More for my friends north of the border

There’s always been some percentage of my readers who hail from the First State, even though I really never covered a whole lot in the way of politics for them. They may have enjoyed my perspective on national issues or realized that the economies of the Eastern Shore and Delaware are well-intertwined because of their common industry base in agriculture and the fact that several areas of each state may rely on the other for basic necessities – for example, people in Delmar, Maryland may go to the Food Lion just across the line in Delaware but the reverse is true if the folks in Delaware want to shop at Macy’s or go to a movie, since both are in Salisbury, Maryland.

Over the last year or so I have probably made most of my readers aware that I now work in Delaware, and the same holds true for my spouse. And particularly in my line of work, I would like the state to succeed as it keeps me employed.

So a week or so ago I decided that it was time to follow up on the Accountability Project I’ve done for a decade in Maryland with one for Delaware. Notice I said a week ago: thanks to the fact Delaware only has about 1/3 the legislators that Maryland does and far fewer bills introduced – plus a very nice tracking system for votes (albeit the tallying leaves something to be desired) - the process for wrapping up a two-year session (as both 2015 and 2016 are considered the state’s 148th legislative session) was rapid compared to doing one yearly session in Maryland. Tonight I did a soft opening and placed the widget on the sidebar, so anyone with interest in the Delaware General Assembly can see how I graded them.

But why now, well after the election? Well, first of all, I was a little busy. Second of all, I never really figured it would be as easy of a project as it was. But I also look at this as a baseline to establish a record for the next election, so they will have more meaningful lifetime scores when I do this for next session.

With the Delaware Edition of the monoblogue Accountability Project, my plan is to do the next iteration in the summer of 2018, shortly after their session ends at the end of June. (One disadvantage I can see: it appears the governor has a much longer window to decide what to do with the passed bills, which may affect disposition.) In 2020 I may have a problem, though, as it’s been proposed to move the gubernatorial primary to April (with the presidential primary) meaning the vote would come mid-session. There may have to be a smaller 2019 edition if this comes to pass.

So this one is for you, Delaware. Read it and weep.

90 Days of Terror, brought to you by the Maryland General Assembly

Sometime tomorrow the Maryland General Assembly will be gaveled back to life and your freedom and wallets will once again be at peril.

While those of us who are familiar with social media know about the push to repeal the “road kill bill” passed last year over the objection of Governor Hogan, to me it’s more telling that the very first House bill out of the chute will be the mandated sick leave bill. The next one is a bid to expand the earned income tax credit, including to those who are childless.

But in reading through the list of pre-filed bills, there’s not a whole lot of exceptionally radical stuff – although the bill to mandate “stop and frisk zone” signage in Baltimore City gives me a lot of pause. There are also a couple of mandated spending bills already on the table, which is par for the course insofar as the majority in the body is concerned.

I suspect this session will be among the most rancorous yet as Democrats, desperate to knock down Larry Hogan’s approval rating, are going to throw everything he wants in a desk drawer and toss out the key; meanwhile, they will certainly do their level best to muck up the works and prepare the state for the 2018 Democratic campaign, which will employ the tactic of portraying Larry Hogan as a do-nothing governor.

I can see this coming a mile away, and actually the direction of legislation may be an indicator of who his opponents may be: legislators always try to bring home a little bacon for their districts, but if the idea is that of making a particular county-level executive look good (think Kevin Kamenetz) then there may be even extra effort to mandate spending for the county – never mind the rest of the state.

Of course, the flip side of the equation is that a whole lot of common-sense legislation will never make it out of committee because it would limit government, enhance freedom, or make things easier for business to succeed. But that’s why I look at the legislation every so often, and doubly why I do the monoblogue Accountability Project because people should know what happens to these more conservative, pro-liberty measures and how they never make it out of committee. If mandated paid sick leave makes it to a floor vote, I would say there’s a 99% chance that becomes one of my votes.

So now is the time to be vigilant, and let’s hope that the Hogan budget holds the line on spending this year. If you’re already going to be accused of cutting everything under the sun, you may as well be blamed for something you actually do.

Announcing: the 2016 monoblogue Accountability Project

For the tenth year in a row, I have graded all 188 legislators in the Maryland General Assembly based on their voting patterns on a number of key issues. Beginning with sine die back in April, I started looking into both floor and committee votes trying to find those which reflected conservative principles, with an eye on civil liberties as well. The final product, all 27 pages, can be found right here or in its usual sidebar location.

You’ll notice the look is a little different this year, as I decided to scrap the old two-column format and just give it more of a standard form that’s easier to read. I also changed the font to something a little more stylistic. On the charts themselves, I decided to eliminate the committee votes from the main chart and instead added two new pages for those votes so that all of the legislators on the committee can be more directly compared.

As for the votes themselves, the overriding theme to me was fiscal. Democrats don’t like not being in the governor’s chair to spend money, so they are trying to use their legislative majority to force Governor Hogan to spend more. To the majority, there are two advantages to this approach: not only can they give handouts to favored constituencies, but they can prevent Hogan from finding the savings he can use to cut taxes and fees. Their goal seems to be putting our governor in a position where he has to raise taxes, which is music to the ears of people like Mike Miller and Michael Busch.

So you’ll notice quite a few floor votes deal with these sort of mandates. There are also quite a few intended to strip power from the Executive Branch (which wasn’t an issue just two short years ago) and tie the hands of businesses because government needs something to justify its existence.

I note in the conclusion that there were far fewer correct votes this year, and a large part of that was the mix of bills I selected. Last year I had an average House score of 39.82 and Senate count of 41.15. This was because a lot of Democrats got scores in the 20s, and that was based on their support for marijuana and civil liberties legislation I favored. This year, not so much as the averages plummeted to 27.1 in the House and 23.26 in the Senate. Being a more hardline fiscal conservative this year (because they addressed the issues they were with me on last year) changed a lot of Democratic scores from 24 to a big fat zero. On the other hand, I had only seen two perfect scores in nine previous years but got two in one session this year for the first time.

