Not what we were looking for…

It’s my understanding that Wicomico County Council brought forward a measure to enact an elected school board – sort of.

But in watching the proceedings, it seems that the Council double-crossed us by introducing the element of a hybrid part-appointed, part-elected school board. Five members, one from each Council district, would be elected while two others who represent the county as a whole would be appointed by the County Executive with County Council’s approval. Needless to say, I’m very disappointed in Councilman Joe Holloway – usually a reliable conservative voice – in bringing the concept up. While his reasoning was that of having something prepared for the General Assembly to approve, his hollow statement in support of an fully elected school board after the fact added insult to injury.

The informal vote on proceeding in this manner otherwise put the usual suspects on the side of a hybrid board – John Hall, Matt Holloway, and Democrat Ernie Davis were in favor of that approach (as was Joe Holloway) while John Cannon, Marc Kilmer, and Larry Dodd preferred the strictly elected school board.

While I think the 5-2 split between district and at-large members works well, if you had to stagger terms (which would not be my preference, as we don’t stagger the terms of other county officials) I would instead favor a system where the five district members are elected in the gubernatorial elections (2018, 2022, and so forth) while the two at-large were picked in Presidential years (2016, 2020, etc.) Under this system, everyone in the county would vote on one school board member with the rest of the County Council but would select two in presidential years. Both ballots would be non-partisan, which would give unaffiliated voters one primary vote.

Yet there are many of us who are fuming about a turn of events, particularly after the years we’ve been trying to get an elected school board in Wicomico County and join most of the rest of the state. So the plan is to voice our opinion at the next County Council meeting, to be held the evening of February 3rd. We didn’t come all this way to have the possibility of cronyism continue to taint our county school board so I encourage those with an interest to make it out there in two weeks.

A Wicomico changing of the guard

December 2, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A Wicomico changing of the guard 

It was an exciting day and a contentious night for the new County Executive and County Council here in Wicomico County. It’s not often the incoming governor pays attention to an event in our fair county.

But the auditorium at Wor-Wic Community College was packed to its 200-plus person capacity to watch our second County Executive (and first such Republican) Bob Culver take the oath of office from Clerk of the Court Mark Bowen.

After the presentation of colors, the Rev. George Patterson delivered an invocation where he prayed that Culver would be “seasoned with wisdom, grace, and humility” as he took this office.

That quickly, since it had to be finished by noon, Culver took the oath flanked by members of his family.

In his remarks which followed, Bob expressed how he was “humbled and honored” by his election, about which he commented that he “wasn’t the only one who wanted to see change.”

His approach was going to be relatively simple, as he believed “good, workable ideas can come from either side,” but at the same time “‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ will no longer be the rule.” On the other hand, change wouldn’t be made for its own sake.

Culver’s brief address, which lasted less than four minutes, concluded with a simple request: “we need your ideas.” He then introduced the Governor-elect.

Along with Culver, Larry Hogan announced “we’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” Hogan was optimistic about Wicomico County and the rest of the Eastern Shore, promising we “will no longer be taken for granted…you’ll have a seat at the table.”

His first order of business affecting us locally was fighting the Phosphorus Management Tool, new regulations he accused Governor O”Malley of “push(ing) at the midnight hour, on his way out the door.” Hogan wasn’t necessarily opposed to regulations on farmers, but believed they needed to be based on science and not “promised to a special interest group.”

Turning to the new County Executive, Hogan said “Bob is truly a salt of the earth kind of guy” and that he “can’t think of anyone more qualified” to grow the local economy based on his business experience than Culver.

The ceremony wasn’t all that long, but it was lunchtime and many of those who came to the swearing-in went to the next building to celebrate with a reception hosted by Culver.

I must say the catering was outstanding, and people generally left in a good, optimistic mood.

But while Culver was “humbled and honored” by his election, the first County Council meeting under his tenure was definitely on the humbling side.

It began, though, with remarks from the outgoing County Council. In particular, retiring Council member Gail Bartkovich called her tenure “an honor, privilege…and tremendous education.” Interestingly enough, all three of the women who served in the 2010-14 term left County Council, leaving a body of seven men.

Stevie Prettyman acknowledged the large crowd “for a change” and thanked the citizens for their trust in her.

And while he wasn’t going anywhere, John Hall lamented the “loss of wisdom and integrity” provided by the outgoing members. Matt Holloway, who was also staying on, noted this edition of Council had accomplished a lot: building a new Bennett Middle School, supplying water to the Morris Mill neighborhood plagued by well contamination, and continually improving its bond ratings.

Similarly, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who was elected to the House of Delegates, thanked the people for “putting their trust in me as a leader.”

But she foreshadowed the discussion to come by expressing her disappointment that West Salisbury Elementary School would not be in the revised bonding program Culver was asking County Council to approve.

After a quick recess to rearrange seats, the new County Council was sworn in.

Returning members Joe Holloway (third from left), Matt Holloway (center), and John Hall (far right) were now joined by Larry Dodd (far left), Marc Kilmer (second from left), John Cannon (third from right), and Ernest Davis (second from right.) Dodd and Cannon have previously served one term apiece on County Council, though, leaving Kilmer and Davis as the two rookies.

Their first order of business was electing a president and vice-president. Since John Cannon and Matt Holloway were the lone nominees for those respective positions, Cannon took over the meeting with Matt Holloway seated next to him.

The other item on the agenda was the controversial reduction in new county debt from the $16.5 million requested by Rick Pollitt to a new $10.9 million total Culver desired, To accomplish this reduction Bob reduced the bonding amount for ongoing construction of Bennett Middle School, and postponed three other projects: work on the final phase of the Westside Collector Road, work on the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, and replacement of West Salisbury Elementary.

Projects which would remain, on the other hand, were Bennett Middle School, the purchase of land for dredge material placement for the Wicomico River, the purchase of the newly renovated State’s Attorney office, and renovations to Perdue Stadium.

Culver explained that the Bennett bond could be safely reduced without endangering progress. He also made the case that improvements to the river channel would allow for continued commerce and safer oil transport (as there is a refinery along the river), the purchase of the State’s Attorney office would save $300,000 annually in rent, and that the Perdue Stadium renovations were at the request of the Orioles and would ensure the team remains in Salisbury.

Joe Holloway commented that taking off the school was “probably a good idea” based on his conversation earlier that day with Larry Hogan, with Kilmer agreeing it was likely a “prudent course.” On the other hand, Larry Dodd was “disappointed” that the West Salisbury bond was removed, and Ernest Davis, who represents that district, criticized the deletion as pushing them to the back burner again.

That sentiment was echoed frequently in the public comments Cannon allowed. Over a dozen citizens stood up to blast the decision to drop the bond funding, many complaining about the deplorable shape the 50-year-old building is in and decrying its lack of air conditioning. (It’s worth pointing out the state denied Wicomico County’s request to address the air conditioning for FY2015 because the amount was too small – see page 173 here. Three other Wicomico County schools were granted funds.)

In the end, though, the vote was 5-1 to approve the revised bonding, with Davis opposed. Larry Dodd had to leave early for a family function.

After that vote, Kilmer expressed the sentiment that he wished he saw as much passion about what happens in the schools as he did about the school building. But in his president’s remarks, Cannon was more optimistic, saying “I see good things for Wicomico County.” He also expressed his appreciation for all that Rick Pollitt did in his eight years at the helm.

But it goes without saying that Culver’s honeymoon wasn’t very long. Several people expressed the belief that our place in line for funding would be lost and we could go another several years before the needs of West Salisbury were addressed. But Culver and County Council wanted to see some of the buildings for themselves to assess the needs. Aside from the question one observer brought up about the maintenance issues related by those testifying on West Salisbury’s behalf, it was a night filled with passion for a school of just 309 students.

Look for more battles as the FY2016 budget begins to take shape next year.

Tales of an election

So now that you know where I was on Election Night (thanks to Muir Boda) let me shine some light on our party. I’m the guy in the McDermott shirt; hopefully it wasn’t a jinx.

Unlike a lot of elections past, I did not work a poll. My outside job had tasks which a) had to be covered Tuesday and b) were up in Dover. I didn’t even get home until almost 8:00; fortunately knowing this a couple weeks in advance I could hold my nose and vote early.

Since I wanted a table to write notes on I sat next to Dr. Rene Desmarais, who has admirably remained in the fray despite his primary election loss. I hope the Hogan administration can use his health care expertise. He’s the guy at the laptop in the checkered shirt.

Taking my seat for a few minutes was Mike McDermott, who was anxiously looking at results and drawing attention.

Mike didn’t stay all that long. I figure he went home to see his supporters and share the bad news with them, since it was obvious from the get-go he wasn’t doing all that well. It turned out that Wicomico was the only one of the three counties Mike won, and it’s a margin which is pending absentees. The difference between Michael James in 2010 and Mike in 2014 seems to be that McDermott did poorly in Somerset County, which James carried but Mike lost by almost 700 votes.

Obviously there were a lot of people who craved information. Bob Culver (center, in white) and Joe Holloway (right) were awaiting results.

