Advice for the next MDGOP leader

On Wednesday night I put up a relatively quick post handicapping the various officer races for Maryland Republican Party leadership. But there was one person I may have missed, and his name is Gary Collins.

Over the last few days his social media has been on fire because he had noted his thought about trying for the brass ring, but deciding against it – only to find a lot of people want him to consider it anyway. It seems to me there can be floor nominations (although my recollection is rusty on this) so he may have something of a support base if he decides to try.

Back in the summer, though, Gary was one of the strongest Trumpkin voices screaming for my resignation, and I suppose he eventually got his wish because I did. Now he has to be careful what he wished for, though, because I’m going to give him (and anyone else who seeks the top spot) some free advice from an outsider who was once on the inside. It’s not so much on how to be chair of the party as it is a general treatise on philosophy. So here goes.

  • There are two numbers for the new Chair to remember: 818,890 and 1,677,926. The former number is the Democratic vote in 2014, and the latter in 2016. We can’t count on a weak Democrat that the party can’t get excited about to run in 2018, and you can be sure that the other party will be trying to tie the person who only won in 2014 by about 65,000 votes to the guy who lost two years later, in large part from Democrats and independents voting against him as opposed to being for their own flawed nominee, by over 700,000 votes. (You can fairly say that 1/3 of Hillary’s popular vote margin came from this state.) This is true even though Larry Hogan didn’t support Donald Trump and reportedly didn’t vote for him.
  • Thus, job one for the party Chair is to re-elect the governor and job 1A is to get him more help. You may not like it, and the chances are reasonably good the winner supported Trump from early on. But not everything Trump says or does will play well here, especially when 2/5 of the voters live in the Capital region.
  • Legislatively, this will be the year in the cycle the General Assembly majority is most aggressive. You can bet that paid sick leave will pass and they will dare Hogan to veto it. Even other crazy stuff like the “chicken tax” and a renewed push for the O’Malley-era phosphorus regulations have a decent chance of passing – both to burnish the far-left legacy of ambitious Democrats and to attempt to embarrass Governor Hogan. Meanwhile, if it’s an administration-sponsored bill you can be certain the committee chairs have standing orders to throw it in their desk drawers and lose the key. (Of course, identical Democrat-sponsored legislation will have a chance at passing, provided they get all the credit.) Bear in mind that 2017 will be aggressive because 2018 is an election year and the filing deadline will again likely be during session – so those who wish to move up in the ranks may keep their powder dry on the most extreme issues next session until they see who wins that fall.
  • Conservatives have a lot to lose. Larry Hogan is not a doctrinaire conservative, but he needs a second term for one big reason – sort of like the rationale of keeping the Supreme Court that #NeverTrump people were constantly subjected to. It’s the redistricting, stupid. They got rid of Roscoe Bartlett by adding thousands of Montgomery County voters to the Sixth District (while diluting the former Sixth District voters into the Eighth or packing them into the First) so the next target will be Andy Harris. If you subtracted out the four Lower Shore counties from his district and pushed it over into Baltimore City, you would only lose a little in the Democratic Third and Seventh Districts but pick up the First. The Lower Shore voters would be well outnumbered by PG and Charles County as part of the Fifth District (such a district split is not unprecedented.) Democrats dreamed about this last time out, and they want no part of an independent redistricting commission.
  • One place to play offense: vulnerable Democrat Senators. I live in Jim Mathias’s district, and it’s very interesting how much more of an advocate he was for an elected school board after 2014. He’s always tried to play up his somewhat centrist (compared to most Democrats. anyway) voting record, and I suspect there are a handful of other D’s who may try to do the same. Don’t let them get away with it, because over years of doing the monoblogue Accountability Project I’ve found (with a couple rare exceptions) that even the worst Republican is superior to the best Democrat as far as voting is concerned.

So whoever wins Saturday can feel free to use these ideas. As for me, I have far better plans for my weekend – I’ll wave in the general direction in Frederick as we go by. Fair warning: comment moderation may be slow or non-existent.

The course we should take

Ringing a bell about something that I was previously planning to post on anyway, my Central Committee cohort Julie Brewington wrote on social media today about a disagreement she had with the Assateague Coastkeepers regarding what they consider “factory farms” being proposed and built in Wicomico County. (So I’ll give the onetime blogger a hat tip.) Obviously the Coastkeepers have a concern about what they see as excessive pollution arising from what chickens naturally do, which is doo-doo. It’s been a concern of the state for years, and earlier this year you may recall Governor Larry Hogan thwarted the efforts of the outgoing O’Malley administration to curtail chicken farming via the Phosphorus Management Tool. Unfortunately, Hogan later conceded that these farms and their by-products are an issue worth regulating (with his Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative) to the point where some farmers would not be allowed to use this natural fertilizer. This edict disproportionately affects Eastern Shore farmers.

At the risk of excessive aggravation, I visited the Assateague Coastkeeper site for one simple reason: if they didn’t want the poultry industry and its huge economic impact of the area, what do they see as job creators? As I expected, I was disappointed in what I found: aside from a legislative agenda that would subsidize offshore wind, their overall strategic plan fails to address the economic impact their wish list would create or lay out an alternative scenario. (They are working on the “educational” part of the agenda, though.)

