The state of the ballot

March 24, 2018 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Personal stuff, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The state of the ballot 

Is it just me or is the 2018 primary season just not that exciting?

The reasons it could be just me are both an accident of geography and the fact that something is missing. Since we moved again last year, I’ve returned to County Council District 5. If you are a voter there of either principal party, you have very little to choose from on a district level: we have one Republican running for County Council (incumbent Joe Holloway, seeking a fourth term) and one person for school board (incumbent John Palmer, who we Republicans appointed a few years back. Bear in mind school board is non-partisan.) The poor Democrats in my district don’t even have a candidate.

In fact, unless you live in County Council District 1 and are a Democrat, there’s no need for a primary to whittle the field for County Council. Both parties found the requisite two candidates for the at-large seats, and all district incumbents who chose to run (John Hall of District 4 did not) except Ernie Davis in District 1 are unopposed for their spots. The Democrat primary in District 1 decides the seat, since no Republicans ran there.

That District 1 race will be interesting as it features three familiar names. Marvin Ames ran for the seat last time around and was third in a three-person field. More than likely that will be his fate yet again as he takes on the incumbent Davis and the former Salisbury City Council member Shanie Shields, whose district there overlaps to a great extent with the County Council District 1 boundaries.

Council Districts 1 and 4 have the best school board races as well, as there are three contenders for that position. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if there’s a primary runoff for the position to whittle three candidates down to two or if it’s left to voters in November. I think the latter course of action is more prudent, particularly since more unaffiliated voters would be involved in a non-partisan race. There are four vying for the two at-large spots, which would reflect the County Council at-large race – so it’s likely that’s how a primary would proceed. Having an elected school board is a new process, so there’s no experience to back it up.

I mentioned earlier that something’s missing: well, that would be me. The ballot looks strange without my name on it for the first time in twelve years. But they found – for the third cycle in a row – thirteen Republicans to run for nine spots on their Central Committee, and the Democrats (who are showing their segregationist roots) feature the same number but split among five women and eight men for four spots apiece. (If you are keeping score, Republicans have four women in their thirteen-candidate field, the most in recent history. When I was first elected in 2006, we had none.)

I can’t speak for the Democrats, but the GOP Central Committee is assured of some significant turnover. Only four of the nine elected four years ago are seeking another term, as is appointed incumbent Nate Sansom – a.k.a. the guy who I recommended for the job when I left. If just one of them loses the WCRCC will be a majority of “new” people, although most have been involved with the party for several years beforehand. It also means I’ll cast multiple votes for the position for the first time – nothing against my peers, but in a race such as that you better believe I bullet-voted just for myself. This time I may cast a half-dozen or more as a sort of referendum on job performance.

Now I haven’t even discussed some of the bigger, statewide races. That boring primary in my County Council district extends to those who happen to reside in the state District 38B end of it, where Carl Anderton will be elected by acclamation. Those Democrats still have nothing to do in the adjacent District 38C (which overlaps into that Council district) because none ran there – my Republican fellows, on the other hand, have a great four-person race to attend to. On the other side of the county, District 37B Republican voters have a four-person race they get to whittle down to two, and Democrats in District 37A pit the incumbent Sheree Sample-Hughes against fellow Democrat Charles Cephas. (There’s also a Republican in the race for the first time in eight years.) Meanwhile, on a State Senate level, the fields are already set.

For all their bluster, Republicans who were upset with Larry Hogan as governor couldn’t put their money where their mouth was and find a primary opponent (like Brian Murphy in 2010 against Bob Ehrlich.) At least there are GOP candidates for the other two statewide slots, so neither Peter Franchot nor Brian Frosh get a free pass.

As for Democrats in the governor’s race, having a governor who governs from the center means they are positioning themselves just as far-Bernie Sanders-left as they can go. I don’t think there’s a conservative atom in their collective bodies, although to be fair I don’t know all of their positions. If they have any conservative ideas, they hide them well.

It’s also interesting how many Democrats signed up for the “I’m the insurance policy in case Ben Cardin crumples over from a coronary” part of the ballot. (Based on name recognition, the winner in that case could be Chelsea Manning, the artist formerly known as Bradley.) There are eleven Republicans in that race as well although none of them have thrilled me yet to put my support behind them like a Jim Rutledge, Dan Bongino, or Richard Douglas did. And considering none of these eleven had a current FEC account, voting for one may be an exercise in futility – in their defense, though, the FEC only reports quarterly so this doesn’t yet reflect 2018 results.

So pardon me if I have to suppress a collective yawn for this election, particularly given the tendency for both parties to govern in a manner that’s reminiscent of two teenagers fighting over who’s going to go out and wreck Dad’s car. They may not know the result at the time, but that’s what’s going to happen if they win.

The deal with ‘misinformation’

Over the last week or so we’ve been treated to some of the most furious backpedaling we’ve ever seen. I don’t know if it’s the same elsewhere in the state, but the Eastern Shore delegation has been taking an earful from constituents about a bill with the innocuous title “Public Safety – Extreme Risk Prevention Orders.” But that’s not the bill’s original title: as first introduced it was “Seizure of Lethal Weapons – Lethal Violence Protective Order.” Unfortunately, the bill still deals with seizure and arguably does little to promote the safety of the public.

Arguing there “has been some misinformation” about this bill, three members of our local delegation (Chris Adams, Carl Anderton, and Mary Beth Carozza) issued a joint statement vowing that if certain defects aren’t fixed, they won’t back the bill when it comes back from the Senate. Of course, that makes the assumption that the majority in the Senate won’t just pass this unmolested and dare Governor Hogan to veto a bill many in his party detest. (Hint: he won’t. It may not be graced with his signature, but he won’t veto it.)