As it turned out, Culver erased a slight early voting disadvantage to rout incumbent County Executive Rick Pollitt by almost 3,000 votes, with just under 56% all told. Holloway had much less to worry about as his Democratic opponent withdrew after the primary and was not replaced by the local party.

The two pictured there were the conservative backbone of the local County Council, and hopefully two newcomers are going to maintain the proper direction.

Larry Dodd (in the arm sling) and Marc Kilmer are two of the three “new” Republican members of County Council, although Dodd represented District 5 for 4 years before Joe Holloway defeated him in the 2006 primary. Similarly, John Cannon left County Council after one term in 2010 to run unsuccessfully for a seat in the House of Delegates before winning again last night. Thus, Marc Kilmer is one of just two “new” County Council members; the other being lone Democrat Ernest Davis, who was unopposed for the District 1 seat.

As it turned out, County Council maintained its 6-1 Republican edge. But there are definite things to look out for, as two of those Republicans openly backed Rick Pollitt for County Executive.

I don’t think Matt Holloway or John Hall will be opposed to the elected school board Republicans in Wicomico County have sought for years, only to be thwarted by Rick Pollitt and (especially) Norm Conway. Both those obstacles are no more; to his credit Jim Mathias has been supportive of the idea in the past and a Senate bill for the elected school board passed there in 2011. (Conway sponsored a House bill that passed in 2011, but did not in 2012 – nor did a Senate bill that year. No action was taken in 2013 or 2014.)

But Pollitt was quick to point out in debates and forums that four of the six Republicans voted for his latest budget. Two of them, Gail Bartkovich and Stevie Prettyman, did not seek another term, but Matt Holloway and John Hall were the other two. Beginning with the FY2016 budget, it may be a battle to get four votes on County Council if Matt Holloway and Hall maintain their big-spending ways.

I would also love to see the county’s speed cameras become a thing of the past, as Culver was the lone voice of reason to vote against their adoption. It’s called excising that line item from the budget.

The party itself was relatively well-attended, although I’m certain some candidates had their own gatherings. At its peak there were probably 50-60 people in the house.

But while the news was good on the county front, there’s no doubt the star of the show was one Carl Anderton, Jr.

At 9:45 Bunky Luffman, Anderton’s campaign manager, sidled up to me and predicted, “I think we’ve got it.” He explained a particular precinct where they were hoping to get 30% of the vote came in down by just 89 votes.

Anderton’s win, though, was just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of Titanic Democrats went down last night (with lifetime monoblogue Accountability Project scores shown):

  • After six terms, longtime Blue Dog Democrat Delegate Kevin Kelly in District 1B (mAP = 40) lost to Jason Buckel.
  • Delegate John Donoghue (mAP = 9), also a 24-year veteran, was ousted in District 2B by Brett Wilson.
  • In District 6, 9-year incumbent Delegate John Olszewski, Jr. (mAP = 16) lost his bid for the Senate seat held for 48 years by Norman Stone, Jr. (mAP = 28). Three-term Delegate Michael Weir, Jr. (mAP = 28) was also knocked off.
  • Longtime District 29 Senator (and onetime Congressman) Roy Dyson (mAP = 26) lost his bid for a sixth term to Steve Waugh. In that same district, 15-year veteran John Bohanon (mAP = 6) trails Deb Rey by 115 votes with absentees to count.
  • District 34’s Senate seat stayed in GOP hands as Bob Cassilly defeated Delegate Mary-Dulany James (mAP =14), who leaves after 16 years.
  • In District 35A, 20-year incumbent David Rudolph (mAP = 17) lost to Kevin Hornberger.
  • And we know about 28-year incumbent and committee Chair Norm Conway (mAP = 6) who lost to Anderton.

Most of the damage, though, came from the ranks of “moderate” Democrats. According to the monoblogue Accountability Project, these were the top 10 Democrats and here’s how they did.

  1. Delegate John Wood, Jr. – retired, endorsed Larry Hogan.
  2. Delegate Kevin Kelly – lost re-election.
  3. Delegate Joseph “Sonny” Minnick – retired.
  4. Senator Norman Stone – retired.
  5. Delegate Michael Weir, Jr. – lost re-election.
  6. Senator James DeGrange – won with 59% of vote.
  7. Senator Jim Mathias – won with 52% of vote.
  8. Senator Roy Dyson – lost re-election.
  9. Senator John Astle – won with 51% of the vote.
  10. Senator James Brochin – won with 52% of the vote.

Six out of the 10 won’t be back and only one of the remaining four won convincingly. Not knowing how most of those who defeated these incumbents will vote, the chances are the divide between the two parties will become more pronounced. Only a couple hardline Democrats (those 10 or less on the mAP) were losers last night, while McDermott was the only Republican to lose in the general election. In the respect that Democrats managed to get rid of two perpetual thorns in their side through redistricting (Mike McDermott and Don Dwyer) it was a success, but the GOP still picked up more seats than they did before the new districts were drawn in 2010.

So the stage is set for what should be a very intriguing (and hopefully, prosperous for this county and state) four-year term.

Finally, I want to go through a little of my thinking on these races. I was perhaps less optimistic than most about the outcomes because I figured Democratic turnout would be about where it was four years ago. But as it happens, turnout is going to be about 46%, which is a significant decline from the 54% posted in 2010. If the Democratic turnout followed that pattern it was about 10% less than I figured it would be, and those that were passionate enough to show up may likely have cast a number of votes for the GOP.

Simply put, the Democratic base didn’t show up. Whether it was disillusionment with the candidates or just a general apathy, it looks like the GOP filled the void, to the benefit of the state.

After it was all over, I spoke a little bit with David Warren, who came down here to run the Eastern Shore Victory Headquarters.

He pointed out two key factors that led to Hogan’s win: money from the RNC and Republican Governor’s Association, and the help – both financially and in volunteers – from the College Republicans, from the national level to all the phone calls made by the local Salisbury University CRs. “Teenagers and college kids get it,” said Warren.

David also praised the work of state party Chair Diana Waterman and Executive Director Joe Cluster, saying “what they did was phenomenal.” Similar praise was heaped by Warren onto Andy Harris, who put a lot of money into these local races and helped level the playing field.

Finally, I have one more statement. Eight years ago, it was said that:

(GOP leaders are) “going to be flying high, but we’re going to get together and we’re going to shoot them down. We’re going to bury them face down in the ground, and it’ll be 10 years before they crawl out again.”

I think we’re two years early, Mike Miller. Suck on that.

Catching my breath

After a tremendously busy last few days, I’m finally able to catch my breath a little bit and take stock of where we are.

At the top of my site since last Thursday is the reporting on early voting trends. To me, this is key because it’s not something Republicans have adapted to despite the pleas from the state party – until this year. As a whole in the state, Republicans and Democrats are utilizing early voting at the same rate which indicates turnout may be a tick or two better than expected for the GOP. And remember, polling is released based on a turnout model that they attempt to predict will hold true for the election, but there are so many variables. At this stage weather doesn’t appear as it will be a factor, though.

I just finished downloading the last of the pre-election financial reports for most of those on the ballot locally in contested races. There may be a minor scandal here because I noticed District 37B candidate Rod Benjamin didn’t have a report on file yet – he’s submitted affidavits of limited contributions and expenditures through his campaign, but still has to file timely or face a $20 daily fine that comes out of his own pocket. In the last few days before the election I’ll distill the numbers and see if any new trends develop.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the irregularities in voting machines in some areas; a phenomenon addressed by the state Board of Elections. But how about irregularities in support? Some local Republicans are outraged about two photos which have appeared on Facebook.

The photos were reportedly taken at a recent fundraiser for current Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt, who is a Democrat. In the top photo second from left is outgoing County Council member Stevie Prettyman. In the bottom photo is, left to right, County Council members Matt Holloway and John Hall along with Pollitt and Salisbury City Council president Jake Day. All three Council members pictured are Republicans, a trio which generally votes opposite Republican County Executive candidate Bob Culver (who is one of two to consistently oppose Pollitt.) While Prettyman is leaving, Holloway is in a good position to be re-elected since only one Democrat filed for two at-large posts, and Hall is unopposed for a District 4 Council seat.

My take on this: of course I’m disappointed with these Republicans attending a fundraiser for a Democrat, but the time to address this will be 2018 primary. Just file it in the memory bank.

And then we have this which just came to my attention from the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance.

Contrast that, if you will, to opponent Mike McDermott’s support for pro-life causes such as the recent Eastern Shore Pregnancy Center dinner.

Jim Mathias has spent thousands of dollars – much of it money from PACs and out-of-district – trying to convince District 38 voters he’s “always working for you.” But the question is whether simply voting for or against a particular issue is “working.” As a member of the majority party, he’s in the position where his negative vote can be made with little consequence except to placate the people back home. He doesn’t stick his neck out and publicly testify at a pro-Second Amendment rally or participate in a pro-life march, despite the fact his district would welcome that with open arms. We’re just supposed to count the effort and not the results.

But there are more important items to deal with – I’m watching Game 7 of the World Series.

