The Question 7 money question: a questionable donation to the MDGOP

March 20, 2013 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, Watchdog Wire · Comments Off on The Question 7 money question: a questionable donation to the MDGOP 

The title was changed there (I originally called it “The Question 7 money question”) but this is my latest for Watchdog Wire.

Today we shine our light in the crevice of campaign finance and ponder the question: which side of the gambling fence was the Maryland Republican Party really on?

For those who have already forgotten the sordid history of last year’s Question 7, the ballot question and hundreds of commercial spots cluttering the media and airwaves beseeching a vote one way or the other on the issue, it came about when the General Assembly passed legislation in a Special Session last summer that placed the question of expanding gambling to include table games and a new facility at National Harbor in Prince George’s County on the ballot.

Before the question was decided with a slim majority favoring passage, both sides poured millions of dollars into the cause. On the pro-gambling side were factions supporting education, organized labor, and MGM Resorts International, which would develop the National Harbor project. Opponents mainly came from groups with a moral aversion to gambling, but corporate interests played a role as well: both the Cordish Companies (which owns the Maryland Live! casino at Arundel Mills in Hanover) and Penn National Gaming (owner of the  struggling Hollywood Casino in Perryville, Maryland as well as another Hollywood Casino in nearby Charles Town, West Virginia) actively supported the “Get the Facts – Vote No On 7” initiative. They pointed out weaknesses in the proponents’ argument that money would be used for education, noting the ease of diverting gambling proceeds to the state’s general fund.

(continued at the Watchdog Wire…)

Turning the Tides 2013 in pictures and text (part 2)

I covered the events of Saturday morning in part 1, so if you enjoyed the “lunch break” I pick up the events with one of the most popular conservative politicians in Maryland.

Yes, on the far right of the picture is Dan Bongino. He was the star attraction of a panel discussion called “Changing the Ground Game in Maryland.” Moderated by Kari Snyder, the other participants were 2012 Congressional candidate and author Ken Timmerman and Delegate Neil Parrott.

As he stated in his interview here, Bongino had some definite criticism of the MDGOP’s efforts and suggestions for improvements. For example, “if you’re not registering voters at the gun shows in Maryland in the next two months, you should be arrested for political malpractice.”

Obviously Dan harped on the voter registration aspect – “they’re kicking our butts” – and how badly we were trounced there, although not to the extent he did in our conversation. But he also spent a lot of his time on the concept of message vs. marketing, rhetorically asking “do you know what the most dangerous branch of government is right now? The media!” Dan also restated the point that “(Barack Obama) ran on our message.”

“We’ve never had a message problem,” continued Dan. “We’ve always had a marketing problem.”

Meanwhile, the effects of economic neglect are apparent in Baltimore. “Baltimore City is in a catastrophic economy. There is no economy in Baltimore City,” added Bongino.

Another facet lost in this recent campaign was the school choice issue. He called on us to “isolate and humiliate every one of our opponents” who don’t support the issue. “It is the civil rights issue of our day,” Dan stressed. Yet he had the awareness to realize “we’re in the echo chamber now…action matters.”

After Bongino received a standing ovation both at the introduction and the close, Ken Timmerman had the unenviable task of following Dan. He chose to focus on his race with Chris Van Hollen, noting that opposition research is very important. Van Hollen “did not know what hit him” when portions of his record were released, so much so that he stopped doing joint appearances.

Other observations made by Timmerman were somewhat obvious to us: first, “Democrats will not vote Democrat lite,” and second, “the media is not our friend….don’t let them get away with anything.” (The easily ascertained evidence of that was the camera crews showing up for the protest outside.)

Ken also spoke on the role of the Maryland (and national) GOP, stating that “They didn’t give me any assistance to speak of.” It would have been helpful to get good, reliable voter data, for example. Timmerman also warned that “it’s easy to introduce malicious software into these electronic voting machines.” The technology simply isn’t secure.

Timmerman also made the statement that “we have to start with trench warfare” in the Maryland General Assembly and “hit their core beliefs.” Ken then went through a list of proposed bills, many of which I noted to myself have been tried. “It doesn’t matter if they fail,” he went on to say, because “we force them to engage.” It provided a nice transition to Neil Parrott’s remarks.

However, Neil began by rehashing the previous ballot initiative campaign, saying “we won by getting (them) on the ballot.” He went over the several steps to get a referendum on the ballot: approval of the ballot language by the Board of Elections, gathering of signatures, the inevitable defense in court, and finally the writing of the language by the Secretary of State – often that can require another trip to the judicial system to clean up misleading statements, like 2012’s Question 5 on gerrymandering which alluded to the Constitution, making it sound like the ballot issue had that imprimatur.

The one thing missing was any sort of campaigning. One obvious problem was a lack of funding; for example on Question 4 we were outspent $1.7 million to $60,000. All that money allowed the proponents of Question 4 to successfully shift the narrative from one of illegality to one of “fairness.” “We need to reinvent MDPetitions.com,” Parrott explained.

One other well-taken point by Parrott was that Question 7 “sucked the oxygen out of the room.” More money was spent on that than the 2010 governor’s race.

Activists were well-aware of most of these facts, though. The next session turned our focus to energy issues.

Moderator Andrew Langer of the Institute for Liberty was joined on this panel by journalist Mark Newgent, blogger of Junkscience.com Steve Milloy, and Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute – a source which regularly appears on this page.

Newgent opened by making a salient point: despite the push by the O’Malley administration and the adoption of ill-advised renewable portfolio standard goals, the 1.6% of electricity provided by renewable sources at the turn of the century was now a punier 1.3% as of 2010. Mark also explained that the purchase of a “renewable energy credit” was a purchase of “absolutely nothing,” but it was a fine excuse for crony capitalism. Sometimes it even had a negative effect, like a (now-expired) federal tax credit for the usage of the “black liquor” by-product of the wood pulping process; one which produces more carbon dioxide than burning coal or natural gas because they mix black liquor with diesel fuel to burn it.

Newgent followed the money to the Town Creek Foundation, an Easton-based environmental organization. “We’re up against some stiff competition,’ he added.

“This is the game that’s going on,” Mark concluded.

Milloy derided the concept of global warming as an excuse to advance policy. “They don’t want to know anything about science,” he opined. But the small number of people on our side concerned with environmental issues had to deal with a swarm of so-called experts on the Left. “Their fondest dream is to saddle the country with some sort of climate legislation that enables them to have control of the economy,” said Steve. “Climate is the best scam they’ve ever worked.”

One statement I enjoyed was Milloy’s call to rip your ‘Save the Bay’ plates off your car. The point was that there’s nothing we can do about carbon dioxide emissions, or to fix the Bay, so save your $20.

CEI’s Ebell bluntly assessed that “the (energy) myths are winning; in particular, they’re winning in states like Maryland.” But there was some good news: unlike other states, there was very little potential for vastly more expensive wind or solar power here in Maryland. Other states had much more ambitious schedules for renewable standards; for example, California’s goal is 33 percent renewables by 2020. As a result, “they’ve already driven out most of the manufacturing in their state,” said Ebell.

“This is the level of intelligence you’re dealing with…you should be shocked, but you should also be really angry,” he added.

But the problem with any renewable source of power, explained Myron, was that they weren’t terribly reliable. Wind costs more because you also had to build a natural gas plant for the 3/4 of the time the wind didn’t blow, particularly in the summer when demand was higher but winds were generally calmer.

Even on the oil front, Myron noted that the 3% of the proven reserves it’s claimed we have is a number so low simply because we can’t explore many other areas which could potentially have large reserves, such as the North Slope of Alaska.

Speaking of energy, my friend Jackie Wellfonder happened to return with some goodies about this time.

These were handed out at the CC4MD table, an organization for which Jackie serves as treasurer. She must have sensed that I like my chocolate.

