It’s been over a year since I featured a Friday guest opinion, but it’s a new year and I thought this first workday (for some) of 2015 would be a good place to (hopefully) kickstart the series back up. There are a lot of people out there who I would love to see here as guest commentators.
This guest, though, is someone familiar to my readers as his pursuits over the last year have attracted my attention on a few occasions. But my writing about Richard Douglas began when he a candidate for U.S. Senate in the 2012 campaign. In the intervening time, I’ve noted that he is also knowledgeable on foreign affairs, having been senior counsel to two U.S. Senate committees as well as serving in the George W. Bush administration at the Pentagon.
Simply put, Richard’s got a pretty good understanding of this situation so his words may well become reality in 2015.
Bet on this: full U.S. withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay Naval Station is part of the Obama deal with Cuba’s Raul Castro to re-establish U.S.-Cuban relations. The only issue left to negotiate is how much our departure will cost the U.S. taxpayer.
The U.S. Navy began visiting Guantanamo during the 19th century. After our 1898 victory over Spain we moved into this fine Cuban harbor for good. Guantanamo was a familiar destination to American sailors, coast guard personnel, and marines long before the first post-9/11 detainees arrived. It has hosted U.S. military training for decades, and also served as a holding area for Haitians and Cubans hoping to reach the U.S.
Since Fidel Castro shot his way to power in the 1950s, he has demanded U.S. withdrawal from Guantanamo. Given what we have heard from President Obama lately about Cuba policy, Fidel is likely to get his wish, and soon. The Administration is probably already formulating withdrawal plans.
What are the likely contours of such a plan? Here is a prediction, based upon our President’s affection for unilateral action and our experience leaving Panama.
First the President will assert that he requires no new Congressional authority to withdraw from Guantanamo or return the base to Cuba. The last U.S.-Cuba treaty dealing with Guantanamo entered into force in 1934 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mr. Obama will announce that he is free to abrogate or abandon that treaty without Congressional assistance, or in spite of Congressional interference. If pressed, he might cite as precedent President George W. Bush’s 2002 withdrawal from the 1972 ABM Treaty with the Soviet Union over Congressional objections, or President Jimmy Carter’s unilateral abandonment of Taiwan.
In 1999 U.S. forces left Panama, completing a process set in motion by President Carter’s 1977 decision to cede the Canal to the Republic of Panama. Withdrawal of U.S. forces from foreign lands can be an expensive proposition: in Panama, the U.S. was obliged to perform environmental remediation and explosive ordnance disposal before transfer. Cuba will make similar demands upon the U.S. taxpayer before transfer of Guantanamo, and the Administration will almost certainly agree to them.
At Guantanamo, ordnance and environmental cleanup will be just the beginning. Cuba will also ask the U.S. to remove thousands of land mines which Cuba, itself, planted along the Guantanamo fence. Taxpayers will also be on the hook to improve U.S.-built port facilities and airfields there, and to fund retirement of Cubans who lose their naval station jobs owing to the turnover.
I would also expect President Obama to offer reparations and an apology to Cuba for the century-long U.S. occupation of Guantanamo, in spite of the fact that these and other U.S. payments will very likely end up in the pockets of the Castro brothers, corrupt Cuban government and Communist Party officials, and the international criminal organizations already enthusiastically awaiting departure of U.S. forces from Guantanamo.
Unlike Panama, we should expect no Cuban interest in a residual U.S. security presence at Guantanamo after turnover. Thus we must be prepared to see the U.S.-built facilities there used in disturbing ways. After withdrawal, Guantanamo’s harbor and airfields will become regular naval and air stopovers for adversaries like Russia and China, and possibly even for drug cartels transshipping deadly cargo to the U.S. or West Africa.
How could President Obama expect a Republican-led Congress to authorize or fund a handover of Guantanamo to the Cuban regime?
Insofar as legislative authorities are concerned for the transfer of U.S. buildings, fixtures, and equipment at Guantanamo to the Cubans, expect the Obama administration simply to announce that under existing law it already has authority to perform all necessary tasks. To advance his agenda, President Obama has not been timid about conjuring presidential authorities from existing law or the Constitution. Guantanamo will be no different.
Unless the new Congress acts to control it, to fund the transfer the President could simply siphon dollars from already-appropriated Pentagon, State Department, Homeland Security, and intelligence community regular budgets. In the federal budget there are dozens of places to squirrel away funding. Dollars Congress appropriates today for legitimate but vague Executive branch purposes may help fund withdrawal from Guantanamo Bay Naval Station tomorrow.
Many Americans are concerned about Obama overtures to Cuba. But a Cold War mainstay is coming to an end courtesy of the President. Perhaps it is worth recalling that Jimmy Carter’s Panama Canal Treaty partner, General Omar Torrijos, was also reviled by many as a socialist dictator. Thirty years after Torrijos perished in a plane crash, the Canal is in good hands and modernizing. Panama’s tragic history of dictatorship seems far away.
We can only hope that a similar evolution toward democracy and prosperity will be seen in Cuba. For now, prospects are not encouraging and the jury is out. But come what may, Americans should prepare themselves to say farewell to Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. Soon.
After he lost the 2012 Senatorial primary to Dan Bongino, Richard Douglas has kept a somewhat low profile. Eschewing a possible run for Attorney General this year, Douglas has instead focused on particular issues such as the Bladensburg Peace Cross earlier this year and his latest, a criticism of Maryland’s two sitting Senators for a lack of action on freeing Marylander Alan Gross from a Cuban prison.
In today’s Daily Record (11/19), I was astonished to read the Capital News Service whitewash of the Maryland U.S. congressional delegation’s record of failure on Alan Gross.
Marylander Gross remains in a Cuban jail because Maryland’s weak, irresolute U.S. Senators have done precisely nothing to force our weak, irresolute President to make Cuba howl. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara Mikulski have used none of the tools available to majority-party senators, or in Mikulski’s case, to the chair of the Senate’s most powerful standing committee, to bludgeon the Obama White House into meaningful action to free their fellow Marylander.