Time to do the deed

October 23, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Time to do the deed 

Today is the day that tiny percentage of Maryland registered voters who actually do this begin going to the polls for early voting. I know some of my party cohorts will be out at the Civic Center campaigning for the Republican ticket, and needless to say it’s a straight R year for me.

But there are races I’m much more passionate about than others, so let’s go through the list and I’ll tell you what I think. That IS why you come here, isn’t it? If my number 16 race doesn’t come out I won’t be all that upset, but if the top half-dozen or so go the wrong way I’ll be pissed. These are the 16 items on my specimen ballot – I live in House District 38B and Wicomico County Council District 3, which is one of only two of the five districts to have a contested race.

  1. Carl Anderton, Jr. for Delegate, District 38B. I am really tired of my poor representation in Annapolis from Norm Conway. He votes for every bloated budget, (almost) every conformity with Obamacare, every accommodation to Big Labor, and a number of other dreadful things as well: in 2011 he voted for the Congressional redistricting that made our state a laughingstock but in committee he helped kill provisions to allow referendums on tax increases and proof of lawful presence before collecting benefits. In 2012 he voted to saddle new homeowners with the added expense of sprinklers, but he saddled the rest of us with the rain tax, tier maps, and the key to getting around our county’s revenue cap by mandating maintenance of effort spending. Granted, once in awhile he votes the right way but why lose on three or four issues to gain one? Republicans and pro-Wicomico Democrats: don’t fall for the hype of potentially losing a committee chair – even though Norm is a fairly nice guy, if he were all that powerful we would be the richest county in the state and we are far from that. It’s definitely time for some new blood to get us back to work. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  2. Mike McDermott for Senate, District 38. Really, this should be 1-a but my function won’t let me do that. Jim Mathias may vote a little better than Norm Conway, but I would rather have someone who’s a thorn in the side of the current Annapolis majority – who went out of their way to lump him into a district with another sitting Delegate – than a backbencher. What better way to thumb your nose at those who believe the Eastern Shore is the state’s “shithouse” (in more ways than one) than to foil their political intentions? If I can pick up 60 points on the monoblogue Accountability Project by changing my representation, you know the answer is yes. This is another race where conservatives need to come home and not cross the aisle, because Jim’s few blind squirrel votes aren’t worth the overall pain. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  3. Bob Culver for County Executive.  Our county has stumbled and staggered through this so-called recovery with the incumbent Rick Pollitt, a self-described bureaucrat, in charge. Don’t forget that Rick whined about the revenue cap for the first three years in office and promised a zero-based budget I haven’t seen yet. After eight years, it’s time for a change in tactics and Bob can be a fresh set of eyes to address our declining number of employed. I know Bob may rub some the wrong way but I’m willing to overlook that because, to me, re-electing Rick Pollitt is the definition of insanity for Wicomico County. Chances of success: I would say about 40-50 percent.
  4. M.J. Caldwell for Circuit Court Judge. To me, this is a perplexing case. Here you have an experienced attorney who knows his way around a courtroom taking on a person whose claim to fame is his last name – if it were Swartz, he’d still be at his old firm. But because people still know the Sarbanes name in this area, the newly-appointed “incumbent” got the gig. I was extremely disappointed and somewhat disgusted to see that Caldwell only won the Republican primary with 57 percent of the vote – people, do your homework! Caldwell would be a good judge. Chances of success: about 1 in 3 unless Republicans shape up.
  5. William Campbell for Comptroller. You’ll notice Peter Franchot has played up his fiscal watchdog tendencies in this campaign, but I think that if Larry Hogan becomes governor we need Bill to keep him grounded and make the Board of Public Works work in a conservative direction for the first time in…well, ever. Unfortunately, Bill has little money to get his message out and Franchot’s too scared to debate him. One problem with Larry Hogan taking public financing is that the Maryland GOP is spending maximum time and effort fundraising for Larry instead of helping these downballot races. Chances of success: alas, probably less than 1 percent.
  6. Larry Hogan for Governor. All politics is local, so I think the state race can take care of itself. But I hope that Hogan has enough coattails to bring in a dozen Delegates and half-dozen new Senators, including the two mentioned above. While I hated his primary campaign, I have to admit Hogan’s done a good job in the general election round. But will it be enough? Polls suggest it might. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  7. Larry Dodd for District 3 Council. The thing that bothers me about his opponent is that, for all his “aw, shucks” demeanor, he’s been exposed to a large number of anti-property rights zealots. He worked for Joan Carter Conway, the Senate’s EHEA Chair, and not only does she have a lifetime mAP rating of 4 (yes, that’s really bad) but she has passed a lot of bad legislation through her committee over the last several years – something Josh fails to mention. But I will give Josh Hastings his due: he’s campaigning hard, knocked on my door and has worked harder for the seat than Dodd has. It would be a shame to succeed a good, conservative Councilwoman in Gail Bartkovich with a liberal who may have grown up on a farm but has spent his politically formative years more readily influenced by Baltimore City and Annapolis. Chances of success: about 35 to 40 percent.
  8. John Cannon for at-large County Council. While his voting record has often been a disappointment, he was one of the two who got through the primary. I have more hope for him becoming a conservative stalwart, though, than I do for his fellow Republican. Chances of success: around 60 percent.
  9. Voting against Question 1. I’ve stated my reasons for opposition before, but most of the money is backing it and referendum items rarely fail. Chances of success: less than 10 percent.
  10. Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. We are really in trouble, folks. We could have had one of our good county state’s attorneys (or my personal favorite, Jim Rutledge) step up but instead we got Pritzker, who I have never met. When I see prominent conservative-leaning bloggers backing the Libertarian in the race, it can’t be much of a campaign. That’s a shame, because there’s more to the campaign than legalizing pot. And losing this seat means the gun-grabbing Brian Frosh will be our Attorney General. Chances of success: even less than Campbell’s sub-1 percent shot.
  11. Matt Holloway for at-large County Council. There are many holes in his voting record as well, but winning the primary makes him the odds-on favorite to not be third on November 4. So I guess I’ll have to wonder how often he’ll cave for another four years. Chances of success: over 80 percent.
  12. Andy Harris for Congress. No muss, no fuss. Have you heard a word about Bill Tilghman? The one thing you can say about Bill is that at least we haven’t caught him voting twice. This race is perhaps the closest thing to an automatic win for our side – when even the Daily Times has to endorse you, it’s a good sign. Chances of success: over 95 percent.
  13. Voting against Andrea Leahy as a Special Appeals Judge. Similar to the election involving Jimmy Sarbanes, Judge Leahy is up for election because she was appointed by Martin O’Malley in March. I looked at her profile and wasn’t impressed, but it’s rare a judge is tossed out. I would love to see who Larry Hogan would appoint, but if Leahy lost Martin O’Malley would rush another appointee through – and he or she would sit until 2016. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  14. Voting against Kevin Arthur as a Special Appeals Judge. His profile is better than Leahy’s but, still, he is an O’Malley appointee. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  15. Grover Cantwell for Orphan’s Court Judge. I have never met the guy, yet he wants my vote. This is a part of the ballot where those who get listed first (the Democrats) have the advantage because they’ve all been on the ballot before. Chances of success: perhaps 1 in 3.
  16. Voting for Question 2. I can get behind this proposal, which allows charter counties like Wicomico the option to have special elections to fill County Council seats. Having gone through the process of filling such a vacancy, I think it should be opened up despite the risk of losing a GOP seat to a Democrat. Chances of success: over 90 percent.

So this is how I think my local election will go. As for some other contested county races I’m supporting, in order of likelihood of success:

  • Addie Eckardt for Senate, District 37. The hard part for her was winning the primary. Sure, there may be some diehard Colburn supporters out there but their other choice is a guy he beat by 20 points last time around. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Mary Beth Carozza for Delegate, District 38C. Having an opponent who wears a “Ban Assault Weapons” t-shirt to an Andy Harris townhall event provides an immediate advantage in this area. But Mary Beth has been working since the summer of 2013 on this race, and that hard work is on the verge of paying off. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Marc Kilmer for District 2 Council. When your opponent threatens to go to court for winning, you know you’re in good shape. But Marc has taken nothing for granted, works hard, and has a fairly solid Republican district. Chances of success: at least 80 percent.
  • Christopher Adams for Delegate, District 37B. He wasn’t the top vote-getter in any county, but he’s run a solid campaign and the dynamics of the race give him a better path to victory than fellow Republican contender Johnny Mautz. Chances of success: a solid 75 percent.
  • Johnny Mautz for Delegate, District 37B. By far the top primary vote-getter, the one drawback is that he has to finish ahead of Keasha Haythe because both hail from Talbot County and there’s a limit of one per county. If he were second to her in the overall voting, he would lose and the third-place finisher moves up. With that in mind, I give him just ever-so-slightly less favorable odds. Chances of success: a solid 74.9 percent.

My advice to every contender in the last two weeks: run like you are five points behind. See you at the polls!

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices

October 20, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices 

As I noted the other day when I broached the subject, more than a dozen candidates shared the stage for a forum sponsored in part by the Coastal Association of Realtors and the Salisbury Independent newspaper. In this first part, I’ll discuss some of what the county candidates said.