We’ll come back to Hogan in a moment, but in the last few days since the vote we have heard many excuses from the GOP, most of whom voted for the bill. It doesn’t take the cake of Delegate Barrie Ciliberti co-sponsoring the bill then changing his vote to be against it (unless that change is made for some arcane parliamentary maneuver) but much of the blame has come from being “misinformed” or being “led to believe” Second Amendment groups were behind this. There is an argument to be made that there is so much information being thrown at these elected officials (with this year’s docket exceeding 3,000 bills to be considered over a 90-day period) that mistakes can be made, but then one has to ask: what else are they missing? “You know, the bill sounds good, and it IS public safety…”

It should be noted, though, that the Judiciary Committee in the House did a complete bait-and-switch on this one, perhaps seizing on the hot-button topic of the Parkland shooting. HB1302 was completely gutted and replaced by the Judiciary Committee that the original sponsor (Democrat Geraldine Valentino-Smith) doesn’t sit on. That event happened between the initial introduction and the House hearing, but the bill was marked up in committee on March 12. It passed by a 12-4 vote, and notably several Republicans did not vote on the bill in committee: Delegates Susan McComas, Neil Parrott, and Deb Rey were excused, and Delegate Trent Kittleman abstained. The other four (Joe Cluster, Paul Corderman, Glen Glass, and Michael Malone) voted against it; however, Cluster and Glass were absent from the third reading vote and Malone voted in favor of the bill. Of those on the Judiciary Committee, only Corderman and Parrott voted no.

It’s patently obvious to me that the House Republicans were trying to appeal to the so-called popular opinion that everything gun-related is bad. They read the tea leaves and newspapers and everywhere you turn you’re being assaulted with anti-Second Amendment propaganda. Yet out of our local District 37 and 38 delegation, the only Republican with a really difficult race is Mary Beth Carozza and that’s because she’s opted to try and advance to the Senate. (Valid question: will this vote tip the scale to another NRA endorsement for Democrat Jim Mathias? Ask the liberals in District 38 how they like his receipt of NRA money.) The other Republicans either voted no on HB1302 (Charles Otto) or have stiffer opposition in the primary than they do for the general election – Adams and Mautz have two primary opponents but only one Democrat is in the race.)

Yet this brings up another point about the top of the ticket. Last night I did a bit of research and remembered the 2014 election – you know, that one Larry Hogan shocked the state and won? Well, a significant part of the reason was carrying the suburban counties like Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, and Frederick with over 60% of the vote (collectively, since he was 59% in Baltimore County) and blowing out Anthony Brown in the rural areas with anywhere from 65 to 82 percent of the vote. That made up for soft numbers in the D.C. region and Baltimore City.

The problem Larry Hogan has this time around is twofold, and has a little bit of irony to it: for a Republican to succeed nationally in the cause of limiting government he has to put a chill in Maryland’s economy. Thanks in no small part to the Trump administration, Larry Hogan will be lucky to get 35% in Montgomery County – compared to 36.7% last time. That may not seem like a lot, but out of 300,000 votes losing a 2% share is 6,000 votes.

You can argue, that’s fine, he won by 65,000 the first time. But what if his reversal on the fracking ban costs him 10% of his vote in Western Maryland? The three westernmost counties combined for about 70,000 votes last time and were a significant portion of his victory margin. That could be another 7,000 votes. Taking a similar share from an Eastern Shore upset at his Second Amendment stance and early cave on phosphorous regulations could be another 10,000 votes lost. Without touching the suburban counties, we’ve eroded 1/3 of his victory margin and the rest may come from Democrats who decide to stay loyal and vote for their candidate. (Fortunately for Hogan, the Democratic field seems to all be trying to leapfrog left of each other so turnout may not be as great as the Democrats think they will get. The biggest break Hogan has received in this cycle was not having to contend with either John Delaney or Peter Franchot, either of whom would probably have easily won the nomination against this field.)

Simply put, there are a lot of people who held their nose and voted for Larry Hogan the first time in the hopes he would govern as a conservative. Well, they were surely disappointed and the fear is that they just stay home this time around: why bother voting when you have the same results regardless of which party is in charge, they say. Perhaps it’s an information silo I reside in, but I often see people claiming they won’t vote for Hogan this time (meaning they’ll likely stay home or skip the race) but I never hear of a Democrat who voted for Brown being convinced the Republican is doing the job and will get his or her support. Most Democrats I hear from already voted for Hogan last time.

So this gun bill has really exposed some fissures in the state GOP, and the party brass has to hope their electoral hopes don’t fall through the cracks.

41st annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text

July 19, 2017 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2018, Culture and Politics, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on 41st annual Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in pictures and text 

For some reason the vibe seemed a little different to me this time around – maybe it’s because this is the first one I’ve attended as an erstwhile political participant. But at 10:00 I rolled into town and got my ticket (this was a first, too – more on that in a bit) so I started looking around while I was there. Immediately I found there was still one constant.

Bruce Bereano probably brings half the people down there, and I’m not kidding. If you consider that the political people are a significant draw to this festival, and his massive tent is annually chock-full of Annapolis movers and shakers, one has to wonder just what would be left if he ever pulled up stakes. Would they have a crowd like this?

But the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce (as event sponsor) has its own ideas on VIP treatment.

For an additional $15 fee on top of the ticket price, you could get access to this tent with its amenities. It was an answer to some of the corporate tents that were doing this anyway. Many of those were still doing their thing.

Most of the people were already in line at 11:30 waiting on lunch. While the ticket says 12, if you wait until then you’re waiting for food.

But let’s face it: the media doesn’t really come here to see food lines, although that’s where I found this crew from Channel 47, WMDT-TV.

No, the real draw for this edition was the potential 2018 candidates. Until the last couple cycles, odd-numbered years were somewhat sleepy because the campaigns weren’t really underway yet, while the even-numbered years saw Tawes fall on a date less than two months before the primary. That’s now flipped on its head because the primary was moved up to June, so this is the last Tawes before the 2018 primary. So several contenders were out scouring for votes – none, I would say, moreso than this guy.

State Senator Jim Mathias (standing, in the gray shirt) has a huge target on his back that’s far larger than the logo on the front. He is the one Democrat Senator on the Eastern Shore, and the GOP sees his seat as a prime candidate for taking over next year as they need to flip five Senate seats to assure themselves the numbers to sustain Larry Hogan’s vetoes.

To that end, Mathias was the one candidate who had his own supporter tent. To me, that was interesting because most of the local Democrats that I know spent their time milling around the Mathias tent (wearing their own gray shirts) and didn’t hang out at the “regular” Democrat party tent.

Just a couple spots over from Mathias was the Somerset GOP tent.

Now you’ll notice I said Somerset. For whatever reason, Wicomico’s Republicans chose not to participate this year and there were few of my former cohorts to be found. Since that’s how I used to get my tickets, I had to make alternate arrangements this time. That’s not to say there weren’t Wicomico County Republicans there such as County Executive Bob Culver, Judge Matt Maciarello, Salisbury City Councilman Muir Boda, and many others – just not the Central Committee.

