A potential power grab?

In 2004, Wicomico County voters adopted a system of government that would be led by a county executive, scrapping the former system where County Council had both legislative and executive powers. One reaction from this: all four of the incumbent Democratic members of County Council opted not to run for re-election in 2006; however, the first County Executive elected was Democrat Rick Pollitt.

In 2014, we had the first transfer of power between parties as GOP standard-bearer Bob Culver ousted Pollitt, who was running for a third term. At the same time, County Council maintained the 6-1 GOP edge it had received in 2010 – that was an increase from the 4-3 control they won in 2006 with only two members from the previous Council surviving the election.

So you can perhaps chalk it up to management style, or maybe the turnover on County Council over the last eight years has placed a crop of people on there who long for the old system, but Wicomico County voters are facing a bewildering array of issues on their ballot. So let’s start with the no-brainers.

Question 1 is a statewide issue that compels the Governor to appoint a new Comptroller or Attorney General from the same party as the one most recently elected and provides for a special election in a Presidential year if the vacancy occurs soon enough.

You’ll notice that this was never a problem until a Republican was elected to the governor’s chair. In fact, the last time the state had a Republican AG was in the term of Republican Governor Theodore McKeldin (1951-1959), who appointed Edward Rollins to the post to finish out the term of Hall Hammond, a Democrat elected in 1950 and promoted to the state Court of Appeals. As for Comptroller, it has exclusively been a Democrat’s position for well over a century. But maybe we could use a Libertarian as Comptroller or a Constitution Party member as Attorney General – until either can break the two-party duopoly, though, we would likely be stuck with liberal Democrats.

So because of the cynicism in addressing a problem (that really wasn’t) for strictly partisan reasons, I urge a vote AGAINST Question 1.

Question A, for Wicomico County voters, addresses the composition of the Wicomico County Board of Education. For years I have advocated for an elected school board, and after eliminating the political obstacles in the 2014 election, the path was cleared for voters to address the issue in the first three-way referendum in recent memory. Option 1 is to maintain the current appointed system, Option 2 is for a fully elected board, one each representing the five County Council districts and two at-large elected by all county residents (the same makeup as our current County Council), and Option 3 is for a hybrid board of five elected (one from each Council district) and two appointed by a locally-created board with confirmation from County Council.

Once again the cynical local Democrats have cast their lot with the fully-appointed Option 1, which provides no shortage of irony considering it’s the least democratic process. It seemed more logical that they would be for Option 3, which was the fallback position many preferred in the hearings conducted in the summer of 2015, before the enabling legislation passed earlier this year. But to maximize accountability, the best choice by far is Option 2 – a Wicomico County Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members elected at-large.

Now it gets very confusing. There are nine county charter amendments on the ballot, and to me their net effect seems to be that of reducing the power of the county executive and shifting it to County Council. I wasn’t here for the 2004 vote, but it seems obvious to me that the county wanted a strong leader and a legislative County Council.

Let’s begin with Question B and its related cousin, Question D. Both would require a special election: Question B to fill a vacancy in the County Council, and Question D for the County Executive. However, either vacancy would only be filled in this manner if it occurred within the first year or so of the term, which seems to me a rather pointless change. Having gone through this process as a Central Committee member back in 2011 (to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Bob Caldwell) I can tell you that a special election would do no better and cost the taxpayers money to boot. Thus, the proper vote is AGAINST both Question B and Question D. (Editor’s note: Councilman Marc Kilmer clarifies the intent of these questions in comments below, but I still think the ballot language is misleading. Their idea of a “special election” coincides with the scheduled primary and general elections, which is not made completely clear in the ballot summary.)

Question C deals with vacancies as well, but it’s a common-sense measure to extend the time allotted for filling positions from 30 to 45 days and have them submitted at a legislative session. This extension makes sense as County Council only meets twice a month, and having gone through the Caldwell vacancy the extra time is good for getting things right. Vote FOR Question C.

Question E removes the authority of the County Executive to select a temporary successor and assigns the task automatically to the Director of Administration. While it’s likely he or she would do so anyway, the option should remain open for the head of our government to choose. We do not have a vice-executive here, so why create one? Vote AGAINST Question E.

Question F deals with the idea of “acting” appointments, and limits their term to 90 days unless Council chooses to re-appoint them. Since the idea of “acting” is that of being temporary, this proposal makes more sense than most of the others. Three months is generally suitable to find a permanent replacement, or determine that the “acting” head can handle the job, so go ahead and vote FOR Question F.

The final four questions seem to me very nit-picky, and obviously County Council’s reaction to not getting their way on various issues.

For example, Question G gives a specific definition to “reorganization” which is much more restrictive toward the County Executive. As I see it, this is a separation of powers issue and it’s strange that we went nearly ten years without ever having to deal with this problem. So I call on voters to say they are AGAINST Question G.

Questions H and I most likely are a reaction to the County Council’s desire to have its own lawyer. Currently the County Attorney represents both the County Council and County Executive, but Council wanted to change that. I see no reason to do so, nor do I see the logic behind forcing the County Executive to recognize a personnel system established by Council as authorized by this change. Thus, we should vote AGAINST Questions H and I. (Editor’s note: Again, see Kilmer’s comments below. By charter my assertion is correct in who the County Attorney represents; but in the county today there is an “acting” County Attorney while Council retains its own, which they are entitled to do. I see no reason to change the system if Question F is passed.)