First, the contenders:

For County Executive, two-term incumbent Rick Pollitt faced off with challenger County Councilman Bob Culver. Pollitt was elected in 2006 as Wicomico County’s first County Executive and narrowly won re-election over Republican Joe Ollinger in 2010. Bob Culver lost in a three-way Republican primary in 2006 for County Executive to eventual nominee Ron Alessi and B.J. Corbin before rebounding to win an at-large County Council seat in 2010.

Culver’s seat is being sought by two who join Republican Matt Holloway in attempting to win one of the two at-large County Council posts. Holloway was elected to County Council in the same 2010 election that brought Culver back; ironically those seats opened up because the two incumbents decided not to continue. One of those two was John Cannon, who unsuccessfully ran for the General Assembly in 2010 after one term on the County Council from 2006-10. Now John seeks a return after a four-year hiatus, noting that being a Council member was his “lifeblood.”

The lone Democrat seeking one of the two at-large seats is current Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell. Mitchell has served on the City Council since being elected in 2011.

(While there are 7 contenders for the five district Council seats, the forum only covered the pair of countywide posts.)

In the County Executive race, the two contenders disagree on a lot but agree that they would have “stark contrasts” in their approaches to governing. For example, when asked what the most pressing issue was, Culver was blunt: it was the loss of jobs over the last 18 months. (In the July 2013-July 2014 period, BLS statistics show Wicomico County lost 429 jobs as its labor force fell by 649.)

On the other hand, Pollitt asserted we were still in a recession and pleaded that “we have to rebuild our community.” He went on to describe how the needed to “leverage assets” like Wallops Island, Virginia, the port of Salisbury, and the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development organization. It was part of a required overall strategy for the “new normal,” added Pollitt.

When it came to whether additional tax increases would be required, Pollitt pointed out that the property tax rates had to increase just to stay even – four cents of the five cent increase this year simply brought us back to constant yield, with the other penny being allowed under the revenue cap. Four of of six Republicans voted for this tax increase, which was the “only responsible thing” to do.

Culver wasn’t one of those Republicans, though. He contended the county needed to go back to zero-based budgeting and trim the fat one step at a time. “Right now the time is not for a tax increase,” said Bob. “We have to do it from a business aspect.”

Another bone of contention came in the question about how best to assist realtors. Culver argued that dropping the county’s impact fee had resulted in 54 new homes being built in Wicomico County, and pointed out that there was only 16% of the county’s land mass which could be developed and we had just 3 percent to go.

Pollitt shot back that the impact fee change was part of the overall budget Culver opposed, restated that government needs to provide services and reminded us that five of the seven Council members had been correct in voting for the budget.

Rick closed with a familiar theme of “building community,” noting as well his role as the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition legislative chair and in the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. The more plain-spoken Culver repeated his assertion that “I think Wicomico County government is broken.”

If you look at it stylistically, Pollitt is a sharper debater. But the approach he’s taken over the last few years has been pragmatic by circumstance rather than by choice. And since the zero-based budgeting Pollitt did as city manager of Fruitland and promised early on doesn’t appear to be the case now – because it’s a campaign issue – and he whined early on in his tenure about the voter-installed revenue cap,  one wonders what the budget and tax rate would be if not for the recession.

Rick Pollitt often talks about what he calls “quality of life” issues. But it has to be asked whether our quality of life is better when job numbers are going the wrong way.

The County Council members were asked a different set of questions. One of them was on how to take the good things happening in downtown Salisbury and jump start the area outside the metro core and the other dealt with thoughts on the comprehensive plan.

John Cannon got first shot at the former question, and he opened by praising the “refreshing” leadership of Salisbury City Council president Jake Day. But he believed the county had the responsibility to create its own environment for growth, and Cannon wanted to bring together the major players on a quarterly basis.

As far as tier maps went, John believed it was an argument of local vs. state control and was hoping for relief with the new administration, presumably a Larry Hogan one. He also advocated for enhanced transfer of development rights and perhaps even a wastewater treatment authority. He also noted that he had pushed for a reduction in impact fees six years ago when he was on County Council.

Matt Holloway outlined some of the accomplishments the county has achieved since he came on board: decoupling the personal property tax rate from the real property tax rate, phasing out the inventory tax, and making the manufacturer’s tax exemption automatic. He suggested a focus on public relations and enhancing our one-man economic development team.

Holloway also believed the comprehensive plan needed a “fresh set of eyes” with his goal being that of not impacting property values. But Matt cautioned that the state “has the trump card” under the law. They could help us with our septic issues, however.

Because she is on City Council, the initial question was right in Laura Mitchell’s wheelhouse: “That is why I’m running.” She wanted to translate Salisbury’s excitement to the county and talk about the positive things. She also thought the idea of an EDU bank, which allocates unused sewage capacity that developers donate back to the city, had merit on a countywide level.

Unfortunately, while it is “convoluted, to say the least,” Mitchell dropped the ball on even a rudimentary understanding of the tier maps. She advocated for infill development and sustainable growth, while addressing the double taxation and foreclosure issues in response to the realtors’ question.

Mitchell stressed her accounting background and budgeting experience as the key reasons to vote for her, portraying herself as sort of a budget nerd. But I found it interesting that the city budget had increased for three years in a row before finally declining this year. It’s still almost 7% higher than it was in FY2011, when she won election. (The first budget she would have approved would have been FY2012.)

And while you can’t expect expertise on every issue, her befuddlement on the tier maps was a bad sign.

It’s interesting that tier maps are an issue in this county, which now labors under the state’s default position that lots of any size can’t be subdivided into more than seven lots. Unfortunately, no county has found someone aggrieved enough by this terrible law that they could have standing to sue for the law’s nullification. (It’s doubtful the Democrats in the General Assembly would consider a repeal such as that tried in 2013.) Much as I’d love to force the state to pound sand, I’m not an injured party.

But there can be steps taken in the right direction. If we must have a tier map, the amount of land placed off-limits to development should be minimized because to do otherwise is an infringement on private property rights.

And while downtown development is indeed encouraging, the best way to replicate it isn’t to precisely duplicate it. While entertainment districts are nice, we need more industrial districts, more transportation hubs, and more encouragement of overall development. We shouldn’t shackle ourselves to one approach, either – if Chesapeake Shipbuilding, which isn’t exactly a glamorous company but a useful one that actually is seeking tradesmen, needs something to create another 150 jobs, that should take priority over yet another entertainment venue that may create 20 or 30.

Part 2 tomorrow will look at District 37 races.

2014 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

October 13, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on 2014 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text 

Plagued once again by poor weather on its bigger day (Saturday) nonetheless hardy beer enthusiasts from around the region gathered to sample a few swigs and generally celebrate all things beer.

Did I mention the weather was subpar? At least we salvaged one decent day, unlike last year.

Unlike last year’s effort, though, there weren’t a whole lot of new wrinkles. Coming back for another year, for example, was the home brewer’s competition and dedicated area.

Another old favorite kept around was the TV lounge, where people cheered on the Ravens and Orioles on Sunday.

Close by were the cornhole games and that maddening peg hook test of skill.

Once the skies cleared for Sunday, those in attendance could (and did) express themselves.

Those chalkboards were mounted aside the local beer garden, which had an interesting occupant.

Perhaps Backshore Brewery (from Ocean City) was here last year but I don’t recall the old VW Microbus.

They also win the monoblogue prize for the best beer name. That and $4 would have secured a pint, I guess.

Yes, I did try it and I thought it was pretty good. But their Boardwalk Blonde Ale was one of my two favorites along with the Shotgun Betty Ale from Lonerider Brewing, which I think came from North Carolina.

Perhaps pale ales weren’t this guy’s style, but it’s what I prefer. I just wanted the shot of his hat, a style I saw on a couple people over the two days. I didn’t notice anyone selling them.

Another local brewer, though, was angling for donations to a different cause.

Burley Oak is doing a Kickstarter campaign to enable the canning of its beer – as it turns out, they achieved their goal. But the coasters were a nice reminder and quite useful, since that coaster is under my drink (alas, diet Pepsi) as I sit here.

Oh, did I mention I was there for political reasons?

It wasn’t quite dripping with political types as the last time we were in a local election year (the first rendition of the GBF back in 2010) but some of the local political incumbents came to cut the ribbon Saturday.

Doing the honors in this instance were four members of County Council: Bob Culver, Matt Holloway, Stevie Prettyman, and John Hall. Culver was around on both days to press the flesh for a County Executive run, but he was pretty much the only one there.

Yet the reception at our tent was quite good and I handed out a lot of items. My emphasis, particularly with out-of-town people who were interested in Larry Hogan items, was on promoting William Campbell for Comptroller and Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. Those statewide downballot races are very important as well.

And despite the rain attendance held steady, described as just under 3,000. It’s good exposure and this year there wasn’t much obnoxious behavior. In short, a good time was had by all.

Oh, and about that top picture? I’m not averse to bartering advertising space for a monthly supply…just saying.