I’ve been warned that the third year of the cycle is always the most ambitious for policy, although liberals are dangerous any year. There are a few things that were stopped this year that we will surely see in 2017, such as paid sick leave. I also expect a bid to extend the fracking moratorium as part of a broad environmental package – the wackos were strangely quiet this year but I think 2017 brings some interim deadlines and reports on Bay cleanup. Add in the trend to mandate more spending and 2017 will be an interesting time.

One final change comes in the sidebar. I’m leaving the 2015 report available as part of a long-term process to show trends for the 2015-18 term. As one example, I think the candidacies of Kathy Szeliga and David Vogt affected their voting patterns – you’ll be able to judge for yourself now.

Feel free to print yourself a copy for your use, just don’t forget where it came from.

A lack of ink in the veto pen

I have generally associated Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend news dumps with the party of our current President, but Governor Hogan took advantage of the impending holiday weekend to announce he’s allowing 39 Senate and 45 House bills to become law without his signature. Hogan is vetoing just six bills at the end of this session, with two of them being crossfiled versions of a bill that would increase renewable energy mandates that will be featured on my monoblogue Accountability Project. In his veto letter for HB1106/SB921, Hogan conceded the idea was sound but that this measure took things too far when ratepayers are already shelling out a collective $104 million in compliance fees in 2014, the last year for which data was available.

The renewable portfolio standard wasn’t the only mAP bill Hogan vetoed – two other ones had to do with transportation and the fallout from Hogan’s decision to pull the plug on Baltimore’s Red Line. Back in April, Hogan vetoed the infamous Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016 only to have General Assembly Democrats rise up and override him. The veto vote was the one I used for the HB1013 slot of the mAP.

Hogan also chastised General Assembly Democrats for their support of SB907, which would have mandated a $75 million annual payment toward a replacement for the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, which carries U.S. 301 over the Potomac River between Maryland and Virginia. Hogan noted that this project is already in the pipeline, calling the legislation “absolutely unnecessary.” This will also be an mAP vote.

A third bill that I didn’t use as an mAP vote – but which also deals with transportation – was HB1010, which would have created the Maryland Transit Administration Oversight and Planning Board. Governor Hogan called it “a sophomoric attack on sound transportation policy,” noting also that the board would be stacked with members from the urban counties.

The other two bills Hogan vetoed were comparatively minor. One dealt with a proposed mixed-use project at Morgan State University in Baltimore, while the other claimed the proposed Maryland Education Development Collaborative ran afoul of the state constitution by placing General Assembly members in a position where they would be doing executive functions.

I’m sure some part of the equation whether Hogan vetoed the bills or not had to do with the likelihood of a veto being sustained, so here are the margins of passage for each of these bills:

  • HB1106: House 92-46, Senate 32-14. Override possible by 11 votes in House, 5 in the Senate.
  • SB921: Senate 31-14, House 91-48. Override possible by 5 votes in Senate, 9 in House.
  • SB907: Senate 33-12, House 90-50. Override possible by 7 votes in Senate, 7 in House.
  • HB1010: House 87-51, Senate 28-19. Override possible by 6 votes in House, but Senate can uphold veto if all 19 maintain their votes.
  • SB540 (Morgan State): Senate 41-0, House 113-22. Override likely: Senate would need to find 19 votes and House 35.
  • SB910 (MEDC) passed without objection in both houses, but will likely have GOP support for a veto. If so, they need 5 Senate Democrats or 7 House Democrats to join them.

Given those results, I’m quite disappointed Hogan didn’t veto more bills. Not only does it put Democrats on record opposing a popular centrist governor, but it also slows down the General Assembly and hopefully makes the more centrist members of the majority rethink their support of bad legislation. It was pointed out to me recently that Hogan won 71 legislative districts but only 50 Republicans were elected to the House – thus, in theory the GOP can get a majority for the first time in generations in 2018. Dream big. (Sometime I should look into this claim.)

One other issue with this is that Hogan’s slow veto deliberations removed any opportunity to petition the most egregious legislation to referendum. However, I say this knowing that we aren’t taking advantage when opportunity knocks – I honestly believe felon voting should have been petitioned to referendum (as an act this year thanks to the veto override vote, it could have.)  Let’s see if 80 percent really oppose it.

So it will turn out that the vast majority of bills on my mAP – all of which I opposed for the floor vote – will become law anyway. I think we’re reaching way too far across the aisle in this state considering how little we get in return, so in my view Hogan should have really played hardball. At some point a number of these bills are going to bite us, but now we won’t even get the luxury of a repreieve for a few months. Thanks, Larry.

A different sort of accountability

May 22, 2016 · Posted in Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Personal stuff, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

The other day I received a reminder that Heritage Action had updated its Congressional scorecard. And for those who believe that our Congressman Andy Harris isn’t as conservative as he makes himself out to be, it should be noted that his 90% rating puts him in the top 20 on Congress overall, or the 95th percentile if you will.  It’s a score that Harris currently shares with some of the more libertarian heroes of Congress, such as Justin Amash and Thomas Massie, as well as Presidential candidate Marco Rubio. (Ted Cruz was among the top 3 at 100%, along with Mike Lee and Ken Buck of Colorado.)

But one weakness I’m finding with the Heritage Action scorecard is just what issues they consider important – there’s no easy way to determine what bills and votes they deemed important enough to include. Certainly I trust the Heritage Foundation to be a conservative watchdog as they have been for many years, but it would be nice to have their scorecard reflect what the scores are based upon.

On the other hand, I present no such problem with my monoblogue Accountability Project because I explain just why I vote as I would. (By and large, it’s opposition to the lunacy Democrats put out on an annual basis, although I am also far more of a budget hawk than most as well.) In this year’s roster of legislation, there were anywhere from five to fifty-odd votes per bill on my side in the House and two to twenty per bill in the Senate. None of those I sided with this year became law, unlike last year where I won a couple.