As opposed to me not being cheated out of some goodies, the next group was dubbed “The Cheated Generation.”

Blogger and radio host Jimmie Bise was the moderator for this group, which included Gabby Hoffman of the Leadership Institute, Baltimore Area Young Republican president Trae Lewis, Brandon Cooper, a campaign coordinator for Dan Bongino, and businessman Brian Meshkin.

Bise opened his segment a little differently, urging people to turn on their cellphones and spread the word on social media using the #TTT13 hashtag for Twitter. (I did, quite a bit.) He added that entitlements are shifting the cost burden from older Americans to the youth, from a group which can’t afford this because, among other things, there’s $1 trillion in college debt.

Cooper opened up the remarks by remarking on a handout he passed around, one which explained the economic realities younger people face. These mainly stem from student loans, which hamper the average student to the tune of $23,300. “Government spent $500 million on student loans in 1978; $115.6 billion in 2012,” the handout revealed. Brandon went on to add that, because the federal government was now the sole distributor of student loans, there were no more price control incentives.

Brian Meshkin chastised the government’s tendency from our kids to pay for “selfish excesses.” As the only elected Republican in Howard County (a member of the school board) he told us that “education was a huge, huge winning issue.”

“No child should be held back by the street they live on,” said Meshkin to raucous applause.

There was more cheering as Gabby Hoffman revealed her story as the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants, parents who were now seeing “too many parallels” to the situation they grew up under in the former Soviet Union. And she saved severe criticism for Sandra Fluke, who she called a “repugnant human being…no young woman should look up to that trash.” Obviously it followed that Hoffman also believed that giving up on social conservatism was “a completely BS move.”

But her message overall was blunt: if you don’t learn from communism’s failures, we will have it in America. We have to scare young people with the truth, Hoffman concluded.

Trae Lewis began by giving us some bad news: if Martin O’Malley is the Democratic nominee in 2016, we are likely spotting him 215 electoral votes. (Actually, we are doing so regardless of the nominee.) The reason: “he’s hitting us where we ain’t,” meaning the urban centers of America. “The American city is the epitome of what liberal leadership will do for this country,” warned Lewis, and there’s no reason not to harp on wedge issues like school choice.

“You can’t turn a tide from the middle of the ocean,” Trae pointed out, “you have to start at the shore and work your way out.”

That wrapped up the “cheated youth” segment, but there were several other “cheated” groups. With so many speakers and panels and only a one-day timeframe, there were bound to be some issues which received less coverage so we had what was called the “coalition round-up.” This had representatives of groups focusing on immigration, election integrity, the General Assembly, school choice, pro-life issues, and the Second Amendment.

While much of his ground was covered by previous presenters, Paul Mendez of Help Save Maryland repeated the fact that 90,000 more people in Maryland voted against Question 4 than voted for Mitt Romney. And there was an economic benefit even in failure: not only did they delay the implementation of the bill by over a year – saving Maryland taxpayers thousands – over $1 million was pumped in from out of state to pass Question 4.

Cathy Kelleher of Election Integrity Maryland gave a short history of the group, which was inspired to begin after activist Anita MonCrief appeared at the first Turning the Tides conference in 2011. It “started with four people at a kitchen table,” but after pointing out thousands of voter roll irregularities over the last year EIM could claim the success of removing 15,000 1,500 dead people from Maryland voter rolls. (Thanks to Cathy for pointing out my overexuberant typo.)

On the flip side of the electoral process was the legislative process, and Elizabeth Meyers introduced her Maryland Legislative Watch group to the audience. This group of volunteers (of which I’m one) reviews every bill introduced to the General Assembly to determine if it’s an anti-liberty bill.

While activist and writer Doug Mainwaring wasn’t affiliated with a particular pro-traditional marriage group, he worked closely with them in an effort to defeat Question 6. And when asked how an openly gay man can possibly be against same-sex marriage, he quipped “You’re an adult. You have children. How can you possibly be a liberal?” Needless to say, Doug brought down the house with that remark.

But Doug was concerned that Republicans and conservatives “are crumbling on this issue.” Some examples were National Review, the Washington Times, and Newt Gingrich.

David Spielman, the outreach coordinator for National School Choice Week, told us he was “giddy” about all the school choice talk at this forum. But the problem we had was deeper than just one issue, for Spielman assessed that “Obama was talking to everyone; we were talking to ourselves…we were outmatched, we were beaten.”

School choice will take outreach, he continued, but so far over 3500 events had been held over the period School Choice Week had been celebrated. (The 2013 edition begins January 27, but there are no events on Delmarva.)

Jack Ames of Defend Life, who was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the pro-life message he said was free for the asking, but with the promise it would be worn in public regularly, claimed that most people are philosophically pro-life, they’re just not actively pro-life. Still, “we’re literally killing God’s creation.” The Defend Life organization, he went on to say, works in three main areas: a lecture tour with several speakers which is available for groups, a magazine, and the “Face the Truth” tours, which feature photos of aborted fetuses. He urged pro-life activists to “be fearless” and do what we can to embarrass Martin O’Malley. (Isn’t he Catholic? Wonder how he reconciles his pro-abortion stance in his church?)

Finally, decorated Vietnam veteran and retired NRA attorney Jim Warner gave a roundup of the Second Amendment. He also gave us some sage advice: the only way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a gun. Finally, we should “tell the Marxists to go to hell!,” Warner shouted.

The “words of encouragement” to wrap up this long day were delivered by 2010 U.S. Senate candidate Jim Rutledge, who took the stage to the chant of “A-G, A-G!” Many (myself included) would like to see Rutledge make a run for Attorney General in 2014.

Rutledge pointed out that “a storm…cannot be avoided. We’re getting ready to learn some very profound, painful lessons. And that lesson is this: unlimited, centralized power cannot coexist with liberty.” Jim blasted the concept of machine politics, one which Maryland had lived under “for far too long.” Baltimore City was “a great example” of this; a philosophy where Jim postulated that the machine asks “what you’ve done to serve the machine?”

On the other hand, liberty asks what your rulers have done for you, Jim thundered in his distinctive, appealing style. Yet too many in Washington, D.C. are “uncomfortable promoting liberty.” To that he strongly asserted, “Washington, D.C. cannot fix Washington, D.C.”

Meanwhile, Maryland is no better: “We’re on our own in this state,” said Jim.

There’s no doubt that Rutledge was a good choice to motivate the crowd and renew their spirit. It’s too bad he’s not utilized by the Republican party here in Maryland, but his may be a case of alienating the wrong insiders.

Finally, the day was done. Well, there was a Happy Hour sponsored by the Conservative Action Network, Conservative Victory PAC, Constitutional Conservatives for Maryland PAC, and the Montgomery County Federation of Republican Women. I was also cheered to see some of the Maryland GOP leadership dropped by, as First Vice Chair Diana Waterman and National Committeewoman Nicolee Ambrose were present for at least part of an event where the party wasn’t always shown in the best light.

But the question is one of continuing the effort beyond the walls of the Doubletree Hotel. There were perhaps 300 of us who attended the event, but, for example, in 2010 1,044,961 voters were foolish enough to re-elect Martin O’Malley. On the other hand, only 67,364 Republicans voted for the more conservative Brian Murphy in the primary election and just 74,404 voted for the aforementioned Rutledge in his Senate bid. Indeed, we have a problem with our message insofar as not enough people are making the educated, real world proven choice of conservatism.

Yet if 300 people can both reach one voter a month and, in turn, convince that voter to reach one other voter a month, the force multiplier will get us to the 1.2 million votes we will need in 2014. But we have to step beyond preaching to the choir and get in the faces of the opposition. Stop being afraid.

Several people at the conference, both speakers and in general conversation, suggested reading and studying how the Democrats succeeded in several areas, with the closest parallel being the state of Colorado. Obviously they had the weaker message, but the better techniques of making people believe in voting against their interests. So it’s our job to remind Maryland voters that the government which is large enough to give you everything is also powerful enough to take it away – don’t say we didn’t warn you when the excrement hits the fan.