Finally, we have Question J, and that’s the one I was most on the fence about. But what weighed my decision in the end was that the County Executive is responsible for the budget, so if County Council decides to cut something out it should be the County Executive’s call as to where the money goes rather than simply placed in a particular account. For that reason, a vote AGAINST Question J is the appropriate one.

So this is the monoblogue-approved ballot for Wicomico County voters. We all face the same questions and issues.

  • For Presidentwrite in Darrell Castle/Scott Bradley
  • For U.S. SenatorKathy Szeliga
  • For Congress – I did not make a formal endorsement. If you like Andy Harris, vote for him; if not, vote for the Libertarian Matt Beers.
  • Judge – Based on the fact Dan Friedman was an O’Malley appointee, vote AGAINST his continuance in office.
  • Question 1 – AGAINST
  • Question A – Option 2, the fully elected school board
  • Question B – AGAINST
  • Question C – FOR
  • Question D – AGAINST
  • Question E – AGAINST
  • Question F – FOR
  • Question G – AGAINST
  • Question H – AGAINST
  • Question I – AGAINST
  • Question J – AGAINST

For those of you across the line in Delaware, I weighed in on your state races as well.

Before I wrap up, I just ask that you all pray we make the best choices. We all have to live with what we decide, so choose wisely. After the election, it will be time to create the understanding many among us lack when it comes to making these selections because, in a lot of cases, we all have botched the process badly.

A nation divided against itself cannot stand.

History and context

A couple weeks ago I covered the first of four hearings on the potential for an elected school board. At that time I pledged to add some history and context to my remarks from the other day.

First of all, the recent history of the attempt to get an elected school board has both a local component and a state component. I was elected to the Republican Central Committee in 2006, and one item which we agreed to pursue was an elected school board. Unfortunately, the composition of county government at the time didn’t lend itself to further action on the subject. It wasn’t until the election in 2010, when a GOP supermajority was elected to County Council, that local legislative action occurred.

In both 2011 and 2012, the County Council passed legislation on a 6-1 party-line vote to ask the Maryland General Assembly for the enabling legislation for a referendum question to be set before voters. It would simply ask whether voters wanted to adopt an elected school board.

The 2011 version of the bill, HB1324/SB981, was sponsored by six local Delegates and both local Senators, and each version passed its respective legislative body overwhelmingly – the only “nay” vote came from Delegate Nathaniel Oaks of Baltimore City. SB981 passed both houses, but the amended House version did not return to the Senate for a vote.

In the House, the Ways and Means Committee amended the bill in a curious way. They revised the referendum question to read, “Are you against changing the changing the current method of selection of the members of the Wicomico County Board of Education of appointment by the governor?” It seems the idea was to confuse the voter.

The next year HB966/SB99 was introduced by the four Republican delegates and both Senators. This time, though, the bills did not progress beyond the hearing stage.

In 2013 and 2014, no legislation was passed locally nor was any introduced in the General Assembly. The feeling was that there were three roadblocks to the process: Rudy Cane, Norm Conway, and Rick Pollitt. None of those three survived the 2014 election, so we were hopeful the process would be on its way once 2015 began.

There were two key differences in the 2015 version of the bill, though. In an effort to foster a united front, County Council allowed for the idea of a hybrid elected/appointed board of five elected and two appointed by the County Executive with approval from the County Council. Indeed, that version passed 7-0 and was sent up in February.

But the bill was stalled in committee, with the problem determined to be the lack of having both Senators on board. Senator Mathias requested more hearings and public input on the issue, so County Council has arranged the four hearings with plenty of time to pre-file a bill once the hearings are over.

It’s been pointed out frequently that Wicomico County is one of the few without an elected board. Back in 2002 just half of Maryland’s counties had an elected school board. Since then, Caroline, Cecil, Dorchester, Harford, Prince George’s, Somerset, and Talbot counties have switched over to elected (or mostly-elected) boards, while Anne Arundel County now has retention elections for its appointed members.

So the precedent for change is certainly there on the Shore and around the state. A number of counties have been allowed to proceed with their wishes over the last dozen years, but there always seems to be a roadblock when it comes to us. It is long past time to clear the way for us to decide as so many others in the state get to.

I am aware there are naysayers who say it doesn’t matter who is on the school board for the tune is called in Annapolis. But we have some creative folks around here who may figure out a few alternatives to really help our schools become better, and I don’t think they would have a prayer of being appointed through the process in place. Let them make the case to the parents who vote, not the faceless bureaucrats in Annapolis.

A look ahead: 2015 in Wicomico County

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s telling that most of the issues I wrote about last year at this time are still with us.

And as I suspected when the pixels were placed in late 2013, we have a majority of “new” Council members and, as it turns out, a new County Executive in Bob Culver. That new broom is already in the process of sweeping clean as the county’s former public information officer was relieved of her duties and the longtime Parks and Recreation director suddenly opted for retirement.