If you follow monoblogue on social media (and you should) you’ll notice I’m making steady progress on this year’s edition, which I am slating to release June 6. Actually, what pushes this into June is a fairly recent phenomenon.

Back when Martin O’Malley was governor, I never had to worry about vetoed bills and pretty much everything that was placed in front of him by the Democratic-controlled Maryland General Assembly was signed in short order. But with Larry Hogan in office, I have to pay attention to what’s called the “date of presentment.” This tripped me up last year in discussing the post-session because I thought Hogan had 30 days after session to sign/veto bills, not realizing there was a date of presentment involved. (O’Malley always seemed to sign things as quickly as possible.) This year the date of presentment was May 1 (20 days after session) so the drop-dead date for a Hogan veto is May 31, or 30 days after presentment.

Where this affects me is what I call the “disposition” of each bill. Not only do I tally the votes, but I make sure readers know the fate of each bill. It was easy (if depressing) when MOM was in office because I could simply write something along the lines of “Governor O’Malley signed this bill May 5.” Now I have bills that are allowed to become law without Hogan’s signature and actual vetoes to deal with, so it makes me wait until the coast is clear June 1 to figure out final disposition. Hence, I have to wait to put it out. In truth, the compiling is easier than ever because I’ve done it so long and can fill out the spreadsheet I use rather quickly.

So you are two weeks away from getting your hands on this hot little item, which so far has been a great horse race as I compile votes and find multiple members still have a chance at a perfect score. Now if we could only get that number of perfect scorers up to 188, or at least a good working majority in each chamber, this state may be getting somewhere.

The stampede for higher rates

Back on Tuesday I promoted Marita Noon’s most recent column on social media with the promise to do a Maryland-centric follow up “If I think about it this week.” (I planned to all along, but sometimes I forget so I figured I better cover myself.) Anyway, the passage that piqued my interest was this one:

In California, where (billionaire and liberal Democrat political backer Tom Steyer) has been a generous supporter of green energy policies, he helped pass Senate Bill 350 that calls for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. California’s current mandate is 33 percent by 2020 – which California’s three investor-owned utilities are, reportedly, “already well on their way to meeting.” It is no surprise that California already has some of the highest electricity rates in the country. Analysis released last week found that states with policies supporting green energy have much higher power prices.

In doing research for the monoblogue Accountability Project, which I am in the process of completing now, I stumbled across two bills which dovetail nicely with both this article and another recent commentary by Noon regarding solar power mandates and incentives. I’ll tackle the latter issue first.

For several years the state of Maryland has mandated a certain percentage of electrical power be derived from renewable sources, with a proposed new version of the law (HB1106/SB921)retaining the 13.1% share required for 2017 but increasing the carveout for solar energy from 0.95% to 1.15%. This bill also proposed that the share of both renewables and solar power increase at an accelerating rate, eventually ratcheting up the requirements to 25% and 2.5%, respectively. While that would be great news for the solar industry, it would be bad news for consumers – according to the information provided with these bills the increase in monthly electric bills to an average consumer if this measure is enacted could be as much as $3.06 per month by 2020. However, Maryland’s Department of Legislative Services cautions (page 7 of the Fiscal and Policy Note) predicting this increase can only be “for illustrative purposes” because of all the factors involved.

The reason behind the rate increases is the payment to the state called the Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP), which also is affected by the bill. The proposal actually would decrease slightly the ACP for all renewable energy sources except solar from 4 cents to 3.75 cents per kilowatt-hour, or, in a more practical term, from $40 per megawatt-hour (MWh) to $37.50 per MWh. (An average home is considered to use 1 megawatt-hour of electricity per month.) It also gives utilities a temporary break on the solar energy carveout, where the fee for a shortfall would decrease from a scheduled $200 per MWh in 2017 and 2018 to $195 and $175 for 2017 and 2018, respectively. The fee would increase in the out years, however.

When the Fiscal Note predicts that the state itself would incur an additional $2.2 million in electrical costs by 2021, it’s obvious that this proposal would be a costly one for consumers. At this point the bill is in limbo, as it was passed by both the House of Delegates and Senate but has not been signed or vetoed yet by Governor Larry Hogan.

Now let’s turn to the most recent commentary from Noon, where she notes California will mandate 50 percent renewables 14 years hence. Unfortunately, Maryland is not that far behind them as they just enacted SB323, which will take effect in October. Instead of letting this silly notion that our little state can actually do something about climate change by reducing our energy consumption expire – as it would have with no action - this bill instead maintained a 25% by 2020 mandate and increased the mandated energy reduction to 40% by 2030. As an analysis Noon used in her piece shows, Maryland is among the states with the highest electricity bills and follies such as these are a reason why.

Don’t get me wrong: I am definitely for energy efficiency, but it should be in terms of consumer choice rather than government fiat. Those who create and pass the laws rarely embark on any sort of dynamic cost/benefit analysis for their policies, so in this case they’re not considering the effect on ratepayers and job creators in balance with the very dubious pie-in-the-sky notion of affecting our climate. (After all, if it was once warm enough to have the polar expanse of Greenland actually be green, as it was around the turn of the previous millennium – well before the Industrial Revolution or the car-happy society we inhabit now – then how much effect do we really have?) We can hardly predict with any certainly the weather two weeks from now, so why should we trust the accuracy and inerrancy of a climate forecast for 2050 when it’s used as an excuse for confiscatory policy that indirectly benefits those making the forecast?

As I brought up the monoblogue Accountability Project earlier, it shall be noted that the votes on both these bills will be used for this year’s mAP. It’s a shame that just 39 Delegates out of 141 and only two (yes, two!) Senators out of 47 have the potential for getting both these votes correct. Maryland has a relatively powerful environmental lobby thanks to its straddling of Chesapeake Bay, but these were cases where the state’s budding attempt to be more business-friendly and hopefully end its economic reliance on big government should have held sway. While Governor Hogan erred in signing the climate change folly, he can do a more concrete favor for businesses and ratepayers by vetoing HB1106/SB921 and creating a proposal to sunset the ACP for next year’s session.