Not only do the Coastkeepers have an objection to the chicken farms, though, but they also object to offshore drilling off our coast despite its potential for good-paying jobs. In fact, their advocacy shuts the door to even doing the seismic testing needed to see how much oil and natural gas could be out there. It’s rather unfortunate that Ocean City and Lewes, Delaware have fallen for the scare tactics groups like the Coastkeepers use to try and prevent this technique, which is already used in the Gulf of Mexico. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (a federal agency) notes that:

To date, there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical (G&G) seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities.  This technology has been used for more than 30 years around the world.  It is still used in U.S. waters off of the Gulf of Mexico with no known detrimental impact to marine animal populations or to commercial fishing.

If you want to know the truth, I think the Coastkeepers aren’t worried about the harm to marine life. They’re more worried that their smug assertions that there’s only a small amount of oil and natural gas out there – not really enough to be commercially viable – will be proven wrong. As technology improves for oil extraction, we could find there’s billions of barrels of oil or trillions of cubic feet of natural gas out there, meaning those nasty fossil fuels will be cheaper and obviously far more reliable than the bird-chopping windmills they want to build instead. Personally, I think if the market is there the wind turbines and oil rigs can co-exist – but I’ll bet the oil rigs create more local jobs.

Oil drilling, if it occurs, is probably a decade or more away, so in the here and now we have to be concerned with their opposition to expansion of the local poultry industry. And let’s face it: without Perdue, Mountaire, Tyson, et. al. there would be nothing on this part of the Eastern Shore to speak of except perhaps Salisbury University and Ocean City. Basically, Salisbury would be a slightly larger version of Princess Anne, which is a modest little county seat where the University of Maryland – Eastern Shore is located. That’s about it – there’s little commercial development in Princess Anne and not much to create jobs in Somerset County aside from UMES and the Eastern Shore Correctional Institution.

It’s understandable that someone who has chosen to live in a development bordering a rural area may object when a typical chicken farm opens up, but that is the deal with living by a farm. Any of us who grew up in a rural area can tell you that animals tend to smell sometimes, as does fertilizer. It’s all part of that “fresh country air.”

But to many thousands in the area, the smell of chicken poop is the smell of money – directly or indirectly, it’s how they make a living and thank God people around the world like to eat chicken. This region has had chicken farmers for generations, ever since the Perdue family put Salisbury on the map with their chickens.

So if this region is ever going to diversify its economic interests, one path we should explore is the path offshore. Let’s find out once and for all if there’s oil and natural gas out there, because as I said I think the Coastkeepers are worried that the answer is a resounding yes.

The 61% solution

A recent poll by the Washington Post brought gasps of surprise from Republicans – even in a state where registered Republicans are outnumbered by better than 2-to-1 by their Democratic counterparts, the people of Maryland approve of Larry Hogan’s performance by a margin of 61% to 22% disapproval. Since a similar poll taken shortly after Hogan took office, he has gained 19 points in the approval department by pulling in a large percentage of those who previously had no opinion and even whittling the disapproves from 24% to 22%.

All those are encouraging signs, particularly as the Post points out Hogan is nine points up on Martin O’Malley at a similar juncture and back in the territory Bob Ehrlich enjoyed early on.

Of course, the Democrats retort that a portion of the goodwill is based on Hogan’s ongoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, with his last round wrapping up. Hogan’s newly bald head is regularly featured on social media as a constant reminder of his treatment, something which he’s parlayed into a lot of good press coverage.

Insofar as policy goes, though, Hogan has gone pretty much down the center of the road. The incoming governor whose initial act of significance was to pull unpopular phosphorus regulations from being published in the Maryland Register ended up compromising on less stringent measures in order to avoid a veto fight over a legislative version of the O’Malley regulations. Days later, his first budget made some unpopular “cuts” (read: more modest increases in spending than the opposition was conditioned to expect) but still was larger than the previous year’s.

On the transportation front, Hogan pulled the Red Line in Baltimore but decided to keep the Purple Line in the suburbs of Washington provided the local governments paid more for it. He used the money saved from the Red Line to fund needed highway projects and also figured out a way to reduce the tolls in Maryland. Unfortunately, we still have the higher gas taxes passed by Martin O’Malley to pay for the Purple Line and planned Red Line.

In a number of ways, Hogan has achieved his level of popularity to working around the edges. The makeup of the General Assembly is such that Hogan had a number of bills that passed where he allowed them to become law without his signature. It was probably a political calculation of the likelihood of whether his veto would hold and if the hill was vital enough to die on politically. Both sides seemed to be feeling each other out in a cautious session – save the doomed effort to roll back the “rain tax,” Hogan’s legislative agenda had a focus on economic development that was to some extent left over from the O’Malley administration’s half-hearted attempts to address the state’s awful business climate.

The question for Maryland Republicans going forward is just how much conservatism they want to push. Those in the party who disapprove of Hogan generally fall into either or both of the two categories of wanting fewer gun restrictions or better leadership on social issues – naturally, the Democrats tried to use both as wedge issues against Hogan and failed.

Maybe a better way to frame this is to question whether the Republican caucus in the General Assembly will create its own legislative agenda for next year or just ride along with Hogan’s. One thing I have noticed over the years is that there are several legislators who introduce bills in the General Assembly but we don’t seem to have a platform we follow – it’s like every man for himself.

Perhaps next session the GOP should pick out eight to ten important, conservative bills and work like hell to get them passed, bypassing the committee if necessary. (For example, had they done that on the original “rain tax” bill, they could have forced a floor vote on sustaining it, putting Democrats on the record as favoring it.) They can even be repeal bills of O’Malley legislation – after all, if Hogan is rolling back O’Malley’s toll hikes and Red Line boondoggle, we should hope he will ditch items like the “septic bill” and PlanMaryland.

