Helpful aid to democracy, or invitation to fraud?

January 31, 2016 · Posted in Campaign 2016, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Helpful aid to democracy, or invitation to fraud? 

I was alerted to a bill that was pre-filed regarding automatic voter registration for Marylanders, only to find that there are actually three up for consideration this year.

SB11, introduced by Senator Roger Manno of Montgomery County, and SB19, introduced by Senator Victor Ramirez of Prince George’s County, were both requested for pre-filing over the summer. While neither has been withdrawn, it appears that the two have joined forces with SB350 and gained 18 other co-sponsors from the liberal Democratic wing of the Maryland Senate.

Currently someone who wishes to register to vote has a number of options: most can do so online, although there is the route of doing so at the state MVA. However, this is an opt-in system and apparently it’s not good enough for those backing this bill as they want it to become an “opt-out” system where would-be voters would have 21 days to notify the state board that they do not want to be registered. Obviously these Democrats are counting on people to ignore the notice and be added to the voter rolls.

Those who favor “good government” and honest elections have their concerns about “opt-out” registration, but even more troubling is a proposal in Montgomery County to allow non-citizens and 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections. As it was passed by the county’s delegation, this proposed amendment to the Maryland Constitution will soon be introduced as legislation. The Maryland Voter Alliance has urged concerned citizens to help defeat this measure, stating that:

MC 25-16 must not be allowed to pass, as it will continue to muddy the rolls and flood the already-plagued system with additional ineligible individuals, particularly non-citizens and underage voters, which both are violations of state and federal law.

Of course, the proponents will protest that it’s only for local school board elections, but this is the camel’s nose under the tent for expanding the practice. Just imagine the uproar if we in the city of Salisbury passed a voter ID bill for city elections – you can bet your bottom dollar it would be taken to court by someone like the ACLU and groups from all over the country would become involved in our local issue. (Not that such a common-sense bill would pass our City Council or be supported by our mayor.)

Voting is a right, and I would love it if 100% of the population took the time to become informed on the issues and candidates and took the elections seriously. (If they did, I contend there wouldn’t be anyone left of center elected in the country.) But millions who are registered choose not to participate, and millions more have their reasons for not registering. If we get universal registration, what’s to stop the party in power from allocating the ballots of some of these voters who may not even be aware they are registered, casting votes in their name because they – and only they – know what’s good for them?

Yet if that doesn’t arrest the long-term decline in overall participation – a percentage that would only get worse with universal registration – the next step will be compulsory voting, with legal penalties for not participating. In other words, welcome to North Korea. I wonder who would win then? It sure wouldn’t be the supporters of limited government.

I suspect that these two pieces of legislation will be approved by the General Assembly, and it will be incumbent upon Governor Hogan to veto them. We have heard the discussion about this year being the session that lays the groundwork for the Democrats’ strategy to get “their” governor’s seat back in 2018, and one of these tactics was to make Hogan veto bills that Democrats can demagogue with certain voters. This would be one of them; however, he should still veto these bills.

Resettlement concerns on Delmarva

After the 11/13 Paris massacre and San Bernardino Islamic terror attack, the concerns about the resettlement of Syrian refugees were understandable. After a few days to think about it, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan opted to cooperate as little as possible with the federal government’s attempts to bring in thousands of refugees, who are primarily male and of fighting age. Even so, the request by Hogan is non-binding and Montgomery County, home to about 1/6 of Maryland’s population, has put out its own welcome mat in the shadow of the nation’s capital.

Perhaps more worrisome for Delmarva residents concerned about the proximity of these barely-vetted Muslims in search of a peaceful locale to wage jihad (oops, did I say that?) is that Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has joined most of his Democratic counterparts in saying this army of refugees would be welcome. Sussex County is a possible destination, which leaves some in the First State unsettled.

On Thursday a coalition of groups will come together in front of Legislative Hall in Dover for a press briefing to express their opposition to Delaware’s putting out the welcome mat so quickly.

A Concerned Coalition of Delaware residents, representing thousands of concerned citizens is holding a press briefing in Dover at noon on Thursday, December 17, 2015. Alliance leaders will meet in front of Legislative Hall. The leadership of various groups will present their collective “Open Letter to Governor Markell” regarding his stated plans to resettle some undetermined number of Syrian refugees in the state of Delaware.

These groups are united in opposition to the Governor’s plan and will present their views to the media and the public. The alliance represents the concerns of their memberships totaling in excess of 10,000 Delaware families and individuals. All are welcome who wish to join in support of these shared concerns. Spokespersons will be in attendance from the various allied groups and will be available for comments.

The alliance is a coalition of the 9-12 Delaware Patriots, Faith and Freedom Coalition Delaware, the NAACP – Central Delaware, the Frederick Douglass Foundation – Sussex County, IOTC Delaware, Reverend Shaun Greener, (and) other individual citizen supporters.

This came to me from my friends at the 9-12 Delaware Patriots.

Obviously the concern is that a percentage of these refugees aren’t coming here to escape the pandemonium of Syria’s civil war but to assist in spreading the jihad of the Islamic State, which has its unofficial “capital” in the eastern Syrian city of Raqaa. With the continuing revelations of how the San Bernardino killers were able to plan their attack and the more recent news about mass cell phone purchases and propane tank thefts in rural Missouri, people are understandably on edge.

While Maryland may get refugees whether Governor Hogan likes it or not, the chances are they will settle in the Baltimore or Washington areas. Similarly, Delaware refugees would likely migrate to the Wilmington area but the rural character of southern Delaware and the Eastern Shore may have more appeal as training or staging grounds for mischief. We may be making something out of nothing, but a neighbor noticed the San Bernardino couple were getting a lot of packages and opted not to call authorities for fear of “profiling.”

People in this coalition may be profiling these prospective refugees, but the track record suggests its for good reason.

Pessimistic part of the state

I said the other day that I wanted to look more deeply at a poll done by the Washington Post last week, and my focus is on how the outstate areas that overwhelmingly supported Governor Larry Hogan compare with the rest of the state on these issues.