And while we are at making energy policy, I encourage Governor Hogan to follow the lead of his friend and cohort New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and remove Maryland from the membership rolls of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Utilities (and their ratepayers) will thank him from getting us out from under that wealth transfer boondoggle.

For First District Congress

My final primary endorsement comes in a race that, for me, has come down to the wire: do I go for the known conservative quantity that’s part of one of the most unpopular institutions in the country or do I go for one of the upstarts in a hope to bring about change or a more libertarian direction?

Well, the answer became a little easier as I looked into two of the four GOP candidates. Both Jonathan Goff, who challenged Andy Harris in 2014 and got the 22% of the anti-Harris vote in that primary, and Sean Jackson have expressed their support for Donald Trump so that eliminates them automatically as not conservative.

Yet despite the entry of Goff and Jackson, the Congressional race has been figured all along as a two-man contest between Harris and former Delegate Mike Smigiel.

We pretty much know the backstory on Andy Harris: he served in the Maryland State Senate for a decade before challenging incumbent Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest in 2008. The problem with Wayne, as Harris and many others saw in the district, was that Gilchrest was too centrist for a conservative district. Harris ended up winning a contentious primary, alienating enough Gilchrest supporters in the process that Democrat Frank Kratovil (who Gilchrest eventually endorsed) won by a narrow plurality in the Obama wave election of 2008. (A Libertarian candidate took 2.5% of the vote, denying Kratovil a majority.)

Harris finished out his term in the State Senate as he plotted to challenge Kratovil, who served as a “blue dog” Democrat (case in point: he voted against Obamacare.) Winning a far less acrimonious GOP primary in 2010 over businessman Rob Fisher, Harris went on to defeat Kratovil by 12 points in the first TEA Party wave election of 2010. Since then Harris hasn’t been seriously challenged in either the primary or general elections, winning with 63.4% of the vote in 2012 and 70.4% in 2014 after Goff challenged him in the primary.

While Democrat Jim Ireton may think he has a shot against Harris, it’s very likely that Tuesday’s election is the deciding factor in who will be our representative to the 115th Congress. But Mike Smigiel is the first serious candidate with a pedigree to challenge for the First District seat since Harris and State Senator E.J. Pipkin, among others, both took on Wayne Gilchrest in 2008.

Like Harris, Smigiel served for 12 years in the Maryland General Assembly but he served in the House of Delegates, representing the upper Eastern Shore. This factor is an important one in determining who will be the better candidate, as their terms of service overlapped from 2003-2010. Smigiel ran for re-election in the 2014 primary, but finished fourth in a seven-person field. It’s worth noting that four of the District 36 contenders were from Smigiel’s Cecil County, which may have sapped his electoral strength – or reflected a dissatisfaction with Mike’s approach. Only one of them could have advanced, so in effect they cannibalized the primary vote.

Mike’s case for unseating Harris has evolved from an undertone of dissatisfaction from those who supported Harris for the seat. They say that Andy is not a fighter or a leader in the conservative movement, and long for a more libertarian Congressman perhaps in the mold of Justin Amash or Thomas Massie. To that end, Smigiel has advocated his case for a Constitutional, limited government, often waving his copy of the Constitution in a debate or forum session. His campaign has focused to a great extent on a number of Congressional votes that Harris has cast, particularly the 2014 CRomnibus bill.

In looking at this race, it should be pointed out that I saw Smigiel’s libertarian approach as an asset; however, I felt the strong emphasis on Harris’s voting record masked some of the real truth.

A key difference between the legislative process in Maryland and the federal sausage-grinding we find in Washington is that Congressional legislation is not limited to a single issue as Maryland’s is. You can take the CRomnibus bill as an example, as it was a compromise hammered out between the various factions of Congress. That’s not to say Harris made the correct vote, but Smigiel is counting on a bit of ignorance in how the system works. I could say the same thing about Smigiel since he voted for the first O’Malley budget while Harris voted no.

So let’s talk about voting records, shall we? Because voting in a federal legislature is not the same as voting on state matters, we have an apples-to-oranges comparison between Harris and Smigiel. But over the eight years both men served in the General Assembly, a more apples-to-apples approach is possible.

Since 2007, I have done the monoblogue Accountability Project, so it covers the last four years that Harris and Smigiel served together. As an aggregate, I found that Smigiel voted as I would have 77.7% of the time, or 101 times out of 130. On the other hand, Harris was “correct” 89.1% of the time, or 122 times out of 137.

I even went back and found three years’ worth of data on the old Maryland Accountability Project that mine continued. While the author perhaps had a different standard of what he considered “conservative,” in each of those three years (2003-2005) Harris had a higher score: 84%-60% in 2003, 80%-75% in 2004, and 84%-83% in 2005. (The 2006 results were not available for the House, but Harris only scored 65% in the Senate – so Smigiel may have prevailed that year.)

Yet these are not “clean” comparisons, either, because in my case I hadn’t streamlined the process of doing the mAP yet. (Since 2011, both House and Senate ratings are based on the same bills.) So I went back and tried to locate the cases in my work where Harris and Smigiel voted the opposite way. There were a handful that over time have mattered less, but I would like to point out a few items that Harris favored and Smigiel opposed, since Mike has attacked Andy’s record:

  • Smart, Green, and Growing – Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission (2010) – replaced a task force with the MSGC, an O’Malley-sponsored bill.
  • Higher Education Investment Fund – Tuition Stabilization and Funding (2010) – a spending mandate O’Malley also sought.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act of 2009 – this was a horrible bill that established and codified carbon reductions into state law.