If you have 61% of the public behind you, it’s time to grab a bully pulpit and make needed change.

WCRC meeting – April 2015

We ha an unusual meeting tonight. It wasn’t devoted to club business; after we did the usual Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of several distinguished guests we were a treasurer’s report away from the first of three main events of a packed program.

Our first event was the presentation of the WCRC Scholarship to Andrew Boltz of Mardela High School. Boltz is active in the community, including an Eagle Scout project involving backpacks for the homeless. Boltz plans on attending Salisbury University to begin his pursuit of an engineering degree.

Sarah Rayne next addressed the group on behalf of 1st Saturday, a “free, family-friendly” event in downtown Salisbury intended to focus on the performing arts, as opposed to the visual arts highlighted at 3rd Friday.

She noted that the event was timed to be after Saturday chores but allow for patrons to partake in the downtown entertainment venues and restaurants afterward, adding that no food trucks would be present to help with steering business to local eateries – in turn, they would be encouraged to make known their specials for the evening. It’s a “bring your own chair” event, modeled on a similar set of gatherings in Georgetown, Delaware, Rayne added.

Just as clarification, I asked if it was an all-year event. Sarah responded that 1st Saturday was “a warm-weather event” which would run April to October.

The final part of the evening was something that turned out to be a roundtable discussion of the latest General Assembly session by the Republican members of the Wicomico County delegation: Senator Addie Eckardt and Delegates Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and erstwhile member Charles Otto, who was redistricted out of the county.

Each representative began by speaking a few minutes about their perspective on the recently-completed session. As the one with the most experience, Senator Eckardt assessed our group as “a wonderful team…this is not a shy group.” She was pleased to have the opportunity to try and get our highway user revenues back, and called it “exciting” to have a Republican governor to work with on the budget. And while the goals of the administration were to cut spending, taxation, and regulation, the sad fact was that most of the governor’s initiatives did not pass.

Some of the budget battles that were fought included funding for the Geographical Cost of Education Index and maintaining the promised $300 million catch-up payment for state pensions. While the budget passed wasn’t fully in line with the initial expectations, Eckardt thought the governor “was in a good position going forward.”

Getting PMT regulations as opposed to statutes and repealing the rain tax law allowed Addie to declare a couple victories. “From my perspective, I was floored” with the things accomplished during the session, Eckardt concluded.

From the House perspective, Delegate Otto was rueful that Wicomico County residents could no longer vote for him, but added he still represented us as the chair of the Eastern Shore delegation – a group that was expanded to include residents in the 35th District, covering Cecil and part of Harford counties. He was pleased the budget grew by less than projected revenue growth, a departure from the previous administration.

Otto noted that “everything bad for agriculture” came out at the House this year, including the “chicken tax” bill and a measure eliminating sales tax exemptions farmers can employ.

Delegate Adams felt “blessed to be a Republican in Maryland” right now because it enabled him to stop items detrimental to our interests, especially at the committee level. One highlight to him among the bills passed was several enacting the recommendations of the Augustine Commission, which included a cabinet-level Department of Commerce. His assessment that Maryland was too dependent on federal employees made him hopeful that the business climate could be changed.

“What a strange, fun, exciting ride it’s been,” said Delegate Anderton. He urged us to ignore people who say “you can’t do it” because he did get things accomplished: the Evo bill which will add 50 jobs in Salisbury while preventing 70 others from leaving, a grant to Three Lower Counties to assist them with a new OB/GYN clinic, and money for improvements to Perdue Stadium essential to keeping the Shorebirds here. And while he was “scared” about the PMT regulations, Anderton believed we had “built a great foundation.” Overall, his first year was “an experience better than I could have imagined.”

Delegate Mautz said the Eastern Shore is “working closely together” and trying to get leverage for its legislative goals. However, he noted that watermen and seafood producers were “under tremendous pressure,” detailing abuses by the Department of Natural Resources. As it turned out, watermen, hunters, fishermen would have been the beneficiaries of many of the bills Mautz worked on, while cheese producers will get a boost.

Yet while Mautz believed Governor Hogan “controlled the debate” on fiscal issues, there was still “serious partisan divides” in the General Assembly. He predicted “a lot of legislation” in the next session.

Johnny also called the events going on in Baltimore “a major setback” for the area and state as a whole. Delegate Carozza picked up on that, asking the group to take a moment of silence and prayer for the city, adding the National Guard had finally been sent in.

Mary Beth also believed we had a “terrific Shore delegation,” agreeing that Governor Hogan had “set the tone’ in his first session. While the budget had a smaller increase than previous years, though, she only voted for the original House budget. She voted against the conference budget because of the raids it made to the pension funds.

“We still need your help,” she added. “Divided government is really tough.” We were encouraged to express our opinions on issues like charter schools, tax relief, and regulations because opponents were relentless and having the constituents as backup strengthens our position. And Democrats “are already coming after (Larry Hogan),” she said.

She gave a couple examples of bills she worked on. One that passed with ease was a bill allowing Seacrets to move its distillery operations to Maryland – Mary Beth got support from Senator Jim Mathias and convinced lawmakers that bringing jobs back from Delaware was worth fighting for.

On the other hand, a veterans procurement bill which sailed through the Senate had a tough time in the House for several reasons, at least one of them territorial as a particular committee chair wanted to do a more large-scale procurement bill next session. She learned that she had to sometimes sell bills, and ended up with a compromise that doubled veterans procurement from 0.5% to 1%.