For example, the right direction/wrong track polling showed statewide respondents had a 48-40 opinion that the state was on the right path, but those who answered from outstate were the most pessimistic by a 36-55 margin. It was eight points down from any other group.

Yet those who voted for him from the hinterlands were still not sold on Hogan’s efforts. Their 43-24 approval of Hogan’s performance was almost identical to the 42-24 statewide numbers. On the other hand, they were slightly more confident in his ability to turn things around, believing he would by a 61-30 margin compared to the statewide average of 58-33.

Tellingly, the number of outstate repliers who believed the state should be governed more conservatively was several notches above the average, with 44% agreeing we need a more conservative direction as opposed to 36% overall. Only 22% favored more liberalism among outstaters compared to 28% as a whole.

And when the polling turned to the performance of General Assembly Democrats, the 49-43 favorable margin among all voters melted down to a 36-58 disapproval outside the I-95 corridor. The strong disapproval of 35% from those polled outstate was by far the highest. Outstate voters also differed from the norm as they believed the hot issue the General Assembly needs to work on was the state economy (21%) followed closely by public education and taxes at 20% each. Overall, Maryland picked public education at 26%, with taxes at 18% and the state economy at 16%.

We on the geographic fringes also didn’t fondly recall Martin O’Malley, giving him a 37-57 approval-disapproval number compared to 49-43 for the state at large.

There was also a tendency to see particular issues in a more conservative way, which is to be expected from the regions of the state which aren’t urban or suburban. In general, the Post lays out its geographic regions to specifically cover Prince George’s, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, and Howard counties, along with Baltimore City and its suburbs. The rest of us are lumped into the “rest of state” category, which covers a wide swath of the state from border to border in both directions.

One thing the Post did not poll on was the Phosphorous Management Tool, the enactment of which Hogan delayed within hours of taking office last month. Naturally, counties where this was sold as another tactic to clean up Chesapeake Bay would likely be against this change, which the rest of the state (particularly the Eastern Shore) may be solidly behind Hogan’s action.

If you ever wanted real proof that there is more than one Maryland, this poll is a pretty good indicator of the differences.

A quick score for the good guys

January 21, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A quick score for the good guys 

Facing a 4 p.m. deadline today, in the first few hours after Larry Hogan was sworn in as Maryland’s 62nd governor he found a few minutes to inform the Maryland Register that the proposed Phosphorus Management Tool regulations should be pulled from Friday’s edition. However, Phil Davis of the Daily Times notes there is some question about the legality of Hogan’s move, with the lack of precedent cited as a concern. I would rate the chances of a legal challenge from one or more of the state’s environmental groups as good, although Timothy Wheeler of the B’More Green blog noted yesterday:

According to an opinion issued last month by then-Attorney General Douglas Gansler, the rules can be withdrawn or simply held up by preventing them from being published in the register, which is printed and posted online every two weeks.

Naturally that doesn’t mean new Attorney General Brian Frosh wouldn’t side with environmentalists, but it sounds like Hogan has the legal leg to stand on.

So the attention now will turn to the General Assembly, where it’s expected legislation with the same goal will be introduced in the next few days. Because of the way regulatory language is written for the Maryland Register, it’s relatively easy to translate to bill form. And as the Eastern Shore delegation only makes up 9 House seats and 3 Senate seats, their objections mean little when suburban Montgomery County has 24 Delegate and 8 Senate seats by itself. (Out of 124 Democrats in the General Assembly, that county makes up over one-fourth.) Few, if any, of those General Assembly members have been on a working farm – for the most part, their impression of the Eastern Shore seems to be that of knowing where all the speed traps are on the way to the beach.

But just taking the delegations from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City – areas which range mostly from urban to suburban, with little in the way of agriculture – gives that side a bloc of 63 House members and 22 Senators, meaning that prospective PMT legislation has a very good chance of passing. Add in the fact that the relevant committee chairs and vice-chairs mainly represent the three areas in question, with the fourth from a similarly suburban section of Baltimore County, and the skids are probably being greased right now. The Democrats aren’t going to let Larry Hogan get away with an opening victory that easily; it’s in that spirit of bipartisanship that they’ll demand these rules be enacted, you know.

Since word came down on this Hogan action late in the day, the environmentalists didn’t get a chance to formally react but some took to Twitter.

I look at it as withdrawing overly punitive rules when we haven’t even figured out yet whether the last set had an impact. When the entity that grades the Bay also solicits donations based on its assessment, we’re not exactly dealing with an honest broker.

So Larry Hogan’s initial major action as governor was a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a moratorium on these environmental regulations so we can evaluate the effectiveness of what we already have and see if dealing with the sediment that periodically leaches out of the pond behind the Conowingo Dam will make a difference.

The big engine that needs to

January 6, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The big engine that needs to 

It was somewhat lost during the holiday week, but Larry Hogan made the case to the Baltimore Sun that the city of Baltimore needs to take its place once again as Maryland’s economic driver, rather than “declining.

I know that many, many people around here consider the city of Baltimore an economic sinkhole that sucks up an outsized proportion of our state’s tax money, and to some extent that is true. But once upon a time – just a generation or two ago – the city of Baltimore was thriving while the capital region of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were still sleepy, relatively rural backwaters. Baltimore City was the state’s largest jurisdiction until the late 1980s, but now that distinction belongs to Montgomery County while Baltimore City is fourth. Combined, the capital region of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties is now nearly 30% larger than the combined Baltimore city and county.

Yet what made Baltimore grow was that people made things there, shipped them around the country and world from its railroad hub and its port, and settled in the region as middle-class workers who could raise families without necessarily securing a college education. In other words, it was a blue-collar city much like Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, or other Rust Belt towns. On the other hand, the fuel to the capital region’s growth is an ever-expanding federal government and some of its associated suppliers and contractors. While Baltimore took a lot of things and added value to them in some way, too much of the work done by denizens of the capital region amounts to pushing paper, metaphorically digging holes here to fill them up there.

