If you can’t beat ’em…

On Tuesday I received an e-mail which I found had no shortage of irony, something which made an otherwise boilerplate press release worth the post.

It was a release about how Maryland horsemen are reaping the benefits from Rosecroft Raceway in Prince George’s County – purses are up and preferences are given to Maryland-bred horses, including enhanced purses when seven or more such horses compete in a race with at least eight participants. To be honest I don’t follow horse racing so that meant nothing to me.

Instead, the money quote (literally) was this otherwise throwaway line:

Rosecroft’s owner has submitted a proposal for the Prince George’s gaming license. The proposal includes a $700 million total investment that includes a hotel and first class integrated gaming and racing facility. Maryland’s Video Lottery Facility Location Commission is expected to make a decision on the award of the license sometime in late 2013.

Surely you should remember that Penn National Gaming, the entity which owns Rosemont, was just scant months ago throwing everything but the kitchen sink into an effort to defeat Question 7, the ballot initiative allowing the Prince George’s facility to be constructed. Their worry was a facility there would cut into the profits from a casino they operate in Charles Town, West Virginia. Amazing how principles go out the window when money is at stake.

It’s obvious I’m still on Penn National’s mailing list from the time when Question 7 was on the ballot, particularly since I was also against the ballot question but for different reasons. (I still contend Article XIX of the Maryland Constitution should be stricken so the General Assembly can change these parameters without the need for a popular vote.) If it weren’t for the sheer hypocrisy of Penn National possibly getting the facility they were dead-set against I would have just deleted the release.

I really have nothing against gambling; although I’ve never set foot in a Maryland casino I have enjoyed casino wagering in Delaware, Michigan, Ontario, Atlantic City, and Las Vegas. My contention is strictly one of the Maryland General Assembly not doing its job.

But it seems very fishy to me that an entity can turn on a dime like that – it would almost be like the case where the Susan G. Komen Foundation reversed course regarding donations to Planned Parenthood twice in a short span of time. There won’t be that kind of backlash in this case, but we now see where the priorities for Penn National Gaming lie. It’s all about the Benjamins, isn’t it?

Gambling on our fiscal future

It appears the Maryland General Assembly will be working this summer after all, as Governor O’Malley announced there will be a Special Session beginning Thursday, August 9. A few observations:

First of all, beginning the Special Session on a Thursday probably means they’ll try and wrap things up in two days. It’s doubtful the General Assembly will want to be working over the weekend and it’s probable that the session has the single-minded goal of getting authorization for a sixth casino in Prince George’s County and offering table games at existing facilities before voters. The rumors I’ve been hearing make it sound as though the change from a 67% tax rate may be dead for now – but don’t be surprised if that issue is revisited in the regular session next year.

But the question is what people like us get in the deal. I understand the proponents are making all sorts of claims that counties will see a bounty of cash flow into their coffers, but any and all of the financial components are subject to change at the whim of the General Assembly. Since the Eastern Shore only has nine House votes (seven of which are minority Republicans) and three Senate votes (2 of the 3 are GOP), it’s more than likely that any sweetheart deals will be made to entice General Assembly members from Baltimore City and Montgomery County to vote for the plan at the expense of other parts of the state. That claim of $4.9 million for Wicomico County may end up being 4.9 thousand by the time all is said, done, and horse traded.

(Also worthy of note regarding the Eastern Shore delegation: the only three who voted for the bill in 2007 were Democrat Delegate Norm Conway and two Republicans: Senator Rich Colburn and the late Delegate Page Elmore. As it stands now, Senator Jim Mathias – who was a Delegate then – may be a vote against in the Senate, leaving Conway and Colburn as the lone gambling supporters of the Eastern Shore delegation.)