Gambling: Maryland’s growth industry?

December 28, 2012 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Gambling: Maryland’s growth industry? 

There are guys who really must like parsing economic statistics, and I’m getting the impression Change Maryland employs several of them. Toying with Martin O’Malley like a catnip-addled feline pawing about a ball of yarn, their latest effort is summed up neatly this way by Change Maryland head Larry Hogan:

Combined, the gambling industry is expected to generate 3,250 jobs or nearly 40% of the 8,500 new jobs announced in 2012. Other sectors pale in comparison with cyber security expected to generate 2,612 jobs, healthcare 379 jobs and manufacturing 334 jobs. By contrast… sectors (lauded) by the O’Malley Administration, most notably green energy, are expected to generate just 110 jobs.

“I don’t know how Martin O’Malley can say with a straight face that jobs are a priority of this Administration with numbers like these,” said Hogan. “These numbers are lopsided and pitiful.”

I’m not sure if the total includes the dozens of jobs created by the fat Christmas bonuses awarded by the media conglomerates who own the television stations made wealthy by the millions of dollars spent contesting Question 7, but it is a sad state of affairs when casinos create more jobs than manufacturing. Yet that’s the reality in Maryland. And as Hogan pithily adds:

While I’m glad that some will get jobs as blackjack dealers and cocktail servers, the best careers are those that require science,  technology and engineering skills that Maryland educators are working so hard to develop in the classroom.

The Change Maryland release compares the job creation in Maryland and Virginia, and makes the case that our neighbor to the south is kicking our tail in that regard.

Looking at these statistics in a more parochial manner, the Eastern Shore as a whole is getting very little benefit this year from the state’s economic development team, with one project apiece in Dorchester and Worcester counties. Total jobs created (over three years, mind you) are projected to be 80. The two companies in question invested a total of $3.5 million in new facilities, but by way of comparison that’s less than a month’s revenue from the casino at Ocean Downs. And 80 jobs is a drop in the bucket compared to some of the major employers here in Wicomico County alone.

Needless to say, the state’s efforts are puny and minuscule compared to how much they put into attracting jobs along the I-95 corridor. Our tenth or so of the state’s population could use more assistance in trying to grow and develop as opposed to the War on Rural Maryland we’re forced to endure from Annapolis. More or less we’d like to be left alone, although if you could work with Delaware and the federal government on an interstate-grade highway from Salisbury to I-95 at Wilmington we would be mighty thankful. I look at it this way:  if we could get ourselves to be an easier 4 hour drive from the New York megalopolis, I believe it could help both tourism and industry. Something I didn’t know until I looked it up is that we here in Salisbury are actually closer to New York City than to Cumberland, Maryland.

But whatever the job creation task required, the folks at Change Maryland are generally quick to point out that Maryland is lacking in that department. You can call it partisan politics if you want, and perhaps you’d have a point since Hogan is a Republican. But facts are facts, and the numbers which come from neutral referees continue to show that Maryland isn’t the job-creation machine our state government would lead you to believe that it is. And when three of the four counties which make up our little corner of the state lag with unemployment over 9 percent (Wicomico isn’t much better at 7.9%) it tells me that the “One Maryland” fallacy espoused by our governor is just that.

If a chain is defined by its weakest link, we’re the ones who need the attention. Stop listening to the Agenda 21 crowd who would like to return the Eastern Shore to a pristine wilderness (aside from the beachfront condos they annually rent in Ocean City and from Ocean Downs, since it creates revenue for the almighty state) and start listening to what we who live here have to say. Really: I’m not lying to you when I say growth is good for us, so help us cut our unemployment rate down by stepping aside and letting us do it.

Our first prospective rematch

Multiple sources are now reporting that Peter Franchot is taking his hat out of the ring for the governor’s race in 2014, instead opting to run for re-election to his current Comptroller seat for a third term.

Since this will be the case, it closes off a prospective ladder step for a few General Assembly Democrats who were considering the move assuming it would be an open seat. It’s doubtful any Democrat will step out of line to challenge an incumbent, although it’s not unknown to do so. Unlike those who ran for federal seats in 2012, though, they’re not running from the cover of a safe seat because you’re only allowed to run for one office at a time.

The other gentleman who this affects is William Campbell, who ran in 2010 as the Republican nominee and has all but filed for the office again. With one of his 2010 primary opponents already bowing out and the other likely not going to run again, Franchot’s move will probably discourage others on the GOP side from running as well.

Peter has staked out a reputation as one of the more fiscally conservative members of state government. Perhaps it’s a function of the office of head beancounter, but the liberal General Assembly legislator has had his come-to-Jesus moment since moving to the Executive Branch.

In the 2010 race, the underfunded Campbell won 14 counties and picked up 39% of the vote against Franchot. It will be a tough race this time as well since Franchot has come out against several of the spendthrift decisions made by Martin O’Malley as well as opposing the Question 7 gambling issue. Campbell is certainly a qualified candidate, but it will be a tough sell to change horses at this point. It may take a Republican wave election from top to bottom to dislodge Franchot; however, if Anthony Brown is the Democratic nominee for governor we may just get one.

2012 Maryland GOP Fall Convention in pictures and text (part 2)

When I last left you in my narrative, I had just gone to bed after several hours of fun and carousing with many people, some of whom had names and faces I sheepishly admit I couldn’t keep straight. But I think I can get all of these right.

My alarm I’d set for 6:30 never went off so I was a little late for breakfast, and regrettably only caught the end of Ken Timmerman’s remarks. He used a Biblical parable to conclude, saying “we are coming from the desert” and in the process of “picking our Moses for 2014.”

“Organize, organize, organize…never, never, never give up!” exhorted Ken.

He was the lead-in for Delegate Neil Parrott, who’s pictured above. His remarks centered on what’s in the future for MDPetitions.com.

Thanks to the passage of Question 5, Maryland now has the “distinct honor” of having the most gerrymandered Congressional districts in the nation, Neil claimed. But in all of the questions, Neil pointed out in his experience that having someone at the polls influenced the results in our favor to some extent. We could have used more poll workers, said Neil.

We also could have used more money to spend as we were well outspent on each issue, particularly Question 6. Proponents also shrewdly changed the message; for example, Question 4 was made to not be about illegals but about kids. And because the petition was done last summer, the “passion wasn’t there” against Question 4 after a one-year lapse while proponents had the money early on to quietly spread their message.

“What we need to do is reinvent ourselves,” said Parrott, claiming we had winning issues but no campaign. In the future – and there were at least a couple bills which would probably require a petition to attempt to overturn coming out of this year’s session – there had to be a four-pronged strategy for victory: get the petitions out, defend them in court, challenge the biased ballot language (Question 5 was a good example of this, said Neil), and run full-fledged campaigns.

A more full-fledged campaign might be more like those on either side of Question 7, as the campaigns for and against expanding gambling spent twice as much on that issue than Bob Ehrlich and Martin O’Malley combined for in their 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

One other item Delegate Parrott touched on was a privacy bill for petition signers, which he’ll reintroduce this session.

While the groups went off into their individual seminars, I wandered around the Turf Valley facility where I found tables for the aforementioned MDPetitions.com and the similar effort to keep the petition process from being made more difficult.

Right behind the MDPetitions table was a large-scale and signed copy of a “no confidence” resolution sponsored by Baltimore County Chair John Fiastro, Jr.

I also peeked into the convention hall where the action would begin after lunch.

Yep, placed in the back again. But this room was well set up for such an event because it was wide but not deep. Eventually my only complaint would be that we needed a second projection screen for our side of the room because the county signposts would be in our line of sight of the one provided.