I doubt that we will ever get to a point where thousands of Baltimore citizens are “makin’ Thunderbirds” as the old Bob Seger song goes – or even the GM minivans they cranked out there for over two decades at the former Baltimore Assembly plant. But with the right conditions, marketing, and incentives (but not subsidies) I think it is possible to put a lot of that region’s workforce back into positions where they add value, using the relatively inexpensive energy produced in the region to aid the process. I was also pleased to see that Larry Hogan was looking to revisit the weak charter school laws which saddle Maryland’s educational system, but there needs to be an emphasis placed on vocational and technical education to create the type of workforce needed to make things efficiently in the way a liberal arts major just can’t. These reforms can go hand-in-hand.

I’ve already suggested that we jumpstart business in Maryland by doing away with the corporate income tax, which only provides for a small piece of the budget and could help create an environment where the returns from other taxes and economic activity from those who find work in the state could easily justify the “investment” in our businesses. But why not try another experiment?

As a general rule, unemployment is higher than the state average in Baltimore City, the Eastern Shore, and the western counties of Maryland. All of these areas could use an economic shot in the arm, but the influence of Big Labor is felt most in Baltimore City. I think it would be a good idea to write a bill creating “right-to-work zones” in these three areas of the state that have higher unemployment than the state average, with the law being written in such a way that it sunsets in ten years – unless it works so well that it could be expanded to the rest of the state and made permanent, as I’m confident it would. Think of it as at least a small temporary incentive for employers to create jobs in these areas, based on the success right-to-work states have in attracting industry.

All of Maryland should be putting out the impression that we are open for business, but it’s only natural that with its existing transportation infrastructure and available industrial land, Baltimore can lead the effort. Too much of our state’s money falls into the category of wealth transfer as opposed to wealth creation. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and in order to create a more economically viable Maryland I agree: we need to get Baltimore’s economic engine back on track.

Team players

I’ve heard a lot of talk about nominees who are RINOs and sitting out the election because so-and-so won the primary and they don’t want to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” and it always amazes me because this doesn’t happen on the other side. Here’s a case in point from a fawning AP story by Steve LeBlanc about Senator (and potential Presidential candidate) Elizabeth Warren.

Now, Warren is continuing her fundraising efforts, with a planned Monday event with West Virginia Democratic Senate hopeful Natalie Tennant. Tennant, West Virginia’s secretary of state, is vying with U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito for the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Capito is favored and holds a hefty cash advantage.

Capito’s campaign has also been quick to target Warren, calling her “one of the staunchest opponents of coal and West Virginia’s way of life.”

Warren has conceded that she and Tennant — who, like (Kentucky Democrat Senate nominee Alison Lundergan) Grimes, has criticized Obama’s plans to limit carbon emissions from the coal industry — don’t agree on everything, but can come together on economic issues facing struggling families.

So it’s obvious that the Democrats have their own 80/20 rule, but unlike some on our side they don’t take their ball and go home based on the non-conformance of the 20.

We had our primary, and at the top of the ticket there were 57% who voted for someone else besides our nominee – many of those live here on the Eastern Shore, where David Craig received 49.6% of the vote and carried seven of the nine counties. There can be a case made that Craig’s running mate, Eastern Shore native and resident Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, was a huge factor in his success here, but the fact remains that this area I live in was one of the two areas Hogan was weakest (the other being southern Maryland, where Charles Lollar resides.) These are votes Hogan will need, and surely many will migrate his way because he’s the Republican nominee.

On the other hand, Anthony Brown got a majority of the Democratic vote and carried all but a few counties. Those three on the Eastern Shore, plus Carroll County, aren’t places Brown would expect to win in November anyway – except perhaps Kent County, which was the lone county Heather Mizeur won and which only backed Mitt Romney by a scant 28 votes in 2012.

The path to victory for any statewide Republican candidate is simple, because Bob Ehrlich did this in 2002 – roll up huge margins in the rural areas and hold your own in the I-95 corridor. Ehrlich won several rural counties with over 70% of the vote in 2002, and got 24%, 38%, and 23% in Baltimore City, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County, respectively. When that formula didn’t happen in 2006, he lost.

Granted, demographic changes and other factors may not allow Larry Hogan to pick up 65% of the vote in Anne Arundel County, 61% in Baltimore County, or 56% in Charles County, but it’s possible he does slightly better in Prince George’s and may hold some of those other areas. Turnout is key, and we know the media will do its utmost to paint Anthony Brown as anything other than an incompetent administrator and uninspiring candidate – as the natural successor to Martin O’Malley, who has done a wonderful job further transforming this state into a liberal’s Utopian dream at the expense of working Maryland families, one would have expected Brown to have picked up at least 60% of the Democratic primary vote.

Yet you can bet your bottom dollar that even the most diehard Mizeur and Gansler supporters may hold their nose but will still push that spot on the screen next to Anthony Brown’s name. They may have several points of contention with Brown on key issues, but the other side will push those aside to maintain power.

Perhaps Natalie Tennant over in West Virginia had misgivings for a moment about inviting Elizabeth Warren for a fundraiser, but she realized that there is a segment of her would-be supporters who would gladly contribute more to her campaign to meet Senator Warren, despite the fact they are on opposite sides of a particular issue. To Warren, the end goal of holding that seat in her party’s hands and maintaining a Democrat-controlled Senate was more important than conformity with the one place where Tennant may go against leftist orthodoxy.

If we’re to upset the apple cart here in Maryland, we have to deal with the obvious flaws in Larry Hogan’s philosophy and platform at the most opportune time – when he takes office.

The great debate

Last night (because by the time I finish this it will be Sunday) the four Republican gubernatorial candidates got together at Salisbury University to discuss their vision for the state, an event which was televised locally and will be made available statewide at a future time.

With only one hour to discuss issues, a 2-minute time limit on answers, and questions written by the local Chamber of Commerce – the event was moderated by their executive director, Ernie Colburn – the questions were somewhat predictable given the bread and butter of these campaigns deals with their perception of the state’s sluggish economy. The time constraints only allowed for five questions after a two-minute opening statement and prior to a 70-second close. The five questions had to do with the tax increases and structural deficit, creating a business-friendly tax code, addressing the challenges in attracting jobs, a seat at the table for the Eastern Shore, and restoring highway user funds. I would have liked one more directly addressing agriculture, but we didn’t get the opportunity to write the questions.