Once this part finished, we opened the floor to comments and questions. Naturally, a perspective was sought on why we did not get an elected school board vote and what we had to do.

“It’s an easy fix,” said Delegate Anderton. “Eliminate the excuse.” By that, he meant have the public hearings Senator Mathias sought, as two people noted he was on record as supporting the idea with public input. We also learned the Wicomico County Education Association actually supports a fully elected board.

But Senator Eckardt added we “need both Senators in agreement” to get the bill through.

A related question came about school vouchers, which weren’t brought up in this session. Rather, a lot of discussion went toward charter schools because it was the governor’s initiative, said Delegate Carozza. Delegate Adams added charter school reforms enjoyed bipartisan support, while Senator Eckardt noted the BOAST tax credits had been introduced again – these would allow private businesses to direct funding to private and public schools.

On that same front, it was asked if a Religious Freedom Restoration Act-style bill was introduced, and none was to their knowledge.

Turning to taxation, Senator Eckardt stated that few tax rollbacks were surviving the Ways and Means subcommittees.

Farming issues were the subject of a couple queries, and the industry as a whole was considered “low-hanging fruit” by environmentalists, said Delegate Adams. Even though 27 percent of Chesapeake Bay’s phosphorus could be traced to the silt behind Conowingo Dam – according to the Army Corps of Engineers, a fact which came out in a hearing on one of the PMT bills – environmentalists still demanded more regulations on agriculture.

Finally, Anderton responded to a question about road funding by noting he had helped bring it back to some extent through his memory of where the money was placed last year. The state found it again, to the tune of $19 million to municipalities and $4 million for counties. However, he added, some counties were reticent about full restoration because they wanted to use it as an excuse to have their own gasoline taxes.

All in all, it was a chock-full meeting you should be kicking yourself for missing. Because the next fourth Monday of the month is Memorial Day, we next meet June 22.

The other side of session

Since the General Assembly session came to a close last week, I’ve received my share of end-of-session wrap-ups from a number of members. But one has stood out because it focused as much on what wasn’t done as it did on the accomplishments. Sometimes keeping bad ideas from becoming law is as much a victory as any bill which is signed.

So when I read Mary Beth Carozza’s assessment of the recent session, I noted that a significant part of her remarks focused on what did not pass.

While serving you here in Annapolis, sometimes the bad legislation we are able to stop is just as important as the bills we are able to pass. This year a number of new tax increases were proposed but did not pass due to our efforts to stop them. Among the worst of this year’s proposed tax increases was the so-called “Chicken Tax,” which would place a 5-cent per chicken tax on every chicken raised in the State of Maryland.

Another agriculture-related tax increase we were able to kill this year was a proposal to repeal the sales and use tax exemption for agricultural products and equipment, such as feed and tractor fuel, that go into producing a final good for sale. The repeal of this exemption would have increased taxes on our state’s farmers by approximately $212 million starting next year and increasing to $251.2 million by 2020.

Other taxes which did not pass this year include the “death tax,” which would have eliminated the “death tax” repeal passed by last year’s General Assembly, a “bottle tax” that places a 5-cent tax on every bottle, a “bag tax” that would ban plastic bags and place a 10-cent fee on paper bags, a $90 million increase in the tobacco tax, and a tax on utility bills for solar and wind that would eventually ramp up to a $566 million annual tax.

Having studied the General Assembly for several years, I can tell you that many of these tax proposals reappear session after session. The “chicken tax” was around last year, a number of Democrats were upset that the death tax repeal passed last year (as they were the ones who voted against it), and the others are proposals which are perennial. The repeal of the agricultural products exemption is a fairly new one to me, though.

To hear Democrats tell it, we need all those new revenue streams for various pet causes. As examples, one version of the “chicken tax” was going to pay for cover crops and to help replace failing septic systems, one previous incarnation of the “bag tax” was intended for stream cleanup through the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and a small portion of the increased tobacco tax was (ironically enough) slated for a smoking cessation fund. (Most was intended for that vast fiscal hole we call the General Fund.)

But taxes weren’t the only thing needing to be stopped:

Members of the Eastern Shore Delegation also were able to kill another bill that would have increased the regulatory burden on farmers known as the “Farmers’ Rights Act.” This bill would have required the Attorney General’s Office to review all livestock production contracts before they are approved. In order to meet the bill’s requirements, the Attorney General’s Office would have had to hire three new, full-time Assistant Attorneys General at an expense of over $200,000 per year. This proposal is another example of an attempt to grow government bureaucracy at the expense of our citizens, especially our farmers.

I also worked closely with the Hogan Administration and local small business owners to pull regulations that would have hurt small arcade businesses in Ocean City and across the State of Maryland. For the last several months, the State Lottery Commission had been attempting to advance a proposal which would regulate these small businesses in the same way the state regulates casinos. I am happy to report that Governor Hogan directed the Lottery Commission to pull these proposed regulations.

These were all well and good, but I remain disappointed by the PMT regulations which will disproportionately affect local farmers, who are the victims of the “good faith negotiations between all stakeholders on this issue.” Remember, the eventual success of these regulations hinges on being able to use the excess chicken manure that local farmers can no longer use. If these schemes of creating energy or other by-products don’t succeed in creating a viable market, the state either has to continue to subsidize these failing enterprises or will simply leave local farmers hanging. Given the usual preference of Annapolis to side with environmental interests over those of farmers, I suspect the latter will eventually be the case, although we may be forced in the meantime to use millions more in taxpayer subsidies as the state tries to goose that manure market along.