One can definitely argue that Harris was trying to soften his image with these votes, since they came after his unsuccessful 2008 run.

But there is another side: those bills that Smigiel favored and Harris opposed:

  • Other Tobacco Products Licenses (2010) – required separate licenses for those who sell cigars, snuff, or pipe tobacco. Harris was one of just 7 in the MGA to oppose this.
  • High Performance Buildings Act – Applicable to Community College Capital Projects (2010) – required LEED Silver or above ratings.
  • Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Program (2008) – an O’Malley bill to spend RGGI money.
  • Environment – Water Management Administration – Wetlands and Waterways Program Fees (2008) – established a fee of up to $7,500 an acre for certain developments.
  • Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Protection Program – Administrative and Enforcement Provisions (2008) – additional mandates on local government.
  • High Performance Buildings Act (2008) – the precursor to the 2010 act above.
  • Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007 – an O’Malley bill requiring California emissions for Maryland cars, which added cost to new cars.
  • Higher Education – Tuition Affordability Act of 2007 – another O’Malley bill that extended an artificial tuition freeze.
  • Electricity – Net Energy Metering – Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – Solar Energy (2007) - a good old-fashioned carveout, picking a winner.

It seems to me there’s a major difference on environmental issues between Smigiel and Harris, and while that may not matter so much at a federal level my belief that “green is the new red” leads me to think that Smigiel’s pro-liberty case isn’t as airtight as we are led to believe.

I can go all night looking at voting records, but there is one other thing I’d like to point out.

Last week I criticized Smigiel for spending part of the weekend before the primary at a cannabis convention, a stance he took exception to in a private message to me. Without divulging the full conversation, which I assumed was just for my private use, the upshot was that he argued there were going to be fundraising benefits for him as well as possible job creation in the 1st District. I can buy that argument, but if it hinges on him winning the primary Job One has to be getting the votes.

So it was interesting that a friend of mine shared a card her daughter received, which looks like the one below.

420 USA PAC Smigiel postcard

My friend speculated the card was targeted to a certain age group of Millennials since her daughter was the only one in the house to receive it. Yet the card isn’t from Mike’s campaign but instead an organization called 420 USA PAC, which advocates for cannabis legalization.

Of course, my personal stance is not all that far from Mike’s, but we also have two laboratories of democracy in Colorado and Washington state to see how the legalization of marijuana plays out. Smigiel argues the District of Columbia cannabis initiative is a state’s rights issue but should know that in the Constitution Congress is responsible to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District per Article I, Section 8. So Harris performed some oversight.

On the other hand I can vouch for Andy being in the district over the weekend. Perhaps this is a classic conservative vs. libertarian matchup, although both men are well-accepted in the pro-life community.

This has been an endorsement I have had to think long and hard about; luckily it’s a case where I could easily work for the other gentleman if he will have me.

But I have decided that Andy Harris deserves another term in Congress. Saying that, though, it’s obvious people will be watching and if I were Mike Smigiel I wouldn’t dismiss trying again in 2018 because we could use his kind of voice in Congress as well. Think of the next two years as a probationary period for Harris.

So allow me to review my three endorsements for the major races.

For President, I urge you to vote for the remaining true conservative in the race, Ted Cruz. He has six people running for Delegate and Alternate Delegate who need your votes as well (although my friend Muir Boda is on the ballot, too.)

For U.S. Senate, I had a hard time deciding between Dave Wallace and Richard Douglas, but the backbone Richard Douglas has shown earned him my endorsement and vote.

And finally, retain Andy Harris as our Congressman.

Just don’t forget to vote Tuesday. It’s up to us to begin turning Maryland into a more conservative state – not just trying to teach the benefits of conservatism to an audience charitably described as skeptical but making sure we vote in the right manner as well.

Impressions on Maryland’s U.S. Senate GOP primary

Over the last couple weeks I have been trying to get a reading on who I would like to be my Senator from the great state of Maryland. (Spoiler alert: Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen ain’t going to cut it.) It’s been a process of trying to get questions answered, checking websites, and watching some of the debates in order to figure out who the best candidate for me would be.

There are 14 Republicans running for the Senate seat, a number which is unusually high. (In previous cycles, it was closer to 10 candidates.) Of course, with that many candidates in a statewide race it becomes apparent early on who has the most legitimate shot at winning. Granted, this has been helped somewhat by media perception, such as which hopefuls are invited to debates, but realistically only about half of those 14 candidates have any real shot – the rest are just ballot filler. In fact, when I asked the questions of candidates only 12 of the 14 had good e-mails, and two of those 12 have no website insofar as I can tell. (Another has a website with just a front page and no functionality). Sadly, the pair without websites are two of those who answered my questions – but the larger question is how you can beat someone who has $3.6 million in the bank like Chris Van Hollen does? You need money to get your message out.

By the time you separate the wheat from the chaff you get about a half-dozen somewhat serious candidates, with a couple on a lower tier that are running campaigns more suited to a Congressional level. Greg Holmes is one, with another being Anthony Seda, who has pointed out he’s not accepting contributions. Noble, but suicidal in the real world of politics. Let me repeat: you need money to get your message out.

So in my estimation, the race comes down to five: Richard Douglas, Joe Hooe, Chrys Kefalas, Kathy Szeliga, and Dave Wallace. In the last debate I watched there were only three participants as Hooe and Wallace were not invited. Another debate featured all but Wallace, while the Goucher College debate had Holmes, Hooe, and Wallace along with Douglas and Kefalas (Szeliga skipped this debate for a Maryland GOP event.)

So here is how I would categorize the contenders, in alphabetical order.

Richard Douglas is the only one of the five to have run a statewide campaign before, but I’m not seeing that pointed out as an advantage. He also has the benefit of experience working in the Senate, but in this topsy-turvy electoral year he’s forced to run more as an outsider because that’s the political mood. His campaign to me has been an intriguing concoction of a hawkish foreign policy combined with a populist economic outlook. He’s one of only two of the five who has answered my list of questions, and as one would expect I found his answers to be strongest on foreign policy, immigration, and to some extent the role of government. (I also know Richard has religious freedom bona fides.)