One other weakness with the format of the debate is that the candidates were placed in alphabetical order, which is fine, but initial responses were not properly rotated. Charles Lollar either answered questions first or last, as did David Craig, while Ron George and Larry Hogan had the benefit of hearing at least one answer. In this narrative, I will discuss the candidates in order of their opening statement, which happens to be alphabetical order beginning with the Harford County Executive.

First of all, David Craig perhaps had the best-organized presence there, which included running mate Jeannie Haddaway. Some of Craig’s blue-clad staff were there, but many others had Craig lapel stickers advocating his support of concealed carry. They all sat in one section of the audience, a section which I sat immediately behind. They also had an event close by the University beforehand, so David made a day of it.

In his opening statement, Craig made sure to mention his running mate and her ties to SU, from which she graduated. “Jeannie and I are very much alike,” said Craig, referring to their respective families’ long history in Maryland. “I want the twelfth generation (of Craigs) to still live in Maryland,” said David.

He stressed his experience in balancing nine budgets when addressing the structural deficit, pointing out that he had reduced taxes and cut spending during his tenure. Craig would not kick pension or health care benefits down the road as he implied the current administration has done, instead proposing more “paygo” projects funded from existing revenues rather than bonding, specifically noting casino proceeds as one source. (It bears noting that it would take a legislative act to do so, as casino proceed percentages are set by the General Assembly and the plurality of nearly 50 percent is supposed to go to education. So this could be construed by others as “cutting education.”)

In adopting a more business-friendly tax code, David pointed out we shouldn’t be taking the dollars in the first place. He proposed slashing the business tax rate from 8.25% to 4% in stages, but also explained that many businesses such as S-corps use a personal tax form to report their business income. He also wanted to address the sales tax, gasoline tax, and tolls.

Craig also remarked that Harford County had gained 8,000 jobs at a time the state was losing them, but his focus wouldn’t be so much on bringing jobs in as it would be keeping them here. “Just 25 percent of businesses are hiring” right now, said Dave, and he would address this by getting a more proactive Department of Economic Development and expanding broadband capabilities. We would not be Silicon Valley, said Craig, but we could be “Silicon Bay.”

In terms of giving the Eastern Shore a seat at the table, Craig played up his decision to secure Jeannie Haddaway as his running mate. “The Craig-Haddaway ticket is going to have someone (from the Shore) who will always be on the second floor, not just at the table.” He continued by saying Haddaway gave up a safe seat in the House of Delegates to try and benefit her region.

Craig also vowed no money to the Red Line or Purple Line and promised that counties will get their highway user funds back in the first year of a Craig administration.

He closed by taking a subtle jab at opponent Larry Hogan, saying that we didn’t need to change Maryland, “just change what’s on the second floor.” Between him and Jeannie Haddaway, they were 14-0 in beating Democrats, he concluded.

Overall, I thought Craig gave a solid, steady performance. He rightfully played up the presence of Haddaway on the ticket, although I suppose if you were watching from other parts of the state it could be seen as pandering to some extent. Yet of all the running mates, she’s probably the most qualified to succeed David if the unthinkable should happen.

Ron George was blunt in his opening statement: “This is about the economy…the other side has not solved one problem.” The facts were ominous, as he told us about 73,000 unemployed Marylanders and a manufacturing sector “still stuck in the recession.” He was a working man, with a career and business he interrupted to serve his fellow citizens.

Ron would address the structural deficit by combating waste through independent audits and putting together a Spending Affordability Commission that doesn’t paint such a rosy outlook – they predicted 4.5% GDP growth in FY14 and 6% next year. “These rosy forecasts have got to stop,” said Ron. He would also address the state’s bond situation, where debt service costs the state over $1 billion a year.

But he was realistic enough to realize “I can’t go in there as a king,” meaning he can’t just change government overnight. But what we could change, he would – “I’m guaranteeing you the things I’m saying,” said George. Yet he made an excellent point about the challenges to attracting jobs by asking why we look down on the tradesman, instead emphasizing the four-year degree? There’s no focus on that sort of education, Ron added. Being a guy who has an interest in “made in America,” this was one of the two highlights of Ron’s night insofar as I was concerned, with the other coming in the next question.

After Ron talked about the Eastern Shore being “in my blood,” he addressed such items as more state money for tourism (with a proposed slogan – “the Maryland Eastern Shore: life as it should be” – bringing back the canning business, protecting farms, expanding broadband, and reducing sales tax on this side of the Bay. But the best idea went back over 50 years, to a time when each Eastern Shore county had its own State Senator. “I think we need to have a Constitutional Congress in this state and go back to something that makes it fair for the Eastern Shore and the rural areas,” said Ron. And while I said 48 Senators (two from each county) I still think it’s an outstanding idea.

Ron used the highway user fund question a little differently, making the case that he would be “a governor for all of Maryland” and that helping Baltimore City would assist the rest of the state. But he would repeal the automatic increases in the gasoline tax and instead of a “reactive” transportation plan his would be proactive.

He concluded by promising to be a “hard worker” as governor and to treat all fairly, while also mentioning a little about running mate Shelley Aloi, who was also at the event.

Something I’ve observed about Ron, though, is that he comes across as ill at ease in a public speaking situation. He also rattled off a lot of numbers in his presentation, and perhaps sealed his image as a policy wonk because he’s also the only candidate who wears glasses. I noticed him looking down reading a lot, instead of looking at the camera. He also had very little presence at the event, which led to his only getting a smattering of applause after questions rather than a rousing ovation. I have no doubt he would be a hard-working governor – and as a policy wonk type myself I loved a few of his ideas and goals – but he’s going to have to overcome a lot to get there.