Yet almost all of the issues I alluded to last year are still with us. One thing which may assist the county in moving forward, though, is that the County Executive and County Council will be working from the same political playbook, with elections now a relatively safe four years away. Maintaining the 6-1 Republican majority on County Council will mean that there should be few issues, although one might argue that the support certain GOP members gave to the former Democratic County Executive Rick Pollitt could make some votes interesting.

The three main issues of 2013 could be resolved at the state level, though, with a little help from a Republican governor. For example, a more farmer-friendly tier map which places less land off-limits to development may be doable with a less stringent Maryland Department of Planning, one which grants more leeway to county desires and less emphasis on the despised PlanMaryland guidelines. As a corollary to that, the “rain tax” may not get to Wicomico County, although the city of Salisbury approved its version late last month. This could provide some tension between city and county as those who would want access to city water and sewer may balk at the additional fees.

On the other hand, the quest for an elected school board will certainly get a boost since the three largest obstacles are all out of the way: Rick Pollitt, Norm Conway, and Rudy Cane all have left (or will leave) office. With the resident delegation now boasting two Republicans to one Democrat – all of whom are freshmen – electing a school board may occur as soon as 2016.

In short, the biggest issue facing Wicomico County in 2015 will be what it does (or can do) to arrest a lengthy slide in employment. Year-over-year employment in Wicomico County has declined all 11 months this year and in 18 of the previous 22 months, with the most recent peak in employment being 50,369 in July 2012. (As a rule employment in this county fluctuates by a few thousand each year, peaking in July.) And while the unemployment rate is down for 2014, the number is somewhat deceptive because a lot of that positive change came as a result of a labor force that averages 847 fewer workers while average employment is down 380. Job one of the Culver administration is to make Wicomico County a more business-friendly environment, although having a governor who also wants to decrease red tape at the state level will help. Still, the solution for our needs may be as simple as attracting business out of high-overhead urban areas across the bridge to relocate here.

There is also the prospect of a revitalized downtown Salisbury to help attract new residents. Salisbury will one of six county municipalities to hold elections for municipal office in 2015, with Salisbury’s situation this year being rather unique: a charter change put in place a few years back will allow all municipal offices to be contested in one election this year, rather than the staggered terms common to most towns and cities. They are also adopting a five-district system, the boundaries of which leave three current City Council members in one district. According to the Maryland Manual, the other municipalities holding elections next year are Delmar (3 seats in November), Hebron (3 seats in April), Mardela Springs (2 seats in August), Pittsville (2 seats in November), and Willards (2 seats in May.) Fruitland and Sharptown will have their next elections in 2016.

With the new administration coming in, along with a revamped County Council, it won’t take long to find out whether the management style of Bob Culver will feature the leadership our county needs to recover and compete. Tomorrow I will turn my attention to the state of Maryland, including what role a bevy of new local elected officials might play.

The spread of success

December 7, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on The spread of success 

A few days ago I, along with other Central Committee members and “interested parties,” received a memo from the Congressional campaign of Andy Harris. While the information I received probably isn’t public knowledge in its format, it is possible to find all of the facts provided through diligent searching and I believe revealing a little bit of it will help me to make a larger point.

In this memo, Harris outlines the “work (the campaign) did this cycle for candidates in Maryland and around the nation.” Just before the election we found out about A Great Maryland PAC and some of the assistance it gave in promoting candidates or pointing out flaws in the record of incumbent Democrats, but Harris did more – a lot more. As the memo explains:

On the Eastern Shore, maximum contributions through the Andy Harris campaign and Chesapeake PAC were made to delegate candidates Carl Anderton and Kevin Hornberger, both of whom defeated long-time Democrat stalwarts. Carl defeated 28 year incumbent Norm Conway, who also is the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, in a Wicomico County based district. Kevin defeated 16 year incumbent David Rudolph, who is the Vice Chair of the Economic Matters Committee, in a Cecil County district. Every seat on the Shore other than the democratically drawn majority-minority district is now held by Republicans. The lone Democrat State Senator on the Shore, Jim Mathias, regrettably, barely held on to his seat despite investments of time and financial resources in the race. All three delegate seats in his State Senate district went Republican, but Mathias held on by the skin of his teeth.

Another big highlight on the Shore was the defeat of Democrat Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt by Republican Bob Culver. Congressman Harris donated significantly to Bob’s campaign, and Culver was able to pull it out. In addition to these Democrat-held seats, four candidates running in open seats and supported by Harris were able to put their races away with ease. Mary Beth Carozza (Worcester) won 74% in her single member district. Chris Adams (Wicomico) and Johnny Mautz (Talbot) each doubled the amount of votes received by their Democratic challengers. Jay Jacobs (Kent), Steve Arentz (Queen Anne’s) and Jeff Ghrist (Caroline) all ran strong victorious delegate campaigns. With the election of Jeff Ghrist, Caroline County has for the first time in decades a resident delegate.

Every Republican Delegate or Senate candidate who represents a part of the First District received some level of financial support from Congressman Harris.