To try to force presidential action, Cardin and Mikulski could easily have blocked Obama legislative priorities, Obama executive nominations, treaties, senior bureaucratic promotion lists, and spending bills. But they didn’t, and these are glaring omissions in the Capitol Hill playbook. They confirm that Cardin and Mikulski have pulled their punches with their ideological teammate in the White House.
Whitewash can’t conceal the truth. Maryland’s U.S. Senators and the White House have shown weakness and a lack of resolve on Mr. Gross. That same brand of weakness and lack of resolve helped put Russian troops in Ukraine, and allows Islamist terrorists to murder Americans almost at will.
In January, the new Republican majority in the Senate could finally force President Obama to break a sweat over Alan Gross, five long years into his imprisonment. We’ll see. But what a pity that Maryland’s U.S. Senators, clucking furiously on the sidelines, have utterly failed to use the tools which the Framers gave them to force Obama to do his job.
Douglas was quite critical of Cardin in his 2012 run, but hadn’t really had much need to be critical of Maryland’s senior Senator. It’s Mikulski’s seat which will be at stake in 2016, though, and Douglas’s statewide experience may lead some to ask whether he’s thinking of challenging Mikulski. With the Senate political landscape being almost exactly the opposite of 2014′s (where Republicans will have at least 24 seats to defend against just 10 for Democrats) the chance to pull an upset in Maryland is intriguing in the wake of Larry Hogan’s win.
Naturally, the prospect of a rematch of the two top GOP contenders from 2012 means Dan Bongino will be in the conversation as a possible contender. But will Bongino want to undergo yet another campaign, the third one in five years?
With the experience Douglas boasts as a former Chief Counsel of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former General Counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an election where cleaning up Barack Obama’s foreign policy messes may be a key issue, the prospect of someone with Richard’s expertise going up against Mikulski – or a new Democrat should Barb decide to retire – is quite interesting. Surely we will see in the coming months if it’s a race Richard wants to run.
The wheels of justice slowly roll on. Back in February I noted that the American Humanist Association filed a lawsuit seeking the removal of the Bladensburg Peace Cross in Prince George’s County, and it came to my attention through the efforts of former Maryland U.S. Senate candidate Richard Douglas, who is acting as counsel for eleven Prince George’s County residents for whom he filed legal motions in late April.
Douglas was also kind enough to provide a timeline of how the case is proceeding:
Feb 25 — AHA and three individual plaintiffs filed a lawsuit to remove the memorial.
April 25 — Ten individuals and I filed a motion for leave to appear as friends of the court, along with a memorandum in support of defendants. I reached out to both the atheists and the MNCPPC — the atheists would not agree to our filing. The MNCPPC raised no objection. I was on the phone for a while with MNCPPC and came away with a positive impression. The Court said that answers to our motion must be filed by 12 May.
April 28 — The defendants/MNCPPC filed their answer to the complaint.
May 1 — The American Legion (represented by a Washington DC law firm) has filed a motion to intervene. Liberty Institute is also on that motion. The motion indicates that plaintiff atheists also oppose the American Legion intervention.
The court has scheduled a conference call for May 8, Thursday. I’m not sure we will be invited to participate. We’ll know more about whether our friend of the court motion will be accepted, and how the court will proceed. So far, we are the only ones to file a detailed memorandum on the law.
In case you’re curious about what the hubbub is about and not familiar with Prince George’s County, the town of Bladensburg prominently features the Peace Cross on its website. While it’s indeed a cross shape, to me it’s more in the vein of the crosses used as headstones than a religious symbol. It’s stood on the site for nearly ninety years, yet now three (!) plaintiffs have decided its offensive?
As Douglas points out, the battle has attracted the attention of the American Legion and Liberty Institute. The involvement of the American Legion is natural given their position as a veterans’ organization, but this release from the LI indicates they are acting on the American Legion’s behalf. (They are also trying to save a similar memorial in California.)
This seems to be another battle on a nationwide war on religious conscience. Obviously this local issue is of smaller scope than the argument whether it’s within the rights of a conscientious business owner to refuse service to gay couples or to not cover abortifacients on their health insurance plan, but on all fronts we seem to be laboring under a tyranny of an easily-offended atheist/agnostic minority. “Live and let live” only seems to work in one direction anymore.
I’m sure Richard will be keeping me updated on the progress of the suit, but it’s refreshing to find men of conscience who voluntarily labor to maintain that which is good about our society. Back in 1925, a cross seemed to be an ideal symbol for a memorial, even as the concept was bastardized by certain racist groups of the era. Anymore, it seems that those defending the symbol are being shunned by society like those who burned crosses in an earlier time, but only because they’re standing up for traditional values which made us a great and good nation.
For over 90 years, the Bladensburg Peace Cross has stood on property which is now public land. Two years ago, the American Humanist Association asked the memorial to World War 1 veterans be removed from its site, saying it “sends a message that Christianity is preferred by the government.” Since it’s still there, the AHA has filed a lawsuit against the Maryland – National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which controls the plot of land near a heavily traveled intersection. The suit cites a “violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as applied to Maryland by the Fourteenth Amendment.” Yes, it’s the old saw that the sign of the cross is the establishment of religion. I find it interesting that thousands of crosses and other religious symbols have been erected as tombstones or prominently featured on them in public and private cemeteries around the country, yet because of the location and visibility of the Bladensburg Cross, the AHA has chosen to sue about this one.
But the reason I heard about this was a voice of resistance:
Given the wave of revisionist lawsuits intended to dismantle battle monuments and other sites important to ordinary Americans since the 1960s I suppose it was only a matter of time until the Bladensburg Cross came under attack. But perhaps the attackers have bitten off more than they can chew.
I attach the complaint, and want to organize resistance. I think ”Task One” will be to make sure the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (the named defendant) does not roll over and decide to default.