I was surprised that Larry Hogan didn’t have a larger presence there as well. In his opening he alluded to three recent visits to Salisbury University before settling into the familiar bromides of not desiring to be something, but to do something and being fed up with politics as usual. He also brought back the oft-repeated refrain of the state being on the wrong track and the emphasis on jobs, the middle class, and restoring the economy.

Of course, in the first question Larry brought up the $9.5 billion in new taxes, but pointed out that he worked for an administration which finished with a cash surplus that’s now once again a structural deficit eight years later. He would cut spending first, then roll back taxes where he could. Recently, Hogan added, he put out a plan to address $1.75 billion just by enacting existing recommendations.

Another familiar Hogan theme was that of our state being 41st of 50 in business-friendliness. Our corporate tax rate was “not competitive,” personal taxes were too high, and regulations too stringent. He would eliminate the hostile attitude and vowed “Maryland will be open for business again.”

After another regular reprisal of those things we’ve lost in terms of businesses, Larry made the case that there’s been “no discernible response” from Annapolis. He asked how an administration could be pro-jobs yet anti-business?

As far as the Eastern Shore goes, Hogan called the current administration “openly hostile” to the Shore, adding that he spoke to Jim Perdue, who told Larry he “feels like they are attacking our business.”

“There’s been a war on rural Maryland,” Hogan added.

Larry then made a statement some have already jumped on, saying “I agree with David; I think Jeannie (Haddaway) is terrific. I actually appointed Jeannie to the legislature and if I’m lucky enough to be governor then I’d think she’d make a terrific ombudsman and maybe liaison for the Eastern Shore.” He then added that the Shore is “not the only place neglected.”

In that respect, Larry is probably correct because each area of the state has needs not being addressed, But as a whole our part of the state is the poorest and tends to have higher unemployment. It could easily be argued we’re already in a recession.

He then promised to restore the highway user fund cuts that were “devastating” to local governments, perhaps by chopping away at the 53% of transport dollars spent on mass transit.

Hogan warned in his close that this was the “last chance to turn this state around,” this being “a fight for Maryland’s future.”

As a whole, Hogan’s performance came across to me as “meh.” The problem is that I’ve heard it all before, and this particular debate format and questioning lent itself to Hogan’s perceived strengths. Yet he never hit anything out of the park.

Although he appeared a little tired and troubled, Charles Lollar spoke with the most passion, generally motioning with his arms as he spoke. (Since I couldn’t watch the feed, I don’t know if this was seen at home.) Once he made the case that the state is going in the wrong direction, he mentioned that even the Democratic strongholds of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City believe “the course is wrong.” He claimed his economic plan had the approval of Dr. Arthur Laffer and his health care plan won favor from Dr. Ben Carson, but vowed to “aggressively look for non-partisan solutions.”

So when Lollar stated that spending had jumped 36% over the last eight years (including $2.3 billion this year), he announced his intention for a taxpayers’ bill of rights (or TABOR) law to hold spending in check and to phase out the income tax in five years. “How would you love to wake up in five years, in 2019 in Maryland, and not have a personal income tax that you have to pay?” he asked.

He repeated the Laffer endorsement in his next answer, as well as the TABOR reference, but added that our legislature and governor doesn’t understand business. “We have a governor who hasn’t had a job in 28 years,” Lollar quipped. But he also dropped a bombshell on the group by proposing term limits. “It’s time for us to get rid of the career politicians,” he opined. Me? I love the idea, but it also has to come with the discipline of keeping the non-elected regulatory state in check.

Lollar pledged his running mate, Ken Timmerman, would address the challenge of attracting jobs by using his investigative skills to focus on waste and the 84 new taxes and fees. He also made the case that the biggest challenge to business is simply staying in business.

Charles wanted to “make the Eastern Shore a priority,” noting that we don’t get a good return on our tax dollars and would rather just be left alone by regulators. They’re “tired of being picked on,” said Lollar. He also brought up the Hudson lawsuit.

As for the highway user funds, Charles promised to stop the Red and Purple Lines, which were enacted under “reckless leadership.” He also wanted an “enforceable lockbox” over the funding.

Lollar got the last word in the debate, saying the job calls for real leadership. So he urged voters to “think this thing through” and that he had “found nonpartisan solutions…and already has ‘Democrats for Lollar’ organizations in Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Baltimore City.”

I’m sure Charles may have gained himself some converts around the state with his performance, which was surprisingly strong. Unlike Ron George or even Larry Hogan, Charles seems to thrive in a debate format such as this because he is a passionate speaker. He did fall into the Hogan trap of repeating some points several times, but overall it was a strong, compelling performance.

However, there were a few issues with Lollar’s day today. I happened to be sitting amid a few Lollar backers and they were disappointed by the lack of local support at his earlier gathering. Others I spoke to earlier today bemoaned his campaign’s lack of direction. But he’s the only one who has brought concepts like a TABOR and term limits into the conversation – these are broad-based conservative points of view, as is lowering the income tax to extinction.

So as for who “won” the debate, I would say it’s Lollar and Craig who did best, with George and Hogan lagging behind. But now I’m a little closer to determining who I will endorse and it will probably be made public in one week.

Grasping at straws

Over the weekend Montgomery County Republicans held their annual convention and as part of the proceedings they held a straw poll of 2014 gubernatorial candidates. It fell to the winner to deliver the results.

Charles Lollar was declared the decisive winner of a straw poll taken of Montgomery County Republican activists and Central Committee members at the annual Republican county convention held (Saturday) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Lollar won with 40% of the vote, followed by Ron George (24%), Larry Hogan (23%), and David Craig (13%). Hogan was the only gubernatorial candidate not in attendance.

(snip)

“Every time our critics count the Lollar campaign out, our supporters count us in. These results demonstrate the solid grassroots support we have, not only in Montgomery County, but all across the state.”

“The people who voted in the MCGOP convention straw poll have sent a clear message across Maryland: when given a choice, they want Charles Lollar to be the next governor of this state. I am extremely grateful for their confidence and support and look forward to continuing to surprise those who underestimate us.”