District 37 House: the five contenders

September 16, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on District 37 House: the five contenders 

For my final look this round at local races, I decided to do both Districts 37A and 37B in one feel swoop, mainly because the District 37A is already set in Sheree Sample-Hughes. She had a free ride once Delegate Rudy Cane dropped out days after the filing deadline, but it’s also worth seeing how she’s set financially to begin her sure re-election run in 2018. I’ll get to her in due course.

Meanwhile, in District 37B there is one real race. Although the top two would normally be declared the winners, a state law prohibits two members from the same county in this two-person district which spans four counties. So the two contenders from Talbot County, Democrat Keasha Haythe and Republican Johnny Mautz, could finish 1-2 but only the winner would be seated. I’ll begin with that race.

[gview file=”http://monoblogue.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/House-37B-Talbot.pdf”]

While Johnny Mautz has far outraised his opponent, the cash on hand is surprisingly close because Mautz had to survive a primary while Haythe did not – in fact, she has only filed one actual report (the Pre-Primary 1 report in May) while spending less than $1,000 in the last two reporting periods. She attested to this through Affidavits of Limited Contributions and Expenses, better known in the game as ALCEs. Obviously she’s had some spending since she has a website, but it doesn’t rise to the level of filing the paperwork.

Keasha’s report is fairly vanilla, although it would be interesting to know who pays for her website. As far as the small amount she’s raised, the $1,000 contribution from Rudy Cane’s account provides the most insight. She’s the perfect contrast to Mautz as all her contributions are local.

On the other hand, Mautz’s report reminded me of Mary Beth Carozza’s in District 38C because a huge portion of the seed money for both has come from connections they’ve made in Washington, D.C. But while Carozza’s local share has increased over the last several months, Mautz maintains his tremendous haul from friends in the Capital region. Over 60 percent of his total individual contributions come from outside the district, but not much comes from businesses and none from LLCs.

Mautz has also picked up some non-individual donations: $1,000 from the Republican Leadership Council of Talbot County, and PAC donations from the Maryland Farm Bureau, Licensed Beverage Association PAC, and the Maryland Dental PAC. He’s also received transfers from two federal accounts belonging to current Congressman Doug Collins of Georgia and former member Jim Saxton of New Jersey, as well as $500 from the NCPA Legal-Legislative Fund (which represents community pharmacies) and a cool $4,000 from the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

But the eye-popper is the fact Mautz has gone into six figures for spending – more than any other candidate in either District 37 or 38. Over $63,000 has gone just for printing and nearly $14,000 for media, generally to local businesses. (The folks at Bay Imprint and Poore House have made a lot of money from Johnny this election.) One other interesting expenditure is $9,750 to Public Opinion Strategies for a poll back in April. (Full disclosure: Johnny’s payment to me for his sidebar ad should be on his next report.)

So Mautz is the undisputed spending leader in this race. In contrast, the other Democratic contender, Rod Benjamin, is running the ultimate low-budget campaign because he’s neither raised or spent above $1,000 as a serial ALCE filer.

[gview file=”http://monoblogue.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/House-37B.pdf”]

So that leaves me Christopher Adams, who’s also paid for advertising here. His figures are a little bit hard to follow, since a lot of his contributions and expenditures are tied up as loans. He took out and paid off a $20,000 loan from Value Enterprises, LLC and borrowed from his own personal coffers to replace the $20,000. So in truth he’s raised $11,370, with an 11% portion from LLCs and about 1/4 from out-of-district.

Adams has spent on some interesting items, with the biggest being $19,000 to Scott Strategies. He’s also transferred out some good-sized amounts on other entities and races: $500 apiece to the Caroline and Dorchester County Republican Central Committees (although the latter is mis-identified as the Democratic one), as well as to District 38B hopeful Carl Anderton. As far as media goes, I’m a line item along with an ad in the Salisbury Independent, among other things. But if you threw out the loan repayment, Scott Strategies would be well over half Christopher’s spending.

Finally, let’s look at the unopposed Sample-Hughes.

[gview file=”http://monoblogue.us/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/House-37A.pdf”]

As you can see, the biggest part of her contributions is the $6,000 she received from the coffers of Rudy Cane. It’s worth noting that Cane’s campaign account was closed out as he distributed over $47,000 to several groups – local candidates Sample-Hughes, Haythe, unsuccessful Salisbury City Council candidate April Jackson, and Wicomico County Councilman-elect Ernest Davis all got something from Cane, as did the House Democratic Committee Slate ($13,242.40.) However, Rudy also gave $20,000 to Shore Up! (a local advocacy group) and distributed $13,000 between three local churches.

Sample-Hughes also received small donations from several local Republicans, such as her fellow Wicomico County Council members John Hall and Matt Holloway, along with Sheriff Mike Lewis. The Maryland Farm Bureau PAC chipped in $500 to her as well. She received very little from businesses, nothing from LLCs, and hardly anything from outside the area.

One thing I noticed is that her fundraising expenses were barely covered by the money raised, but aside from that it’s the sort of a report one might expect from an unopposed candidate. Fortunately, that $6,000 from Cane is about all she’s got so any 2018 contender isn’t far behind in the money race yet.

So that’s how District 37 shapes up. The next report is due October 24, just days before the election.

Snapshots of an election

To be honest, I took these photos on Tuesday intending to add them to my coverage – then promptly forgot and posted it anyway. But it doesn’t hurt to have a second look back before moving forward. There’s really not going to be a lot of fresh news until after the Independence Day holiday anyway, plus it also proves the adage that every picture tells a story.

So I’m going to lead with this one I also posted to Facebook.

It’s interesting to see this pile of Anthony Brown signs, which as I recall were pretty much all of the Brown signs I saw. Now one person suggested that they were originally set within the 100′ limit then relocated against the tree, which is possible – but I doubt it. Instead, my thought was someone left the pile of signs earlier that day or the previous night intending to have the first volunteer at the site place them in the morning – sort of like someone decided to have a insurance exchange website intending to have the thing actually work and not waste millions of dollars.

If you don’t get the small details, the large stuff bites you in the ass.

Speaking of signage, I did not count how many signs were out there on the grounds of the Civic Center, but I would suggest the ratio was perilously close to one for every other voter. Interest seemed to be quite low.

I took that picture about 5:00 after I arrived about 4:30. (This was an election day I had to work – I couldn’t alter my schedule enough to avoid it.) There were literally three people working the polls when I got there – M.J. Caldwell’s wife Pam, a lady representing Circuit Court appointee Jimmy Sarbanes, and Jim Jester, who was doing double duty with an Andy Harris shirt and Mike McDermott sign. This is one of the busier polling places in the county, and only three people were there.

If I saw 100 people vote in the time I was there, it was a lot.

Speaking of M.J. Caldwell, the Republican voters of this county need an education. I would expect about 60-65% of Democrats to blindly support someone named Sarbanes, but 43% of Republicans? Really? Someone selected not on qualifications, but on name recognition by a political hack governor we can’t stand? Get real. That has to turn around in November.

Even the news coverage was lackadaisical. Channel 47 did a live remote, but they never came out to talk with us. They probably showed the pictures of an all-but-empty polling place to an audience which can be charitably described as second-best in the market.

In terms of poll workers, it did pick up after a time. Jackie Wellfonder came along to work this poll.

Turned out the face-to-face didn’t do either of us much good because we got about the same amount of votes, and that wasn’t enough.

Josh Hastings was unopposed in his primary, so all he had to do was await the winner on the GOP side.

His opponent will be Larry Dodd, who had someone there eventually but he wasn’t the social type.

Having worked polls a few times here, I know that after about 7:00 it’s pretty well done for the night. So there were a gaggle of people with Hastings who got to talking down the way on the Democratic side, and a few of us for the GOP. It’s not like we had voters to convince, as maybe 20 stopped by during the last hour.

At the very end, Carl Anderton dropped by to retrieve his signs as did Jim Mathias. They had a nice conversation, although I didn’t get a picture. I was even bipartisan and helped Jim pick up some of the Democrats’ signs.

I was in a group which went on to The Cellar Door to check on the returns, but it wasn’t really a good night for most of us as you now know.

There were a couple things I learned, though. First and foremost is that Facebook is worthless as a campaign aid unless you want to pay through the nose. Social media isn’t really social anymore; it’s become commercialized like everything else. I had 60 likes for my Facebook page, which isn’t much but it at least gives me insight on how my posts did. (By comparison, Jackie Wellfonder also had a similar page and got 100 likes – but about 60 fewer votes.)

I placed a total of 41 posts on the page, although there was one I shared multiple times. My total reach was 2,718 – it’s about 66 per post. Ironically, my best post insofar as Facebook is concerned is the last one I think of as my concession speech, which reached 298 people. A little late, don’t you think? But if you figure a good number of those 66 per post see my stuff time after time, it’s not all that efficient for the investment.

I didn’t have thousands of dollars laying around to get my Facebook page up to 100,000 likes as Change Maryland did, and we only know about the last 30,000 or so because the campaign paid for those – Change Maryland was close to 70,000 when Hogan made it official. So who knows how much he paid for that promotion? More than I had in my pocket.