If you are concerned about this assault on historical memory, kindly consider pushing this news out to your networks and contacting your representatives in the Maryland General Assembly.
I will go to the Courthouse today to see about getting more info. I realize that not everyone reading this note will agree with me on this. I respect your opinion, so please let me know if you would like to be removed from further mailings.
These are the words of former U.S. Senate candidate Richard Douglas, who passed on a run for Attorney General here in Maryland but may be interested in this case.
Yet this somewhat local push to eradicate a so-called religious symbol from the landscape comes at a time when the faithful in and around the country are under assault from all directions – witness the firestorm of protest, including a threat to relocate Super Bowl XLIX from the state, which surrounded an Arizona bill which would have allowed business owners to follow their conscience when it came to service gay or lesbian couples. The measure was vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, who called it “broadly worded.” Other states, such as Texas, Utah, and Virginia, have seen their gay marriage bans thrown out by activist federal judges.
In Maryland the judiciary seems to be a little more conservative than the general population, but this is going before a federal court so all bets are off.
It’s interesting how the blogosphere works.
At 3:19 p.m. yesterday I received the e-mail about Richard Douglas deciding not to run for Attorney General, presumably at the same time several others got it because we were all “providing coverage of his potential run during the exploratory phase,” as the e-mail said. I say I received it, but I actually didn’t read it until maybe 3:45 or so because I was out when it hit my e-mail box.
As it turned out, there were six media sources which received the e-mail, although it went to a total of eight people excluding the common practice of self-addressing to make sure the e-mail went out. (Three of them represented Red Maryland, although Brian Griffiths wrote their coverage.)
Now I’m not sure who had it out first between Michael Dresser of the Baltimore Sun, The Quinton Report and Red Maryland, but the latter two outlets more or less reprised the press release in full with a line or two of comment. Dresser’s piece was even more brief, and shows why he’s a professional – assuming he got the e-mail at about the same time the rest of us did, it was written in a matter of minutes. As a summary it was well done. All three did the quick and dirty thing, getting the news out to their readers.
Jackie Wellfonder and I took a little longer to write our coverage, but both of us added more summary to the news release, which she printed in full and I excerpted from. Jackie brought out the idea of a task force, which I will speak to shortly. For my part, I was hoping to be first out with the news (I wasn’t) but I also wanted to add some opinion and context, which I did. As it turns out I wasn’t at my outside job so I had my piece set to go about 4:30 yesterday.
The other person who received the e-mail has chosen thus far not to write on it. So there’s my compare and contrast of the coverage, for what it’s worth. I thought the situation made for an interesting case study.
Now here’s some more context and information. In looking at the election calendar, we all know the filing deadline is February 25, so any candidate for Attorney General (or other office) has to have his or her affairs in order by then. But it’s not the actual “drop-dead” date for the Maryland GOP.
If you remember the 2010 election – the one where Republicans ended up with no AG candidate – there was a controversy which came to a head two years later when Audrey Scott, who was the Chair of the Maryland GOP during the 2010 election, made an unsuccessful bid for National Committeewoman. Jim Shalleck, who had volunteered to place his name on the ballot for the AG post, claimed in a letter sent out during Scott’s 2012 NCW campaign that his would-be candidacy was scuttled because of inaction by the state party. At the time, state parties had a full fifteen days to fill any ballot vacancies which occurred during the filing period – here in Wicomico County, that’s how current State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello made it onto the 2010 ballot because no Republican filed for the office during the prescribed time frame. Fortunately, it worked out for us as a local party and for the county as a whole. On a state level, we failed.
This year, however, the time frame is much shorter as the “drop-dead” date is Monday, March 3. (Note to state Executive Committee: pencil in a Saturday, March 1 meeting now for a task force or however you wish to handle this.) I have no idea if Shalleck is still willing to run, since he seems to have the qualifications to do so if not the fire in the belly, but this is actually a pretty good shot for a Republican because there’s no incumbent, a four-way primary on the other side, and perhaps a wave year for the GOP. That confluence of factors rarely comes along in the downballot races where there are no term limits – before Doug Gansler won the office in 2006, his immediate predecessor Joe Curran served 20 years.
Many of those who came before Curran served until a judgeship came open, which is how the last Republican AG got into office – his elected Democratic predecessor moved to the Maryland Court of Appeals and Edward D.E. Rollins of Cecil County was appointed to the post in 1952 by the last Republican governor to win re-election, Theodore McKeldin. It’s been 96 years since a Republican won the AG job via election, and that streak’s not in jeopardy until someone steps up on the Republican side.
It appears now the Maryland GOP will have to dig a little harder to find a candidate for Attorney General. Those who had hoped Richard Douglas would formally enter the race – a number which included me – will be disappointed to learn he’s taking a pass:
Exploring a race for the privilege of serving as Maryland Attorney General left me with the clear conviction that, under current circumstances, I would be obliged to put campaign responsibilities ahead of responsibilities to my new family. I am unwilling to do that.
I considered a race seriously because of our sitting Attorney General’s habitual failure to perform bedrock duties of his office:
- To expose and eliminate corruption at all levels of Maryland government.
- To hold all Maryland officials accountable (himself included) without favoritism.
- To inform Marylanders fully and impartially about the implications of legislation, taxation, regulation, and judicial action for Maryland job growth and manufacturing.
- To reduce barriers to individual, educational, and commercial success.
- To shield young workers from high health insurance costs and prevent “physician flight”.
- To help single mothers collect child support and protect their children from crime.
- To make Maryland government friendlier to the families of deployed military personnel.
- To fight mistreatment of aliens by Maryland authorities.
- To improve conditions in Maryland jails for inmates and corrections officers.
- To resist federal usurpation of Maryland state authorities.
- To return common sense, integrity, and transparency to Maryland government.
- To make Maryland a better place for all.
My conscience will not allow me to enter the Attorney General’s race. In the future, circumstances may permit me to re-enter competitive Maryland politics. Maryland is worth it. When the time comes, I will reassess the potential for making a positive difference.