I can tell you that I have picked out all the bills I will use for the monoblogue Accountability Project. Over the next few weeks I will be compiling the votes and seeing how all the new Delegates and Senators (as well as the holdovers) did. Will the change to a Republican governor be reflected in a more conservative overall voting pattern? Stay tuned.

WCRC meeting – March 2015

Those members who attended last night’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting got a somewhat different perspective on the Annapolis political arena. Instead of hearing from one of our representatives – who were sort of busy at the moment, seeing that Monday nights are session nights in our state’s capital – we instead gained the perspective of Pat Schrawder, the district representative for Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who brought “mostly good news from Annapolis.”

She explained that not all members of the General Assembly have a district representative, but given Mary Beth’s “frenetic” schedule as a member of the Appropriations Committee, she thought it was prudent to have someone back home. (Appropriations meets five days a week, according to Pat.) As it turned out, though, the Eastern Shore delegation “is running very well” in Schrawder’s opinion, in part because those on it represent all the key committees, and they have met with “most of” the large groups.

The good news was that the “chicken tax” and a “farmer’s bill of rights” had both been killed, and a “full-court press” was being placed on the Pinsky bill to instill the PMT regulations. (This may be a moot point, as Pinsky placed a hold on his regulations pending acceptance of a deal between stakeholders which would put a revised version in place.) Schrawder pointed out regulations are more flexible than legislation, which was an advantage for the agricultural community.

Pat also relayed that the Hogan budget, which was in balance as submitted, was still a better deal than the O’Malley budgets as most of the structural deficit had been eliminated.

And while Delegate Carozza was “working as hard, if not harder, than anyone else up there,” Pat added that Mary Beth was still interested in hearing from her constituents, and happy to receive the correspondence. Moreover, one goal they had was to have as strong a link to Wicomico County as they had to Worcester County.

Schrawder also announced that a legislative scholarship was available to a student in her district, with the application deadline coming up on April 15.

Turning to Central Committee news, we learned that our Lincoln Day Dinner would be put on hold until this fall as the preferred speaker, some governor named Larry Hogan, wasn’t going to be doing speaking engagements until then. We may need to change the venue because of this. Mark McIver also noted the upcoming state convention in Ocean City, encouraging those at the meeting to attend and see how a convention is run.

I also reminded the group that we had sent the names of prospective Wicomico County Board of Education applicants to the state.

Speaking on behalf of County Council, John Cannon noted that the “Evo bill” had passed the House of Delegates and Senate, although there was a minor difference between the two versions to work out. County Council was also watching the PMT regulations, the original version of which they opposed. Also, they had finished the Capital Improvement Plan and were now working on portions of the budget.

Cannon also commented that MACO (the Maryland Association of Counties) was “staying relatively conservative” with its actions this session.

John also explained some of the process behind the elected school board bill, conceding that “we rushed it through” but noting that the hybrid option was placed to appease the cries for “diversity” and to avoid the prospect of turning over the entire board in one election and eliminating all the institutional knowledge.

However, he believed the struggle to get this through the General Assembly would be “an uphill battle” because opponents wanted more public hearings. I made the case that the bill had the deck stacked against it early on when it received a late hearing date. If there needs to be a re-introduction next year it should be pre-filed as there was no one to do so this session.

At this point, the new officers were sworn in. Incoming president Shawn Jester said that “this club did more to make Wicomico County a Republican county” than anyone else and hoped the good work could continue.

That good work will be celebrated next on April 27, with a speaker to be announced.

O’Malley PMT regs pass legislative hurdle

An amended version of the O’Malley Phosphorus Management Tool regulations passed the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on a 7-4 party line vote, setting it up for review by the full Senate at an unspecified future date.

You may recall that one of Larry Hogan’s first actions as governor was to unceremoniously yank the PMT regulations hours before the deadline for publication in the Maryland Register, only to come back a few weeks later with retooled regulations of his own. However, those regulations weren’t good enough for environmental groups and they’re supporting the original version as it winds its way through the General Assembly.

So while Hogan’s Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative regulations have been proposed (but not yet placed in the Maryland Register), the Democratic counterpart has moved a step closer to passage. It’s worth noting that the Senate is still 33-14 Democrat, so even if the one Democrat representing an agricultural area (Jim Mathias) breaks with his party it’s still likely to pass with a vetoproof Senate majority.

One change from the last election is the wipeout of most of the moderate, centrist Democrats in the General Assembly to be replaced by conservative Republicans. This will be key if the O’Malley PMT regulations make it through the process, as it’s likely Governor Hogan would veto them. With 50 House Republicans, the chances of a veto override in the House are much slimmer as only a handful of Democrats need to back Hogan and the GOP to sustain the veto. With seven more Republicans in that body, presumably they’re more reliable administration supporters than the Democrats they replaced.

Yet this uncertainty places a number of farmers, particularly on the Lower Shore, in a sort of administrative limbo as they can’t predict how the 2015 growing season will shake out as far as the usage of manure on their fields. We’re only a few short weeks away from planting for many farmers who don’t have winter wheat in their fields. Lower Shore farmers are especially affected because about 1 in 5 would face an immediate ban on applying manure to their fields under the Hogan regulations. (Many have already started, though, as the first of March brought the end of the state’s winter prohibition on the practice.)