A good illustration of the impact outside help can make is found with Anderton’s race. Throughout the campaign. incumbent Norm Conway’s bankroll fluctuated in a range of $75,000 to $100,000 on hand. With most candidates, it’s difficult to overcome that much of a financial disadvantage; indeed, it turned out Carl was outspent in the race by more than 4 to 1. While Anderton put in a tremendous amount of sweat equity, having the money to wage a little bit of a media campaign and not completely cede the airwaves made a big difference.

But another local race illustrates the problem a statewide minority party has. That “skin of the teeth” victory by Jim Mathias also was won at great cost – like Anderton, Republican challenger Mike McDermott was outspent by better than 4 to 1. For Mathias, though, the victory was won on the airwaves as he spent $268,850 over the last month at a company called Screen Strategies, which is a really big gun in that it’s worked for several statewide Democratic campaigns and leftist interest groups, including anti-traditional marriage and pro-abortion entities. On just that firm alone, Mathias spent 2.3 times what Mike McDermott spent on his entire campaign. And since it’s a more far-flung Senate district – as opposed to the relatively compact confines of House District 38B in the immediate Salisbury metro area – the impact of media is much greater because no candidate can be everywhere in three counties every day.

What the Maryland Republican Party needs is more people to pull in money like Harris does and spread it around. While Democrats have a registration majority of roughly 2 to 1 over Republicans and 56% of the overall electorate, they hold a margin larger than their proportion in the Maryland Senate and prior to this year’s election did the same in the House – and that’s not to mention their 9 to 1 advantage in Maryland’s Congressional delegation. When Jim Mathias and Norm Conway needed financial help, their party and interests were able to provide it. Unfortunately, it’s only because of Andy Harris that the First District is the one portion of the state where the GOP can counter this – the rest of the state exists more or less on its own. The loss of Dan Bongino in the Sixth Congressional District was troubling because that end of the state could have received the same assistance down the road.

One big, big problem with the Republican Party in Maryland is that they can’t fill out their ballot throughout the state, and even in certain county races. While Republicans have outdone their registration disadvantage in Wicomico County for the past several years, we still could not find candidates willing to go after two open seats, one for Delegate and one for County Council, in majority-minority districts. Granted, one only became open when the current Delegate withdrew at the last possible minute AFTER the filing deadline, but the GOP still could add a name to the ballot for a few days afterward. We tried, but no one would make that commitment. Now that people are becoming aware they could get at least a little financial help, though, that problem could be solved in 2018.

Though they have an uphill battle at best, those sacrificial lambs serve a noble purpose by making the Democrats spend money on their campaigns, money that they can’t send off to a vulnerable fellow candidate someplace else in the state – as many “safe” Democrats did to help Mathias. With few exceptions, Democrats found people willing to carry their banner in Republican-held areas so we had to pay some attention to them.

And there’s always the possibility of catching lightning in a bottle because once in awhile miracles happen – everyone and their brother thought District 38B was gerrymandered into a safe seat for Norm Conway, but the voters proved otherwise.

Those District 38B voters were better informed because they have a Congressman who’s willing to not just vote conservatively in Congress, but help in building a viable conservative movement in Maryland. In the meantime, state Republicans could stand some lessons from Carl on how to win an uphill battle.

A Wicomico changing of the guard

December 2, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A Wicomico changing of the guard 

It was an exciting day and a contentious night for the new County Executive and County Council here in Wicomico County. It’s not often the incoming governor pays attention to an event in our fair county.

But the auditorium at Wor-Wic Community College was packed to its 200-plus person capacity to watch our second County Executive (and first such Republican) Bob Culver take the oath of office from Clerk of the Court Mark Bowen.

After the presentation of colors, the Rev. George Patterson delivered an invocation where he prayed that Culver would be “seasoned with wisdom, grace, and humility” as he took this office.

That quickly, since it had to be finished by noon, Culver took the oath flanked by members of his family.

In his remarks which followed, Bob expressed how he was “humbled and honored” by his election, about which he commented that he “wasn’t the only one who wanted to see change.”

His approach was going to be relatively simple, as he believed “good, workable ideas can come from either side,” but at the same time “‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ will no longer be the rule.” On the other hand, change wouldn’t be made for its own sake.

Culver’s brief address, which lasted less than four minutes, concluded with a simple request: “we need your ideas.” He then introduced the Governor-elect.

Along with Culver, Larry Hogan announced “we’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” Hogan was optimistic about Wicomico County and the rest of the Eastern Shore, promising we “will no longer be taken for granted…you’ll have a seat at the table.”

His first order of business affecting us locally was fighting the Phosphorus Management Tool, new regulations he accused Governor O”Malley of “push(ing) at the midnight hour, on his way out the door.” Hogan wasn’t necessarily opposed to regulations on farmers, but believed they needed to be based on science and not “promised to a special interest group.”

Turning to the new County Executive, Hogan said “Bob is truly a salt of the earth kind of guy” and that he “can’t think of anyone more qualified” to grow the local economy based on his business experience than Culver.

The ceremony wasn’t all that long, but it was lunchtime and many of those who came to the swearing-in went to the next building to celebrate with a reception hosted by Culver.