Closer to their usual back corner spot were the Democrats.

Their focus seemed to be more on the larger races, as even their state chair Kathleen Matthews was there. Here she’s speaking with Crisfield mayor Kim Lawson.

(Lawson has a smart-aleck sense of humor I can appreciate. When a photographer introduced herself as being from the Sun, he thanked her for making it a little cooler here than back home. I got it right away, she looked befuddled.)

The small posse you may have noticed in the original photo of the Democrats’ tent belonged to gubernatorial candidate Alec Ross, who eventually caught up to them at the tent.

I asked Ross what he would do differently than the current governor, and he said he would focus more on education. One thing I agreed with him on was something he called a Democratic “failure” – focusing too much on preparing kids for college when some aren’t college material and would be better suited for vocational training. But he limits himself in the palette of school improvement and choice to public and charter schools, whereas I believe money should follow the child regardless. Ross also has this pie-in-the-sky scheme about government credit to working moms for child care which I may not quite be grasping, but one assumes that all moms want to work. I think some may feel they have to work but would rather be stay-at-home moms.

The thing that stuck out at me was his saying that when two people disagree, at least one of them is thinking. You be the judge of who ponders more.

But the Democrats’ field for the top spot is getting so crowded that I got about five steps from talking to Ross and saw State Senator Richard Madaleno, another candidate.

Having done the monoblogue Accountability Project for a decade now, I pretty much know where Madaleno stands on issues – but I was handed a palm card anyway. Indeed, he’s running as a “progressive.”

And then there’s this guy. I didn’t realize he was talking to the state chair Matthews at the time, but I wonder if she was begging him to get in the governor’s race or stay out of it. I suspect state Comptroller Peter Franchot is probably happy where he is.

Franchot is probably happy because he works so well with this guy, the undisputed star of the show.

This turned out to be a pretty cool photo because I was standing in just the right spot to see his car swoop around the corner, come to a halt, and watch the trooper open the door for Governor Hogan to emerge.

If you follow me on social media you already saw this one.

Say what you will, and Lord knows I don’t agree with him on everything: but Governor Larry Hogan was treated like a rock star at this gathering, to a point where he could barely make it 50 yards in a half-hour.

This would have been of no use.

I said my quick hello to Larry moments before WBOC grabbed him for an interview, and that’s fine with me.

Here are two ladies who were probably glad he was there, too.

In her usual pink was State Senator Addie Eckardt, while Delegate Mary Beth Carozza was in her campaign blue. And since Carozza told me she treasures my observations, here are a couple.

First of all, it’s obvious that Jim Mathias is running scared because why else would he spend the big money on a tent and dozens of shirts for the volunteers that showed up (plus others who may have asked)? Not that he doesn’t have a lot of money – the special interests across the bridge make sure of that – but Mathias has to realize there is some disconnect between his rhetoric and his voting record. And he’s not prepping for a major challenge from Ed Tinus.

A second observation is that most of the Mathias signs I saw driving down there were flanked by signs for Sheree Sample-Hughes, and you don’t do that for a Delegate seat you were unopposed for the first time you ran. Something tells me Sheree has a higher goal in mind, but it may not one worth pursuing unless the circumstances were right.

One thing I found out from the Democrat chair Matthews is that at least two people are in the running against Andy Harris and were there. I didn’t get to speak with Michael Pullen, but I did get to chat for a bit with Allison Galbraith.

So when I asked her what she would do differently than Andy Harris, the basic response was what wouldn’t she do differently? We talked a little bit about defense, entitlements, and health care. Now she is against government waste (as am I) but I think my idea of waste is somewhat different. She also claimed to have saved some sum of money based on her previous work, but I reminded her she would be one of 435 and there seems to be a “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” mentality in Congress. (I should have asked her who she would pattern herself after as a Congresswoman.)

But in the end, I was hot, sweaty, sunburned, and dog tired. I will say, though, that despite the rancor that seems to be pervasive in our world these days when it comes to politics most of the people in Crisfield got along just fine. I think I was very bipartisan in speaking since I talked to many GOP friends and met some of these Democrat candidates I didn’t know so I had an idea who they were. And who knows? I haven’t checked yet, but I may be on the Sun‘s website – that same photographer Lawson joked with took my photo later while I was asking Ross questions and got my info.

By the time we do this next year, we will know who’s running for office and the campaigning will be more serious. So will the eating for the 50% that don’t care about politics and never wander by Bereano’s massive setup. As long as the Tawes event can cater to both they should be okay.

A race for 2018?

March 8, 2016 · Posted in Campaign 2016 - President, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on A race for 2018? 

Bloggers love it when they can tie multiple points together in one cohesive post, and here I have the opportunity to do so thanks to a press release from Delegate David Vogt, who is moonlighting as a candidate for Congress from the Sixth Congressional District. Here’s what Vogt had to say about likely opponent John Delaney and his insistence that Larry Hogan should denounce GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump:

John Delaney should just go ahead and declare his candidacy for Governor so he can stop pretending to represent the 6th District.  Congressman Delaney would rather support an avowed socialist or a career criminal over an accomplished businessman who is tackling the issues that matter.

The Congressman’s time in office has been spent as a rubber-stamp for the failed Obama/Pelosi liberal agenda, and it is no surprise that he is calling on one popular, successful Republican to denounce another.

The people of the 6th District need a Congressman, not a political pundit, and Delaney’s incompetent handling of the Iran nuclear deal, the Syrian refugee crisis, and Obamacare shows that he isn’t qualified to be either.

It’s intriguing to me that Vogt feels that way because I have those same suspicions about Delaney’s plans for 2018. In a lot of respects, Delaney is the Democratic mirror image of Hogan with a business background and, aside from the two terms in Congress, a similar political record. (Had Hogan had a specially-gerrymandered district created for him, perhaps he would have gone in another direction after winning his 1992 Congressional campaign. It was a trajectory his old boss, Bob Ehrlich, employed in 2002.)

Obviously Democrats are trying to throw the kitchen sink at Hogan legislatively but try as they might Hogan’s approval numbers continue to rise, reaching a stratospheric 70 percent in the most recent Maryland Poll released today. (H/T: Maryland Reporter.) Yes, that is 7 out of 10. I have no doubt they may chip away at the approval rating as a strategy but Maryland Democrats also have to find a candidate willing to take on a popular Republican governor running for re-election. Will anyone have the same ambitious streak as Martin O’Malley?