Anyway, social media isn’t really the way to go. But what is?

The second thing I found out is that the public seems to be unmotivated to find out what people really stand for. In race after race, I saw that those who spelled out their platform in the most complete manner lost to those who were a mystery to voters but had name recognition. It also didn’t necessarily matter how hard you worked – if John Cannon or Matt Holloway went door-to-door I didn’t hear about it, but Muir Boda did and got 18% of the vote to show for it. Tyler Harwood went door-to-door with Greg Belcher (in the same group which at times featured Carl Anderton, Marc Kilmer, and Boda) and finished dead last for Central Committee (Greg was 8th.) Hard work wasn’t its own reward, and no good deed went unpunished – or so it seemed. (Nope, Marc corrected me – it was just his lit, not him.)

In short, I’m not sure I did my job very well on a local level. If I have a mission to educate voters, it looks like I have to work a little harder on it – and so I shall. I suppose the one thing about being a lame duck is that I have no election to worry about anymore, so I can speak my mind perhaps a little moreso than political correctness may dictate.

One source of relief is that I have a smaller range of people to keep up with for November. I think we could have done somewhat better coming out of this primary, but at least now I know whose feet I’ll have to keep to the fire and who I should be able to count on with a minimum of supervision.

Muir Boda for County Council

Muir Boda Ad 160 WideIf you have only one vote in the Republican primary for County Council at-large here in Wicomico County, make it count. Vote for Muir Boda.

This year’s at-large County Council election is unique in two respects: first, it features two candidates who have already served four years on County Council in John Cannon and Matt Holloway. Secondly, unless there is a strong write-in campaign, a Republican is assured of winning at least one of the two seats because the Democrats only fielded one candidate, Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell.

To me, Cannon and Holloway are akin to peas in a pod. Both have earned the reputation as being the moderate Republican swing votes on a Council which desperately cried out for conservative leadership. Obviously one of them has to be nominated since there are two slots, but the winner between those two is not nearly as important as making sure Muir advances to the next round.

I’ve known Muir since before he first ran for office five years ago, and he’s always impressed me as earnest, down-to-earth, and willing to work hard to solve problems. I was happy to vote for him as one of my endorsed City Council candidates in 2011 (had I lived in the city in 2009, he would have received my vote that year as well) because I believed he would add a voice of sanity to the body, and with a County Council that will feature a lot of new faces – including at least four new members since Gail Bartkovich, Bob Culver, Stevie Prettyman, and Sheree Sample-Hughes are departing for retirement or for other offices – having someone with his understanding of the working man’s perspective will be important.

Crime is Muir’s biggest issue, and for good reason: he sees it on a daily basis as part of his job. Boda is a believer in the High Point Initiative, which is being instilled by Matt Maciarello and other members of the law enforcement community, but would like to take it further with another unique idea worth considering and discussing.

As many know, Muir ran for Congress as a Libertarian in 2012, and served for several years as an officer in the Maryland Libertarian Party. One might consider him an opportunist for changing to the GOP for this election, but as for me I see this as a welcome change. We need new, younger blood in the local party and this is one opportunity to put a good, thoughtful conservative on County Council. He and District 2 candidate Marc Kilmer can be the building blocks to a conservative rebirth in Wicomico County, but the hardest step will be his getting through the primary with two opponents who certainly have more of a bankroll than Muir does.

But it can be done, with your help. Let the chips fall where they may for slot number 2, but let’s make sure Muir Boda makes the November ballot – even if you have to “bullet vote” and leave a choice blank.

Oh, and just to answer the question surely to come: this is a personal endorsement, and not one with my Central Committee hat on.

2014 Wicomico County NAACP forum draws county candidates (part 2)

On Friday I discussed the portion of the forum dealing with the aspirants for County Executive, so today I turn my attention to those running for the seven County Council seats. A total of 15 people are running for these seats, and 13 of them stated their case on Thursday night. Just as a reminder, the forum was hosted by the Wicomico County NAACP and its president, Mary Ashanti, and moderated by Orville Penn, a veteran of these affairs.

I’ll begin with the four who are running for two at-large seats – in order of presentation they are John Cannon, Laura Mitchell, Matt Holloway, and Muir Boda. They dealt with a little different set of questions, being queried about the prospects of funding the Chipman Center where the forum was held, the merits of an elected school board, an increase in the minimum wage, and thoughts on a race relations commission.

John Cannon served on the County Council as an at-large member from 2006-10 before an unsuccessful run for state delegate pushed him off the political stage. He agreed job growth and restoring our economic base would be “important goals to set,” believing that the pieces, such as the local universities and Peninsula Regional Medical Center, were in place and would be “the one tide which would raise all boats.”

Obviously John was kidding when he told moderator Orville Penn that “we’ll give you the Taj Mahal here” when referring to the Chipman Center, but he used that question as a springboard to state the case that the state had “absolutely ripped our budget” over the last few years through reductions in highway user money and passing along teacher pensions, among other things. We would have to figure out how to raise money on our own, continued John, and job growth was key. “We’re not going to increase taxes,” said Cannon, but if we can improve the economic situation we can “look after citizens as a whole” and try to find resources for needs such as the Chipman Center.

“I would like to see an elected school board,” said Cannon. He respected the Board of Education’s work, but would like to see more accountability because he was concerned about their audit. Moreover, while spending for the rest of government was perpetually on the chopping block during his previous tenure on County Council, he “never felt as if the school board was really on board to make the same cuts that they should have been doing.”

As for the minimum wage, Cannon asserted that at least one of two things would occur if the minimum was raised, if not both: overall price inflation and cuts in hours and jobs. He reminded the audience that the CBO predicted at least 500,000 jobs lost nationwide if the national minimum was increased to $10.10 an hour and that only 19% of the individuals below poverty level would be helped. The alternative, John continued, was an increase in the earned income tax credit, whether at the state or federal level.

A commission on race relation “would be a great idea,” Cannon said. He advocated “asset building,” where all local resources are brought together to address the issue. He concluded his remarks by noting that serving on the Council heightens awareness and is like getting a “master’s degree in all areas.”

A current elected official in a similar office is seeking a Council seat as well. Laura Mitchell was elected to Salisbury City Council in 2011 and is running from the cover of that seat for a county post. But in addressing those who believe government should be run like a business, she said, “really, you don’t, because businesses are there to make a profit, and we don’t want our government to make a profit. They should do exactly what their mandate is.” She’s tried to instill that in the city and wants to bring it to the county.

“There is a role for the county to play” in restoring the Chipman Center, said Laura. It could be the “connector” for funding and volunteers, but she agreed there is some responsibility for the city and county.

Regarding the school board, Mitchell told those assembled that “as far as I would be willing to go is a hybrid” school board with both appointees and elected members. Rather than being more accountable, she thought those elected would be more beholden to their donors and not the students. She argued that there’s a balance with an appointed board, and that members who serve at the pleasure of the Governor could be more easily removed as opposed to conducting a recall election.

Laura was in support of a minimum wage increase, asserting many who would be helped were single mothers; furthermore, “minimum wage needs to keep pace with inflation…it would be at about $10.40 had it kept pace.” As for employers, “this is one of those costs of doing business,” said Mitchell, lumping it in with other costs such as materials. She argued that it would be better to raise the minimum, otherwise “it’s more beneficial for them to sit home and collect a check (because) they can’t afford to go to work.”

A race relations committee was a great idea, but the need was larger than just a committee would provide. “It is our job to start that conversation,” she added. But with several different organizations chasing the same goal, an “asset map” would be helpful in determining a course of action, although the existing Safe Streets program is already working in that direction.

After remarking how she loves learning new things, Mitchell concluded that while she loves what they’ve been able to do at the city level, she’s run into some “stumbling blocks” on the county side – we needed more partnerships between the county and municipalities.

Of the two current at-large members of County Council, only Matt Holloway is seeking re-election as Bob Culver is running for County Executive. He originally ran in 2010 to provide a perspective from the agricultural community, stressing property rights. In the time since he’s come on board, he’s become the “bridge builder,” believing the relationship with the County Executive “is stronger than it’s ever been,” as is our relationship with the state. Matt also touted his membership on two governor-appointed committees, the Sustainable Growth Commission and the Critical Areas Commission. “I bring a lot of things to the table,” said Matt.

Restoring historic buildings was one of the county’s functions, remarked Matt regarding the Chipman Center, much like the county has an interest in keeping up the Pemberton estate and the old courthouse, which is in need of renovations. County government “could play a role” in resoring Chipman.

Matt also favored an elected school board, touching on Mitchell’s objection because he felt it would be a good thing if members felt like they owed someone. “They would feel like they’re responsible to the taxpayer,” said Matt. “It’s about accountability.” He was okay with a hybrid board as an interim step.

In discussing the minimum wage increase, though, Matt conceded the county has little role. But an increase “could be very detrimental” to the climate they were trying to create with recent tax reforms. “I don’t think the time is right,” said Matt.

Matt argued that many of the current committees formed by the Council were already diverse, but before establishing a citizens’ race relations committee, we should get the key players together and “come up with a game plan first.” He concluded in his closing remarks that he had helped the minority community by improving education, law enforcement, and business.