Oh, and speaking of horses: I thought the intention of the original gambling bill was to prop up local racetracks by allowing them to be slot machine locations. Yet I believe Ocean Downs is the only racetrack which doubles as a slot location – the other sites are standalone sites with no racing. Nor would it shock me to see at least some part of a prospective tax cut for casino operators come out of the 9.5% the equine industry is guaranteed in Maryland. The 48.5% for education will be the last thing they touch.

We all have to concede that, compared with the rosy predictions of $1.36 billion dollars in revenue by FY2013 – the year we are in now – slot machines have been an utter failure in Maryland. The reasons for this are legion:

  • Not all of the expected locations are up and running yet – locations in Baltimore City and Allegany County (Rocky Gap) won’t be open until 2013 and 2014, respectively. The Maryland Live! casino in Anne Arundel County just opened this year.
  • Because other states weren’t shackled by the poorly thought-out system of needing voter approval to make technical changes, they have already put table games in place, making them more attractive to gamblers.
  • Entertainment options are limited at the Ocean Downs casino by state law. This puts them at some disadvantage to nearby Delaware locations in Harrington and Dover which permit live music.
  • Finally, a poor economy has limited people’s “fun money.” On a personal level, I used to go to Harrington maybe once or twice a year with the bowling prize money I received at season’s end or other “mad money” I came across. But that’s no longer possible when there are more bills to pay and less income being made; certainly I’m not the Lone Ranger in that particular situation.

So don’t look for gambling to be a cure-all, and take any predictions of revenue from the state with a significant grain of salt. It’s clear that those in charge of Maryland didn’t think things through when they sold us the bill of goods known as Question 2 four years ago, and now that potential big-money campaign contributors and Big Labor are beckoning to build a casino in Prince George’s County just outside Washington, D.C. (talk about regressive taxation there) it’s suddenly enough of an emergency to call our legislature in.

I know Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin was not amused:

The real crisis in Maryland is not whether there should be a sixth casino location, but rather the trend of recent job losses. The state lost 11,000 jobs in June and has witnessed 4 straight months of job declines.  Gaming expansion won’t create jobs for at least another year, and then at most 3,000 jobs.  Marylanders need help today.

Meanwhile, this has been the ‘Summer of Union Handouts’ with teachers’ unions getting their own special session in May and now the trade unions getting their own special session in August.  Curiously left out are the close to 2,000 union steelworkers laid-off last month at the Sparrows Point plant. The state is bleeding jobs at a rate of tens of thousands on a monthly basis, and the best the Governor O’Malley can muster is, ‘If you give me another casino, I can get you 3,000 jobs in a few years.’  How is that relief?

The Governor should know that economic development is more than just bio-tech and casinos.  Instead of a special session for a single casino, we should be taking this time to develop policies benefiting all of Maryland’s working families – not just those with powerful unions.

Five years ago, Governor O’Malley called a Special Session which dealt not just with gambling but also raised taxes and spent big money on providing coverage to a small fraction of those Maryland residents who didn’t have health insurance. All this was supposed to solve our state’s structural deficit once and for all.

But a half-decade later, buffeted by damaging economic winds created in no small part by Democrats just like those who run Maryland’s government with an iron fist, we still struggle with financial hardship as a state – unfortunately, these troubles also affect the federal and local governments as well as many millions of Americans who by no means are better off than they were four years ago.

In short, there are two key problems with Martin O’Malley’s Democratic approach to state finances: rich people don’t stay to be hosed by higher taxes and broke people don’t gamble. Other than that, things are just going swimmingly.

“The days of political assumptions and bureaucratic neglect are over.”

Over the course of the past year we have been engaged in a door to door, hand to hand, grassroots campaign effort in Prince George’s County, Baltimore City, and throughout Maryland. We refuse to forfeit any votes due to historical voting patterns. Today is a new day, and ideas matter. The simple fact is the City and the County have been governed exclusively by bureaucrats enmeshed in a specific ideology for decades and have few results to show their tax-paying constituents. The bureaucratic neglect suffered by the citizens of these areas is staggering and unacceptable.