There’s one thing missing from the Maryland Poll that would serve as a counterpoint to Hogan’s numbers, and that is an approval rating for the General Assembly. We know Congress is unpopular (although the “throw the bastards out” mentality stops with their own representative) but no one polls regarding our body politic either during or after the “90 days of terror.” With the number of veto overrides and the blockage of some of Hogan’s legislation, it would be intriguing to see how popular the Maryland legislature is.

But returning to 2018: the Democrats have a relatively short bench of willing candidates with name recognition, and it’s unclear just how well Delaney is known outside the Capital region. The only other statewide candidate being mentioned is Peter Franchot, and right now he has a rather sweet gig as Comptroller – maybe not quite to the extent of Louis Goldstein, but if he wants another term or two it’s doubtful Maryland voters would object. At the age of 70 by the time the 2018 election comes around, Franchot would be the oldest governor to win election in at least a century. (AG Brian Frosh is reputedly not interested in being Governor.)

As for Hogan and Trump, that’s a matchup which seems like oil and water. While I’m sure Hogan respects the business acumen of Trump, the bombast The Donald brings is a polarizing feature among both parties that Hogan is likely to avoid. Hogan was indebted to Chris Christie for campaigning on his behalf, but if I were to pick a remaining hopeful Hogan would back he probably lines up best with fellow Governor John Kasich. But Hogan may just steer clear of an endorsement until mid-April, seeing who is still in the race.

The start of something good?

November 16, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on The start of something good? 

Tonight the City of Salisbury embarked on a new chapter in its government as its City Council changed hands. Ironically, the person running the meeting at the beginning would shortly become the city’s mayor – Jake Day wielded the gavel for the last time, departing slightly from the agenda to ask for a moment of silence for the people of Paris.

But the first to make comments was outgoing mayor Jim Ireton, who credited the “unsung heroes” who voted for him twice as mayor but “await(s) the incredible things we’ll do together” during the next four years. Ireton also noted later that changing just one person on council can make a profound difference in the body.

Jack Heath, who won election to a full term, noted he “came to know the power of the city and the goodness of its workers.” The man he defeated, Tim Spies, said the last 4 1/2 years were “good for me” and believed the city had a terrific future, with high expectations. He encouraged more people to make a Monday night of getting to Council meetings, adding afterward it was half-price burger night at the Irish Penny to cap off the evening. Public service for him was “fulfilling” with no end to opportunities, Spies said later.

Outgoing Mayor Ireton noted on Spies, “We would be well to have 33,000 Tim Spieses in the city.”

The other Council member leaving, Shanie Shields, vowed “I’m not going anywhere.” Not only would she be there for her successors, she planned on using her newfound time to make County Council meetings. In speaking of Shields, Ireton noted that the Salisbury he grew up in was a “place of 1,000 moms” and Shields was one of them. Shields, he added, reminded him never to forget our best work is ahead of us.

Noting the overflow crowd in the garage of Station 16, Laura Mitchell also hoped they would stay involved. “I would love to see more of this.” Day wrapped up that portion of the evening to noting Council had “exceeded my expectations.”

Ireton and Day, with help from Delegates Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, and Sherrie Sample-Hughes, and Senator Jim Mathias, presented certificates to Shields and Spies. Anderton also revealed to the audience that Governor Larry Hogan had come through his cancer treatment successfully and was deemed cancer-free, which brought rousing applause from the gathering.

Once those who were leaving were honored, it was time to turn the page and swear in the new members. The Council went first, then Jake Day, with his wife and daughter by his side.

Our featured speaker was Comptroller Peter Franchot, who let us know “I’m a huge fan of Jake Day.”

In his relatively brief remarks, he praised Salisbury as “a city on the rise” with “fresh talent (and) new energy.” We were crucial to the state’s economic fabric, concluded Franchot.

The Council did have a little work to do, though: electing officers. In what turned out to be uncontested votes by acclamation, Jim Ireton nominated Jack Heath to be Council president and Muir Boda nominated Laura Mitchell to its vice-president.

Once again, we heard remarks from the new Mayor and Council. Day made a laundry list of promises, concluding with a vow “we will give you a Salisbury we can be proud of.”

It was noted that Muir Boda had won after multiple tries for office, to which he responded, “I’m finally here.” Even though it was a long process for Boda, he was nowhere near as emotional as April Jackson, who choked up when she said, “I wish my dad could be here.” A well-known community leader, Billy Gene Jackson died earlier this year. Once she regained her composure, she told the crowd, “I’m ready to go. Not to go home, but to get to work!”

As the new Council President, Jack Heath said mutual respect and inclusion was “his pledge.” Once he spoke, he rapped the gavel and declared the meeting to be adjourned.

Because it comes on board at this point in the year, the Council will get to ease into its duties a little bit – the city’s budget isn’t due for a few months. But we will have crime and economic development to deal with, and that’s a pretty full plate as well.

I think they’ll do just fine. To wrap up, here’s a guy I’m proud to call friend, Muir Boda, and his wife Briggit.

It took six years, but I’m pleased my support finally helped make him a winner. My advice to him? Get used to having your picture taken.

To borrow a phrase from Delegate Carl,Anderton, let’s get to work!

The state budget shell game

March 20, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The state budget shell game 

By Cathy Keim

Governor Hogan was elected because voters had had enough of the O’Malley spending spree. Before Hogan was sworn in, the budget shortfall of $1.2 billion over the next eighteen months was already public knowledge. Everybody knew that cuts were coming; only the particulars were uncertain.

Because Maryland has a strong executive branch, the General Assembly can only cut the budget or move money around. It cannot increase spending. The House is squandering many hours debating how to find the money to undo cuts that Hogan made, particularly to schools and the state employees’ COLAs.

Last July, Martin O’Malley gave the state employees a cost of living increase of 2% despite knowing that the budget was not in good shape. I would like to point out that employees in the private sector are not seeing cost of living increases. Why the state employees deserve a taxpayer-funded pay increase when the taxpayers are not getting their salaries increased is hard to justify. Governor Hogan rescinded that increase in his budget because the state did not have the funds to support it.