Others were also skipping the seminars to work out issues, such as the Maryland Young Republicans. From the snippets I overheard, they were working out details of their own upcoming convention June 1st in Montgomery County.

Before we met for the convention we had to be nourished, so lunch featured speaker and “unusual political consultant” Brent Littlefield.

Littlefield focused mainly on running the campaign of Maine Governor Paul LePage in 2010, noting that a political campaign was “not just tactics, but strategy.” He explained how he microtargeted certain blocs of voters to effectively compete in a seven-person primary where his candidate was outspent 21 to 1.

As for 2012, Brent told us the message was lost, but there was still a reason we’re all here – we believe in certain principles. But we have to expand our circle of influence, not just talk to friends.

Brent also related an amusing Twitter incident he helped to bring about involving Martin O’Malley and his trip to Maine, leading O’Malley to call Maine Gov. Paul LePage a governor who “worship(s) the false idol of tax cuts.” It was great because he took the fight directly to the enemy, infiltrating their own Twitter feed.

It’s worth exploring as well that the Pledge of Allegiance at lunch was led by two-time Congressional hopeful Frank Mirabile. By itself it’s not newsworthy, but Frank took advantage of Alex Mooney’s invitation for further remarks to note the average age in the room was “well above what we need to be” and that we had to break out of our comfort zone. Obviously he had to do so to campaign in portions of his district.

That snippet brings me back to the Maryland Liberty PAC suite and the younger people I saw there. The convention hall could have used some of those younger folks with energy – as one example, I’m 48 and I’m one of the younger members of our Central Committee. Let’s not drive the youth away.

I’ll step off my soapbox now, since this point in the narrative is where the convention fun begins. And like the Executive Committee meeting the previous night, it began with a special guest.

“It’s good to be around friends for once,” said Dan Bongino. But he wanted to take a few minutes to thank us for our support and ask how we can fix this moving forward. “We can win this,” Bongino concluded.

But to win it will probably take a little more money than party Treasurer Chris Rosenthal said we had. And while we had whittled down our line of credit significantly during the fourth quarter of this year, Chris told us “we’re not out of the weeds.” This year will feature a “tight, but conservative” budget for party operations.

Chair Alex Mooney was pleased to see the full workshops, but again cautioned in his report that this meeting could be a long one. We have “things to discuss and air out,” said Alex. He related the story of the bitter RNC meeting he attended where several new officers were elected, a process which took multiple ballots for each. Yet at meeting’s end, there were no “bad sports.”

“If you don’t intend to walk out after this meeting and fight the Democrats, then walk out now,” said Alex. I didn’t see anyone leave so I guess we can turn our guns in the right direction – outward.

As Alex said, there is reason for optimism going forward. And it seemed like he understood that the petition process needs to be followed through on, saying that getting them to the ballot was one success but we need to “take the next step.”

We then had a presentation from party Executive Director David Ferguson on the goals established for this year: financial stability, a modern political infrastructure, successful petitions, and planning for 2014. Something about that presentation I found interesting: of the petition signers for each question, only 59% of those opposing in-state tuition for illegal aliens, 72% of those who opposed the gerrymandered Congressional districts, and 52% who signed the petition against gay marriage were Republicans. Questions 4 and 6 had fairly bipartisan opposition, at least at the petitioning stage. We can build on that.

But now, said Ferguson, “our job is to take out every Democrat in ‘red’ counties.” As I look at that task, it means we work on solidifying the 18 that support us now and start to erode our advantage in the five which most heavily vote against their self-interest as time goes on.

He also announced a new program in the works based on the national “Young Guns” program. It will be tailored not just to candidates, though, but to Republican organizations as well. “Our money should go back to your candidates,” concluded Ferguson.

The legislative reports on the Senate and House, respectively, were given by Senator E.J. Pipkin (above) and Delegate Tony O’Donnell (below).

Pipkin was proud to address the “irate, tireless minority,” and took advantage of our attention to once again call Martin O’Malley the “2 billion dollar man.” That’s how much working Maryland families pay extra each year thanks to the tax increases O’Malley and Democrats in the General Assembly passed over GOP objections. And while Republicans put together a balanced budget each year – one which doesn’t require any tax increases at all – it’s ignored by the majority party. They “won’t stop digging the hole,” said Pipkin. Instead, they want to raise the gas tax – not to fix roads like they might claim, but because $4 billion has been promised to expand the Red Line and Purple Line.

“We provide a different vision for Maryland,” explained Pipkin, one which provides a state where you want to live and not a state you want to leave.

Tony O’Donnell started out his remarks with a movie review – go see “Lincoln.” It made him proud to be a member of the Republican Party. After seeing the infighting end in an effort to pass the Thirteenth Amendment (over Democratic opposition, he slyly added) he realized once again that “Maryland is worth continuing to fight for.”

Tony alluded to his own Congressional campaign, pointing out he had received 95,000 votes and that was the highest vote total for a Fifth District Republican since Larry Hogan in 1992. O’Donnell believed that “we can go to 50 seats (in the House of Delegates) – we can go to 60 seats.” One mistake from 2010 he didn’t want to repeat was having to recruit candidates in the summer before the election. It was a team effort to find 141 House of Delegates hopefuls, but we had to “let no seat go unchallenged.” (In the 2010 election, Democrats got a free pass for 34 seats – almost half of what they needed for the majority.)

Nicolee Ambrose spoke in her first National Committeewoman’s report about the Super Saturday program and lessons we could draw from it. While it had its successes, we needed to rebuild our campaign infrastructure and focus on targeted voter contacts with a eye toward long-term outreach as well.

For 2013 she suggested the Super Saturday concept work more toward voter registration. Other projects on her wish list was IT training for local party leaders (something the RNC is willing to do) and ramping up a grassroots committee which Faith Loudon had volunteered to head up.

Louis Pope was far more blunt and expanded on his “painful” theme from the evening before by revealing some of our losses: Obama won single women by a 67-31 count, Hispanics 71-28, blacks 93-5, and Asians 73-22. He also garnered 60% of the under-30 vote and a majority of those who made under $50,000. Obama “changed some of the issues on us,” said Pope. Instead of the jobs and economy, it became the (so-called) ‘War on Women.’

“We’ve reached a turning point,” said Pope, who believed the one silver lining we had was that we’ve “reached the bottom.”

After all these external political reports were concluded – a process which took nearly two hours – we then turned to several internal committee reports.  For the first time in several conventions, though, we had no prospective bylaw changes so the newly created Bylaws Committee could simply note that fact and alert us at the county level that some possible revisions may come at us next spring.

Similarly, the Nominations Committee had no report. So it was up to the Resolutions Committee to provide the day’s final drama.

Interestingly enough, the order Resolutions Chair Andi Morony presented these in was supposed to be least to most controversial, but the very first resolution presented by Cecil County Chair Chris Zeauskas drew heavy debate. This was a resolution condemning newly elected Cecil County Executive Tari Moore for changing to unaffiliated status; a resolution which contended, among other things, that her election “was obtained through deception and false pretenses.”

And while proponents of the resolution – not just in Cecil County, but in other Republican circles – believed Tari Moore had “sold out” Cecil County Republicans, there were those who noted her principles hadn’t changed but the stalemate which exists between her and some of the four remaining members of the Cecil County Council (all Republicans) could only be broken and her agenda implemented if she was allowed to select her own replacement. Meanwhile, this was described in one media report as a proxy battle between Republicans E.J. Pipkin and Andy Harris, with Pipkin in favor of demanding Moore resign and Harris confident of her return to the GOP fold after her replacement is selected.

Once several had spoken on both sides, a motion was made to table the resolution. With our weighted voting system and the fact I couldn’t tally the vote as it was going, I can’t give you the split in actual bodies but the motion to table passed by a 285-230 voting margin. Thus, the resolution was killed for this convention, although it could theoretically return in the spring.