That’s a statement from U.S. Senate candidate Dan Bongino, who will be the featured speaker at the “No More Neglect Rally” held just outside Washington D.C. tomorrow. Interestingly enough, one of the other speakers will be the last person who tried to defeat Senator Ben Cardin, that being onetime Lieutenant Governor and, more recently, RNC Chair Michael Steele.

That list of speakers got me to thinking about my recollections of the Steele-Cardin race. To be sure, since 2006 was a state election year (and the first Maryland campaign I was involved with) the U.S. Senate race was sort of an undercard to the effort of Governor Bob Ehrlich to be re-elected. But once Steele decided to step out of Ehrlich’s shadow, the way was paved for him to be the GOP nominee and it was believed that having a black candidate could be the ticket to winning a Republican U.S. Senate seat out of Maryland for the first time since 1980.

But I’m not sure that there wasn’t an assumption that race would trump ideology. Surely the Steele campaign wasn’t foolish enough to believe they would get every minority vote, but in both Baltimore City and Prince George’s County – two heavily minority areas – Steele received less than 1/4 of the vote, and he only outpaced Bob Ehrlich’s performance in those two areas by a few points. Looking at the numbers, one can deduce that, had Steele ran even with Ben Cardin in Baltimore and Prince George’s County, he would have been won a close election because Michael won the rest of the state outright.

However, it should be noted that Ehrlich and Steele did far better in those areas in 2006 than Ehrlich and Wargotz did in 2010, and roughly the same as the Ehrlich/Steele 2002 ticket did. So race apparently did help somewhat.

We know that Ben Cardin will tie his wagon to that of Barack Obama, particularly in minority areas. But Dan Bongino is asking the right question: what has blind loyalty to the Democrat Party done for their communities? Are they better off than they were four years ago? Even more to the point: are they better off than they were fifty years ago?

There’s no doubt that most would answer yes to the latter question, as the rising tide of American economic dominance lifted all the boats to a level where even someone considered poor today is living far better than the middle class of 30 to 40 years ago, insofar as material goods measure success. As far as other aspects of life, though, the jury is still out.

Yet I know Republicans who will swear up and down it’s a waste of time to campaign in minority areas because they’ll never vote for a Republican. No doubt it’s frustrating, but Dan Bongino is investing the time and effort by tailoring the message to hot-button issues which resonate regardless of race, particularly education. And he only needs to gain about 6% of the overall vote to succeed, so if he attracts 30 percent of the vote in Baltimore City and PG County it’s going to be a long night for Ben Cardin because that first loss is always the toughest. One would have to presume that Bongino is outpacing Steele in the rest of the state if he’s at that magic 30% threshold in minority areas.

To be perfectly frank, the fact that Dan Bongino has no record – just rhetoric – could be the reason the Republican establishment has seemed to shy away from his campaign. Several of the top party brass supported his primary opponent, Richard Douglas, in part because he at least had a Senatorial pedigree as a staffer to Senator Jesse Helms. To them, Bongino was a wild-card unknown, and another candidate those who believe they’re in the know dismiss as the “nice guy who doesn’t have a chance because he’s from dark blue Maryland and has no money.” Funny, but they said that about Scott Brown.

I understand the argument that Scott Brown was an outlier – the beneficiary of a special election held at a time when the national focus was on that one race, in a time period where his election meant the difference between a filibuster-proof Democrat majority or simply a 59-41 bulge. I get that. But Dan is doing his best to nationalize the election like Scott Brown did, based on his frequent national television and radio appearances. It’s a ton of free media which maximizes his efforts at getting the word out, and it’s making a difference.

I say all this, though, having no idea whether Dan would be a Scott Brown or a Jim DeMint. In six years I may be at the front of the line calling for a Republican primary opponent for Dan because he turned out to be what I consider a squishy moderate. I’d rather be in that position, though, than hoping we can find a quality opponent to take on the man National Journal has regularly tabbed as the most liberal Senator in a body which has more than its share of would-be patricians. I think the only true friends Ben Cardin has are the ones with checkbooks.

