Odds and ends number 86

As I culled the vast number of possible items I had in my e-mail box down to a manageable few for this latest excursion into stuff I can handle in anything from a couple sentences to a couple paragraphs, I took a break – then promptly forgot I’d started this and let it go for several weeks. Sheesh. So, anyway…

The election season is here, and it’s blatantly obvious that the Maryland Republican Party feels local Senator Jim Mathias has a vulnerable hold on his position. One recent objection was the vote to both pass and overturn Governor Hogan’s veto on House Bill 1783.

If you want a cure for insomnia you could do worse than reading all 53 pages of the House bill. But what I found interesting is the vast difference between the amended House version and the Senate version that never made it past the hearing stage. The bills were intended to codify the recommendations of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission, but the House bill added two new wrinkles: eliminating the input of the Board of Public Works by upgrading the current Interagency Committee on School Construction to a commission and adding to it four new members (two appointed by the governor and two by the leaders of the General Assembly) and – more importantly for the fate of the bill – adding an appropriation to prevent it being taken to referendum. All those amendments came from the Democrat majority in the House Appropriations Committee, which meant that bill was put on greased skids and the other locked in a desk drawer.

Yet there wasn’t a Democrat who objected to this, and that’s why we have government as we do. It also proved once again that Senator Mathias is good at doing what the other side of the Bay wants – obviously since I have done the monoblogue Accountability Project since the term Mathias was first elected to serve in I know this isn’t the first time it’s happened.

But the fair question to ask is whether anyone else is listening? Results of a recent poll tended to be a little disheartening to me. According to the Maryland Public Policy Institute:

Marylanders support spending more money on school safety and career and technical education, according to a new statewide poll. But they are less enthusiastic about expanding pre-kindergarten or paying teachers more if those initiatives mean higher taxes or reductions in other services.

(…)

Broad majorities oppose paying more in income or property taxes to expand pre-K. Voters are against making cuts to roads and transportation (70% total less likely), public safety (70% total less likely), or children’s health insurance (77% total less likely) to afford expansion of pre-k education.

They should be opposing universal pre-K in general. Far from the days when kindergarten was optional and getting through high school provided a complete enough education to prosper in life, we are now working on taking children as young as 4 or even late 3 years old and providing schooling at state expense for 16 to 17 years – pre-K, K through 12, and two years of community college. This would be more palatable if public schools weren’t simply Common Core-based indoctrination centers, but as the quality of education declines quantity doesn’t make up for it.

For example, a real public school education would teach critical thinking, exhibited in these facts about offshore drilling and steps the industry is taking to make it safer. After all, logic would dictate they would want to recover as much product they invested in extracting as possible – spills benefit no one.

Interestingly enough, my friends at the Capital Research Center have also embedded a dollop of common sense into the energy argument.

This goes with the four-part series that explains the pitfalls of so-called “renewable” energy – you know, the types that are such a smashing success that the state has to mandate their use in order to maintain a climate that, frankly, we have no idea is the optimal, normal one anyway. (For example, in the last millennium or so we’ve had instances where vineyards extended north into Greenland – hence, its name – and times when New England had measurable snow into June due to the natural cause of a volcano eruption.)

Solar and wind may work on a dwelling level, but they’re not reliable enough for long-term use until storage capacity catches up. The series also does a good job of explaining the issues with the erratic production of solar and wind energy and the effect on the power grid.

On another front, the summer driving season is here and we were cautioned that prices would increase by the American Petroleum Institute back in April. Oddly enough, a passage in that API piece echoed something I wrote a few weeks later for The Patriot Post:

But while it isn’t as much of a factor on the supply side, OPEC can still be a price driver. In this case, both Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC Russia have put aside their foreign policy differences and enforced an 18-month-long production cut between themselves – a slowdown that has eliminated the supply glut (and low prices) we enjoyed over the last few years. And since those two nations are the second- and third-largest producers of crude oil (trailing only the U.S.), their coalition significantly influences the market.

Finally, I wanted to go north of the border and talk about 2020. (No, not THAT far north – I meant Delaware.)

Since Joe Biden has nothing better to do these days and needs to keep his name in the pipeline for contributions, he’s organized his own PAC called American Possibilities. (He’s also doing a book tour that comes to Wilmington June 10, but that’s not important for this story.)

A few weeks ago his American Possibilities PAC announced its first set of candidates, and so far they’re uninspiring garden-variety Democrats. Supposedly they were suggested by AP members, but we have two incumbent Senators in vulnerable seats (Tammy Baldwin and Jon Tester both represent states that went to Donald Trump), current freshman Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Florida (another Trump state), and challengers Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Andy Kim and Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey.

As of this writing, all are still in contention; however, this comes with caveats. Baldwin and Tester are unopposed in their upcoming primaries for Senate seats, Houlahan and Kim are unopposed for nomination as well, and Murphy has token opposition. The one race that will test Biden’s “pull” is the NJ-11 race, where Sherrill is part of a five-person race on the Democratic side to replace retiring Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a GOP moderate. All three House challengers Biden is backing are trying for GOP seats, as a matter of fact – no insurgents here. We’ll see in November if he fails.

Shifting sides on the political pendulum, here’s some good political news from our friends at the Constitution Party:

We received great news this week! The Constitution Party effort to gain ballot access in North Carolina exceeded the required number of registered voter signatures to qualify for ballot access in 2018 and 2020.

To do this they needed 11,925 valid signatures in a timeframe that stretched about five months – so far they have over 16,000 total signatures and 12,537 have been declared valid (at least until the NCGOP sues to deny them access because it will be deemed to hurt their chances – see the Ohio Libertarian Party cases for examples of this.) If that development is avoided, it will be the first time the Constitution Party has had ballot access in the state.