Granted, we went through a 2012 campaign where one of the contenders won straw poll after straw poll but generally failed to crack double-digits when actual voters spoke. Nor is there any escaping the fact Lollar started the year with less than $6,000 in the bank – an amount Anthony Brown probably gets in his sleep from a special interest donor. Even the idea of eliminating a revenue source worth $8.5 billion to the state raised eyebrows at “Maryland’s premier blog of conservative and Republican politics,” where they cited a disbelieving Washington Post.

But, out of all the states. at least Maryland’s governor has the whip hand in making this happen because he writes the budget. It’s also worth pointing out the lack of specifics; for example, if the tax is phased out over four years the state need only cut $2-3 billion in spending annually and increased economic activity would make up some of the difference. As I note below, there’s not a whole lot of specifics yet on what any of the candidates will do when they assess the state’s financial situation.

Yet there’s a guy out there who has made the runup to his campaign all about the number of tax increases enacted by the current governor. So where was he Saturday? Wait, we have that answer:

Hogan was the only gubernatorial candidate not in attendance.

Interesting – wasn’t there a lot of scuttlebutt a few months ago about another candidate missing a number of key events? Are those crickets I’m hearing now?

I can understand skipping the January 16 Republican debate (to which Hogan was invited) because he wasn’t officially a candidate, but Larry also passed on the Second Amendment rally in Annapolis (as did Lollar, but Charles spoke to the 2013 rendition.) It just seems to me a strange pattern of behavior for a guy trying to establish a GOP campaign. Yet Hogan’s biggest supporters even mocked Lollar’s straw poll victory as a highlight of a “thoroughly hapless” campaign. It is what it is: obviously they’re not charter members of the Charles Lollar fan club.

Now I’m not here to question Larry’s sincerity, but I would feel a little better if GOP voters could base our decision on more specifics on priorities than just the easy promise to repeal the rain tax and to take public financing. (In Hogan’s radio interview with Jackie Wellfonder last week his decision to accept public financing was the prime topic of discussion, which I found disappointing.) Maybe Larry won’t be into the social issues, but I still would love to know how he stands on the Second Amendment, budgetary priorities, dealing with illegal aliens, educational choice, and so forth. All of his cohorts have answered at least some of the tough questions, so I can’t give Larry a pass just because he has a social media network of 77,000 people.

Originally I was going to do an update to my dossiers around the first of February, but I think it’s prudent to hold off until after the filing deadline just to make sure Lollar and Ron George are still in the race, and hopefully to get a little more information out of Larry Hogan.

And now for something completely different: Today I’m filing for re-election to the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, so last night (if you didn’t notice) I put my authority line back in place. I’ll be on the June 24 ballot.

An aggressive approach

Say what you will about the Maryland Liberty PAC, but it appears they will maintain an aggressive approach to the upcoming General Assembly session. They and an affiliated group called the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance are already sounding the alarm against prefiled legislation.

This is in response to a minimum wage bill prefiled by Delegate Keith Haynes of Baltimore City, which would more than double the state’s current $6.15 minimum wage (which is superseded by a higher federal law) to $12.50 per hour. Efforts to raise the minimum wage are nothing new, though – this bill from 2013 didn’t even get a committee vote.

My guess is this bill meets the same fate; however, there is a move in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to create a regional minimum wage with the District of Columbia. This isn’t a surprise given the far-left orientation of the local governments there. This may also be a way of staking a position so far out of the mainstream that a bill like last year’s, which increased the minimum wage in several steps, looks like a common-sense compromise. In either case, though, the effect on small Maryland businesses would be devastating.

But while the Maryland Liberty PAC wants HB72 killed, their affiliated Maryland Pro-Life Alliance group is looking once again to get the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (PCUCPA) to receive a committee vote.

The “Mac” in question is State Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton, who the Pro-Life Alliance claims “completely stonewalled” the bill last year. They note that:

Right now, your Maryland Pro-Life Alliance is running ads to pressure Senator Middleton in his district.

He alone holds the key to allowing for an up or down vote on SB-34 in the Senate Finance Committee.

Of course, not only is this a call for pro-life voters in his district and beyond to contact Middleton, but an appeal for money to run ads in his State Senate district. At this point, no Republican has filed to oppose Middleton.

The bill, SB34, was prefiled this year by Senator Ed Reilly. At this point, no companion House bill has been introduced. If and when one is introduced, it will be interesting to see whether Delegate Ron George signs on as a co-sponsor as he’s running for governor. I guarantee if he doesn’t, the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance will be on his case despite an impressive pro-life resume and support.

It’s an aggressive approach, and one which doesn’t have fans everywhere in the Maryland Republican Party. But it’s said that in war the aggressor sets the rules, and we need to change the playbook.

Example across the fence

August 28, 2013 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2014, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Example across the fence 

With all the controversy over the battle to succeed former State Senator E.J. Pipkin and take over the District 36 State Senate seat, it’s been forgotten that Democrats have a similar controversy on their side of the aisle as well in District 15.

Of course, there are some obvious differences. Because soon-to-be-former State Senator Rob Garagiola announced his resignation well in advance (almost 90 days, in fact) there’s been plenty of time for various candidates to be vetted. As well, District 15 lies entirely within Montgomery County – it comprises much of the western half of the county – meaning only one central committee is involved.

Yet don’t believe politics wasn’t at play there, and it was covered well by the Maryland Juice blog (by my left-leaning counterpart and perhaps House of Delegates hopeful David Moon.) In particular, those who represented minority communities saw this as a way to achieve something they couldn’t at the ballot box. Bilal Ayyub had submitted his name for consideration on that community’s behalf, and noted in his withdrawal letter:

The members of the Committee have been heavily lobbied from the time Senator Rob Garagiola announced his intention to step down from his seat before the end of his term. The above activism as well as my own communications forced me to acknowledge that commitments were made prior to concluding the official vetting process.

Ayyub goes on to complain:

The leaders of underrepresented communities in Montgomery County are painfully aware that never in the history of Montgomery County has even one of the county’s eight state senate seats been held by a senator representing an underrepresented community. This historic inequity was highlighted by the 2010 census, which confirmed what many had suspected for a long time: most residents of the county are racial minorities. However, relative to their numbers, underrepresented communities have remained marginalized in Montgomery County’s political life.