Yet in the meantime those on the wrong side of political assumptions and bureaucratic neglect continue to reliably vote against their best interests. For their trouble they have a president who stabbed them in the back by both denying them educational opportunities and allowing their closest economic competitors – illegal aliens – free rein in this country; meanwhile, their so-called leaders cry racism at the drop of a hat rather than suggest that the best way to prosper isn’t necessarily though athletics, rap music, or crime, but through a method employed by those success stories which are rewarded with the derision of being known as Oreos, Uncle Toms, or simply too white.

Obviously I think that’s completely crazy, but then again I’m just a white guy who grew up in a white-bread middle-class city neighborhood for several years before moving to a rural school district with ONE black student. If I may butcher the dialect and/or date myself, I’ve not been down much with the homeboys. But I am aware that history hasn’t always been kind to them.

On the other hand, it only takes a small percentage of those people who open their eyes and minds to realize that enslavement to one political party is contributing to the enslavement of their population to lives of poverty and fear. Other races don’t play that game, although Latinos are heading in that same direction towards marginalization, to their detriment.

So we should applaud Dan Bongino and the others who are taking the fight to the enemy in such a manner. I hope there’s a thousand at the rally and they each tell ten of their friends – there is an alternative to the same old pandering liberal Democratic politicians out there, so accept nothing less.

Voter roll watchdog group shifts focus to Prince George’s County

Updating a story I brought to you earlier this month, the good government advocacy group Election Integrity Maryland revealed yesterday they would challenge over 2,000 voter registrations in Prince George’s County on several counts which include duplicate registrations, invalid addresses, and deceased voters who remain on the rolls, among other reasons. The Prince George’s challenges bring the total number of registrations being questioned by the nonpartisan group to almost 8,000, with nearly all of the records under question coming from Montgomery, Baltimore, and Prince George’s counties. These are the three largest voter registration jurisdictions in the state of Maryland.

(continued at Examiner.com…)

Odds and ends number 47

The occasional rundown of items I find interesting and deserving of a paragraph or two…begins now.

In the category of acting locally, thinking globally I’ll pass along the annual dog and pony show against the Wicomico County revenue cap called the Public Hearing for the county’s FY2013 operating budget, which will be held in the Flanders Room of the Wicomico County Youth and Civic Center this coming Thursday, March 22nd at 7 p.m.

Since the deadline for county departments to submit their budget requests only passed this week, we probably won’t see the county’s FY2013 budget proposal until it’s distributed at the meeting. The obvious sword of Damocles hanging over our fiscal head is the prospect of a shifting of teacher pensions to the county, and that hasn’t been resolved at the state level yet.

So there’s a lot of uncertainty in the Government Office Building these days.

Continue reading “Odds and ends number 47”

Fresh maps, rancid gerrymandering

Or maybe it’s O’Malleymandering?

This actually came out late Friday night, but I wasn’t made aware of it until last night. Annie Linskey and John Fritze of the Baltimore Sun posted two maps they claimed were the top choices among Democrat redistricters. Neither is an improvement on the jigsaw puzzle we have now, particularly in the central part of the state – in fact, both of these solutions try extremely hard to ignore any semblance of honoring geographic boundaries. But it’s obvious the 10-0 project is in full effect with one option.

In comparison with a previous incarnation leaked to the Maryland Reporter website, there’s little change in the Democrats’ strategy of placing D.C. suburbanites with residents of the Maryland panhandle in the Sixth District. However, Option 1 brings in more rural voters by corkscrewing the district eastward from the Pennsylvania border in Frederick County around through the western reaches of MoCo back to the city of Frederick.

