the Zeauskas case that if Moore hadn’t changed her registration the Republican Central Committee would have invoked the Eleventh Commandment and remained silent about the Robinson pick. The Campaign for Liberty knows no such thing and will just as readily skewer a Republican as it would a Democrat.

In fact, the C4L goes a little farther, calling on Moore to defund all economic development programs because:

Taxpayers in Cecil County have been forced year after year to give millions of dollars to county run economic development programs.

Yet, over the past two decades Cecil County has had the highest unemployment rate in the region.

By returning the money spent on these programs back to taxpayers we can start to create some real economic growth in our county.

Rather than taking potshots at a decision Tari Moore made simply because the group is upset about a change in partisan affiliation, at least the C4L has a basis in fact that perhaps another direction is needed for economic development. The data doesn’t mean that having an ineffective economic development department is the cause of the issue (since many of the peer counties are in other states, which have their own set of advantages) but could be a factor to consider going forward.

And at the moment the liberty movement in Maryland is feeling its oats, based on the glowing report I received from Maryland Liberty PAC head Patrick McGrady about their hospitality suite at the recent convention:

Our Maryland Liberty Caucus event had more visitors than any other event, by far. Not only were we able to rally our own troops to attend, but we met many new allies and friends who want to fight side-by-side with us in Maryland.

On the other hand, McGrady was blunt in his assessment of the political scene:

Although we met many old and new friends on Friday, we also came away with a very clear conclusion: the Political Establishment in Maryland is strong and will not go away easily.  These people are addicted to power and are sell-outs to the conservative cause.

These Big Government Republicans and Democrats are destroying our liberties and burdening us with over-the-top wasteful spending.

Tell me something I hadn’t figured out already, Patrick. We’ve been fighting that battle off and on since I joined the Central Committee in 2006. Unfortunately, we have way too many Republicans who go along to get along in Annapolis.

Another Pat, Delegate Pat McDonough, bemoans the “Radical Blue” nature of Maryland politics in a recent release:

The dynamic of the voting power in Maryland probably ensures there may never be another statewide Democrat office holder from Baltimore after O’Malley, Cardin, and Mikulski have moved on.  The Baltimore area voters have become captive step-children to the massive voting power of the Washington, D.C. suburbs.  Baltimore’s “radical blue” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake presides over an urban landscape beset by murder, muggings, economic stagnation and a dim future.  She suffers no real opposition, except possibly from another “radical blue” political challenger.  The diversity of electoral politics or public policy is non-existent in Charm City.

All doubt about this growing power was removed when the 7 questions on the ballot achieved a solid victory created by a deluge of votes from the D.C. suburbs.  The problem is compounded by the fact that the two major press organs dominating Maryland, the Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, both reflect the “radical blue” philosophy in their editorial and reporting  practices.  They are enablers, not objective journalists.

I would prefer that a neither a Baltimore-based Democrat nor a Democrat based in the Washington suburbs see statewide elected office again after the way both of those groups have ruined a once-fine state. The “landscape beset by…economic stagnation and a dim future” is the state of Maryland as it stands now. So why is Delegate McDonough conceding this ground?

Be that as it may, McDonough later makes the point that the wealthy in Maryland are “voting with their feet” and leaving the state. However, a recent decision by the IRS pointed out to me by Jim Pettit means these changes will be harder to track:

 (T)he IRS Statistics of Income Division attributes the decision to cancel the program, which dates back to 1991, to coordination issues with the U.S. Census Bureau.  There is no official word yet on why the program was cancelled.

Pettit also stated:

The IRS tax migration data is the best indicator we have of how state and local governments are doing in developing their tax base. If there is no effective way to monitor changes in the tax base in the context of macro-economic trends, then state and local governments are at a severe disadvantage in making key legislative, regulatory and fiscal policies that address the challenges of funding government budgets.

This data was a key cudgel used by the advocacy group Change Maryland to point out the multiple failures of Martin O’Malley’s economic program for the state of Maryland. Now we’ll be down to anecdotal evidence of people leaving Maryland and seeking states more friendly to their economic interests.

Soon the transport industry may follow, as it’s all but certain the General Assembly will once again consider a gas tax when they reconvene next month and may even try to work out a mileage tax as part of their “War on Rural Maryland.” But I’m putting that cart ahead of the horse a little farther than Americans for Prosperity is by setting up their opposition to a gas tax via petition. (Of course, it also builds up a healthier e-mail list.)

Let’s just hope Republicans stay unified in opposition to a gas tax this time around, mmmmmmkay?

Another tax which stands a good chance of being increased yet again is the cigarette tax, but Marc Kilmer of MPPI punctures a hole in the logic of the Baltimore Sun and lobbyist Vinnie DeMarco in his usual clear, level-headed way. It’s worth a read since the cigarette tax increase proposal is another of those Maryland General Assembly rites of spring.

Taxes are also on the mind of national politicians thanks to the closeness of the so-called “fiscal cliff.” But a coalition of nineteen conservative groups called on Congress to “…reject tax increases, refocus negotiations on spending cuts and entitlement reform, where they belong, and send a strong signal to Americans they can count on their elected representatives to look out for them in the upcoming budget negotiations.” But that would require members of Congress to exhibit some backbone, which is in short supply inside the Beltway.