I must say the catering was outstanding, and people generally left in a good, optimistic mood.

But while Culver was “humbled and honored” by his election, the first County Council meeting under his tenure was definitely on the humbling side.

It began, though, with remarks from the outgoing County Council. In particular, retiring Council member Gail Bartkovich called her tenure “an honor, privilege…and tremendous education.” Interestingly enough, all three of the women who served in the 2010-14 term left County Council, leaving a body of seven men.

Stevie Prettyman acknowledged the large crowd “for a change” and thanked the citizens for their trust in her.

And while he wasn’t going anywhere, John Hall lamented the “loss of wisdom and integrity” provided by the outgoing members. Matt Holloway, who was also staying on, noted this edition of Council had accomplished a lot: building a new Bennett Middle School, supplying water to the Morris Mill neighborhood plagued by well contamination, and continually improving its bond ratings.

Similarly, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who was elected to the House of Delegates, thanked the people for “putting their trust in me as a leader.”

But she foreshadowed the discussion to come by expressing her disappointment that West Salisbury Elementary School would not be in the revised bonding program Culver was asking County Council to approve.

After a quick recess to rearrange seats, the new County Council was sworn in.

Returning members Joe Holloway (third from left), Matt Holloway (center), and John Hall (far right) were now joined by Larry Dodd (far left), Marc Kilmer (second from left), John Cannon (third from right), and Ernest Davis (second from right.) Dodd and Cannon have previously served one term apiece on County Council, though, leaving Kilmer and Davis as the two rookies.

Their first order of business was electing a president and vice-president. Since John Cannon and Matt Holloway were the lone nominees for those respective positions, Cannon took over the meeting with Matt Holloway seated next to him.

The other item on the agenda was the controversial reduction in new county debt from the $16.5 million requested by Rick Pollitt to a new $10.9 million total Culver desired, To accomplish this reduction Bob reduced the bonding amount for ongoing construction of Bennett Middle School, and postponed three other projects: work on the final phase of the Westside Collector Road, work on the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, and replacement of West Salisbury Elementary.

Projects which would remain, on the other hand, were Bennett Middle School, the purchase of land for dredge material placement for the Wicomico River, the purchase of the newly renovated State’s Attorney office, and renovations to Perdue Stadium.

Culver explained that the Bennett bond could be safely reduced without endangering progress. He also made the case that improvements to the river channel would allow for continued commerce and safer oil transport (as there is a refinery along the river), the purchase of the State’s Attorney office would save $300,000 annually in rent, and that the Perdue Stadium renovations were at the request of the Orioles and would ensure the team remains in Salisbury.

Joe Holloway commented that taking off the school was “probably a good idea” based on his conversation earlier that day with Larry Hogan, with Kilmer agreeing it was likely a “prudent course.” On the other hand, Larry Dodd was “disappointed” that the West Salisbury bond was removed, and Ernest Davis, who represents that district, criticized the deletion as pushing them to the back burner again.

That sentiment was echoed frequently in the public comments Cannon allowed. Over a dozen citizens stood up to blast the decision to drop the bond funding, many complaining about the deplorable shape the 50-year-old building is in and decrying its lack of air conditioning. (It’s worth pointing out the state denied Wicomico County’s request to address the air conditioning for FY2015 because the amount was too small – see page 173 here. Three other Wicomico County schools were granted funds.)

In the end, though, the vote was 5-1 to approve the revised bonding, with Davis opposed. Larry Dodd had to leave early for a family function.

After that vote, Kilmer expressed the sentiment that he wished he saw as much passion about what happens in the schools as he did about the school building. But in his president’s remarks, Cannon was more optimistic, saying “I see good things for Wicomico County.” He also expressed his appreciation for all that Rick Pollitt did in his eight years at the helm.

But it goes without saying that Culver’s honeymoon wasn’t very long. Several people expressed the belief that our place in line for funding would be lost and we could go another several years before the needs of West Salisbury were addressed. But Culver and County Council wanted to see some of the buildings for themselves to assess the needs. Aside from the question one observer brought up about the maintenance issues related by those testifying on West Salisbury’s behalf, it was a night filled with passion for a school of just 309 students.

Look for more battles as the FY2016 budget begins to take shape next year.

WCRC meeting – November 2014

November 24, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – November 2014 

Now that the election is in the rearview mirror, the Wicomico County Republican Club moved off its campaign mode and began working on next year’s agenda. Among the items of business were establishing a nominations committee and elections committee for next year’s crop of officers, which will be different in several positions, as well as finalizing arrangements for the club’s Christmas Party December 7.

But for the first time in several months we had a guest speaker, even though he was a familiar face to a lot of us. Carl Anderton reviewed his campaign and put forth a few of the items he was looking to achieve in relatively brief remarks before the gathering this evening. Fondly recalling that he had made his intentions known to the WCRC in June of 2013, Carl thanked all those who helped, particularly the crew which knocked on thousands of doors in the district.