In 2012 when Richard ran for Senate and lost to Dan Bongino, I noted he would have been my 1A candidate after Bongino, who I endorsed. I would have been as comfortable with him winning as the eventual nominee, and at this point he’s done nothing to change that assessment given this field. Still, he speaks the language of an insider and that may hurt him.

Joe Hooe has made his key issue that of immigration, advocating for a paid guest worker program he claims will raise $80 billion. He claims it will make taxpayers out of illegal aliens, but my question is whether we could track such a program when we have no clue how many people are in the country illegally because they crossed the border and how many are illegal because they overstayed their visa. And if they refuse to pay to work, how will we enforce this new fee? If they are here illegally, then I doubt they’re suddenly going to have a “come to Jesus” moment and decide to follow a law that will cost them $1,000.

One thing I do like about Hooe is his advocacy for apprenticeship programs, but to me that is more of a state concern than a federal concern. Perhaps it’s the aspect of having to be elected by the people (which was not the original intent of the Founding Fathers) but I think all of these candidates conflate the roles of the federal and state governments to some degree. Education is one of many areas where there should be no government role.

Chrys Kefalas has a background that I think would serve him well, particularly since he’s involved with the manufacturing field. He does well on trade and job creation, but my question is whether he would be anything different than what we have now concerning the social issues leg of the Reaganesque three-legged conservative stool. Surely he (and some others) argue that Maryland has settled on its position regarding social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, but that doesn’t mean we should stop working toward Judeo-Christian values where life begins at conception and marriage is between one man and one woman. It’s not quite enough to keep me from voting for Chrys on a general election ballot but many thousands of voters realize a two-legged stool doesn’t work.

Maryland Republicans run into trouble when they try to out-liberal the Democrats on certain issues: if you’re a voter who’s going to vote based on the belief that the unborn is just a blob of tissue and no harm comes to society when anyone can marry anyone else they want – and why stop at one, right? – it’s not likely they’re going to be conservative everywhere else. Meanwhile, you just dispirit the percentage of GOP voters who have that passion for Judeo-Christian values. “I’m only voting for President,” they’ll say. It can be argued that Larry Hogan’s victory was an example of putting social issues on the back burner, but aside from Hogan getting the benefit of a depressed liberal Democrat turnout in 2014, ignoring social issues doesn’t play as well on a national race.

Kathy Szeliga is the “establishment” candidate trying desperately to portray herself as an everyday outsider. With the vast majority of Maryland’s General Assembly Republicans favoring her – mainly because she’s served as a Delegate for six years – she also has received the most attention and support in the race. Using my monoblogue Accountability Project as a guide, her lifetime score of 83 would put her in the upper third of those who have served with her over the years, although her score was more mediocre in 2015 (a 72 rating.) She’s also served as one of the faces of General Assembly Republicans - witness this video, one of a string she has done with fellow Delegate Susan Aumann:

Having said all that, there are two main things that disturb me about Szeliga’s campaign. For one, she has no “issues” page on her website, and I always subscribe to the theory that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. (The same is true for Kefalas.) However, she is reasonably good about answering questions and participating in debates.

But on that point you can tell she is a professional politician. Most of Kathy’s answers seem to be empty platitudes about her life and experiences being a mom, business owner, etc. rather than substantive discussions of the issue at hand. (On the other hand, Richard Douglas has a tendency to talk over the level of the average voter.) Not to be patronizing, but I suspect someone is telling Kathy women voters who would normally be afraid to vote Republican need to be addressed in a non-threatening way – never mind the Democrat who survives the primary will try and paint Szeliga (or any of the others, including the more socially moderate Kefalas) as a stereotypical Republican anyhow.

Dave Wallace, out of the five candidates, seems to be the most conservative. Having read a lengthy treatise of his, most of what he has to say makes sense on a policy level and for that reason I’m leaning his way at this point.

Yet having said that, we also know that Dave lost to a likely opponent by 22 points in a district which is, admittedly based on registration, a D+23 district as it currently stands. In that respect, though, it’s not as bad as the state at large (which is D+32.) We have seen this movie before: Dan Bongino lost by 30 in a 3-way race in 2012, Eric Wargotz by 26 in 2010, Michael Steele by 10 in 2006, E.J. Pipkin by 31 points in 2004, and so forth. I really don’t want a 30-point loss again; unfortunately, too many Maryland voters are stubborn like a mule in voting against their self-interest. (If they “got it,” the most conservative candidate would always win.)

Dave seems like a nice guy and a policy wonk, which I like. But the question is whether he can be a bulldog and attack the Democratic candidate for the failure of the last seven years.

This may not necessarily apply to Dave, although I’m using his space, but I don’t like talk about bipartisanship from any Republican hopeful because Democrats at a national level will nearly always take the hand you reach out to them with, twist your arm off, and proceed to beat you with it. Anyone remember “read my lips?” One of the reasons the bulk of Republicans are fed up with the political system is the lack of intestinal fortitude they see from the politicians they sent to Washington with the message “it’s always been done this way” is not cutting it anymore.

When the TEA Party wave in 2010 put the GOP back in charge of the House, the excuse was “we only control one half of one-third of the government.” Indeed, a do-nothing Senate was a problem. But when the do-nothing Senate was flipped to Republican control in 2014, we still heard excuses about why we couldn’t get anything done. If you want a reason for the rise of Donald Trump, you don’t need to look much further. (Never mind Trump’s not conservative and the bulk of his policy statements have the depth of a cookie sheet. He talks tough.)

If I were to rank my choices in this horserace at the moment, it would go Wallace and Douglas fairly close going into the final turn, with Kefalas a neck ahead of Szeliga for third on the outside and Hooe bringing up the rear. (The rest are chewing hay in the infield.) As it stands now, I will make my endorsement the second Sunday before the primary (April 17.)