I could go on but you get the idea. Despite the holiday season, politics doesn’t seem to take a break and vigilance is always required.

Four bits a gallon (or more) for a state gas tax?

Governor Martin O’Malley, he of the trial balloons, may have yet another one up his sleeve.

His latest (of many) tax proposals would extend the state’s 6% sales tax to purchases of gasoline, on top of the current 23.5 cents per gallon surcharge the state takes. If adopted, Maryland would join a handful of other states which use this nebulous practice of profiting off high gasoline prices.

The other states which do this are California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and New York. To see what impact this proposed tax would have on our wallets, we need to use three methods of comparison. First, here are the per-gallon gasoline taxes charged by each of these states and Maryland, ranked lowest to highest, not including sales taxes or various fees added by each state: (Source)

  • Florida, 4 cents per gallon
  • Georgia, 7.5 cents per gallon
  • New York, 8.1 cents per gallon
  • Indiana, 18 cents per gallon
  • Illinois, 19 cents per gallon
  • Michigan, 19 cents per gallon
  • Maryland, 23.5 cents per gallon
  • California, 35.7 cents per gallon

And now the sales tax rates which are (or would presumably be) applied to gasoline, also listed lowest to highest:

  • California, 2.25%
  • Georgia, 4%
  • Maryland, 6%
  • Michigan, 6%
  • Illinois, 6.25%
  • Indiana, 7%
  • New York, 8%
  • Florida, 12%

Finally, the combined bite between all taxes (federal, state, and local) impacting gasoline in the states which charge sales tax, which includes where Maryland would eventually rank. To do their calculations, API uses the average cost per gallon in each state according to AAA as of 1/1/12. For Maryland, I couldn’t find the price on the specific 1/1 date but according to the latest AAA figures, the average price one month ago from today was $3.26 and that should suffice for being roughly the price on January 1st. Again, this is lowest to highest.

  • Georgia, 47.8 cents per gallon
  • Florida, 53.4 cents per gallon
  • Illinois, 57.3 cents per gallon
  • Indiana, 57.3 cents per gallon
  • Michigan, 57.8 cents per gallon
  • Maryland, 61.5 58.9 cents per gallon*
  • California, 67 cents per gallon
  • New York, 67.4 cents per gallon

If this is passed, Maryland would have the fifth-highest total gasoline tax in the country, trailing New York, California, Connecticut (also 67 cents per gallon) and Hawaii (65.5 cents per gallon.) Maryland drivers would be ceding a much higher bite out of their wallets than their neighbors in West Virginia (51.8 cents per gallon), Pennsylvania (50.7 cents per gallon), Washington D.C. (41.9 cents per gallon), Delaware (41.4 cents per gallon), and Virginia (38.2 cents per gallon.) Retailers in those states who are fortunate enough to be close to the Maryland line are probably licking their chops about now.

Of course, this doesn’t factor in the addition of some of MOM’s other trial balloons like a separate 15 cent per-gallon increase in the gasoline tax or increasing the sales tax to 7 percent. And as Todd Eberly points out at The FreeStater Blog, this could all be a feint to make a direct 15 cent additional surcharge more palatable.

As it is currently proposed, the gasoline sales tax would be phased in 2% at a time so drivers wouldn’t be hit all at once. But when they’re projecting $613 million in new annual revenue at a time when the state is over $1 billion in the hole, it will be a surprise if they don’t rush the process. It may get passed this way for now, but wait for the new, improved bill to accelerate the increase next session when money is still tight.

We’re also being told that a gas tax increase is about infrastructure jobs in fixing bridges and roads. But the Maryland Public Policy Institute does a magnificent job of not only blowing that argument out of the water but also pointing out the folly of public transportation while they’re at it. Simply put, it’s another component of the War on Rural Maryland as those of us who drive greater distances because we choose to live away from urban woes will be subsidizing those who ride the buses or light rail in more-developed areas. That group doesn’t quite comprise the 1% but they’re pretty darn close, and they don’t come close to paying their own way.

Putting private transport out of reach to the average family through higher prices also fits neatly into the goals of so-called “Smart Growth” and “sustainable development”, which strives to increase the usage of mass transit. Perhaps this is a line of thought more suited to the tinfoil hat crowd, but one can’t deny it’s much easier to control the population if their movements are controlled.

In any event, the first step in rebuilding Maryland’s crumbling transportation infrastructure needs to come from locking away the Transportation Trust Fund from greedy governors who can’t shake their spending addiction. And if we take back the half of transportation spending we waste on a tiny percentage of commuters and instead gave them a more appropriate share of a nickel per dollar, there are a lot of bridges, road widening projects, and traffic control measures which could be completed for the rest of us who get tired of sitting in traffic.

On the Eastern Shore, we already will bear a significant burden from the newly increased tolls on the Bay Bridge, so we should get a break when it comes to gasoline taxes. The state should quit using the knee-jerk reaction it always seems to have about raising taxes and instead consider spending the vast amounts already collected more wisely.

* I was also taxing the existing tax, not the actual price. Subtract out the 41.9 cents we currently pay in taxes and the sales tax is actually on $2.84 of the $3.26 per gallon.