It wasn’t easy, though. A campaign that was “hitting its stride” after an early October debate at the Chamber “had to start all over” after a mailing came out depicting Norm Conway as a masked criminal. (Anderton revealed his wasn’t the only district so targeted; a Cecil County race had a similar mailing.) But the local GOP team overcame that obstacle, and once results from two key precincts were known Anderton realized he was over the top. But that “shellshocked” feeling you may have noticed on Election Night was genuine – Carl was “incredibly blessed and overwhelmed” about this “opportunity of a lifetime.”

There will be work to do in Annapolis, though. Carl sarcastically noted he was “excited about the going-away present” of hundreds of millions of dollars in budget shortfalls, particularly since the FY2016 budget is mainly being created by Martin O’Malley. But the important thing to Carl is to “bring back the quality of life on the Eastern Shore.”

Asked about the prospect of an elected school board, Carl said he “absolutely” supports it, and received some pointers from current legislators on how to bring it to fruition.

We also got to hear a little bit from incoming County Executive Bob Culver, who will be sworn in next Tuesday. Culver revealed that we would have a special guest at the ceremony in Governor-elect Larry Hogan.

Bob also noted that he was hard at work already, addressing some changes he’d like to make to Rick Pollitt’s last bond request. He also talked about an elected school board, calling on a new vote from the incoming County Council to back it.

Yet cleaning up county government isn’t the only thing which will change. The physical office of the County Executive would also undergo some renovations to update the look to be more appropriate for a county on the rise. And if you’re worried about taxpayer expense, don’t be because Culver added he’d be footing the bill for the new carpet and paint.

Newly-appointed county GOP Chair Mark McIver called his election “a humbling experience,” adding he was “psyched and excited” to take over the party. One of the first orders of business for the new committee, though, will be helping to select a Wicomico County Board of Education member to replace Larry Dodd, who will become the new District 3 Council member. McIver thought it would be a good goal to create a pool of interested Republicans from which we could appoint members to appropriate entities for their interests. “I want to hear from the Republicans in Wicomico County,” McIver concluded.

But basically once we finalized some plans for the Christmas Party and heard a comment about the “excellent job” the executive board did in allocating contributions to various candidates, we were through, It was a meeting which came in under an hour, but a lot got done in that time span.

The next time we formally meet will be January 26, 2015. Obviously the speaker is to be determined.

Tales of an election

So now that you know where I was on Election Night (thanks to Muir Boda) let me shine some light on our party. I’m the guy in the McDermott shirt; hopefully it wasn’t a jinx.

Unlike a lot of elections past, I did not work a poll. My outside job had tasks which a) had to be covered Tuesday and b) were up in Dover. I didn’t even get home until almost 8:00; fortunately knowing this a couple weeks in advance I could hold my nose and vote early.

Since I wanted a table to write notes on I sat next to Dr. Rene Desmarais, who has admirably remained in the fray despite his primary election loss. I hope the Hogan administration can use his health care expertise. He’s the guy at the laptop in the checkered shirt.

Taking my seat for a few minutes was Mike McDermott, who was anxiously looking at results and drawing attention.

Mike didn’t stay all that long. I figure he went home to see his supporters and share the bad news with them, since it was obvious from the get-go he wasn’t doing all that well. It turned out that Wicomico was the only one of the three counties Mike won, and it’s a margin which is pending absentees. The difference between Michael James in 2010 and Mike in 2014 seems to be that McDermott did poorly in Somerset County, which James carried but Mike lost by almost 700 votes.

Obviously there were a lot of people who craved information. Bob Culver (center, in white) and Joe Holloway (right) were awaiting results.

As it turned out, Culver erased a slight early voting disadvantage to rout incumbent County Executive Rick Pollitt by almost 3,000 votes, with just under 56% all told. Holloway had much less to worry about as his Democratic opponent withdrew after the primary and was not replaced by the local party.

The two pictured there were the conservative backbone of the local County Council, and hopefully two newcomers are going to maintain the proper direction.

Larry Dodd (in the arm sling) and Marc Kilmer are two of the three “new” Republican members of County Council, although Dodd represented District 5 for 4 years before Joe Holloway defeated him in the 2006 primary. Similarly, John Cannon left County Council after one term in 2010 to run unsuccessfully for a seat in the House of Delegates before winning again last night. Thus, Marc Kilmer is one of just two “new” County Council members; the other being lone Democrat Ernest Davis, who was unopposed for the District 1 seat.

As it turned out, County Council maintained its 6-1 Republican edge. But there are definite things to look out for, as two of those Republicans openly backed Rick Pollitt for County Executive.

I don’t think Matt Holloway or John Hall will be opposed to the elected school board Republicans in Wicomico County have sought for years, only to be thwarted by Rick Pollitt and (especially) Norm Conway. Both those obstacles are no more; to his credit Jim Mathias has been supportive of the idea in the past and a Senate bill for the elected school board passed there in 2011. (Conway sponsored a House bill that passed in 2011, but did not in 2012 – nor did a Senate bill that year. No action was taken in 2013 or 2014.)

But Pollitt was quick to point out in debates and forums that four of the six Republicans voted for his latest budget. Two of them, Gail Bartkovich and Stevie Prettyman, did not seek another term, but Matt Holloway and John Hall were the other two. Beginning with the FY2016 budget, it may be a battle to get four votes on County Council if Matt Holloway and Hall maintain their big-spending ways.