After careful consideration, I voted to table the resolution; however, our county split 6-3 in favor of tabling. The reason I decided to do so was figuring that she was trying to stand by both conservative principles and trying to better Cecil County. There’s little chance a Democrat or liberal would be put into office, but if she does select one I would be more inclined to support a similar resolution in the spring. Call it a “wait and see” approach for yet another item which could divide the overall party over a county issue.

Resolutions two and three were both very easy to pass and worthwhile to do so. The second introduced condemned the passage of Senate Bill 236 and its resultant attack on property rights, while the third was a Resolution of Commendation for Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild and his battle against the UN’s Agenda 21. Both were introduced by Scott DeLong of Harford County and both passed by unanimous voice vote.

The final resolution was the one I showed the mockup of earlier; authored by Baltimore County Chair John Fiastro Jr., it advised our three Republican National Committee members to oppose the re-election of RNC Chair Reince Priebus.

That also drew a lot of debate on both sides, but in watching those on the “anti” side line up it was apparent that not enough people were willing to rock the boat. The resolution ended up failing by a 223-286 count.

Yet Wicomico County was one which unanimously supported the amendment. While others had their own reasons and I was advised by a few people that there was a hidden agenda at work, my take on this was that I knew it was utterly symbolic at best. Opponents argued that having the Chairman mad at Maryland could hinder the state in getting national funds, but right now we pretty much get along without them anyway. If Reince Priebus doesn’t understand there are legitimate reasons we and others are unhappy with him and can’t put on his big boy pants and deal with them, well, then there’s not much hope he would be a successful Chair come 2014 either.

The dual themes of our convention were a look back at what really happened in the 2012 election and what we can do to improve our lot in 2014. To a significant number of us in the Maryland GOP, that soul-searching has to occur at a national level as well – after all, when Mike Duncan ran again for RNC Chair after the 2008 blowout we suffered there was no shortage of people calling for his head and he withdrew after just a couple ballots. So why the rush to bring back Priebus after failing to defeat the worst incumbent since Jimmy Carter, losing two Senate seats to shrink our minority to 45, and eight House seats including one here in Maryland?

But with the defeat of that resolution, our Fall Convention was over. And it made me realize a few other things are over as well.

The time for playing games is over.

The time for accepting the status quo and “this is how we’ve always done it” is long past over.

It’s time to go to war. If the Democrats think we’ve put on a “war on women,” well, let’s actually give them a war. I call it the “war on voting against one’s self-interest” (yes, a little wordy but it will have to do) and it starts today.

A REAL Republican voter guide

Yesterday I got a mail piece that REALLY burned me up as an elected member of the Maryland Republican Party – as opposed to the two who claim to speak on my behalf. Here’s a photo:

Audrey Scott and Michael Steele don't speak for the rest of us.

Maybe it’s because I don’t have family on the payroll of the pro-Issue 7 side, but it seems to me that these two have drifted pretty far away from the party mainstream on a number of issues.

If you really want a good – conservative – Republican voter guide, you can look no further than my website since I went over all these questions last week. I don’t sell out to the highest bidder.

It is interesting to note, however, that the group which paid for this mailing is NOT the one which has paid for the numerous pro-Question 7 mailings which have found their way to my mailbox. Those are paid for by the laughably misnamed FOR Maryland Jobs and Schools, while this mailing was paid for by the similarly misnamed Republican Leaders Referendum Guide. The treasurers for each group are different as well.

Now I can understand that both Audrey and Michael have their roots in Prince George’s County and they feel the new casino would someday benefit their former home. And it just might once the conditions are set right.

But we are in a situation now where casinos being opened up cannibalize the revenues of existing facilities, and the rationale for choosing locations seems to be more about cronyism and buying votes than real market forces. It’s telling that MGM waited to jump into the market until they got a sweetheart deal they could live with; meanwhile, Penn National played by the original rules and watched their investment in Perryville go sour the minute a casino opened in Anne Arundel County. Obviously that’s the risk an investor runs.

So why should every little decision have to come down to the voters? I’ll grant that I’m not familiar with the setup of other states, but it seems to me that if we’re talking about a commission that includes both gaming and the Maryland Lottery the rules should be relatively the same – if the Maryland Lottery wants a new scratch-off game voter approval is not required.

The solution is simple: vote AGAINST Question 7 and make the General Assembly come back with a ballot issue in 2014 to repeal Article XIX of the Maryland Constitution. That ill-considered change from 2008 removed the General Assembly from making decisions more properly theirs, punting these issues to a ballot every two years as opposed to being able to make changes at least annually if not more often via a Special Session as it was this summer. If Question 7 passes then there’s no incentive to change a system that’s flawed. Let’s get gambling done right: it’s as simple as that.

And just for the record: Steele and Scott are wrong on Questions 1 and 2 as well. There’s no need to modify the Orphan’s Court in any county.

Curious: MSEA fails to endorse Question 7

October 30, 2012 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2012, Delmarva items, Education, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Curious: MSEA fails to endorse Question 7 

According to this story by Matt Connolly in the Washington Examiner, the Maryland State Education Association – the state’s largest teacher’s union – opted not to endorse Question 7. This has to be a severe blow to the hopes of supporters who are basing much of their argument on the assertion that a new casino and table games would benefit Maryland schools to the tune of millions of dollars a year.

But the MSEA could not get the slim majority required to endorse the bill, instead remaining officially neutral on Question 7. This failure reflects the skepticism of many rank-and-file members who have heard the argument before that lottery money would be a surefire ticket to increased school funding.

While various local units have endorsed the measure – many of them in areas benefiting from either an existing or proposed casino – the lack of support from the 70,000-strong teachers’ union continues a bad week which also saw the release of a poll showing Question 7 heading for defeat by a projected margin of 15 points.

That perception of politicians not being able to keep their promises is perhaps the strongest argument opponents have in their bid to defeat Question 7, but there’s also the controversy over the entire Special Session made necessary because the two sides failed in a last-minute push to resolve the gambling issue (or even pass a budget to their liking) in the regular session last April. That disastrous ending led to both the “doomsday” and gambling Special Sessions and may have sown the seeds of mistrust for anything sponsored by this edition of the Maryland General Assembly.

Unfortunately, while we can defeat Question 7, we are pretty much stuck with the cast of misfits and miscreants we call the Maryland General Assembly until 2014. Of course they will probably come back with a second attempt at building the National Harbor facility, legalizing table games, and allowing 24-hour operation on the next general election ballot in 2014, but perhaps the better thing to consider would be the repeal of Article XIX of the Maryland Constitution. But that won’t happen because common sense is as rare as the MSEA looking past a projected pot of state money.

Poll: DREAM Act, gay marriage too close to call

Matthew Newman at Old Line Elephant has posted the results of a Baltimore Sun/Opinion Works poll which showed three of the four main ballot questions in Maryland within the margin of error. According to Newman, Question 4 (in-state tuition for illegal aliens) is leading 47% for and 45% against, Question 5 (redistricting) has 36% for and 33% against, Question 6 (gay marriage) is 46% for and 47% against, and Question 7 is failing by a 39-54 margin. So it’s all going to depend on turnout.

Newman also notes that the three previously polled questions (4, 5, and 7) have all trended in the right direction, especially Question 6. It was up 10 points a month ago but now trails.

But the accompanying Sun story shows the amount of misinformation still out there. For example, one Question 6 supporter said “the key to her decision to vote yes on Question 6 is ‘the fact that religious personnel are not required to marry people if it is against their beliefs.'” That’s not true, as Section 3 (a) of the law states:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization, association, or society, may not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if the request for the services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges is related to:

(1) the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs; or

(2) the promotion of marriage through any social or religious programs or services, in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs, unless State or federal funds are received for that specific program or service. (Emphasis mine.)

So regardless of their feelings, the moment a church or religious organization takes a dime of government money they are placed into a position similar to those of religious organizations who don’t want to pay for coverage of birth control.