Instead, Douglas vowed to “consider ways to effectively improve Maryland state government’s performance on public corruption, official integrity, and return on taxpayer investment.”
But with only about six weeks remaining before the filing deadline, the prospects of Republicans whiffing on the post for a second consecutive cycle loom considerably larger. Before 2010, the last time the AG slot had been uncontested was 1986. Douglas was ideal for the party since he had recently run a statewide campaign against Dan Bongino for the U.S. Senate nomination, losing to Dan by 5 percentage points, or 10,831 votes. Richard carried half of the state’s 24 jurisdictions, however, including here in Wicomico County. With the prospect of four Democratic contenders beating each other up during the primary season, the prospect of a single Republican avoiding the mudslide may have made this a winnable race. While most of the AG candidates in recent memory failed to crack the 40 percent barrier, the 1994 election saw Richard Bennett lose by a 54-46 margin to incumbent Joe Curran, who was then seeking a third term. Potentially the 2014 election could be a wave election for conservatives like 1994 was, even in Maryland.
There’s also the question, though, of whether the sins of the incumbent AG will reflect on any of those running to replace Doug Gansler as he runs for governor. Certainly each will promise to do a better job than Gansler, at least until they’re sworn in and continue the same old pattern of rewarding political friends while ignoring the foes who point out clear language in the state Constitution.
So that’s two good potential candidates who passed up the race. Jim Rutledge was a grassroots favorite for the 2014 AG nomination after losing the 2010 U.S. Senate primary to a better-funded Eric Wargotz, but he chose to instead run to become the president of the Harford County Council in 2014.
So the question for Maryland GOP leadership to ask: Surely there’s an ambitious conservative attorney out there who would like to run?
Yesterday I looked at how 2014 looks in Wicomico County, but much – too much, as I see it – of their decision-making is truly made in Annapolis. And with current governor Martin O’Malley attempting to burnish his credentials for a position inside Hillary Clinton’s administration – oh wait, he’s supposedly running himself, isn’t he? – it’s important to him that he establish himself with the progressive crowd.
What this means for us is that no tax increase is off the table, but it’s more likely we will see renewed efforts at green energy, gun control, and salvaging the failed Obamacare rollout in Maryland – but if worse comes to worse, it’s Anthony Brown who will be thrown under the bus. In the decision between a Maryland legacy and a White House bid, well, no lieutenant governor has succeeded his boss anyway.
Brown is probably the conventional wisdom favorite to succeed O’Malley and become Maryland’s first black governor; of course there are other main contenders on both sides. Attorney General Doug Gansler seems to be the Democrats’ backup plan but has endured a rocky start to his campaign; meanwhile Delegate Heather Mizeur seems to be the one establishing a number of truly far-left issues in the campaign – witness her idea for marijuana legalization.
On the Republican side, three top contenders seem to be out to appeal most to the conservative crowd, with a fourth joining the field in January. Harford County Executive David Craig obviously has the most well-rounded political resume, but Delegate Ron George represents a more populous area around Annapolis. Charles Lollar is running the most populist campaign, but he may receive a run for his money once the social media-savvy Larry Hogan formally enters the race next month. His Change Maryland Facebook page claims over 70,000 supporters of all political stripes – in a four-way Republican race, 70,000 votes might be enough.
There are only two other statewide races this year, since there’s no Senate race this cycle. With Attorney General Gansler abandoning his post to try for governor, there are four Democratic members of the General Assembly out to succeed him – Aisha Braveboy, Jon Cardin, Bill Frick, and Brian Frosh all seek the seat, and all but Cardin have officially filed. No one has yet filed on the GOP side, but 2012 U.S. Senate candidate Richard Douglas seems to be leaning toward a run, allowing the Republicans to avoid the ignominy of whiffing on a statewide race for the second cycle in a row.
Things are shaping up as a rematch of 2010 in the Comptroller’s race, as Republican William Campbell is again challenging incumbent Peter Franchot.
With so many members of the General Assembly attempting to move up to higher offices, it creates a cascading effect in the various General Assembly races. While the GOP is probably not going to see a General Assembly majority in the 2015-18 cycle – and has the headwind of being redistricted in such a manner to try and cut their minority – being on the wrong side of a lot of issues may make it tricky for Democrats to not lose seats. Republicans have a goal of picking up seven Senate seats, giving them 19 and allowing them to filibuster, and wouldn’t be unhappy with picking up the four House seats required to possibly bypass committee votes on key issues.
As I noted above, though, the key issues will be revealed once O’Malley introduces his legislative package to the General Assembly in mid-January, shortly before his annual State of the State address. Last year he got his gas tax increase to build the Red Line and Purple Line, authorization for offshore wind, and his onerous gun restrictions in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, so this year’s agenda will probably pivot back to measures he believes will help the state’s economy but in reality will probably redistribute even more wealth from the productive to the slothful, growing government at an even faster pace. Many of those dollars will address perceived shortcomings in education and health care.
That seems to be how O’Malley’s last package of revenue enhancements has worked, because the state once again is facing a structural deficit despite rosy predictions to the contrary. Old chestnuts like increasing the cigarette tax or combined reporting of business income will probably jostle for primary position with new initiatives like a mileage tax, additional penalties for cell phone usage, or a higher toll for being caught by speed cameras.
It’s somewhat difficult to predict the direction of the General Assembly before it begins, as items not on the radar in early January become bills introduced late in the session, some of which pass muster. The gasoline tax in its adopted form was one of those last year, since conventional wisdom predicted a straight per-gallon increase rather than the adoption of a partial sales tax which will increase regularly. Another dynamic which will affect timing is having the filing deadline for the 2014 ballot come during session – surely some will wait and see what their path to re-election looks like before introducing certain controversial bills. In previous elections the filing deadline occurred well after the session was over.