I would also love to see the county’s speed cameras become a thing of the past, as Culver was the lone voice of reason to vote against their adoption. It’s called excising that line item from the budget.

The party itself was relatively well-attended, although I’m certain some candidates had their own gatherings. At its peak there were probably 50-60 people in the house.

But while the news was good on the county front, there’s no doubt the star of the show was one Carl Anderton, Jr.

At 9:45 Bunky Luffman, Anderton’s campaign manager, sidled up to me and predicted, “I think we’ve got it.” He explained a particular precinct where they were hoping to get 30% of the vote came in down by just 89 votes.

Anderton’s win, though, was just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of Titanic Democrats went down last night (with lifetime monoblogue Accountability Project scores shown):

  • After six terms, longtime Blue Dog Democrat Delegate Kevin Kelly in District 1B (mAP = 40) lost to Jason Buckel.
  • Delegate John Donoghue (mAP = 9), also a 24-year veteran, was ousted in District 2B by Brett Wilson.
  • In District 6, 9-year incumbent Delegate John Olszewski, Jr. (mAP = 16) lost his bid for the Senate seat held for 48 years by Norman Stone, Jr. (mAP = 28). Three-term Delegate Michael Weir, Jr. (mAP = 28) was also knocked off.
  • Longtime District 29 Senator (and onetime Congressman) Roy Dyson (mAP = 26) lost his bid for a sixth term to Steve Waugh. In that same district, 15-year veteran John Bohanon (mAP = 6) trails Deb Rey by 115 votes with absentees to count.
  • District 34’s Senate seat stayed in GOP hands as Bob Cassilly defeated Delegate Mary-Dulany James (mAP =14), who leaves after 16 years.
  • In District 35A, 20-year incumbent David Rudolph (mAP = 17) lost to Kevin Hornberger.
  • And we know about 28-year incumbent and committee Chair Norm Conway (mAP = 6) who lost to Anderton.

Most of the damage, though, came from the ranks of “moderate” Democrats. According to the monoblogue Accountability Project, these were the top 10 Democrats and here’s how they did.

  1. Delegate John Wood, Jr. – retired, endorsed Larry Hogan.
  2. Delegate Kevin Kelly – lost re-election.
  3. Delegate Joseph “Sonny” Minnick – retired.
  4. Senator Norman Stone – retired.
  5. Delegate Michael Weir, Jr. – lost re-election.
  6. Senator James DeGrange – won with 59% of vote.
  7. Senator Jim Mathias – won with 52% of vote.
  8. Senator Roy Dyson – lost re-election.
  9. Senator John Astle – won with 51% of the vote.
  10. Senator James Brochin – won with 52% of the vote.

Six out of the 10 won’t be back and only one of the remaining four won convincingly. Not knowing how most of those who defeated these incumbents will vote, the chances are the divide between the two parties will become more pronounced. Only a couple hardline Democrats (those 10 or less on the mAP) were losers last night, while McDermott was the only Republican to lose in the general election. In the respect that Democrats managed to get rid of two perpetual thorns in their side through redistricting (Mike McDermott and Don Dwyer) it was a success, but the GOP still picked up more seats than they did before the new districts were drawn in 2010.

So the stage is set for what should be a very intriguing (and hopefully, prosperous for this county and state) four-year term.

Finally, I want to go through a little of my thinking on these races. I was perhaps less optimistic than most about the outcomes because I figured Democratic turnout would be about where it was four years ago. But as it happens, turnout is going to be about 46%, which is a significant decline from the 54% posted in 2010. If the Democratic turnout followed that pattern it was about 10% less than I figured it would be, and those that were passionate enough to show up may likely have cast a number of votes for the GOP.

Simply put, the Democratic base didn’t show up. Whether it was disillusionment with the candidates or just a general apathy, it looks like the GOP filled the void, to the benefit of the state.

After it was all over, I spoke a little bit with David Warren, who came down here to run the Eastern Shore Victory Headquarters.

He pointed out two key factors that led to Hogan’s win: money from the RNC and Republican Governor’s Association, and the help – both financially and in volunteers – from the College Republicans, from the national level to all the phone calls made by the local Salisbury University CRs. “Teenagers and college kids get it,” said Warren.

David also praised the work of state party Chair Diana Waterman and Executive Director Joe Cluster, saying “what they did was phenomenal.” Similar praise was heaped by Warren onto Andy Harris, who put a lot of money into these local races and helped level the playing field.

Finally, I have one more statement. Eight years ago, it was said that:

(GOP leaders are) “going to be flying high, but we’re going to get together and we’re going to shoot them down. We’re going to bury them face down in the ground, and it’ll be 10 years before they crawl out again.”

I think we’re two years early, Mike Miller. Suck on that.

The straight-ticket election

Most newspapers will use their Sunday edition before the election to either make the most key endorsement, such as for governor or president, or summarize their endorsements into a ballot guide for voters.