He also declined to fund the schools to the level they desired. Yet his budget gave a 1.3% increase to education over last year’s budget, so it is hard to make the case that he cut the budget drastically. One might have expected a 0% increase when we are facing a $1.2 billion deficit in the upcoming months. That sort of deficit on a smaller scale is what causes taxpayers to choose ground beef over steak. But then we have to actually balance our checkbooks rather than use creative accounting to get the job done.

Let’s take a moment for some background information. Despite our budget shortfall, Moody’s just gave Maryland an AAA rating once again.

Why is this AAA Bond rating so important? “Retention of the AAA ratings affirms the strength and stability of Maryland bonds during difficult and volatile times,” said state Treasurer Nancy Kopp. “This achievement allows us to continue to invest in our communities’ schools, libraries, and hospitals while saving taxpayers millions of dollars thanks to the lower interest rates that follow from these ratings.” (Emphasis mine.)

Maryland is one of only 10 states that has the AAA bond rating from all three firms that assign ratings, Moody’s Investors, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings. Moody’s included the following warning when assigning the AAA rating:

WHAT COULD MAKE THE RATING GO DOWN

  • Economic and financial deterioration that results in deficits and continued draw downs of reserves without a plan for near-term replenishment
  • Failure to adhere to the state’s tradition of conservative fiscal management, including failure to take actions to reverse its negative fund balance
  • A state economy that does not rebound in tandem with the rest of the country
  • Failure to adhere to plans to address low pension funded ratios (emphasis mine)
  • Downgrade of the US government

Why does Maryland have low pension funded ratios? Because all that pension money just waiting there for the retired employees is too tempting for the politicians. They have dipped into the fund before. In 2011 as a corrective measure, Martin O’Malley reached an agreement with state employees that if they would increase their contributions to the retirement fund from 2% to 7%, then the state would put in $300 million annually to fund the pensions at an 80% level by 2023. That would still leave the pension fund $20 billion short, but that would be an improvement. The state employees have been putting in their extra 5%, but the state has not been putting in the entire $300 million. They find other ways to spend that money.

Now we are finished with the history and back to the present. The House debated for hours yesterday whether to fund the pension plan with the full $300 million or to take a portion of the money to continue the 2% increase in state employee’s wages and increase school funding. As I write, it is uncertain how the issue will be determined and whatever the House decides will still have to be reconciled with what the Senate produces.

Politicians seem to prefer to pay their supporters now and to let the future take care of itself since they will probably not still be in office when that bill comes due. It is a pleasing shell game. The politicians appropriate raises and perks for their constituents who then pay union dues, and then the unions donate money to the politicians –  lather, rinse, repeat.

According to the Washington Post, those public servants/union members might want to take note that:

In an effort to block relatively modest budget cuts proposed by Mr. Hogan, mainly to schools and public employees’ wages, Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis are pushing a plan to revamp the formula for scheduled contributions. According to Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of the few prominent Democrats who opposes the scheme, it would shift $2 billion into the general budget over the next decade, then cost the state $4.5 billion in the following dozen years — meaning Maryland would face a net $2.5 billion in additional costs over time in order to keep its pension promises.

Additionally, even if the state did put all the funds into the pension plan that they promised, the pension fund would still be underfunded by $20 billion in 2023. Since over 382,000 current and former employees are covered in this plan, it would seem to be a rather important item for the state to fully fund the pension program.

So our esteemed politicians in Annapolis are willing to risk our credit rating which could lead to increased interest payments when borrowing funds, underfund the pension program that thousands depend on, and incur $2.5 billion in additional costs to finally keep its pension promises, just so that they can override Governor Hogan’s budget.

While that may be a winning hand for the politicians, their constituents that get the 2% cost of living increase, and the unions, it is not a winner for the taxpayers.

Time to do the deed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A satisfying Super Saturday

October 5, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A satisfying Super Saturday 

A couple months ago, the Maryland Republican Party designated yesterday as a Super Saturday for Wicomico County, a day where the MDGOP increased its emphasis on door-to-door and other voter contacts for local candidates. As a culmination to the day, the Eastern Shore Victory Headquarters was the setting for a fundraiser and appreciation party.

Among the state party luminaries who attended the after-party were state party Chair Diana Waterman and National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose.

Ambrose noted this area was one of a handful the state party was targeting this time around, with well over 1,000 voter contacts made on this day both from headquarters and door-to-door.

Introducing the candidate was the guy who took Anderton’s seat on the Delmar Commission when Anderton became mayor, Bunky Luffman. He told the crowd that Carl “builds consensus” for getting things done and reminded us that Anderton spoke to “chicken tax” sponsor Delegate Shane Robinson, leading to an eventual withdrawal of the House bill. Being Maryland Municipal League head gave Carl a measure of influence.

With that intro, Carl addressed the group.

Among the ideas Anderton spoke about were the prospect of addressing the tax differential, which would require enabling legislation that hasn’t been a priority for the incumbent. Another issue where Norm Conway was “a crutch” to keep it from happening is an elected school board. In short, Conway has “failed us miserably time and time again.”

He also noted Peter Franchot’s case that a large property tax increase will need to be made, blaming the massive debt increase Conway has supported over the years.

While it was his fundraiser, Carl yielded the floor to his special guest, Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio.

Jeannie recalled that the 2010 election saw House Republicans in Maryland gain six seats, or one for each committee. “We were starting to effect change,” she said, particularly on the sub-committees – so the Democrats started doing more work at the committee level where GOP strength was diluted. She added that our side wins the floor debates, but can’t win the votes – so having delegates like Carl would help in that regard.

Jeannie was also a popular photo subject. I got a couple as she posed with Muir Boda in the top photo and the host in the bottom.

Yet the work wasn’t done. Looking at Carl’s Facebook page, he noted that they were still hard at work building signs at 10:30 at night. To beat a well-funded incumbent, the workday is long.

The Hogan side of Franchot’s assessment

After yesterday’s lengthy post about Peter Franchot’s assessment of the state economy, I wondered how the Republican running for the state’s top job would react. Fortunately, I can distill his statement down to a couple short paragraphs:

(Wednesday’s) report is utterly devastating and confirms what we have been saying, that Martin O’Malley and Anthony Brown have taxed and spent our economy into the ground. Overtaxed Marylanders are earning less, small business profits are disappearing and people have less to spend on goods and services.