Once we get beyond the session in April, the primary campaign will ramp up immediately because of the new experience of a June primary. The Democrats tried to change this eight years ago, fearing a bruising primary fight between Doug Duncan and Martin O’Malley, but succeeded this time because of changes in federal law requiring longer lead times for overseas military voters. Instead of pushing the primary back a couple weeks to comply, though, they decided on a full 2 1/2 months.
At this point there are three main contenders on the Democratic side, and I think that number will stay the same – my thought is either Dutch Ruppersberger will pass up the race (more likely) or, if Dutch gets in, the damaged goods of Doug Gansler will drop out. Obviously there will be more than three on the ballot but some fall under the auspices of perennial candidates who I think are just working on that line in their obituary where it says so-and-so ran for governor five times.
For the GOP, the same is true. In their case, I don’t think there’s enough money out there for four main contenders and whoever raised the least in 2013 is probably the one who exits the race after Larry Hogan makes it formal. In Hogan’s 2010 gubernatorial bid he lent his campaign $325,000 so presumably Hogan has the personal wherewithal to use as seed money; perhaps the dropout will agree to be the running mate of another contender.
It’s interesting, though, that the problems Maryland faces – at least the ones not of their own making, a category in which I’d include the overregulation of local county and municipal governments – are very similar to those faced right here in Wicomico County. Maryland has the “benefit” of being the host state for thousands of federal government worker bees, but little industry to speak of. It’s notable the campaigns are now paying lip service to the concept of re-establishing a manufacturing base, but the process will take at least a couple terms of office and will certainly be at odds with the stated goals of some among the Radical Green who desire a pristine Chesapeake Bay. Development and a reasonably clean Bay can co-exist, but if you want circa-1600 conditions that won’t happen.
And because there are so many who depend on government for their livelihood as workers – or survival as dependents – the concept of “One Maryland” is laughable on its face. The needs of Baltimore City or Somerset County residents don’t often coincide with the desires of your average denizen of Takoma Park or Chevy Chase, but supposedly they are all “One Maryland.” I think there are at least four Marylands – the energy-rich areas of the state’s panhandle, the I-95/I-270 corridors stretching from Harford County on the north to the Beltway suburbs hard by the District of Columbia and back towards Frederick, the bedroom suburbs of southern Maryland which are rapidly changing in political posture, and the Eastern Shore, where agriculture and tourism coexist, but in an occasional state of hostility. One can’t even say that their needs are similar because jobs are plentiful around D.C. but tougher to come by on the Eastern Shore and in Baltimore proper.
It’s not likely one man (or woman) can unite these areas, but the question is which coalitions will hold sway. Finding the right combination will be the key to success for the state in 2014.
One thing I’ve noticed in the rampup to Larry Hogan’s big announcement is a significantly increased tempo in media operations from Change Maryland, and the report released yesterday was more than just a little thorn in Martin O’Malley’s side – nope, this was more like a shiv stuck in there and twisted around a couple times. Sadly, pay for play may be considered business as usual in Maryland, but this also demonstrates that Martin O’Malley’s grandiose presidential dreams were cemented into place as the 2010 returns came in.
The always-quotable Hogan remarked:
Our preliminary research indicates a disturbing ‘pay to play’ pattern emerging from the O’Malley-Brown Administration where some DGA donors received a substantial, and increased, state benefits before and after making a contribution. Did the Governor solicit large contributions to help further his national aspirations and reward those donors with huge state contracts and/or implement policies that help them significantly?
Our initial research of DGA financial records is just the tip of the iceberg. It establishes a troubling trend which, when complete, may require a deeper investigation.
Could this investigation be a centerpiece of a Hogan administration? Perhaps, although having an Attorney General who won’t sweep this under the rug (i.e. a Democrat) would be of great assistance in this regard. I think Richard Douglas could sink his teeth into this one.
And while the allegations are against Martin O’Malley, whose Maryland electoral days are likely behind him, you have to wonder how much of these broad brushstrokes will tar Anthony Brown, the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination. And considering all this went on under the nose of Brown’s chief rival, Attorney General Doug Gansler, he may be in for a share of blame, too.
This obviously leads me to wonder about the timing of Change Maryland releasing its promised January report when you consider that Hogan’s announcement is also slated for sometime that month. My belief is that the report will come out just a day or two before the official announcement, giving Larry a longer news cycle to build momentum for his race.
But it also pushes me into thinking that the 2014 election could be one of the muddiest in Maryland history. We’ve already seen evidence of this in the internecine Democratic fighting between Brown and Gansler – interesting how the state trooper incident and underage drinking allegations came out at just the point when Gansler was beginning to get a little traction in the race.
So I got to wondering who was the one that went way back to 1992 and started the meme which Jeff Quinton reported on regarding Hogan’s position on abortion? (Update: As it turns out, it was Jeff himself. My mistake originally was in assuming he was fed the information, not realizing he has an extensive pro-life background.)
One has to take this in context, though: Hogan was running for a Congressional seat at the time (as opposed to a state office) and there was a ballot question regarding abortion law which was petitioned to referendum but handily kept in place by state voters at the time. (Question 6 of 1992 passed by a 62%-38% margin, and was the last referendum until 2012.) Being pro-choice was perhaps the safer electoral move at the time – besides, it took less than four years for Barack Obama to do an about-face on gay marriage so it’s possible Larry has gravitated to a more pro-life perspective in the last 22.
Of course Democrats know that the Republican base is primarily pro-life, so what better way to sow seeds of discord among a select group of GOP primary voters than to bring up the abortion issue? Frankly, that’s not a top-drawer concern for many voters, even in the GOP, but that five percent who identify it as their key issue can make a difference in a multi-person primary. (Aside from the notion that Hogan favored keeping abortions legal, he’s right on the money about overturning Roe v. Wade and sending the issue to the states. It’s a battle best fought in Annapolis…and Dover, and Columbus, and Austin, and so forth.)
But if someone is digging that deep to find dirt about Larry Hogan, perhaps there’s something to the notion that we weren’t buried face-down as deep as some would have thought eight years ago. 2014 seems like a nice time to emerge.