Of course the agricultural community, forced to pick its poison, would prefer the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative to the bill going through the General Assembly. (One important caveat, though: SB257 was passed “with amendment” but the amendments weren’t available as I wrote this.) But the General Assembly bill would take precedence over any regulations Hogan writes, so it wouldn’t be surprising to hear that April 14 can’t come quickly enough for that community.

Local Democrats make big claims to receive handouts

Fresh off a shellacking where their statewide standard-bearer had his doors blown off locally by 30 points and only two of their eleven state race contenders won - one by just 30 votes locally and the other in an ostensibly non-partisan race – the Wicomico County Democratic Party finds itself in somewhat desperate financial straits. So in order to raise a little money, the party is making some claims which have to be seen to be believed – and I’m going to show you.

Let’s go through this a little bit at a time, shall we?

Maryland voters decided to “Change Maryland” last November, with the election of Larry Hogan as Governor. However, with only a month in office, Hogan is already proving himself to be just another Tea party Republican.

Perhaps the idea was to indeed elect a TEA Party Republican, rather than four more years of the O’Malley/Brown debacle? We certainly were due for a change.

And as far as the TEA Party goes, it’s worth recalling that TEA is actually an acronym that stands for “Taxed Enough Already.” We heard for three-plus years about all the tax increases put in place by the O’Malley/Brown administration so people naturally decided enough was enough.

But they continue:

Here are just a few of his first actions:

  • Slashing education funding – $1.9 Million from Wicomico County alone
  • Recklessly raiding over $2.5 Billion from our Transportation funding
  • Eliminating programs that help to keep the Bay clean

Apparently I’m supposed to take their word about these so-called cuts, since there’s no context or backup information provided.

I will not profess to be an expert on the state budget; however, I did look under public education and on all three line items I found for Wicomico County:

  • “compensatory education funds to local school systems based on Free and Reduced Priced Meal Eligibility counts” goes from $37,322,878 actual in 2014 to $38,615,082 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $1,292,204.
  • “additional support for students with limited English proficiency” goes from $3,092,879 actual in 2014 to $3,407,287 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $314,408.
  • the automatic supplement to counties “which have less than 80 percent of the statewide average wealth per pupil” goes from $3,670,117 actual in 2014 to $4,579,323 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $909,206.

By my count that’s an increase of $2,515,818. It appears the Hogan administration is well taking care of those things it needs to, prioritizing at a time when the state had to address a $750 million structural deficit.

I still haven’t figured out where the $2.5 billion “raid” to transportation funding is – the repeal of the automatic gas tax increase would save consumers nearly $1.56 billion over the next five fiscal years. We know Democrats own tax increases, so perhaps they bemoan that “lost” revenue to the state.

As for the elimination of programs for the Bay, I’d like to know precisely what they are referring to. They’re getting the PMT regulations so they should be happy.

Anyway, let’s continue.

And the story is the same in Wicomico County where Larry Hogan’s Tea Party partner, Bob Culver, is becoming the anti-education County Executive by refusing to fund a new building to replace the clearly antiquated West Salisbury Elementary School and scraping (sic) completion of the Bennett High School athletic complex.

Obviously the WCDCC has little concept of debt service. It would be one thing if the county could reach into its pocket and fish out $40 million for a new elementary school but the idea of pulling out the county’s credit card to put yet another multi-million dollar expenditure on it doesn’t appeal to the new County Executive. Just like they did in electing Larry Hogan, county voters wanted a change in direction from the former administration.

Instead, the county will improve the school in the areas where the need is greatest, with the list compiled through a consultation with experts and school officials. It may not be the “new” West Salisbury Elementary, but it will be an improved one. Perhaps that approach would have saved the county a lot of money with the former Bennett High School.

As for the Bennett Middle situation, completion of the athletic fields would not be “scrapped” (as the letter should have said) but simply placed in a different area of the site. The former Bennett Middle would be repurposed for office space, allowing the opportunity for the county to consolidate some of its operations. The change still needs the approval of County Council.

Picking back up, with the sad trumpet appeal for funding:

This isn’t the change I voted for in November, and I know you didn’t vote for this, either. We need your help to fight back. We cannot elect more Democrats in 2018 without your support over the next four years. Every dollar you donate to the Wicomico Democratic Central Committee goes to funding our efforts to recruit and help good local candidates.

Most importantly, your donation goes to helping us communicate our party’s values to the voters… personal responsibility, educating all of our children, cleaning up the Bay, protecting our agricultural community, equality for ALL, supporting local businesses, and protecting the Middle Class… and we need your support!

Actually, I did vote for some of this change. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change enough members of the General Assembly to make the total difference that’s needed – although my personal representation in the House of Delegates got a whole lot better.

But if the WCDCC wants to elect more Democrats in 2018, those Democrats can’t be in the tax-and-spend, socially liberal mode. Not in this county.

And after reading that Democrat screed, I realized it’s really conservatives who advocate for all those things the Democrats claim to stand for. That’s not to say a Democrat can’t be conservative but they are fewer and further between, even in this area.

So how would I, as a conservative, respond to their letter? I’ll go through what they claim to represent.

We believe that personal responsibility begins with keeping more of the money you earn by taking advantage of the opportunities a capitalist system creates.

We believe that money should follow the child so you can choose the best educational opportunity for your children, whether in public or private school or through a homeschooling regimen.