As governor, I’ll put partisan politics aside and work across the aisle to undo the damage of the past eight years. We’ll work together to reign in reckless spending and waste so we can roll back as many of the O’Malley and Brown’s 40 straight tax hikes as possible. It’s time for Annapolis to live within its means so people can keep more of their hard earned money.

I was fine with that until the part about “work together,” particularly with regard to an event last week with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie:

The Democrats want to tell you that Governor Christie and I are far-right extremists. Our similarities stem from the fact that we are commonsense Republicans that are prepared to reach across the aisle in order for progress and prosperity. That is why Governor Christie was overwhelmingly reelected in the blue state of New Jersey to a second term. And that is why Marylanders are ready for a Republican governor in Annapolis.

Unfortunately in this partisan day and age, for a Republican reaching across the aisle means getting your arm bit off and used as a club to beat you with. Remember, the reason for Christie’s initial popularity was his get-tough stance with the state’s unions, and I honestly don’t see those sort of stones with Larry Hogan.

It’s obvious we have a problem in this state, as Franchot pointed out. But the problem isn’t just in the governor’s office, it’s in the bowels of the General Assembly as well.

Remember the “doomsday budget” session of a couple years ago, and the big deal many in the General Assembly made that spending “only” went up $700 million instead of the $1.2 billion they eventually received? Imagine that fight every year.

Depending on how many Democrats are returned to Annapolis, the budget that Governor Hogan would send out might only get 50 or 60 House votes, so the overriding question is what tradeoffs will we have to endure? Or will Hogan surprise me and take the bully pulpit, going over the heads of the General Assembly and the press to convince the people to demand action on a leaner budget? We know the unions wouldn’t take cuts lying down, so are those on the side of sanity going to go to Annapolis and tell Big Labor to pound sand when they mass in protest like they did a few years back? Fifty isn’t much against 5,000 and their box lunches.

(By the way, I should point out the link above was one of the posts where I lost all my pictures when Photoshop folded into Adobe Revel and rendered all my photo links obsolete. I spent a good half-hour fixing it for presentation last night because it was important to convey the sort of protest Larry Hogan can expect if he stands his ground.)

I certainly hope Larry wins and comes out with budgets which reflect sanity and not just a 4-6 percent increase each year. But be warned it won’t come without a fight. And we can live with Larry’s middle-of-the-road, reach-across-the-aisle tendencies if we can get some conservatives to Annapolis to keep him in line, with the rest of us having his back when he makes those promised cuts.

A dose of economic reality

Bear in mind the following words are written by a Democrat in Maryland. It’s an extremely long blockquote of an entire release but I thought readers deserved full context.

We convene today to write down our already cautious revenue projections for Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016 by more than $405 million. Far more important than what a $405 million shortfall means for the state budget is the painful reality that it indicates for the budgets of Maryland families and small businesses.

We’re writing down individual income tax receipts – the largest individual source of state revenue – by over $350 million, between the shortfall in individual income tax receipts carried over from Fiscal 2014 and our write down of expected revenues for Fiscal Year 2015.  Six years removed from the economic collapse, and far too many families and small businesses are still waiting for the recovery they keep hearing about.

We can classify a year or two outside the ordinary as simply abnormal. But more than a half decade later, we need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal. It feels like we sit at these meetings every quarter, hopeful and determined that ‘next year will be the year’ when the recovery takes hold and is felt broadly throughout the economy. Yet, another year has passed, and ordinary families and small businesses haven’t even recovered to where they were before the financial collapse, much less made up for the wages they’ve lost over the past six years. We need to recognize that hope is not an economic strategy.

The same challenging conditions I’ve discussed in past meetings haven’t substantively improved. Wages and salaries are essentially stagnant. Local, independent businesses are struggling to meet payroll, cover their costs and turn a profit. Working families have cut back their spending because they just don’t have the money, they’re scared of losing their jobs, or, in many cases, both.

In a consumer-driven economy, it should come as no surprise that when consumers are struggling, businesses inevitably feel that pain, particularly in an environment where margins have often already been trimmed down to the bone. Add that to Maryland’s unemployment rate – traditionally a major strength – not keeping pace with improvements seen in the country as a whole.

Maryland’s 6.4 percent unemployment rate is higher than the national rate of 6.1 percent – something we’ve only experienced twice in the past three and a half decades – during the tech boom of the late 1990s and the 1980 recession. In terms of wages – the oxygen working families need to survive – Maryland’s average wage growth was just 0.4 percent in the first quarter of 2014, far below the rate of inflation for the same period.

Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing. The housing market has failed to rebound in a sustained and meaningful way, particularly with Maryland second worst in the nation in home foreclosure rates.

Combined, these economic indicators led to a Maryland economy that didn’t grow at all last year – with a 0 percent GDP growth for 2013. As we know, an economy that isn’t growing is actually retracting. This all means uncertainty for families and businesses. They are unsure about their prospects and, as a result, unwilling to make the purchases and investments our consumer-driven economy needs to grow. As great a state as we are and as robust an economic system as we have, uncertainty serves as a serious deterrent to economic growth.

Whether it’s sequestration, unpredictability in the tax and regulatory environment or an inability to make long-term federal budgeting decisions, most of the uncertainty is based on political problems and decisions, as opposed to global economic conditions. While the federal government has always been and certainly remains a major economic advantage, our over reliance on the public sector carries significant risks. We can embrace our proximity to Washington as a strength without depending on it as our sole basis for economic stability.

We simply can’t assume that we’re around the corner from returning to the way it was, and back to the decisions we could afford to make in Maryland as a result. The fact remains that we’ll only see the economic growth we’re accustomed to when we get the private sector economy growing. We can only make that happen if we provide a sense of predictability for Maryland families and small businesses.

As state policymakers, we need to be smart in how we spend taxpayer dollars, recognizing that to invest in the things we need, we have to forego many of the things we simply want. We have to be more forward-looking about how we borrow money as a state.  We simply can’t sustain our current patterns of debt accumulation without provoking actions that could do further harm to an already fragile economy — amplifying the significant fiscal and economic challenges we already face.

As we all know, a sustained economic recovery is going to come down to jobs, both here in Maryland and throughout the nation. As long as we see continued weakness in wages and job growth, consumers will inevitably pull back, causing businesses to struggle and the economy to underperform.