The question for Democrats seems to be whether to go for broke and try to oust Andy Harris or not. Their revised Option 1  tends to maintain the district as relatively Republican, but extends it west right along the Pennsylvania line to include portions of Carroll County for the first time. In return, much of Baltimore County is chopped away, with most of it going to the Seventh Congressional District of Rep. Elijah Cummings.

It’s Option 2 where they sell out to wipe out all the Republicans. While it’s a somewhat cleaner map geographically, for the first time in memory the Eastern Shore would be split among two Congressional districts – Salisbury would be the linchpin.

From Salisbury northward, the Eastern Shore would remain in District 1, with the Lower Shore population replaced by a bloc of voters accessed by a narrow strip through Anne Arundel County. Andy Harris, meet your new constituents in Prince George’s and Howard counties. Andy’s current residence would be a county removed from the new district, which would end at the Susquehanna River.

On the south and east sides of Salisbury, we would be introduced to our new Congressman – one Steny Hoyer. Yes, the Democrats would place all of Somerset and Worcester counties along with about 2/3 of Wicomico into the Fifth Congressional District. Good luck for us trying to outvote the swath of PG County left in Steny’s district to keep it a majority Democratic district. (In fact, adding Somerset might well make it a majority-minority district.)

It’s also interesting to look at the map and see the lengths Democrats went to in maintaining that each of their existing Congressional delegation remain in their districts, as pathways were created just long enough to keep  Chris Van Hollen in District 8 (which would either run westward along the Potomac or north into Carroll County) and Elijah Cummings in District 7.

Well, Democrats, you outdid yourselves. See you in court, because I would imagine either of these monstrosities will end up there.

Update: If Red Maryland is to be believed, the Eastern Shore will dodge a bullet with Option 1.

Odds and ends number 33

Hey, a Thursday night without some sort of Shorebirds update – whatever shall I do?

You know the drill: ‘odds and ends’ are those items I can’t justify a full post for, but are important enough for a paragraph or three.

Didn’t we already go through this whole government shutdown thing not that long ago? Well, here we go again.

Democrats in the Senate want to spend $6.9 billion on disaster relief, simply adding to the deficit. Meanwhile, the House rejected a plan which would have allocated $3.6 billion to disaster relief, part of which would be offset by cutting federal subsidies for electric cars. (This is the version Andy Harris voted for, although 48 conservative Republicans did not.)

I can understand where Harris is coming from, since some portion of that aid would likely come back to the northern reaches of our Congressional district. But I think the more conservative members who are holding out for more cuts are right, and Harris is wrong in this instance. I’m curious to know – how many of my readers are looking for a federal handout to assist them through cleaning up from Irene and Lee? Anyone? Bueller?

Let’s work our way back to the state level with a story told before – former beauty queen decides to get involved in politics decades after her days as a pageant contestant are over. If you answered “Sarah Palin” you would be correct but she’s not the subject of this brief portion of my post. Instead, this young lady was once Miss Delaware and was a semi-finalist for the Miss America crown in 1976. She now is Associate Director of the National Pro-Life Action Center in Washington, D.C.

Did I mention she is black? Or a Republican running for a vacated County Council seat in Prince George’s County?

Her name is Day Gardner, and she indeed fits all these categories. One thing I didn’t realize is that I have heard her speak at this rally, as she was also a Brian Murphy supporter. I remember she was a quite eloquent speaker, which makes sense if she was a pageant contestant in the old, pre-politically correct days. She’s even run for office before in 2002, finishing fourth of four in a House of Delegates race for District 23A.

Needless to say, when she gets 97 Republican votes in a primary that sees the Democratic winner pick up 3,570 – and he’s the near-namesake of a current member of the House of Delegates (Derrick Leon Davis as opposed to Delegate Dereck E. Davis)  – Day Gardner has an uphill battle. But stranger things have happened, and it’s good to see Republicans competing in PG County. I admire her tenacity and willingness to avoid political platitudes to get elected; she can plant the seed for future GOP success there.

Continue reading “Odds and ends number 33”