In the coming days I will rank the three contenders for the First District Congressional seat. [Yes, there are four Republicans on the ballot but Jonathan Goff is such a strong Trump supporter that he is disqualified. (#NeverTrump strikes again.)] That race is a little different because the incumbent is a Republican so the question becomes whether we want a more straight-ahead conservative or someone who has the reputation of being more liberty-minded? I’ll do some research and hear from one of the three candidates in person in the coming days to help me decide.

Update: Want more? Here you go.

Missing in action?

February 24, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Each day now I receive an e-mail of news clips from Allison Meyers, who is with the Hogan for Governor campaign. I don’t read every one but I peruse a number of them and one of the items the other day was from Calvert County regarding four legislators out of 26 statewide who are being honored by the American Conservative Union at the upcoming CPAC event.

Needless to say, I had to check the list to see who was on it. Unfortunately, none of our local legislators made this list of 26 – they are among the 38 Republicans who did not make the cut of an 80 percent rating. (And you thought I was the only one who rated legislators based on voting record?)

Just to save you some of the agate type, here are the scores our local delegation received, in rank order:

  • Christopher Adams (R – House 37B) 78%
  • Charles Otto (R – House 38A) 78%
  • Johnny Mautz (R – House 37B) 72%
  • Carl Anderton (R – House 38B) 67%
  • Mary Beth Carozza (R – House 38C) 67%
  • Addie Eckardt (R – Senate 37) 50%
  • Jim Mathias (D – Senate 38) 43%
  • Sheree Sample-Hughes (D – House 37A) 33%

Eckardt was the lowest Republican in the entire General Assembly, while Mathias was tied as the top Democrat in the Senate for the second year in a row. [I also found 2014 ratings. Last year Mike McDermott would have received an Award for Conservative Excellence (90% or better) while Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio was due an Award for Conservative Achievement (80%-89%).]

In looking at the ACU list, many of the bills also found their way into the monoblogue Accountability Project; however, my list is a little more broad since I took 22 floor votes and include the budget. But if my memory is correct the ACU and I saw eye to eye on every bill they scored so I would have had a perfect 100. (The only one to do so.)

Normally when Republicans fall down my list it’s for one (or more) of three reasons:

  1. They vote for bloated spending bills. I haven’t liked a budget yet since I began the mAP, so voting in its favor always works against them. I’m leaning against this year’s budget only because I think 5% growth is excessive.
  2. Civil libertarian laws. Two key examples this past year were marijuana and civil forfeiture. I’m for stopping crime but if someone can brew their own beer they should also be able to grow their own marijuana. Regulate it like alcohol. Meanwhile, government greed is leading them to police for profit rather than safety.
  3. Environmental bills. They get too cozy with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other backers of Radical Green. Let the regulations in place have a chance to work before dreaming up new stuff.

So I was a little disappointed to see none of the local legislators make the list, although had they had two more bills to score Adams and Otto may have made the 80 percent threshold. But it is tough to score well in any such rating system so hopefully we will see better in the 2016 edition.

My first vote

Surely you follow my site and know that each year, once the General Assembly session is over, I compile the monoblogue Accountability Project. Last year I believe I mentioned that some of the bills that I tracked were vetoed by Larry Hogan but would likely be revisited by this year’s group – sure enough, the “travel tax” was passed for a second time despite the efforts of every Republican who stood behind his or her governor. Even Senator Addie Eckardt, who co-sponsored the original bill, voted to sustain the veto.

That was one of the two bills I used for last year’s mAP. The other bill, which allows felons to vote before completing their sentences (as parole and probation are part of the sentence) has not received a veto vote yet. According to the Maryland House Republican Caucus, the reason why is that Mike Miller is one vote short and waiting for an appointee to replace former Senator Karen Montgomery, who resigned effective January 1. Given the fact Democrats hold a 32-14 edge and will get the 33rd vote when Montgomery is replaced, it appears four Democrats are feeling the pressure to stand with the governor. (If I were to guess I would say three of those four are John Astle, Jim Brochin, and Jim Mathias. They tend to be the most willing to cross the aisle in the Senate and represent conservative districts.)

Assuming the Senate gets that vote – and it won’t happen if Miller can’t rustle up the votes – that will be 2 of my 25 votes. I’m debating whether to eliminate one committee vote and one floor vote or two floor votes to accommodate these veto votes – it may depend on what else shakes out.

The felon voting override was particularly galling because it made it by one vote, and the one member of the Eastern Shore delegation who voted to override should have known better. Perhaps a “soft on crime” label will come in handy in four years because Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes won’t have an incumbent to protect her next time. It was an office that should never have received the free ride she got in 2014.

Next week’s assignment will be to get testimony in favor of our elected school board bill. Those of us who do honest work for a living can’t drop everything and go to Annapolis, but I will make it a point to write up my own statement of support. The hope is that the bill emerges unmolested and we get to decide how we want our school board to be come November.

An aggressive beginning

Several months ago I told you about the “travel tax,” which has come up in the news again because Mike Miller believes he has the Senate votes to overturn Governor Hogan’s veto and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce is behind it. Indeed, there’s a post on what’s billed as Maryland’s premier conservative website regarding this but I was stymied in reading it by some scam invitation to get a free iPhone 6 – and probably all the malware I can unknowingly download. I’ll come back to that in due course; in the meantime I will fill you in on what is really happening.

My local Delegates are telling me they predict a bumper crop of legislation, and they may be correct – as of this afternoon, 180 bills had already been pre-filed, with 114 Senate bills complementing 66 in the House. (My, my, those Senators are busy beavers.) One bill I did not see among them was the Wicomico elected school board bill, which I would have liked to see pre-filed. Unfortunately, I think that time has passed.