This was a chance to “level the playing field,” continued Ayyub.

Instead, it appears that Montgomery County Democrats will elevate Delegate Brian Feldman to the Senate seat; this after he received endorsements from some of the real powers in that county party (as evidenced by the same Maryland Juice post): Delegate Kumar Barve, who serves as Majority Leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, County Executive Ike Leggett, and – most importantly – SEIU Local 500. He also got backing from his fellow District 15 delegates Aruna Miller and Kathleen Dumais, so you would think it’s fairly cut and dried. In fact, aside from the coverage of Moon and a couple brief Washington Post pieces, you might not know the little bit of conflict on this vacancy existed because the process has been long and dissent kept private.

So the question is why the Republicans’ process has been so controversial? Perhaps because we didn’t grease the skids for one person behind closed doors?

And while I don’t know the racial composition of all of the fourteen aspirants to the District 36 seat – I presume all are white, with one woman in Audrey Scott – it’s worth pointing out that no one has made a stink about that locally. Moreover, while Montgomery County is majority-minority according to the census, I don’t believe District 15 falls in that category. So why the presumed entitlement and reparation?

In short: don’t believe the Democrats aren’t having their own catfights about their process. It’s just that the media doesn’t pay as much attention to their infighting and the process isn’t nearly as transparent as ours.

WCRC meeting – July 2013

For the first of two consecutive months (at least), a gubernatorial candidate graced our Wicomico County Republican Club’s presence – and he brought his running mate along. It meant the attendance was much better than usual, as over 40 crammed into a Salisbury Chamber of Commerce meeting room to hear both David Craig and running mate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio.

So after a brief opening to recite the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance and introduce a number of distinguished visitors from near and far, David and Jeannie were introduced by campaign manager Paul Ellington. We sort of pressed him into that service, but Paul remarked that this election reminded him of two others he was intimately involved in: 1994 and 2002. He also made the point that “when you get to be governor, it’s nice to have a friendly legislature.”

That idea would return in Craig’s remarks, but he first noted that Maryland “has done good things” for ten generations of his family, dating from the late 17th century. Unfortunately, the state governmental monopoly seems to be all about maintaining itself and not about what David called the “forgotten Marylanders” from rural and suburban areas. For them, the last General Assembly session was “one of the most challenging.”

And while Craig was out to “give people a choice in 2014,” he told those assembled that he wouldn’t refuse $4,000 checks, but he would rather each person out there bring 40 voters apiece. Republican turnout in 2002 when Bob Ehrlich won, said Craig, was great – 68% – but speaking as a teacher, “that would have been a failing grade.”

After telling the group this was his 21st election – because Havre de Grace had balloting every two years – he introduced running mate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, who as David mentioned was the first Eastern Shore resident on a major statewide ticket in two decades. Of course, she really needed no introduction to us as many of those present were represented by her in the General Assembly.

Jeannie talked about cutting her political teeth as a political science major at Salisbury University and being involved in student government there, also bringing up the fact later that she strives to preach political involvement to area youth groups such as Girls State, which is annually held at SU.

Haddaway-Riccio also spoke about working in the House of Delegates, “fighting until we barely had an ounce of energy left” against some of the bills presented by the present governor and Democratic leadership. The implementation of that “leftist agenda” has led to “degradation,” Jeannie added.

Once both had spoken and David added a quip about needing a couple good Senators – looking at Delegate Mike McDermott, who was in attendance and has been gerrymandered into sharing a single-member House district with another delegate – Craig opened up the floor to questions.

Topmost on the mind of those attending was the idea of an open GOP primary, as the idea has reemerged as a discussion topic over the last few days. Craig was noncommittal on the concept, stating he would be satisfied with letting the state party make its decision this fall. There are “a lot of frustrated Democrats” who may welcome the idea, though, added David.

Craig was then asked what functions he would assign to Haddaway-Riccio. While he chided Democrats for “picking for an election.” David said of Jeannie, “she should be at the table all of the time,” meaning ready to take the reins if needed. He praised Haddaway-Riccio for her practical experience, common sense, and knowledge of rural Maryland.

Asked about business, Craig intended to hold quarterly business roundtables. Because it affected local businesses in advance of consumers, we knew about the recession back in 2008, said Craig, and Harford County made budgetary decisions in a proactive fashion based on that knowledge.

When queried about social issues, particularly being pro-life, Craig related that he didn’t push the issue with his children, but was pleased that they turned out as pro-life as they did. David also pointed out that he voted in a pro-life fashion during his time in the General Assembly. But he would rather have 5 million Marylanders decide than 188 in the General Assembly. Jeannie echoed the overall stance, adding for her part she was “conservative, Christian, pro-life.”

Similarly, when asked about the Second Amendment, David took the conservative line of being “a strong supporter of all amendments.” In fact, he added that the American Revolution wasn’t fought over taxation but the move by the British to disarm the colonists. David also joked that there should be a regulation: red doors for all gun owners and blue ones for those who don’t – “so they know who to rob.”

An interesting question was how he would deal with the federal government. Craig would lean on the Republican Governor’s Association which, as he noted, had grown from 13 states when he was first elected in 1979 to 30 now. But then he asked, “why don’t we have 60 Senators?”

On the other hand, when it comes to local government David vowed to be mindful of county interests. When asked “where will you stick PlanMaryland?” Craig answered back with, “where do you want me to stick it?”

“We created local government for a reason,” continued David, revealing there were now more planning and zoning mandates on his county now than there are public safety ones. That same philosophy guided David on education, where he made the case “money should follow the child” and that teachers should be allowed to teach to something other than a test. David cautioned against expecting sweeping changes right away, though, noting the state Board of Education is appointed in five-year terms.