Once again taking what would normally be a fairly localized race and nationalizing it, Sixth District Congressional candidate Dan Bongino announced his first major national endorsement today: former Congressman and conservative darling Lt. Col. Allen West.
In a statement released today, Bongino simply noted:
I am both proud and honored to receive the endorsement of Lt. Col. West, a man who has developed a large national following due to his reliance on principles and not cheap party politics.
There will be a formal event October 10 in Washington, D.C. to officially make the endorsement, in which Dan is joined by three other officeseekers.
But this is important in nationalizing the race because West’s Guardian Fund has plenty of support nationwide, despite the fact West was a one-term Congressman from Florida. Needless to say, I don’t think Dan is going to honor opponent David Vogt’s call for a campaign finance limit in the race, perhaps because incumbent Congressman John Delaney has plenty of money himself.
Meanwhile, Dan continues to rack up support from potential TEA Party peers in Washington and beyond – but it brings a point to mind. Obviously. since we are nowhere near the Sixth District, I have no idea how the grassroots in that region are taking to Bongino since he’s an outsider to the district. I know he had plenty of support in his statewide race from a plethora of volunteers, but I need to be convinced that the same passion is there this time around. While some had fun at Vogt’s handling of the Richard Douglas endorsement, having someone familiar with the lay of the land like Bud Otis can be an advantage as well. It means Vogt might be showing up at the right events and meeting the correct people therein.
But can that compete with the influence and power of Allen West? Only time will tell.
It’s beginning to look like a race out in the Sixth District, but the question is now becoming one of whether the establishment Republican is really Dan Bongino, who earned his stripes by garnering the Maryland GOP’s senatorial nomination last April. Consider that Dan’s closest opponent in that race, Richard Douglas, is now backing Vogt:
Service in the armed forces is not the only quality required of a conscientious member of Congress. But it is an enormous asset. For this reason, I believe that former Marine rifleman and Afghanistan veteran David Vogt is the best choice to represent Maryland District 6 in the U.S House of Representatives.
During the last twelve years, our nation’s most important national security enterprises have been combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. After September 11, 2001, Americans like Mr. Vogt enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and other branches of the armed forces to perform our nation’s dangerous and demanding work. They volunteered without fanfare, fully aware that they would be deployed to combat theaters, rifle in hand. Their willingness to go in harm’s way is the essence of service and sacrifice.
Even Americans who opposed U.S. operations in Iraq or Afghanistan can appreciate the worth of such badly-needed qualities, today, in every walk of our often-troubled national life. These qualities are important because the interests of Maryland and our nation often demand that elected representatives in Congress, regardless of party, cross swords with the people who govern us from the White House, the Pentagon and other Executive branch departments and independent agencies.
Staring down the President, the Pentagon, a massive bureaucracy, or your own party leadership to serve the people takes genuine courage. But that is a House member’s duty, regardless of the political consequences. Armed forces veterans — particularly those with combat experience in the ranks — understand and have lived the duties of self-sacrifice and courage. They are less likely to become the star-struck cheerleaders for bad military, foreign, and domestic policy which, sadly, populate Congress today.
Service, seasoning and wisdom matter. Marylanders have had a bellyful of tough-talking lightweights in public life. Mr. Vogt is a step forward. He is the Republican primary candidate who has demonstrated the courage, seasoning and experience required to represent Marylanders well.
Mr. Vogt’s Afghanistan service in the U.S. Marine Corps did not make him a better American than his electoral opponents. But it will make him a better member of the U.S. Congress.
I’ll leave aside the question of Douglas’s backing vis-a-vis the question of establishment vs. conservative for the moment, because it’s worth pointing out that Bongino and Douglas were rivals for the same job last year, and the backbone of Richard’s campaign was his foreign policy experience as well as his tenure as a Senate staffer. At the same time, the question of Afghanistan was still in the air and Dan made a compelling case for pulling out, which automatically and immediately puts him at loggerheads with the Afghan campaign veteran Vogt. For that reason alone, I’m not surprised at this endorsement, which could help Vogt most in the extreme western part of the district where Douglas prevailed in the 2012 primary.
But this is also shaping up to be yet another establishment vs. outsider proxy battle, with Bongino again playing the role of outsider against Douglas in an election with few established names. It’s true that Vogt has no elected political experience, but the same could be said for Douglas – yet he was embraced by a number of MDGOP insiders as well as those inside the Beltway.
I find it interesting, though, that Bongino hasn’t chosen to begin rolling out endorsements yet. Maybe he feels less need to since it’s implied that many of those who backed his Senate run will do the same for a Congressional bid, but if Vogt’s ball keeps rolling he could make it a race. While it’s very unscientific, the most recent Red Maryland poll gives Bongino a solid – but not convincing – 17-point edge. Considering his name recognition from being on the ballot last year, that’s got to be too close for comfort.
So how will Dan Bongino play this? I can only speculate, but I suspect the big push will begin after Labor Day and it will center on pocketbook issues.
Meanwhile, there are some in the online media who are questioning the way the Vogt campaign is being run, particularly staffing decisions. There’s no question that Dan Bongino has rubbed some in the Maryland GOP the wrong way, but one name in particular continues to pop up on the radar screen of Jeff Quinton and his Quinton Report, and apparently that person is now involved in Vogt’s campaign as well.
Leaving aside the personality aspect, Jeff makes a valid point – why would a story like this be buried on a weekend? (I received this word before this evening, but it was embargoed to today and I respected the campaign’s wishes.) One might posit that a release on Saturday assures more attention during a slow news period and perhaps placement in the Sunday paper, but having done this gig for awhile I know the ebb and flow of readership and when certain material works best and Saturday is an unusual day for political activity like this. And having noticed a similar line on a Facebook posting from Monday, arguably that would have been the time to lead with it if the endorsement were in the can.
So far we have proven that first-time campaigners make mistakes. The question is whether the unforced errors will doom the Vogt campaign.