We simply cannot create any unnecessary road blocks that would make employers reluctant to invest, grow and hire. But if we maintain a cautious mindset and provide a sense of predictability to Maryland families and small businesses, our economic bones are strong enough and our people are resilient enough to withstand this write down and the economic challenges it represents. (All emphasis mine.)

That’s the entirety of a press release put out by state Comptroller Peter Franchot as the Board of Revenue Estimates calculated our state would yet again be short on revenues to the tune of $405 million, or slightly over 1% of the current budget.

But let’s read between the lines, in the passages I highlighted.

(W)e need to accept that sluggish growth and challenging economic conditions have become our new normal.

No we don’t. What we need to do is realize our policy prescriptions over the last eight years or so have done little to help the local economy. States are succeeding in this country, whether it’s through ambitious exploitation of energy resources like North Dakota or smart, pro-business policy such as the sort Texas seems to use. (Heck, Rick Perry even encouraged Maryland businesses to relocate to his state.) To attain growth, it has to be encouraged and the only thing we’re encouraging the growth of in this state is government.

The same challenging conditions I’ve discussed in past meetings haven’t substantively improved. 

Peter Franchot became Comptroller in the same 2006 election we elected Martin O’Malley as governor. Perhaps that should give an indication as to why these conditions persist.

Essentially, workers perceive that their take-home pay is headed in the wrong direction and the purchasing power for Maryland families is, in reality, diminishing.

This is reflective of national conditions, since real household income has declined since reaching a peak anywhere from 7 to 15 years ago, depending on income quintile. And with wage-earners having to string together a series of part-time jobs to make ends meet thanks to the impact of Obamacare and a higher cost of living, the budgets of Maryland families are indeed stretched to the breaking point.

(M)ost of the (economic) uncertainty is based on political problems and decisions, as opposed to global economic conditions.

Families continue to wait for the other shoe to drop. Spend over $100 million on a botched website? Don’t worry, we’ll make up the shortfall by figuring out some new revenue stream. This is the state that experimented with the “tech” tax some years ago before the computer business threatened to bolt, so they decided to tax millionaires instead – and watched many move out of state. Even taxing rain to supposedly help clean up Chesapeake Bay has become a boondoggle as different counties decided on different approaches, while a select few counties (including Wicomico) figure they are next on the firing line to be stuck with the “rain tax” like 10 other Maryland counties.

While the federal government has always been and certainly remains a major economic advantage, our over reliance on the public sector carries significant risks. We can embrace our proximity to Washington as a strength without depending on it as our sole basis for economic stability.

This is a very prescient statement, but Franchot is only looking at it in terms of tax revenue from federal workers. Surely he’s less inclined to speak out about the fact that it’s actually Uncle Sam – not income tax receipts – that is the largest source of state revenue. I know the unsuccessful campaign of Charles Lollar made overtures about slaying that beast, but it’s just as bad to be dependent on the federal government for operating revenue as it is to make it as much as a significant economic driver as it tends to be for the Capital region. Meanwhile, jobs which create real value – whether it’s extracting natural gas in Garrett County, making steel in Baltimore, or growing chickens on a rural Somerset County farm – get short shrift from an administration which has tried to thwart that sort of growth at every turn.

Whether Peter Franchot wants to admit it or not, the damning economic statement made by a Comptroller who still endorsed the candidate who most represents this failed status quo in Anthony Brown makes the case that a new broom needs to sweep Maryland politics clean. If you haven’t heard about GOP candidate for Comptroller William Campbell, it’s time you did.

And Anthony Brown? I’m sure he knows that Franchot is pretty much correct in this assessment, which is why he’s trying to paint Larry Hogan as a Republican extremist (there is no such thing) and not talk about his own accomplishments or plans. “More of the same” just won’t sell for a large number of Maryland’s working families.

This will leave a mark

July 29, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, Radical Green · Comments Off on This will leave a mark 

Although Jenna Johnson’s Washington Post piece described Governor Martin O’Malley as “brusque…terse and often lack(ing) patience” during a Board of Public Works meeting, that meeting still netted Dominion Resources another small step toward investing $3.8 billion into upgrading their Cove Point facility by allowing them a tidal wetlands license. O’Malley joined Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp in approving the permit, leaving only federal authorities in the way. The permit was for a temporary pier to offload construction supplies for the project, which environmentalists fear will lead to further extraction of natural gas in the region for export.

To me, it wasn’t a vote O’Malley wanted to take, and he really didn’t have to – his vote against would have only made it a 2-1 decision. But to do otherwise would have left another black mark on his administration’s legacy of making Maryland one of the states most unfriendly to business in the nation, even though the permit would have gone through.

And it’s not like environmentalists aren’t winning the war despite losing that battle – the prospect of fracking in Western Maryland is growing dimmer by the day given some market saturation and the outlandish regulations proposed for drilling – never mind the possible benefits that would bring. But O’Malley had to disappoint the few hundred who are passionately opposing the remodeling of the LNG terminal in Calvert County.

Cove PointAt this point, though, it’s all about promoting the legacy and let’s face it: are the environmentalists going to vote for Larry Hogan? Well, there is that slight possibility but when the Washington AFL-CIO and other trade unions support Cove Point, O’Malley can’t afford to alienate that group. That’s hundreds or even thousands of motivated voters he has to keep in the Anthony Brown camp. So Martin O’Malley will hold his nose and vote for Cove Point, all the while hoping that his buddies at the EPA or somewhere else in the federal government will bail him out by turning thumbs-down on the project at a late stage. After all, if they can stall the Keystone XL pipeline for this long, pushing back a project just a few miles outside Washington, D.C. is almost a no-brainer to them.

So when Martin O’Malley acts like a petulant child in a meeting because he knows he has to take an unpopular vote, we shouldn’t feel any sympathy for him. He’s left a whole lot on the table insofar as benefiting from our American energy boom goes and he knows it.

 

A look ahead: 2014 in Maryland

Yesterday I looked at how 2014 looks in Wicomico County, but much – too much, as I see it – of their decision-making is truly made in Annapolis. And with current governor Martin O’Malley attempting to burnish his credentials for a position inside Hillary Clinton’s administration – oh wait, he’s supposedly running himself, isn’t he? – it’s important to him that he establish himself with the progressive crowd.

What this means for us is that no tax increase is off the table, but it’s more likely we will see renewed efforts at green energy, gun control, and salvaging the failed Obamacare rollout in Maryland – but if worse comes to worse, it’s Anthony Brown who will be thrown under the bus. In the decision between a Maryland legacy and a White House bid, well, no lieutenant governor has succeeded his boss anyway.