Even with all that work stacking up it’s likely the first things the body will take up are overriding vetoes, with my interest coming from two bills I used for the 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project: SB340 (voting rights for felons) and SB190, the travel tax. Both passed with veto-proof margins in the Senate but neither had a comfortable enough House win – for an override the felon bill would need to pick up three votes and the travel tax one.

That one vote for the travel tax may come down to newly-minted Delegate Elizabeth Proctor, whose late husband James died in office earlier this year. James Proctor was the lone absent Delegate when the travel tax passed 84-56. Another new Delegate, Carlo Sanchez, replaced former Delegate Will Campos, who resigned after being a “yes” vote on both bills in question. As for felon voting, Proctor was absent while Delegates Michael Jackson and C.T. Wilson ducked the vote. In both cases, should opponents hold all their votes and pick up one the vetoes will stand. (Out of our local delegation it was the only Democrat delegate, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who predictably voted in favor of both.)

You’ll notice I basically ignored the Senate in both cases because all they need is the same vote they had the first time to override both vetoes – for the record, both our local Senators voted against felon voting but both favored the travel tax. So it wasn’t really news that Miller had his votes, nor was it groundbreaking to see the state Chamber of Commerce side with big business over entrepreneurs. It’s akin to the struggle between Uber and local taxi companies; oftentimes the Chamber backs the rent-seekers.

Now about that other website: it’s so funny because I used them as an example the other day. Apparently they have chosen to cast their lot with the clickbaiters of the world in the quest for advertising dollars. Self-promotion is one thing - and Lord knows all of us would like advertisers – but the ad was such that I literally could not close it, for a site which had all the red flags of being a virus-laden website. I have to question the integrity and wisdom of a site which uses those techniques.

Perhaps I’m not the biggest or best site around, nor is it lucrative for me in a monetary sense. But just remember – I’m not the one knocking you over the head with the annoying pop-up ads. All I have is a little tip jar and an Amazon affiliation, so if you get an Amazon gift card Friday hook yourself up through me.

More importantly, after the holidays it may be a good idea to ask your legislators where they stand on the travel tax (as well as felon voting.) Contrary to popular belief, it hasn’t been all fee and toll decreases since Hogan took office – if he were a purist he would have vetoed two other House bills which increased certain court fees. But encouraging entrepreneurship and making sure felons pay their entire debt to society before regaining their franchise should be no-brainers, shouldn’t they? There’s a reason a governor has a veto pen, so let him be the check and balance to an overreaching General Assembly.

39th annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text

Bereano’s Corner was in roughly the same location, but there was a lot of strangeness about this year’s event.

Our tent was in a new location. Some liked the idea of being along the marina, but the traffic walking by wasn’t as brisk as we had when we were in the middle, next to Bereano.

It did have a great space for signage that many took advantage of.

Being on the grass, we also had our share of bloodsucking biting flies. Speaking of bloodsuckers, the Democrats were less than thrilled with their location as well. Normally they have been the corner tent in this line.

But they did have the keg, not that I had anything from it. They also had an interesting table within.

While I am part of working America I’m not a member of this AFL-CIO affiliated organization, so it’s no surprise to find them in the Democrats’ tent. There were a handful of folks walking around with their red shirts on, but Big Labor didn’t have the presence here they did during the O’Malley years. Maybe they are laying low until next year.

There were quite a few businesses there, although it was a different mix than I recall from previous years.

Some enterprising youth took the occasion to be their own business people. Those in orange were “runners” and on their shirts it read they were working for tips.

Hopefully they made more money than those who annually charge $10 or $20 for parking in their yard. I don’t think business was as brisk for them because attendance seemed off from last year.

Government and public entities were well-represented, too. Interesting how the environmentalists are cozy with the economic development group.

I think the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore was next to the Democrats, but Salisbury University was really trying to make a splash.

While there were a lot of differences in this year’s rendition of Tawes, some things never change. Lobbyist Bruce Bereano always has the biggest tent.

Another constant is a ton of good food, particularly of the fried variety. This was my spread.

Not a salad in sight – in my dietary defense, I skipped breakfast. But it was all very good, aside from a little lack of fileting on one of the sandwiches. It was a trifle bony.

(No, I don’t like crabs – so don’t ask.)

This event also draws media like the food on the ground draws seagulls. Here’s Delegate Carl Anderton being interviewed by local television.

Both local Salisbury stations were there doing live shots and interviews.

And while the faces may change, the political aspect never does. You have the newcomers trying to make a good first impression, like U.S. Senate hopeful Chrys Kefalas and his millennial posse.

By the way, I had to look up that Kefalas is 35 because he appears a decade younger.

You have old hands looking for new positions, like Congressional candidate Mike Smigiel (in the center). He had a batch of “I Like Mike” buttons.

County Councilman Larry Dodd is on the right, and I apologize for not recalling the gentleman on the left’s name.

And then there were established officeholders like my 2015 monoblogue Accountability Project Legislator of the Year, State Senator Justin Ready. He’s talking to Jackie Wellfonder, who probably has some sort of social media record for photos with the most officeholders and general friends of hers.

I think I’ve already seen her picture with our Lieutenant Governor, Boyd Rutherford. He’s the distinguished-looking guy in the center.

One final difference was the weather. While it was relatively comfortable, with a gentle breeze, the clouds rolled in toward the end.

I left about 20 minutes before the scheduled 4:00 close, and by the time I got to my car about 1/2 mile away it was raining lightly. Before I got out of Crisfield it let loose and poured, so those who stayed to the bitter end either got under a tent or looked like drowned rats (or both.)

It was a fitting end to an event which was good, but perhaps a little off kilter. In fact, I was discussing the future of this gathering with someone who compared it to the Salisbury Festival – a venerable event that didn’t change and eventually withered away. Since the cost went up this year (to $45 a ticket) we’ll see how it affects the plans for next year.

As for me, I’d like the center location back.

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