Fellow blogger Judy Warner, who now contributes to the Potomac Tea Party Report, tipped me off to an article on the Atlantic website; an article which provided a glimpse at perhaps the most important part of Barack Obama’s electoral victory. Obviously it’s packed with effusive praise for Obama’s campaign in general, for the Atlantic is at heart a highbrow liberal magazine.
But there’s an important point to be considered: say all you want about Obama’s wretched foreign and domestic policies, but he knew how to get re-elected despite being arguably the worst president since Jimmy Carter when it came to bungling both sides of the equation. Oh sure, we on the conservative side know that the mainstream media ran interference for him like the Chicago Bears of another era blocked for Walter Payton but in the end it was Payton who made the defense miss tackles and not easily bring him down.
The part about the Atlantic‘s piece by Alexis Madrigal which stuck out to me the most, though, was the Obama campaign’s willingness to go outside the political arena and find people who simply knew how to make the best use of the technology out there. (If only he would do the same for economics and Constitutional scholarship.) Of course, there was a symbiotic relationship between the two since I’m certain the vast majority of those who signed on were in Obama’s philosophical corner, but this is the technology edge that the Republicans swore up and down they would negate this time around. Instead, we had the well-documented and discussed crash of the ORCA system on Election Day which cemented the demise of Mitt Romney’s Presidential bid.
The orphan of Romney’s technology failure could be traced back to the fact that those who were by trade political consultants – and hence “knew how the system worked” – really didn’t know squat about the technological side of things. Ten years ago e-mail lists were golden because that was going to be the new way to reach voters. In fact, as I recall, the first rendition of Obama
For Against America had a massive list of somewhere around 13 million e-mail addresses to start from (including mine.) But their technology team built up from there and integrated all sorts of data collection and outputs tailored from it.
As an example, remember the post where I related the fact they knew I hadn’t donated to the Obama campaign? The fact that they could tie together the database which had my e-mail address and the one where they had the records of who donated was seemingly beyond the capability of the Romney camp. Instead, the Romney side would send me the EXACT SAME e-mail several times – once from their campaign and then through three or four different “sponsored content” sites to whom I’m sure the Romney people paid handsomely for their list. Unfortunately, I happened to be at the very center of that Venn diagram and I’m betting that most of you reading this were too. But does a generic e-mail motivate someone to go to the polls or donate?
Once again, the key difference came down to data. Maybe I wasn’t high up on the sophistication level of the Obama people because they knew I was sort of a lurker on their e-mail list. I’d bet a dollar to a donut they knew I was a XXX Republican voter and therefore gave me the minimum of e-mail efforts; meanwhile, the uncommitted or newly registered voter (or one who bothered to fill out more information at the Obama site, unlike me) had a variety of messages tailored for him or her. You don’t honestly think the “Julia” advertising campaign or the Lena Dunham “First Time” commercial weren’t calculated to arouse a group they knew they had a maximum of potential voters within? It’s also why they promoted the false “war on women” narrative, with plenty of media help to play up unfortunate statements by U.S. Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.
Since the Romney campaign all but ignored Maryland, let’s look at one statewide Republican campaign we contested, that of Dan Bongino. Just as a recap, Bongino began running for the U.S. Senate as a first-time candidate in the spring of 2011. He had no political experience and his main initial backing was from someone who had ran and lost badly in his first run for political office at the statewide level a year earlier in Brian Murphy. It wasn’t exactly a broad platform to begin from, and the key question in the race early on was whether 2010 GOP U.S. Senate nominee Eric Wargotz would try again. He didn’t.
But Bongino worked hard to overcome many of his disadvantages, and had the attribute of a compelling, man-bites-dog sort of story: a former Secret Service agent quits to make a seemingly quixotic U.S. Senate run in a liberal bastion of a state. Moreover, he’s young, well-spoken, and telegenic, with a rags-to-riches life story that unfortunately too few got to hear outside of the conservative echo chamber. Dan did well at nationalizing his campaign thanks to that story, and managed to win the Republican primary in April over the game but underfunded Richard Douglas and several other less qualified candidates.
Perhaps the Bongino campaign hit its peak just before Labor Day, because just as people decided to start paying attention a newcomer jumped into the race with a populist promise and millions of dollars at his disposal. Obviously this threw the Bongino campaign out of balance and too much time was spent trying to fight off the challenger on the ladder below while the guy above him had little to do but watch the other two battle it out. It was almost as if Dan had to run a second primary campaign in the midst of a general election, this time against an opponent who was much better-funded and inundated the airwaves with slick 30-second commercials beseeching people to “declare your independence.” Like it or not, the “independence” pitch was a message that worked with those who were sick of party infighting but didn’t want to bother enough to go into the details of Rob Sobhani’s pledges.
But imagine what could have been had Dan had the same sort of database and expertise used by the Obama campaign? He could have targeted his message in such a manner to counter the incumbent’s record to certain voters, rebuke the so-called “independent” to wavering supporters, and kept the money stream flowing from the die-hard element. There was no question in my mind that Dan’s message had broad appeal, and perhaps had the roles been reversed between Bongino and Sobhani to where Rob was the GOP nominee and Bongino the unaffiliated candidate, the results would have been about the same. The only difference would be that the Maryland GOP would have been embarrassed about losing to an independent candidate as well as a Democrat.
That’s not to say that there aren’t potential databases at our disposal. We have an idea of those who are most worried about illegal immigration (Question 4), and are pro-family (Question 6). Those who came out against Question 5 and Question 7 can also be construed as sympathetic to at least part of our message. Then add in all the AFP people, TEA Party participants, and fiscal conservatives we know and one can build up a little bit of a knowledge base. Of course, the key is keeping it up to date and determining relevant messaging for the situations which crop up.