Brown is probably the conventional wisdom favorite to succeed O’Malley and become Maryland’s first black governor; of course there are other main contenders on both sides. Attorney General Doug Gansler seems to be the Democrats’ backup plan but has endured a rocky start to his campaign; meanwhile Delegate Heather Mizeur seems to be the one establishing a number of truly far-left issues in the campaign – witness her idea for marijuana legalization.

On the Republican side, three top contenders seem to be out to appeal most to the conservative crowd, with a fourth joining the field in January. Harford County Executive David Craig obviously has the most well-rounded political resume, but Delegate Ron George represents a more populous area around Annapolis. Charles Lollar is running the most populist campaign, but he may receive a run for his money once the social media-savvy Larry Hogan formally enters the race next month. His Change Maryland Facebook page claims over 70,000 supporters of all political stripes – in a four-way Republican race, 70,000 votes might be enough.

There are only two other statewide races this year, since there’s no Senate race this cycle. With Attorney General Gansler abandoning his post to try for governor, there are four Democratic members of the General Assembly out to succeed him – Aisha Braveboy, Jon Cardin, Bill Frick, and Brian Frosh all seek the seat, and all but Cardin have officially filed. No one has yet filed on the GOP side, but 2012 U.S. Senate candidate Richard Douglas seems to be leaning toward a run, allowing the Republicans to avoid the ignominy of whiffing on a statewide race for the second cycle in a row.

Things are shaping up as a rematch of 2010 in the Comptroller’s race, as Republican William Campbell is again challenging incumbent Peter Franchot.

With so many members of the General Assembly attempting to move up to higher offices, it creates a cascading effect in the various General Assembly races. While the GOP is probably not going to see a General Assembly majority in the 2015-18 cycle – and has the headwind of being redistricted in such a manner to try and cut their minority – being on the wrong side of a lot of issues may make it tricky for Democrats to not lose seats. Republicans have a goal of picking up seven Senate seats, giving them 19 and allowing them to filibuster, and wouldn’t be unhappy with picking up the four House seats required to possibly bypass committee votes on key issues.

As I noted above, though, the key issues will be revealed once O’Malley introduces his legislative package to the General Assembly in mid-January, shortly before his annual State of the State address. Last year he got his gas tax increase to build the Red Line and Purple Line, authorization for offshore wind, and his onerous gun restrictions in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, so this year’s agenda will probably pivot back to measures he believes will help the state’s economy but in reality will probably redistribute even more wealth from the productive to the slothful, growing government at an even faster pace. Many of those dollars will address perceived shortcomings in education and health care.

That seems to be how O’Malley’s last package of revenue enhancements has worked, because the state once again is facing a structural deficit despite rosy predictions to the contrary. Old chestnuts like increasing the cigarette tax or combined reporting of business income will probably jostle for primary position with new initiatives like a mileage tax, additional penalties for cell phone usage, or a higher toll for being caught by speed cameras.

It’s somewhat difficult to predict the direction of the General Assembly before it begins, as items not on the radar in early January become bills introduced late in the session, some of which pass muster. The gasoline tax in its adopted form was one of those last year, since conventional wisdom predicted a straight per-gallon increase rather than the adoption of a partial sales tax which will increase regularly. Another dynamic which will affect timing is having the filing deadline for the 2014 ballot come during session – surely some will wait and see what their path to re-election looks like before introducing certain controversial bills. In previous elections the filing deadline occurred well after the session was over.

Once we get beyond the session in April, the primary campaign will ramp up immediately because of the new experience of a June primary. The Democrats tried to change this eight years ago, fearing a bruising primary fight between Doug Duncan and Martin O’Malley, but succeeded this time because of changes in federal law requiring longer lead times for overseas military voters. Instead of pushing the primary back a couple weeks to comply, though, they decided on a full 2 1/2 months.

At this point there are three main contenders on the Democratic side, and I think that number will stay the same – my thought is either Dutch Ruppersberger will pass up the race (more likely) or, if Dutch gets in, the damaged goods of Doug Gansler will drop out. Obviously there will be more than three on the ballot but some fall under the auspices of perennial candidates who I think are just working on that line in their obituary where it says so-and-so ran for governor five times.

For the GOP, the same is true. In their case, I don’t think there’s enough money out there for four main contenders and whoever raised the least in 2013 is probably the one who exits the race after Larry Hogan makes it formal. In Hogan’s 2010 gubernatorial bid he lent his campaign $325,000 so presumably Hogan has the personal wherewithal to use as seed money; perhaps the dropout will agree to be the running mate of another contender.

It’s interesting, though, that the problems Maryland faces – at least the ones not of their own making, a category in which I’d include the overregulation of local county and municipal governments – are very similar to those faced right here in Wicomico County. Maryland has the “benefit” of being the host state for thousands of federal government worker bees, but little industry to speak of. It’s notable the campaigns are now paying lip service to the concept of re-establishing a manufacturing base, but the process will take at least a couple terms of office and will certainly be at odds with the stated goals of some among the Radical Green who desire a pristine Chesapeake Bay. Development and a reasonably clean Bay can co-exist, but if you want circa-1600 conditions that won’t happen.

And because there are so many who depend on government for their livelihood as workers – or survival as dependents – the concept of “One Maryland” is laughable on its face. The needs of Baltimore City or Somerset County residents don’t often coincide with the desires of your average denizen of Takoma Park or Chevy Chase, but supposedly they are all “One Maryland.” I think there are at least four Marylands – the energy-rich areas of the state’s panhandle, the I-95/I-270 corridors stretching from Harford County on the north to the Beltway suburbs hard by the District of Columbia and back towards Frederick, the bedroom suburbs of southern Maryland which are rapidly changing in political posture, and the Eastern Shore, where agriculture and tourism coexist, but in an occasional state of hostility. One can’t even say that their needs are similar because jobs are plentiful around D.C. but tougher to come by on the Eastern Shore and in Baltimore proper.

It’s not likely one man (or woman) can unite these areas, but the question is which coalitions will hold sway. Finding the right combination will be the key to success for the state in 2014.

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  • 2018 Election

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    Maryland

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    Delegate – District 37B (elect 2)

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    State Senate – District 38

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