Muir Boda is no stranger to the ballot; this is his fourth run for elective office after bids for Salisbury City Council in 2009 and 2011 and Congress in 2012.

But he saw they key issues as a three-legged stool, with curtailing crime, providing educational opportunity, and improving the economic climate being the three legs. “All three have to work,” said Boda.

In restoring the Chipman Center, Boda would support a partnership between the county, city, and Community Foundation – they would be “the avenue we could go through first.” They could help raise the appropriate funds.

While Boda also preferred an elected school board, he also had a stipulation for a hybrid model where appointees would be determined locally rather than by Annapolis, which has no local accountability.

Since Muir has a position where he works with a lot of younger workers who make minimum wage, he could point out that there were a lot of things they could not legally do, such as run machinery. They were only useful in certain positions. Small businesses would cut positions and hours, he argued. “We have to understand what entry-level positions are to companies,” added Boda.

Boda returned to his three-legged stool analogy in describing his thoughts on race relations, citing the High Point initiative as well. “Everything has to be seamless…if you have skyrocketing crime rates, it’s going to affect companies that want to come here and invest in our community,” said Muir. “This (commission) is one piece of the puzzle.” He got to buttress his points because he gave his closing statement immediately after his answer to the previous question.

Compared to the lengthy segment dealing with the at-large Council candidates, the district races were quite brief.

In District 1, two of the three contenders came to discuss the issues.

McKinley Hayward was making his second try at the District 1 Council seat, having lost in the 2006 primary to current seatholder Sheree Sample-Hughes. If elected, he said, “I don’t want to be a political figure, I want to be a working figure for Wicomico County.”

When asked what the three biggest challenges to Wicomico County were, Hayward cited four: “empowering our community through jobs, education, housing, and employment.” Creating a good job which would enable workers to invest in their own homes was his goal, and Hayward saw high-tech jobs as the ticket. “I want Rick Pollitt to hear this – we need to invest in our future,” Hayward said. “Fruitland had a vision,” he continued, but what about the Mardela end of the county? Thousands go to Ocean City every weekend, but “we don’t get a dime of that money.”

The key to doing that would be encouraging vocational education and on-the-job training. “You could be a barber and be successful – every man in here has to get a haircut,” exclaimed Hayward.  He went on, “Every kid that graduates from high school should graduate with a resume.”

As for the idea of a race relations committee, McKinley didn’t know if that would solve the problem. He saw it as something more deep-seated.

“I run a playground during the summer at Lake Street,” he said. “My kids see a policeman, they run from him…the only time a black kid sees a policeman, he thinks he’s coming to arrest someone.” It’s a “stigma” we need to get out of in Wicomico County, added Hayward. But if he wins, “no one’s going to be safe” in government because he would do what he feels is best for the county.

One of two opponents for Hayward, Ernest Davis, cited his experience with the Maryland State Police and two businesses he’s created, along with his belief that “I’m a working person” as part of his calling card. His key issues were education, economic growth, and agriculture. This worked out well with the next question, where Davis expanded on these issues, particularly in agriculture. He warned that phosphorus regulations could hurt the local agricultural industry, leading to dire consequences. We also needed to promote our county’s educational institutions and proximity to Wallops Island. “That thing is growing leaps and bounds,” Davis added.

Davis also advocated bringing all the parties to the table in dealing with race relations, rather than pulling in several different directions.

But returning to his three main points for his close, Ernest believed that, “Wicomico needs to start tooting its own horn (and) standing on its own two feet.”

The third candidate in the District 1 race, Marvin Ames, was absent from the forum. Similarly, District 2 candidate Kirby Travers missed the affair, giving Marc Kilmer an opportunity to go through his first forum without any opposition.

So Marc got to speak about those things he wanted to accomplish in making the county better for his two young children: education, having a safe community, and jobs.

The District 3 race had all three contenders, and drawing first blood for them was former County Council member Larry Dodd, who served there from 2002-06. Since 2009 he’s been a member of the Wicomico County Board of Education. It was in that vein he noted, “I’m here for your kids and the future of Wicmico County.”

In discussing job creation, Dodd made the case that “I believe in smaller government,” but maintained that education, crime control, and economic development were indeed legitimate functions of government. He praised the local vocational programs and the efforts in place to control crime, but the key was keeping kids in school.

Common Core was an issue which was brought up, but Dodd conceded it can’t be scrapped because “it’s state mandated.” But “we are working to make it better and usable,” said Larry.

Dodd chose to close in part by thanking current District 3 Council member Gail Bartkovich for her service, touting his experience and skills and pointing out “I’m invested in this community.”

In contrast, Josh Hastings was making his first run for office. His background is mainly in the land protection and environmental fields, including the Rural Maryland Council and a stint in the office of the chair of the Maryland Senate’s Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. “I’m here to protect our farms and our rural industries,” said Hastings, who would build on relationships across the state and the Shore.

Hastings didn’t believe it was the role of government to create jobs; rather, it’s the council and executive’s job to use dollars wisely and efficiently. But he felt they should have a say in how an area looks and grows.

He also admitted he didn’t know enough about Common Core to have an opinion, but would listen to the teachers.

Josh concluded that it should be possible to be the number one county in the number one state for education. We also needed to build upon what makes us special and unique, and he would “continue to build the relationships” to assist in that.

After two unsuccessful runs for County Executive, Tom Taylor decided to try for the legislative branch this time. To begin, he claimed that he “wanted to represent the largest minority in Wicomico County – the individual.” People needed to realize that Annapolis is taking our local representation away – “things are getting out of your control…we have to get control of these things.”

Taylor had an interesting take on job creation as well. “It’s not the role of government to make sure everyone has a job,” said Tom. “The role of the government is to protect individual rights and property, and protect people so they can create these jobs.” Just give businesses the opportunity to create jobs by minimizing government intrusion, said Tom.

When it came to the core curriculum, Taylor was blunt. “I don’t like my son and his education being an experiment in social engineering.” Instead, we have to rubber-stamp everything which comes from Annapolis. His goal was to maximize classroom spending.

If elected, concluded Taylor, he vowed to fight for our Constitutional and property rights. “I’ve taken it to Annapolis before,” Tom said. “I’m more of a pit bull than the lovable person you see here.” We should accomplish our goals without the fear of government intrusion.

Our final segment combined both Districts 4 and 5 because District 4 Council member John Hall is unopposed for a full term.

Hall assessed the current situation thusly: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and my job is not to extend the length of the tunnel.”

The first question for the group was on racial disparity in jobs and housing, and Hall agreed “we have racial and economic disparities.” While we could have committees and asset maps, “education is going to be the key.” There should be more opportunities for the 36% of Wicomico County residents who are minorities. And when asked how the Board of Education could be more efficient, Hall advocated for an elected board.

But in his conclusion, John conceded “we’re living in a difficult time.” He also asked people to be “role models, not roadblocks.”

Representing District 5 since 2006, Joe Holloway reminded us that “we started in the recession.” And among those tough decisions to slice up the financial pie, finding out about the Board of Education audit was “very disappointing.” He even was surprised to agree with the Daily Times assessment of the situation as a “financial failure.”

Assistance in getting jobs back would come from reducing the impact fees, which now seems to have the County Executive on board because much of that housing growth was going to Sussex County, Delaware. As for raising the minimum wage, “I have a little problem with raising the minimum wage.” It’s a “training ground,” he continued. Moreover, the salaries of those who make a little bit over the minimum would have to go up as well. “I see a big jump in unemployment,” Joe said. He hoped that $10.10 was just a negotiating ploy and a lesser amount would be acceptable.

“It’s no secret I support an elected school board,” continued Joe. And it was an issue where, despite the fact that those things the Board of Education was spending on were within their policies, Joe reminded us he had “caught hell” for bringing up these same problems five years ago. An elected school board would be a good “first step.”

And after picking on the school board, in his conclusion Joe decided “to pick on Annapolis a little bit.” He warned that “if we’re not careful, Annapolis is going to run the poultry industry off the Eastern Shore…we will be a ghost town.” Everyone in county government was on board with that, and while the idea of job creation was great we need to consider how to keep the jobs we have. “We’re not sitting up there twiddling our thumbs,” concluded Joe.

Ron Pagano had a different tack on many issues. As an job creator and advocate for the disabled, among other groups, he wanted to provide equal opportunity, better housing, and improved public transportation, which was a cause dear to him. He wanted to keep our kids here, as “our kids should always be part of our vision.”

Ron also vowed to “talk to anyone about job creation,” but differed from most of the others in supporting a “fair” minimum wage. “$7.25 an hour is not enough to raise a family, let alone doing anything outside buying bread and milk,” said Pagano. A smaller minimum also drives up the cost of the SNAP program, he argued.

He also took a moment to express his support of a “biracial commission,” recalling a similar organization existed in the days when U.S. 13 and U.S. 50 were built and that era’s “tearing apart of neighborhoods.”