The Sun also finds a voter misinformed on Question 4:

“…in recent weeks she has moved from undecided to supporting the measure. What she’s learned about the eligibility requirements for in-state tuition has convinced her the program would not be a giveaway to immigrants.

‘It seems like they have to jump through a number of hoops. I’m beginning to lean toward it,’ she said. ‘You have to prove you’ve been contributing toward the system and to me that’s important.‘ (Emphasis mine.)

In truth, the student or family only has to file a return – for all we know, they could squeeze thousands more dollars out of the system by getting money back. So that’s two misinformed voters who potentially are voting the wrong way.

Yet the trends are encouraging, because not only do the voters have the chance to kill off several bad laws but also send a message to the General Assembly that they’ve gone too far in changing the state of Maryland.

Dirty tricks on Question 7? (updated)

October 26, 2012 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2012, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Dirty tricks on Question 7? (updated) 

A source forwarded these pictures to me. While I cannot ascertain the accuracy of the allegations because the forwarded photos aren’t of the best quality, the message seems to be that someone in Montgomery County is playing dirty pool with Question 7 signs.

A truck collecting anti-Question 7 signs

It’s harder to tell because of the photo resolution, but allegedly other “No on 7” signs which remained along that same road had pro-Question 7 signs placed immediately in front of them.

Double signage.

Obviously someone feels that the close poll results justify the means necessary to take and/or cover signs. The more interesting one is the truck full of brush and “no on 7” signs.

It’s not as bad as this vandalism from Worcester County, but nonetheless it’s troubling that one side is taking it upon itself to hide the truth.

Romney signs vandalized in Worcester County.

There are millions of dollars at stake in the Question 7 election, not to mention the nine-figure sum spent by both sides combined in the race. So it’s not a shock that some people take it too far, but it is disappointing.

Update: I received a pro-Question 7 mailing yesterday which prominently featured former GOP party chairs Michael Steele and Audrey Scott under the Republican elephant and banner headline “Republican Leaders Support Question 7.” Obviously this mailing was targeted to Republicans because I received one.

But the real truth is that the state party took no official stand on the issue, although our county party officially stands against Question 7. There’s nothing new about Audrey Scott and I being on opposite sides of an issue, but I previously commented on a letter sent to me from the pair a few weeks ago. Perhaps the fact Audrey’s son is working for the Question 7 advocates had something to do with her stance?

Calling the questions

Because early voting begins tomorrow, I feel it’s necessary to talk about how Maryland voters should vote on the statewide issues they’ll face in the election. A total of seven questions are on the statewide ballot – four of them referred by action of the General Assembly and three of them via referendum. This is the first time since 1992 that state voters will have the option to overturn previously passed measures from the Maryland General Assembly and potentially break a forty-year string of honoring the General Assembly’s will.

I’m going to go down the questions in order, but Questions 1 and 2 are essentially similar – they just affect different jurisdictions.

Question 1 reads as follows:

Requires judges of the Orphans’ Court for Prince George’s County to be admitted to practice law in this State and to be a member in good standing of the Maryland Bar.

Substitute the word “Baltimore” for “Prince George’s” and you have Question 2.

Apparently the idea has spread that only an attorney and member of the Maryland Bar can understand the law as it relates to probate law. Now my understanding is that current Orphans’ Court judges who aren’t members of the Bar need to have certain decisions reviewed by a licensed attorney, but this process doesn’t seem to be an issue in most jurisdictions. The people of Prince George’s and Baltimore counties are already free to elect a standing member of the Maryland Bar if they feel the person is qualified to take on the task of Orphans’ Court Judge, but in not making that a requirement it allows people who are in other related occupations or even just those with simple common sense to hold these positions.

Further, while the ballot issues only affect Baltimore and Prince George’s counties now, it’s only a matter of time before the legal lobby gets this to be a statewide prohibition. That would artificially limit the pool of qualified applicants in many smaller counties in the same respect that only a small number are allowed to be State’s Attorney. It prevents turnover in the position, even if someone who may do a better job but lacks a legal qualification comes along.

Rather than set this further precedent (which started in the 2010 election with Baltimore City) I recommend a vote AGAINST both Questions 1 and 2.

Question 3 was also referred by the General Assembly:

Changes the point at which an elected official charged with certain crimes is automatically suspended or removed from office. Under existing law, an elected official who is convicted or pleads no contest is suspended and is removed only when the conviction becomes final. Under the amended law, an elected official is suspended when found guilty and is removed when the conviction becomes final or when the elected official pleads guilty or no contest.

To be quite honest, this ballot language is confusing to me. As I think I read it, basically an elected official who pleads guilty or no contest also forfeits his office. But an honorable public servant wouldn’t get into the situation in the first place.

I don’t see the need to change existing law and on my ballot I’m going to vote against it. But insofar as recommendations go I will remain neutral.

Question 4 is the first of three brought to the ballot via referendum back in 2011.

Establishes that individuals, including undocumented immigrants, are eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at community colleges in Maryland, provided the student meets certain conditions relating to attendance and graduation from a Maryland high school, filing of income taxes, intent to apply for permanent residency, and registration with the selective service system (if required); makes such students eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at a four-year public college or university if the student has first completed 60 credit hours or graduated from a community college in Maryland; provides that students qualifying for in-state tuition rates by this method will not be counted as in-state students for purposes of counting undergraduate enrollment; and extends the time in which honorably discharged veterans may qualify for in-state tuition rates.

First of all, the opening sentence is wrong – they are not “undocumented immigrants,” they are “illegal aliens.”

And the argument that these families have to pay taxes is a red herring – they only have to file. Chances are they’re going to get a refund from claiming the child credit so in that instance they are a net taker of government largess.

This bill is also disingenuous in the fact that these illegal aliens will pay in-state tuition rates but for official enrollment counts will be deemed out-of-state students. So why are they entitled to pay in-state tuition again?

Aside from the last sentence, which according to Delegate Pat McDonough was the original intent of the bill until hijacked by illegal immigration advocates like CASA de Maryland, this ballot issue is a trainwreck for hard-working and legal Maryland residents.

Don’t fall for the sob stories presented by supporters – I urge a vote AGAINST Question 4.

Question 5 was also made necessary via petition, although it had the slimmest measure of success and made the signature threshold with fewer than 60,000 valid signatures (slightly over 55,000 were required.) It is also perhaps the most poorly-worded item on the ballot.

Establishes the boundaries for the State’s eight United States Congressional Districts based on recent census figures, as required by the United States Constitution.

I don’t know who dreamed up this description, but they left out the obvious word: “gerrymandered.”

It’s worth noting that Maryland Republicans created a map which was very elegant in its simplicity and only carved up a handful of counties in a relatively sensible manner. Of course, that was ignored by the Democrats who drew up our current abortion of a map, with districts resembling Rorschach ink blots. Their main objective was to set up State Senator Rob “Gas Tax” Garagiola with his own Congressional seat but that plan was foiled by John Delaney.

Of course, there are those who prefer the current lines because they see a slight partisan advantage for themselves and, indeed, we run the risk of an even worse map should the current lines be tossed out. But I’ll take my chances. Vote AGAINST Question 5.

Next up is the petition which secured the most signatures – over 200,000 at last count as thousands continued to pour in months after the official deadline. Here is Question 6 in legalese:

Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.

The other day I posted a video which explains well the overall argument against same-sex marriage, but one other point I’ve heard refutes the religious exemption fig leaf: that only applies until some clergy member creates the precedent of marrying a same-sex couple. Once precedent is established, there’s less legal recourse for recalcitrant clergy to refuse to perform ceremonies, much like those religious organizations which provide health insurance for their employees are being forced to cover birth control and abortions via federal edict. Those portions of the law would be the first to be struck down in any liberal court of law, and Maryland has enough of those to make it a slam dunk.