Lastly, a concern on the mind of one observer was how David would run in traditional Democratic strongholds like Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. “It’s all about reaching out to the people,” said David. He also noted that he’d beaten four Democratic incumbents over the years, but over time a couple became among his strongest supporters because “I didn’t get petty” and advised would-be candidates to “be the person you are.”

After Craig finally finished speaking, we returned to our normal order of business, with one exception: we sang “Happy Birthday” to the man we call “Mr. Republican” locally: Blan Harcum turned 90 years young.  In turn, the June meeting minutes were read and approved, treasurer’s report was given, and WCRC president Jackie Wellfonder reminded us of upcoming municipal elections in Annapolis and Frederick which could use our help if interested and the August 1 joint meeting with the Republican Women of Wicomico on Agenda 21, featuring Grant Helvey.

In his Central Committee report, our David – county Chair Dave Parker – stated that “Tawes was fun” but we had business to attend to now: the question of opening the primary would come down to Central Committee members so those interested should express such to these local representatives. “Give us grief” if you don’t like our position, said Parker; however he added, “I remain to be convinced” on the merits.

After decrying the “truly disgusting” media treatment of the Trayvon Martin case, Dave shifted gears and cajoled those attending that we are still looking for candidates for next year. Some incumbents have alerted us to their intentions, but others have not.

Finally, we heard from a number of those attending on various pieces of business: Joe Ollinger reminded us that Crab Feast tickets are now on sale (in fact, I have some to sell if you want one) for the September 7 event.

County Councilman Joe Holloway rose to counter a report made by a local media outlet about fee increases for local restaurants, stating they were included in the County Executive’s budget (see “Health Department” on pages 20- 21 here.) County Council approved them as part of the overall budget. (Seems like $150 shouldn’t make or break a local eatery, though.)

Finally, Delegate Mike McDermott declared that Craig/Haddaway-Riccio was “a great ticket” and hinted at his own announcement in August. “We’ll take that Senate seat from Jim Mathias,” McDermott promised.

Speaking of local eateries, it should also be mentioned that the pre-meeting happy hour – this time at Evo – was our most successful, with several tables of Republicans enjoying the camaraderie. Our next happy hour may or may not be there, but we already have the second in what could become a monthly series of gubernatorial hopefuls joining us during our regular meeting as Charles Lollar drops by on August 26.

Rumor has it…

Certain quarters of the Maryland blogosphere are reporting that one prospective participant in the governor’s race is going off in another direction. A website called The Red White Blue as well as Jeff Quinton at RedState have both made the assertion that something I heard when speaking with a representative of another politician was true – Dan Bongino will be announcing his intention to reclaim the Sixth Congressional District seat for the GOP. Shades of Alex Mooney!

This is particularly interesting to me when you consider that just last week Bongino put out a release purportedly critical of Martin O’Malley:

Sadly, the plague of bureaucratic, government corruption is not limited to the IRS and DOJ. It appears that the O’Malley administration is attempting to rival the Obama administration in bureaucratic ineptitude with its newest scandal. The lavish, inappropriate spending of federal “stimulus” funds by Baltimore City school staff on fancy dinners and expensive watches is another sad example of the very real penalty of an increasingly unaccountable and growing government. The growth of both federal and local bureaucracy has created a ‘soft tyranny’ of diffuse responsibility. When government grows large enough to diffuse responsibility among many than the responsibility for managing it effectively belongs to no one.

But that O’Malley criticism was absent in a statement Dan made yesterday on Facebook. Instead, it leaned more in a direction critical of Washington:

The recent spate of scandals is indicative of a trend line moving painfully in the direction of a “Members-Only” government.

In over a decade within the ranks of the Secret Service, and many years in the White House, I was unfortunate enough to have been a witness to this system, which has become strictly insider-driven.

Those who are appropriately “connected” live by a completely different set of rules & government means something completely different to them. The tax code, healthcare policy, election law, environmental regulation and many other areas have been corrupted and are being used as tools to both punish and reward.

There are solutions out there but you must push your Representatives. A simplified tax code, patient-centered healthcare reform, a reduction in the burgeoning administrative state and the rolling back of many administrative functions to the states would reverse this destructive trend and help restore us to vibrant growth and give our children hope that this is not the best it is ever going to be.

Interesting choice of words: “you must push your Representatives.”

Yet the obvious question I first had when I heard this assertion was: Bongino lives nowhere near the Sixth District. There’s nothing stopping Dan from moving to that area prior to the 2014 election, though, nor does the law preclude a “carpetbagger” from representing a district because Congressmen need only live within the state they represent. Perhaps it’s still the second-best Maryland option for a Republican despite Roscoe Bartlett’s 20-point loss last year. (Andy Harris isn’t going anywhere.)

But if you look at election results, the numbers indicate an uphill battle for Bongino: he ran seven points behind Bartlett’s pace in Montgomery County – albeit these are countywide numbers for Dan and his was a three-way race.

On the other hand, Bongino carried Frederick County over Ben Cardin (although not necessarily the Sixth District portion, which Bartlett lost by 20 points.) Bongino was 400 votes behind Bartlett in Washington County, just over 1,000 votes behind in Allegany, and a little over 200 behind in Garrett. In the latter three counties, though, Rob Sobhani drew 19 percent, 13 percent, and 4 percent respectively. These counties also lie completely within the Sixth District, permitting a more direct comparison.

So I’m sure Dan Bongino has the same information I do, and probably more since he has the time and staff to delve into precinct-by-precinct results. The obvious question is whether he can make up twenty points.

One thing Democrat John Delaney has now that he didn’t have in 2012, though: a voting record. But John will have plenty of money, and perhaps the one advantage Bongino would have over would-be challengers like Delegate LeRoy Myers – who decided earlier this month not to seek another term as Delegate – is the success he had nationalizing his Senate campaign.

Of course, all this speculation could be for naught, just as the phony Bongino/Keyes ticket was last month. This is doubly true considering the source, who would likely benefit from Bongino skipping the governor’s race. But if anything it proves that Dan Bongino has some mojo as a prospective candidate for something, whether he stays home or becomes a proverbial carpetbagger.

Maybe Andy Harris should watch his back.

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