A new era is dawning in politics. The old scattershot standby of sign waving doesn’t seem to be very effective anymore, even as well as Dan did it in one memorable afternoon. There were a lot of cars going by on Rockville Pike that day to be sure, but there was no way of knowing whether these were even registered voters. Maybe it’s because I don’t get a lot of Democratic campaign e-mail, or maybe there’s just not enough of a base around here to make it worthwhile, but I never hear about a Democratic sign waving unless it’s in the form of a larger protest. What few Democratic tactical e-mails I received (from the Obama campaign, naturally) had to do with person-to-person events – making phone calls from the local headquarters or having “watch parties” for various campaign events at people’s homes. The former was probably more effective for reaching out to undecided voters while the latter kept the zealots motivated to keep giving of their time and talents. And it came down to having the database to know where I lived and what events were being planned by supporters via solid communications between volunteer and campaign. Those functions were handled on a local level on the Romney side, not always well.
It has been said to me on many occasions that conservatives win on issues and that we are a center-right nation. Obviously I believe that and if anything I think we need a stronger dose of limited government.
But data is king. It’s not enough to have the registration lists and do the door-to-door and phone calls, both of which seemed to be sadly lacking in Maryland thanks to a self-defeating prophecy which states Republicans can’t win statewide elections so why bother trying? That’s a good start, but we also need to invest in the electronic end of things and, more importantly, look outside the incestuous web of political consultants who talk a good game about political IT and find those who do these things for a living. Not all of the Web and social media gurus are liberal Democrats – admittedly, most are but we have to build up a farm team there as well.
I believe we can overcome all those “demography is destiny” and “you can’t convince the minorities to vote GOP” naysayers by using the right data to send them the conservative message. We can win, but it will take hard work, a lot of prudent investment outside of the good-old-boy, inside-the-Beltway system which continues to insure us defeat after defeat, and less of a reliance on things we always thought worked before but have outlived their usefulness.
All of us movement conservatives have some sort of talent, and there are a growing number who believe mine is in analyzing information and providing it to readers in a coherent fashion. As I said in my book. I believe there’s a place for someone of my talents in a conservative, limited-government movement. Years ago I read a self-help book which said I should manage around my weaknesses so I took that to heart and play to my strengths, and mine is in gathering my thoughts and turning them into pixels on a computer screen or words on a page.
But there’s a far bigger place for those who know how to corral data and put it to use so people like me can communicate to the largest number of relevant people possible, while others who have that gift of gab and outgoing personality needed for the task are sent to knock on the right doors and dial the right phone numbers with the right message for the listener. It’s never going to be foolproof, but we have a long way to go just to be adequate.
Finally, we have to treat this like a war. Of course I don’t mean that in the sense of carnage and mayhem, but the idea of taking time off or letting someone else do the job is no more. A soldier has to be ready for anything at any time, and we have to be ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice, keeping an eye out for future elections. On that front, I’m very disappointed I’ve seen no action in my hometown and no credible candidate file to either run against our mayor or the two City Council members whose seats are up in this cycle. Nor do we have a good idea yet of who will be running locally in 2014. (In that case, though, we happen to have a number of incumbents but there are seats we’d love to contest and fill as well.)
Not all campaigns will be successful, but I think we can take a step toward eventual success in learning from our tormentors, and the Atlantic profile provides a quick case study.
It’s almost like Dan Bongino wanted to hit the reset button.
No, he hasn’t made any sort of campaign gaffe that I’m aware of (although Rob Sobhani alleges one of Dan’s campaign volunteers did) but the confident challenger to Ben Cardin of a month ago has had his horse shot out from under him via Sobhani’s insurgent, predominantly self-funded campaign. So Dan’s going back to what built his campaign in the first place: another key endorsement and the re-release of a 90-second campaign commercial I felt was one of the best presented in this campaign.
The endorsement comes from former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, who also served as President Bush’s first Homeland Security Secretary. In a statement released by Bongino’s campaign, Ridge said:
Dan’s qualifications for a seat in the Senate reach beyond his experience in law enforcement and national security. His personal initiative, diverse education, and impressive achievements in community service as well as private enterprise, will well-serve the people of Maryland.
It would be interesting to see how much further assistance Ridge or any of those others who endorsed Dan will provide now that he’s being attacked from both the left and (mostly) from the left-center. Personal campaigning would be particularly helpful since Dan and Paula can’t be everywhere.
Through the grapevine I have heard a little bit of muted criticism of how Dan is running his campaign, basically from people who either a) are disgruntled because Dan is not addressing their pet issues or b) believed Richard Douglas would have been a better Republican nominee (even though he got into the race later and, like Sobhani, also had primarily self-funded his campaign.) Personally I don’t necessarily agree with every plank of Dan’s platform and I certainly would have been comfortable had Richard won the primary, as he actually did in my home county.
Yet in looking at Rob Sobhani’s key issues I’m left wanting – for example, why isn’t a 15% tax rate good enough for everyone? And level with us about where this $5 billion in “public-private partnership” money is coming from – are we going to socialize risk and privatize profit? We already have a Senator who’s great at spending money; something particularly irksome when his party can’t even be bothered to put together a budget.
Even some of Rob’s not-so-key issues bother me: on his petition, Rob’s nascent campaign expressed that Sobhani was “pro-choice and supports gay rights.” Granted, these aren’t as important as the economy but since I’m pro-life and read the latter as support of Question 6, I can’t support that when I have a much better conservative alternative who would support private investment targeted as those individuals wish because the government would take less of their sweat and toil, not at specific projects which may be helpful in limited instances but would more likely enrich Sobhani’s cronies.
So Dan is working back to square one, resuming the important endorsements which bolstered his campaign before Sobhani even considered getting into the race. He also has something just as important: plenty of grassroots support. Once the air war is joined, which is a given because of Bongino’s solid fundraising quarter, the early advantage Sobhani enjoyed by not having to survive a primary will dissipate.
This isn’t about “hitting the jackpot,” nor is it about putting someone back in office so he can make it a half-century on the public’s dime as an elected official. It’s about serving the people of Maryland.
Remember that on Election Day.