Honestly I don’t care who sleeps with who, but marriage should remain as being between a man and a woman – it’s for the children. Vote AGAINST Question 6.

Finally, we come to Question 7, which has been – by far – the one generating the most media attention thanks to nearly nine figures of spending by various casino interests. In all honesty, it’s a battle between gaming concerns Penn National and MGM for the hearts and minds of Maryland voters. Penn National has casinos in Charles Town, West Virginia and Perryville, Maryland which would be hurt by the competition a new casino would provide while MGM finally got a sweetheart deal from the state it could accept since they chose not to bid on any of the five original casinos provided by state voters in 2008.

Question 7 reads:

Do you favor the expansion of commercial gaming in the State of Maryland for the primary purpose of raising revenue for education to authorize video lottery operation licensees to operate “table games” as defined by law; to increase from 15,000 to 16,500 the maximum number of video lottery terminals that may be operated in the State; and to increase from 5 to 6 the maximum number of video lottery operation licenses that may be awarded in the State and allow a video lottery facility to operate in Prince George’s County?

I’ve already talked about this issue at length so I see no need to reinvent the wheel, whether it’s roulette or otherwise. Vote AGAINST Question 7.

Because of my inclination to disfavor Question 3, it will be an easy trip down the ballot for me – no, no, no, and so forth. But on the Wicomico County Questions A through D, all deserve support as they were carefully thought out by a Charter Review Committee whose judgement I trust. These are outlined on page 2 of our sample proof ballot here.

Of the four, perhaps the weakest link is Question C because of the removal of the residency requirement. But while a 2/3 majority doesn’t seem like a lot, having a seven-person County Council translates to a 5-2 majority. I’d be a little more hesitant with a nine-person County Council and 6-3 requirement but that’s not in the cards anytime soon.

The others are good ideas, particularly Question A. Having experienced the Council replacement process I would have liked an additional 15 days to make a better-informed decision.

So now you know how this voter will fill out his ballot, and I suggest you do the same.

 

Republicans swimming against the tide

I received an interesting letter today and it regards Question 7. I’m not going to reprint the whole thing (since I’m sure a number of my Republican readers received it as well) but I think the first few paragraphs are worth reprising. You’ll find out who wrote it after I finish – I’m saving that tidbit of information:

Dear  Fellow Republicans,

Just like 5 years ago, West Virginia interests are flooding Maryland airwaves with false advertising trying to fool us into putting West Virginia’s interest first, even though it hurts Maryland.

Why West Virginia? Because that is where Penn National’s casino is located. A casino that West Virginia reporters call a “cash cow.” They can’t say that directly, so they hire fancy marketing companies to try and fool us – spending almost $40 million so far to defeat Question 7.

Penn National’s meddling has cost Marylanders hundreds of millions (of) dollars in lost revenue, and would cost us much more if they win in November. It is time we told Penn National to butt out!

 We are FOR Question 7

We have teamed up to explain the history of Question 7 and why we are both voting FOR Question 7.

Ten years ago, when gaming (slots) was first introduced to the State Capital (sic) by Governor Bob Ehrlich, we were enthusiastic supporters, as were most Republicans. After years of back and forth, the Maryland Legislature in 2007 passed a slots bill, which was then ratified by the voters in 2008 (passing in every Republican jurisdiction in the State.)

Unfortunately, the 2007 legislation was hastily put together. It put our gaming industry at a decided disadvantage to surrounding states. To put this in perspective, Pennsylvania, which began gambling the same year as Maryland, received $1.5 billion per year in tax revenue while Maryland lost money.

Maryland Republicans supported bringing gaming to Maryland. But, as many of you have said, “if we’re going to have gaming in Maryland, we should do it right.” Well, we agree.

You know, though, it’s uncanny how often my fellow Republican Audrey Scott and I find ourselves on opposite sides of an issue. Her and co-author Michael Steele have exactly diagnosed the disease, but fail to come up with the correct cure.

But before I get to the meat of my argument, allow me to pick out a few points.

It’s worth mentioning that Penn National indeed owns the Hollywood Casino in Charles Town, West Virginia but also owns the Hollywood Casino in Perryville, so they’re not a completely out-of-state entity. That Perryville casino has requested 400 slots be removed so the facility didn’t look as barren and devoid of players, as an empty casino discourages patrons.

On the other hand, MGM wants to be a party-crasher. This comes from a story I found in the Baltimore Business Journal:

MGM decided not to bid for a Maryland casino in 2007 when the state first opened the door to gaming, (MGM CEO James) Murren said. Maryland’s high — 67 percent tax rate on gambling revenue — the state’s resolve to own the video lottery terminals (VLTs) and its refusal to allow table games drove MGM away.

To me, this seems like a form of crony capitalism at its finest, and I wish the state would be as accommodating to securing productive jobs for Maryland residents as it’s bent over backwards for MGM despite their alleged ties to organized crime. The $40 million Penn National has spent has been matched by MGM and casino backers, potentially making this question a nine-figure bonanza for media and other related interests before it’s all said and done. (Hopefully Steele and Scott received a nice little cut for their efforts. It doesn’t hurt to have Prince George’s County ties as both authors do, either.)

The argument about Penn National “costing” Maryland hundreds of millions is also a red herring. Certainly a number of Maryland gamblers go to Charles Town, but there’s no guarantee they’ll suddenly cease to do so if and when a casino at National Harbor opens. And those who flock to National Harbor may well come from other Maryland properties, particularly the Maryland Live! facility in Anne Arundel County. (In turn, that Anne Arundel facility is blamed for cutting Perryville’s business once it opened.) The rosy revenue projections often given to Maryland gambling have seen their bloom fade when reality hits, and there’s no reason to expect this round to do any better.

The crux of the Steele/Scott argument, though, is the request for Maryland to “do it right.” They correctly point out that Pennsylvania is raising far more money – with lower tax rates – than Maryland has. In fact, Maryland’s tax rate on casino operators is among the highest percentages in the country (based on 2010 data) with only New York and Rhode Island in the same neighborhood, although Pennsylvania is above average as well.

But the problem Maryland alone has is the inefficient method of making changes. It’s a point I made back in 2008 to no avail, and we’re now stuck with the folly of needing voter approval to build a facility and place equipment inside.

Voting for Question 7 only repeats the mistake made because, sure enough, someone will come along and promote the next “can’t miss” venture and have to suffer through both a legislative process and voter approval to receive it. Many casino operators don’t like those odds (or those tax rates) which probably explains why just three of the five proposed facilities are in operation four years after voters approved them the first time. A valid question raised by opponents is why the casino authorized in Baltimore City is being promised now when ample time has elapsed to build a slot barn – are they holding it hostage to a better deal? And what’s to stop MGM from demanding a better cut down the road and holding National Harbor hostage?

Maryland casinos should have the flexibility afforded to the Maryland Lottery. When they wanted to join up with MegaMillions and Powerball they didn’t need voter approval; instead, they just went ahead and did it. Certainly there are a few Maryland residents and businesses pleased that a ballot question was unnecessary.

I believe the best way to give the state this sort of leeway is to reject Question 7 and force the state to come back in 2014 with a ballot measure repealing Article XIX of the Maryland Constitution. By repealing Article XIX, it once again frees the General Assembly to make necessary law adjustments because these lines will no longer be in effect:

(d) Except as provided in subsection (e) of this section, on or after November 15, 2008, the General Assembly may not authorize any additional forms or expansion of commercial gaming.

(e) The General Assembly may only authorize additional forms or expansion of commercial gaming if approval is granted through a referendum, authorized by an act of the General Assembly, in a general election by a majority of the qualified voters in the State.

So the game plan is simple: say no now and say yes to repeal of Article XIX in 2014. The National Harbor project is not slated to come online under its current schedule until 2016 anyway, so a two-year wait wouldn’t hurt the state much in the long run.