We believe in cleaning up the Bay through a balanced approach, beginning by addressing a proven detriment in Conowingo Dam and not punishing farmers who have been trying their best to address the issue.

We believe in protecting the agricultural community by allowing farmers the option to do as they wish with their land, not arbitrarily shutting off development options to them.

We believe in equality for all, not discriminating for or against anyone. But we also know our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values which have stood the test of time.

We support local businesses by allowing them more freedom to do what’s productive and less time to have to deal with governmental edict and regulation. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we want to encourage them to grow and prosper for the community’s sake, not as a cash cow.

We want to protect and grow the middle class – not at the expense of the upper classes, but by allowing the conditions where those on lower rungs of the economic ladder can climb their way up through hard work and ingenuity.

The jury is still out on this, but I think all the Democrats have is rhetoric. We will have to keep an eye on the GOP to make sure they deliver the results their philosophy should yield.

So if you are a local Democrat who received this letter, there’s only one thing to do: go to the Board of Elections and request the change of registration form to become a Republican. It may be your best chance to influence election results in the future.

MCAC and CBF to Hogan: drop dead

As I suspected, the slight bend toward agricultural interests that Governor Hogan made with the revised Phosphorus Management Tool regulations – now re-dubbed the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative – was met with hostility from the environmental community. On Friday the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and Chesapeake Bay Foundation released this joint statement:

We commend the Hogan Administration for taking the problem of phosphorus pollution seriously and are pleased that the Administration embraces the scientific evidence showing we must implement the Phosphorus Management Tool to better manage manure on oversaturated farm fields.

The environmental community was not involved in the drafting of Governor Hogan’s proposed regulations that were released on Tuesday, and we have gone over them carefully since. Unfortunately, the regulations do not provide the adequate protection or assurance we need, and as such, we must oppose them. Our concerns are detailed in the attached analysis.

The regulations include a significant loophole, referred to by the agricultural industry as a “safety net,” that makes it unclear if they would ever result in full implementation of this much-needed tool. We adamantly oppose this lack of a clear, enforceable end date for putting the Phosphorus Management Tool into place.

It is also unclear whether the proposed ban on phosphorus on fields with FIV over 500 would actually reduce the amount of manure being applied to farm fields or protect Maryland water quality. The Maryland Department of Agriculture has been unable to clarify this.

Additionally, the regulations add one more year of delay, and they include troublesome secrecy provisions.

We continue to whole-heartedly support legislation sponsored by Senator Pinsky and Delegate Lafferty (SB 257 / HB 381) to implement the Phosphorus Management Tool with a six-year phase-in. Given the difficulties we’ve had with the regulatory process over the past three years, we prefer having a strong statute in place.

Their statement is an expanded version of a statement I posted on Wednesday from the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition. The MCAC is an interesting group in that none of the 21 groups involved has a thing to do with farming; instead many of these are “riverkeeper” groups from around the state. These groups blame farmers for a disproportionate share of the problems with Chesapeake Bay, imagining they are just wantonly dumping manure into streams and creeks.

While the groups have done a comparison sheet (or “detailed analysis”) between the O’Malley and Hogan proposals, their chief complaint can be summed up in this paragraph:

The Hogan PMT provisions for an “evaluation” for assessing manure markets and transportation programs, available land acreage, etc., allow for this “evaluation” to stall movement of PMT implementation for a year while MDA conducts a re-evaluation. The result is the possibility of an endless year by year postponement and re-evaluation possibility. (Emphasis in original.)

The way I read this is that, whether the infrastructure is in place or not - and, to be honest, I’m dubious of whether it can be in place – the CBF wants to move ahead on the PMT issue. Even the large-scale concession of immediately stopping the application of manure to certain fields, which is a provision allegedly affecting 1 of every 5 farmers on the Lower Shore, isn’t satisfying to the environmental coalition. They demand the data on how this would affect farmers, but pooh-pooh the need for data on how these regulations might affect the rural Maryland economy through the actual on-site studies sought by the Hogan administration.

In short, the contempt for the agricultural community by these groups is palpable.

So Larry Hogan tried to walk the middle ground. In backing off his original dead-set opposition to the PMT as “mandating how (farmers) use their property” to implementing a slightly less onerous version he still alienated the environmental community as well as discouraging some of the farmers who will be most adversely affected.

This whole episode will hopefully be a lesson to the new administration: you won’t get the friendship or the votes of those who would just as soon see the Eastern Shore collapse economically thanks to the demise of the agricultural industry regardless of what you do. So stick to those issues you ran on: improving Maryland’s economy and lowering the tax and regulatory burden on its citizens. Remember, no amount of regulation is enough for liberals, so why cater to them in the first place?

The fallback position?

In the day since Governor Hogan announced his Phosphorus Management Tool regulations and I wrote my original take on them, I’ve had a chance to see what some of the involved players have to say.

I should preface this by noting I’m not a farmer; however, I have a rural background to the extent that I lived on acreage partially surrounded by woods and cornfields and went to school with kids who were honest-to-goodness members of the Future Farmers of America, complete with the blue corduroy jackets. And seeing that this is a predominantly rural area which depends on agriculture and my interest is in its economic success, I tend to favor the views of farmers over those who think that chicken comes from Whole Foods.

Anyway, the reaction I saw from the major agricultural players was somewhat disappointing, considering the dramatic effect those around here will feel from the PMT regulations. I begin with Delmarva Poultry Industry.

Statewide, the Maryland Farm Bureau echoed the inclusive approach.