Honestly, I believe the two “major” parties should be made to live with the same petitioning for access standards the minor parties do. If they are that popular then it shouldn’t be a problem, right? Once the 2018-22 cycle gets underway, perhaps the same thing should be tried in Maryland.

Lastly is a housekeeping note: in updating my Election 2018 widget, I’ve decided to eliminate for the time being races that are unopposed and focus on the primary races only. So you’ll notice it’s a bit shorter.

After seven weeks of interim, now you know the truth: writing delayed is not writing denied.

Champions or chumps?

Apparently the Maryland State Education Association has some worries about the prospects of two of our local candidates. Almost six months out from the elections and look what I got in the mail yesterday:

Given that, out of over 150 MSEA-endorsed candidates across the state, the body only “recommended” five Republicans (including Christopher Adams locally) one can come to the conclusion the MSEA is pretty much a shill group for liberals. Although Chris is a fine candidate, the fact that the MSEA endorsed a Wicomico Republican could perhaps be traced to the ongoing fight about disassociation by the local bargaining unit. Nor was an MSEA mailing put out on his behalf, at least not that I’m aware of.

There are a couple things I can tell from this mailer: one is that it came from Board of Election records based on the fact it has my full name like my voter registration does. And it’s bipartisan, as a number of Republicans I know have reported receiving it; most likely it went to the truly consistent voters. Something tells me that various groups are going to try and convince voters that Mathias and Conway are practically the second and third comings of Ronald Reagan, but with a softer side – that’s why the MSEA is stressing how these two are backing education. That is, though, if you consider throwing money at the issue as backing education.

For example, let’s consider that first claim about “record investments in our schools.” In Conway’s case, let’s not forget that he was a prime mover back in 2012 behind legislation to circumvent Wicomico County’s revenue cap in order to increase the county’s share of education funding. (Conway was a co-sponsor of a similar House bill.) This had the potential of leaving the county $14 million short in their FY2013 budget, and directly led to an income tax increase reluctantly passed by our County Council. Norm voted for both versions of the bill in the House. (Mathias was absent when the Senate bill was voted on.) Those “record investments” had to come from somewhere and a large share came from the pockets of those in District 38 here in Wicomico County. Overturning the will of county voters? Way to be “standing up for Wicomico County,” Norm.

And then we have the aspect of pre-kindergarten. While the state’s goal seems to be cradle-to-grave control, the bill in question only expands pre-kindergarten to those who meet certain income guidelines, at an annual cost of no less than $4.3 million. Moreover, there is no guarantee that any local children would be impacted – but it provides 160 more potential MSEA union members because the bill mandates an average 1 teacher to 10 student ratio. Of course, both Conway and Mathias voted for the bill – what’s a little $4.3 million mandate in the grand scheme of things?

While it’s an apples-to-oranges comparison to some extent, the question of the effectiveness of Head Start also leads to questioning whether a formalized school setting does much good for four-year-olds. I guess we’ll spend lots of taxpayer dollars to find out.

Scrutiny is also due regarding the “larger voice in how new curriculum is implemented,” a claim based on passage of HB1164. It doesn’t matter how loud we speak, because money is talking louder – and there’s going to be a lot of it needed to enact Common Core standards and testing. This is from the fiscal note for HB1164:

Finally, the full cost to administer PARCC is still unknown. In July 2013, PARCC announced that the summative math and reading tests would cost $29.50 per student. This is a little less than the $32 per student Maryland currently spends on assessments, but it does not reflect several other formative tests PARCC is developing that Maryland may select or the technology infrastructure required in every school to handle the capacity and network requirements to administer the computer-based assessments. Many schools do not have sufficient technology infrastructure to meet these requirements. MSDE is in the process of assessing the technology readiness of Maryland’s schools. The local school systems identified over $100 million in needed technology improvements to implement PARCC online. MSDE has contracted with Education Superhighway, a consulting firm, to evaluate the technology gap to implement PARCC online by the 2016-2017 school year. Several states, most recently Georgia and Oklahoma, have recently left the PARCC consortium over cost concerns. There are also long-term budget implications for maintenance and operational costs of assessment administration upon the termination of federal RTTT grant funds to the State and to PARCC. (Emphasis mine.)

In other words, we are once again buying a pig in a poke. Note also that the phrase “Common Core” was excised from the bill after first reading because its reputation precedes it now.

Basically what this bill did was allow Martin O’Malley (and his House and Senate minions) to designate a number of “yes men” who will invariably come to the conclusion that we need more money to throw at the problem. But in reading the bill I fail to see how we in Wicomico County will get a “larger voice,” even if one of those appointed happens to be, say, a Norm Conway or Jim Mathias. It won’t help.

The mailer urges us to call Senator Mathias and Delegate Conway to “thank them for their leadership on education issues and their work to keep our public schools #1 in the country.” It’s a way of skirting the election law since they’re not openly advocating a vote on their behalf – nothing new here, as conservatives use the same method.

But how about calling them and asking why they really aren’t supporting Maryland’s school-aged children? Why didn’t they advocate for parent empowerment bills which didn’t even sniff a real committee vote (it was withdrawn in 2012) in three consecutive sessions this term? Ask them if money shouldn’t be following the child regardless of where a parent decides to send them to school, or teach them at home? And while Senator Mathias has been of assistance in the matter, we all should ask Norm Conway why he won’t stand up for true accountability and support the right of Wicomico County voters to select their own Board of Education?

Ask yourself: are they protecting the schools as the mailer says, or protecting the children by allowing parents to do their job? There truly is a difference.

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