I’m not naive enough to believe that gambling can be eliminated in Maryland, for three of our neighboring states have let that genie out of the bottle. But if we really want to do it right, the small-d democratic idea of voter involvement has to be eliminated from the process. While the power of the referendum is a useful one, it shouldn’t be a substitute for a General Assembly doing the job it’s appointed to do in a republic.

Odds and ends number 61

I actually meant to do this post over the weekend, but real life intervened. I’m hoping the expanded version of items which are really too short to merit a full post but worth a couple paragraphs is more chock full of interesting because of it.

I stand with Dan. Do you?There is one item on my agenda that’s time-sensitive, so I’m going to fold it into an overall brief update on Dan Bongino’s U.S. Senate campaign.

Tomorrow (October 18) the Bongino campaign is doing a unique moneybomb event:

During our “Now or Never” event, you will be able to make donations designated specifically to get Dan’s campaign advertisements on radio, television and the Internet. These ads are a crucial part of our get-out-the-vote efforts and you will have the unique opportunity to choose the media outlet on which you wish to see the ads run. (Emphasis in original.)

So if you donate you get to choose. (I vote for advertising on this website. Is that an option?)

Unlike some others in the race, Dan’s campaign has been the closest to the grassroots and certainly has worn through the shoe leather. Regardless of the perception about where Dan stands in the polls, I think the voters’ brief flirtation with Rob Sobhani is coming to a close as they find out there’s not a lot of substance behind the sizzle.

I didn’t note this at the time, but since the Benghazi massacre is still in the news it’s noteworthy that Dan is among the chorus who thinks heads should roll:

I take no comfort in this, but Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Rice must resign in light of the Benghazi tragedy. It was a tragic failure in leadership.

He went on to decry the “current administration’s position that politics takes priority over security for our men and women in the foreign service.” Given the fact that Hillary Clinton now insists on taking full responsibility, it indeed behooves her to resign her post.

I’ve also found out that Dan will be in the area twice over the next couple weeks. On Thursday, October 25 he will be the beneficiary of a fundraiser here in Salisbury at the local GOP headquarters, tentatively scheduled from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., and on Tuesday, October 30 the PACE group at Salisbury University is hosting a U.S. Senate debate in their Great Hall at 3 p.m. That’s sort of an unusual time to have an event such as that, but it is what it is.

And apparently Dan has had his fill of complaints from Sobhani about Rob’s debate exclusion. This comes from Dan’s Facebook page:

Regarding the debates schedule, there is no effort to keep the candidate out of the debates. His campaign is fabricating stories in an attempt to distract from his confusing platform… Any forum he was not included in was due to the fact that he was not invited by the host.

I’ve spoken to the campaign about this issue and any assertion that Dan doesn’t want Rob Sobhani in the debates is completely false.

Speaking of debates, this is one which just might be crazy enough to actually work.

Created by the TEA Party Express group, this is the debate where the moderators are conservative. Of course, none of the nominees or incumbents will actually participate – but in this era of YouTube and 24-hour media coverage, video is a wonderful thing. Honestly, it’s simply going to serve as a reminder of where candidates have said they stand on key issues ignored in the other debates.

The presidential debate for the rest of us.

But I don’t think these guys are going to play it as comedy, like taking single words and catchphrases carefully spliced together like a shock jock might. Given some of the names already announced as participating in the event, it may come down to being just as informative as the real thing – and in many cases, Barack Obama actually will get to have his teleprompter.

This event will occur next Tuesday night, October 23, at 9 p.m.

Following up on a post I did a few days ago on Protect Marriage Maryland endorsements, the group has added Fourth District Congressional candidate Faith Loudon to its preferred candidates. No real surprise there, and if it chips a few percentage points off an otherwise monolithic black vote for Donna Edwards, so much the better. Hopefully they’ll also vote against Question 6 as well.

Meanwhile, those who support Question 7 may have stepped into some hot water with this ad.

Now LaVar Arrington can do as he pleases, but FedEx is none too happy about their logo being prominently featured as part of the spot. Spokeswoman Maury Donahue said her company will review the ad, but they have no involvement in the issue.

But it appears the Washington Redskins do have a role, according to a Capital Gazette article questioning a $450,000 payment to the team just days before the ad was taped. It also gave Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat and Question 7 opponent, an opening to remark on the team’s involvement:

As a ‘Skins fan, the Comptroller respectfully encourages them to focus on the important tasks at hand, such as protecting RG III, shoring up their kicking game and making sorely-needed improvements to one of the league’s lowest-ranked defenses.

I’d be more interested in what the NFL has to say considering their stance on gambling, and that’s likely why they had to choose a player who’s no longer active. Much as Arrington hates losing, he may well end up on the short end of the score November 6.

Unlike Questions 4, 6, and 7, which have seen a healthy amount of media coverage, Question 5 on redistricting has been the red-headed stepchild of the quartet. But State Senator E. J. Pipkin is trying to change that a little bit:

It’s just a little bit longer than a 30-second ad, which makes me wonder how many will see this video. But this makes a lot of sense considering the Maryland Democrats who put this together definitely flunked the “compact and contiguous” requirement.

But let’s not flunk the idea of protecting the vote. Election Integrity Maryland is holding one final poll watcher training session:

Election Integrity Maryland is offering its last Poll Watcher Training session before the election, on Wednesday, October 24 – Thursday, October 25.  This comprehensive, 1-1/2 hour course is taught via webinar from the comfort of your home computer from 7:30 – 8:15 each evening.

Registration is required.  The cost is $15, which includes a spiral bound Training Guide mailed to each participant.

Signup is here. Now I prefer to work outside the polling place in an attempt to change hearts and minds, but you can provide a valuable service to your fellow citizens in this way as well.

We know that the other side is ready to go (h/t Don Stifler):

Somewhere in Baltimore City, this sign and the occupants of this dwelling are lurking. We can fight back.

I’ll definitely occupy my vote this year, and you can bet your bottom dollar it won’t be for that failure named Barack Obama.

Finally, another requirement the Democrats in charge of Annapolis seem to be flunking is honesty in economic reporting. Instead of giving us the real news – which has been generally bad – they’re resorting to obfuscation. Jim Pettit at Change Maryland sent this along to me last week:

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley recently hosted an Annapolis summit for advocates of what is called a “Genuine Progress Indicator.”  The national forum received scant media attention and the issue itself has largely been under the radar of most mainstream media outlets.

The impetus behind the Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI movement, is to supplant traditional federal government statistics with new and arbitrary criteria that deducts what other government bureaucrats deem as environmental and social costs that accrue from prosperity.

(Read the rest here. They also have a helpful fact sheet.)

Maryland is one of two states which have enacted a form of this method of statistical legerdemain, as Vermont signed this into law earlier this year.

Obviously Larry Hogan and Change Maryland delight in being a thorn in Martin O’Malley’s side, but the real question is why this is even being considered in the first place. To me, it comes from the same line of thinking which believes rural development should be shelved in favor of promoting “greenways” and packing people into urban centers so they can “improve” our “quality of life.”

But regardless of every statistic which can be measured, there is no way government can insure happiness. To use a baseball analogy, even if a pitcher absolutely owns a hitter to the tune of the batter being 0-for-20 against him that’s no guarantee the next at-bat won’t produce a home run. The radical Left can disparage capitalism all they want, and I’ll admit it sometimes doesn’t work very well. But these mistakes can be easily rectified by the market, and there’s no need for government to intercede. GPI is just an excuse for a greater attempt to control outcomes, with the folly of believing in equality of outcome uppermost in their minds.

It all goes back to that old saw about lies, damned lies, and statistics. When it’s in someone’s vested interest to cook the books we all know what sort of trouble can ensue. But I don’t need numbers to see that people are hurting, and it’s not from capitalism but instead from the lack thereof.

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