To me, these farm groups are exhibiting the same attitude that’s expressed by the saying, “the beatings will continue until morale improves.” Perhaps I’m just wondering what happened to the Larry Hogan who promised the Maryland Farm Bureau back in December:

The first fight [when I take office] will be against these politically motivated, midnight-hour phosphorus management tool regulations that the outgoing administration is trying to force upon you in these closing days. We won’t allow them to put you out of business, destroy your way of life or decimate your entire industry.

The regulations are essentially unchanged in this rendition with the exception of promises of more resources for affected farmers and an extra year to deal with the mandates. But over 1 in 5 local farmers will have to stop their fertilizing practices immediately when the regulations take effect.

And the step toward environmentalists has apparently been met with defiance. Both the Maryland Clean Agriculture Coalition and Chesapeake Bay Foundation are skeptical. CBF’s Alison Prost notes:

We are pleased the governor recognizes that excess manure application on farm fields in Maryland is a serious issue, just as scientists have been noting for years.

(snip)

We learned general information about the proposal Monday afternoon, and are hoping to obtain a copy of the actual proposed regulation as soon as possible. Without such details, we are withholding judgment.  Once we are able to review the full proposal we hope that the Hogan Administration will allow the environmental community a chance to help shape this policy.  In the meantime, we fully support SB 257 and HB 381 which are intended to solve the manure crisis through legislation. (Emphasis mine.)

In other words: nice try, but we are still after the whole enchilada.

Honestly, I don’t know if this measure is an attempt to placate the center by throwing farmers under the bus or if it’s part of a grand gambit where concessions on this issue will be traded for relief from the “rain tax.” I don’t trust the Democrats to follow through on any such deal because they come with the attitude that their time out of power is a fleeting, temporary one. It worked in ousting Bob Ehrlich after one term.

Perhaps Larry Hogan doesn’t have it in him to be Maryland’s answer to Scott Walker. But this relatively rapid concession on an issue important to the rural voters who supported him by margins of 70-30 or better in many counties is troubling. Had he waited until we knew the fate of the General Assembly bills – which he could have chosen to veto and perhaps not have to deal with until next session – he could have positioned himself as more of the fighter we were looking for when we dispatched Martin O’Malley’s heir apparent and selected Larry to lead the state.

By their words today, the environmental lobby proved they have no intention of working with Larry Hogan – none whatsoever. There was enough of a broad outline presented yesterday that these groups could have embraced the Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative, but they did not.

Of course, I sort of figured it would be this way all along but people keep reaching across the aisle and keep getting their arms bitten off. The only solution is to make the statist side concede by having superior numbers, and we can’t finish that job until 2018.

PMT: not eliminated, just pushed back

Yesterday, Governor Hogan announced that some local farmers will have tough new phosphorus regulations placed on them this year. While it wasn’t his overall intent, the news could be devastating to any local farmers who have existing high phosphorus content in their fields as it will necessitate their relocation of any manure present and prevent them from utilizing that fertilizing technique until 2022.

For the rest of the agricultural community, the change is a simple one-year reprieve from the regulations taking effect. Overall, the regulations aren’t a whole lot different from previous proposals. Granted, the new regulations Hogan proposes set up an on-farm economic analysis, but that should have been the first step well before the regulations were published and affecting many Maryland farmers.

So while the state is putting together a pretty picture of the new regulations’ effects, it may simply be a capitulation by the Hogan Administration as they try and put their best face on a fait accompliSB257/HB381, which codify the PMT regulations slated for adoption before Hogan pulled them hours after taking office January 21, have hearings this week and both have a substantial number of co-sponsors.

For his part, Hogan bills it as a ”fair and balanced” proposal:

We have listened to the agricultural and environmental communities to find a fair and balanced plan for limiting phosphorus, and I am pleased to announce the details of that solution today. The enhanced phosphorus management tool regulations and the broader Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative will protect water quality in the Chesapeake Bay while still supporting a vibrant agriculture industry in Maryland. We are providing immediate action to limit pollution, investing in new technology, seeking alternative uses for manure, and improving on-farm management of animal manures – none of which were included in the previous proposals.

It seems to me the time to do the enhancements would have been before most farmers were affected. The excuse for an economic study produced by the previous administration noted the plan would cost farmers (and taxpayers) millions of dollars for comparatively little benefit to Chesapeake Bay. The impetus for the “Agriculture Phosphorus Initiative” should have been to study the effects on real farms first – which is part of this effort, but done simultaneously with the restrictions rather than in advance of them.

Moreover, we don’t know how quickly some of these waste conversion initiatives will get online despite the $2 million the state recently granted three such operations, including one in Worcester County and one in Dorchester County. How scalable these operations are is yet to be determined, but the need for their assistance in waste disposal will arise rather soon.

In short, there was a reason the Eastern Shore agricultural community was pleased about the demise of the PMT regulations – not that they want a clean Chesapeake Bay any less than anyone else, but because they can make a case that they have done their part yet still seem to be the target of more and more regulations. That month of triumph appears to be coming to a close, though, and while Hogan calls it a enhancement the end result will still likely be economic damage to Eastern Shore farmers.

The economic viability of producing poultry in Maryland may be a casualty of these new regulations as growers may find the market for their by-product suddenly diminished. Without the ready availability of chicken waste through the departure of the industry, the environmentalists may succeed in driving the soil phosphorus levels down, but there will be much less economic activity to speak of as well.

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.

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