Pagano agreed the Board of Education audit “isn’t pretty,” but wanted to see what the Sage Policy Group report had to say. But he defended the Board, stating “as an attorney, I always knew there was two sides to every story.” He was against an elected board, saying “the problem with an elected board is that no one wants to run,” particularly with the financial disclosure reports required. He also pointed out the “balance” between parties.

He summed up by revisiting job creation. “I want to focus on bringing jobs to this community,” noting that Wor-Wic Community College will customize training programs to various companies. Ron also sought to establish partnerships, particularly with NASA Wallops: “I personally will go to NASA Wallops and speak to the director there – I’ll speak to whoever wants to create jobs here.” Given that we have job creators like Jubilant Cadista – which, Ron noted, has created 300 local jobs in the last 7 years and is on track for 200 more – “obviously there is something about Wicomico County that appealed to Jubilant Cadista, and we can appeal to others as well. I will promise you I will bring jobs to the county,” Pagano concluded.

After 2 1/2 hours, the forum came to a close and the 60 to 70 people who crammed into the room went their separate ways. Among those offices covered in the event, the fields for county executive and County Council Districts 2 and 5 are set since only one from each party filed. District 1 will be decided in the Democratic primary since no Republican filed, and District 4’s John Hall is unopposed. Out of all those there, only one District 3 aspirant and one for at-large will be eliminated.

But the event was useful in staking out some positions, and there will likely be several more forums for candidates to attend in upcoming weeks.

Campaign 2014: a District 37 look at finance

As part of my ongoing coverage of the 2014 campaign, today I’m going to look at a number of candidates who are running for seats in District 37, which covers portions of Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico counties here on the Eastern Shore. Presently the district is served by three Republicans and one Democrat, with the district’s State Senator being Republican Richard Colburn. In the lower House of Delegates, Democratic Delegate Rudy Cane handles the smaller District 37A, which takes in portions of Dorchester and Wicomico counties and is drawn to be a majority-minority district, while GOP Delegates Addie Eckardt and Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio currently hold down the larger District 37B. In Maryland, House districts can serve as subdivisions of Senate districts and combinations of House districts (such as the case here) will have the same overall border as the Senate district.

I’ll begin with the Senate race: while Colburn has come under fire in recent months for both campaign finance issues and a messy pending divorce, he’s filed to run for another term and currently has no GOP challenger. Democrat Cheryl Everman of Talbot County is the lone Democrat in the race.

In terms of cash on hand, it’s no contest: Colburn has $31,994.55 in the bank while Everman is sitting at just $1,885.88. Moreover, the incumbent added to his total by collecting $35,101.55 in 2013 through a near-equal proportion of individual contributions (46.16%) and ticket purchases (46.65%), with political clubs making up the other 7.19%. In looking at the report, however, those political club contributions seem to be misclassified as they appear to be from various state PACs. Regardless, 104 individual contributions and 128 ticket purchases made for an average contribution of $140.42 to Colburn’s coffers.

On the other hand, only 38.61% of Everman’s $1,890.56 take for 2013 came from individual contributions – she received the balance of the money from the candidate account of “Joe Reid for Maryland.” Her 6 individual donors chipped in an average of $121.67 apiece. Since she started her reporting on May 30, this covers a little over seven months’ worth of financial activity.

In my coverage of the governor’s race, I also apportioned contributions into various categories: those from LLCs and similar legal entities, the legal community, unions, business, and out-of-state. (Many fell into more than one category.) I’m doing essentially the same here with the exception of the last category being out-of-district, and in this case I’m considering District 37 as the region covered by 216xx and 218xx zip codes – in essence the lower 2/3 or so of the Eastern Shore.

Colburn did well with the business community, receiving 30.84% of his 2013 donations from business entities. Just 2.66% came from law firms and only 0.31% apiece from LLCs and unions. (That translates to $100 each.) Only 16.02% came from outside of the enhanced district.

With such a small take, Everman’s totals reflected just 4.11% from outside the district, or $30. None of it came from businesses, law firms, unions, or LLCs.

Turning to the Delegate races, the District 37A race is most interesting financially. Democrat Rudy Cane has no GOP opponent yet, but is being challenged by current Wicomico County Council member Sheree Sample-Hughes. That’s not too shocking in and of itself.

However, Cane reported no cash balance on his report – yet is carrying forward $47,742.40 to his next one. Evem more mysterious is the fact he recorded no contributions for calendar year 2013, and the only incoming entry to his ledger is a $250 contribution from the AFSCME union in Salisbury on January 7 of this year. Yet he spent $6,250 on some interesting items – there’s only three, so this is an easy read.

In August, Cane reimbursed himself $50 for his filing fee. Prior to that, his campaign made two expenditures: on January 25, he gave Salisbury City Council candidate April Jackson a $200 boost to her campaign. But stranger still, July 13 saw a $6,000 transfer to…wait for it…Sheree Sample-Hughes.

Now consider that Sheree has a balance of just $7,147.04 in the bank right now. She took in $8,260 in 2013 so obviously only 24.33% of her income came from individual contributions while 3.03% (or $250) came from ticket sales. The other 72.64% of her campaign funding for 2013 came from her ostensible opponent.

But some of those individual contributions came from those one would consider political opponents. For example, fellow Wicomico County Council members John Hall and Matt Holloway (both Republicans) chipped in $100 and $50, respectively, while Wicomico’s GOP Sheriff Mike Lewis gave $40. All these were done in December, well after she had announced for the District 37A seat.

So while Cane got 100% of his contributions from unions based on the one donation, Sample-Hughes received just 1.77% from businesses and 1.11% from outside the district. Her 37 individual contributions and 9 ticket sales worked out to an average of just $49.13 apiece.

My gut instinct tells me that Cane isn’t really going to run to keep his seat unless he has to. The reason he filed, I think, was to keep another person from filing and challenging Sample-Hughes, who may win the district in the primary as sort of the anointed successor to Cane, who will turn 80 in May – thus the large contribution to her coffers. If he indeed runs, it’s likely he’d win another term then resign at some point, making Sample-Hughes the logical successor.

Meanwhile, there’s a financial shootout going for the District 37B seats, one of which is opening up as Delegate Haddaway runs as the lieutenant governor on the David Craig ticket.

It’s no surprise that the other incumbent, Addie Eckardt, leads the cash-on-hand parade with a balance of $44,488.89. But right on her heels is Republican newcomer Johnny Mautz, Jr. of Talbot County, who boasts $44,200.95 on hand. A third Republican hopeful, Christopher Adams of Wicomico County, has $24,777.29 in his coffers.

There are two others in the race, but Rene Desmarais of Wicomico County, a Republican, and the race’s lone Democrat, Keasha Haythe of Talbot County, only filed what are known as ALCEs, which attest a candidate has not raised or spent over $1,000 in the cycle. This isn’t surprising since both filed in mid-December, less than a month before the reporting deadline and just before the holidays, when political activity takes a hiatus.

So in looking at the three who filed full reports, we find that Mautz raised by far the most in 2013.

Cash raised:

  1. Johnny Mautz, Jr. – $56,186
  2. Addie Eckardt – $7,225
  3. Christopher Adams – $6,165

As it turned out, Mautz raised every dime from individual contributions, while Eckardt raised 84.26% that way and Adams just 23.56%. The remainder of Eckardt’s money came from Maryland PACs ($1,350 or 15.74%) while Adams loaned his campaign $20,000 to make up 76.44% of his receipts.

But there’s a world of difference in the contributions each received. Mautz’s 143 individual contributions resulted in a whopping average of $392.91 per donation. Conversely, Adams received 40 contributions for an average of $154.13 apiece, and Eckardt picked up 74 contributions at an average $97.64 per.

And while none had significant contibutions from LLCs (Adams had 4.06% and Eckardt 1.38%), law firms (none reported), or unions (Eckardt received the only union contribution of $250, or 3.46% of her total), there was quite a difference in business support:

  1. Addie Eckardt – 19.79%
  2. Christopher Adams – 8.52%
  3. Johnny Mautz, Jr. – 0%

Yet the one which made my jaw drop was out-of-district contributions:

  1. Johnny Mautz, Jr. – 68.65%
  2. Christopher Adams – 15.57%
  3. Addie Eckardt – 13.84%

There’s no other way to say it: Johnny Mautz, Jr. had a lot of large checks dropped into his campaign from a number of inside-the-Beltway friends and acquaintances he’s gathered in several years of working in Washington, D.C. Obviously this will bear watching in future reports to see how much local funding begins to come in, but it’s obvious his end-of-year push came from outside the district. The initial money for Mautz’s campaign came mostly from locals, but those tended to be smaller amounts.

It’s obvious the big money in District 37 is going to be put into the open seat race for District 37B, although the rumored emergence of a big-name Democratic contender for Colburn’s Senate seat may bring some more money to that contest, and may cause some dominoes to be knocked over on the GOP side.

Tomorrow I’ll look at the races on the District 38 side.

Update: In looking up items for the sidebar widgets I’m going to feature for easy campaign website access, I came across a note on Cheryl Everman’s campaign Facebook page from January 12 stating she would withdraw from the District 37 Senate race for health reasons; however, she has not finalized that paperwork.

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