I’m not a newspaper, but I have a news source. And I’m urging you (all of you, including the ten friends you drag to the polls) to march right into that ballot box, look for every Republican name on it, and check that box right next to it – making sure, of course, that the ballot summary agrees with your steady diet of Republicans and doesn’t show a “calibration error.”

Let’s begin from the top. Does this state really need a third term of Martin O’Malley? Thought not.

I will grant that Larry Hogan wasn’t my first – or second – choice for the GOP nomination, but I also have to admit as well he has run about as good of a campaign as a Republican can run statewide in Maryland and picked up national attention for it. Yes, I would like him to be stronger on the Second Amendment and I cringed when I heard him say no to addressing social issues, but the overall electorate in this state is still conditioned to believe that there’s a right to privacy and gay marriage is no big deal. They need a little work yet. Let’s at least get someone who won’t be completely hostile to those interests like Anthony Brown would be.

(And yes, I hear the Libertarians caterwauling in the corner. When you get to double-digits with a candidate, we’ll talk.)

Actually, though, I must say some bloggers have a point about the Libertarian candidate for AG, Leo Dymowski. But the election is about more than the failed “war on drugs” – although I agree with that particular assessment, I would also like the AG to fight on other issues. Unfortunately, the late start Republican Jeffrey Pritzker got means the chances are good that we’ll have to endure four years of gun-grabbing Brian Frosh; however, every vote counts and stranger things have happened.

For 2018, though, I think a county-level State’s Attorney needs to make that step up. It’s something Matt Maciarello should consider.

And we have a more than qualified Comptroller candidate in William Campbell. My main mission in two festivals was, every time I came across a Maryland voter from outside our county, to push the candidacy of one Bill Campbell. Everyone knew who Larry Hogan was but not enough knew of this fine gentleman. If Maryland voters have a clue they will choose Campbell.

And then we have local races. Frankly, I’m not too worried about Andy Harris although it would be helpful for Sixth District voters to add Dan Bongino to the GOP roster at the federal level. But there’s a lot at stake on the General Assembly front.

Try as we might, we had to concede the District 37A seat for this term to Sheree Sample-Hughes. If she gets more than single digits on the monoblogue Accountability Project I will be shocked. Otherwise in District 37, you know its a conservative district when even one of the Democrats is running on a platform of lower taxes and less government. But why have conservative-lite when the real thing is attainable?

Even if we sweep those three District 37 seats, though, we don’t really gain anything because three of the four representatives are already Republican. But in District 38 we can reclaim the Senate seat lost in 2010 to a liberal Democrat and take over a seat in the House of Delegates to bring us closer to that magic number of 47, where, as I understand it, we can work around Democrat-controlled committees. (A Hogan win may make that necessary more often.) Aside from that splotch of blue in our county we can work on for 2018, I’d like the Eastern Shore painted red, gaining the one Senate seat and one House seat we can contribute to the GOP effort statewide.

And then we have Wicomico County, which needs a strong leader in Bob Culver. We’ve done eight years with the affable bureaucrat Rick Pollitt, but those eight years have seen our county backslide economically. We can blame the national economy to some extent, but other surrounding counties seem to be succeeding – so why haven’t we?

Unfortunately, the problem Culver has is that two of the Republicans who will likely be on County Council are already stabbing him in the back. With one Democrat assured of victory in Council District 1, it makes the County Council races very important. We know District 5’s Joe Holloway is a conservative who will win and Marc Kilmer in District 2 has an excellent chance to join him, but the John Cannon vs. Laura Mitchell race is a key along with Larry Dodd vs. Josh Hastings in District 3. Both Democrats are trying to convince voters they’ll be fiscal hawks, but don’t be fooled. We need the 6-1 Republican majority to have a potential 4-3 conservative majority behind Bob as he tries to right the ship. Finding good local candidates is a priority for 2018 as well.

As for the issues on the ballot, I’ve already urged a vote AGAINST Question 1 because it’s a weak excuse for a lockbox and Maryland taxpayers deserve better: send it packing and insist on a 3/4 majority provision to be voted on in 2016. On Question 2, I think on balance it’s a good idea but it will also demand vigilance, as Election Integrity Maryland’s Cathy Kelleher points out in a Sun editorial opposing the question.

Lastly, I must say this is the time for conservative voters to shine. The fact that early voting had as many Republicans as Democrats by percentage statewide and by raw numbers on the Lower Shore (despite a registration disadvantage of about 10 percent) indicates the GOP is more keenly interested in this election. But I want to run a few numbers, with the photo below telling the tale.

For this exercise, I used the voter proportions illustrated in the recent Gonzales Research poll, which is probably a fairly realistic model. I assumed undecided voters would remain in proportion with their trend (as opposed to breaking for the challenger) and left 1% for other candidates, write-ins, etc. (I also didn’t figure in the 50,000 or so registered to minor parties – if they vote they’ll not influence the result significantly.)

The sheet on the left is my calculations using a Bob Ehrlich Republican turnout from 2002, 68% of Republicans.

The sheet on the right is the same calculations for Democrats and the unaffiliated, but assuming a turnout like we saw in the Presidential election two years ago, when 78% of Republicans came out – even though Maryland was considered a lost cause for Mitt Romney.

Indeed, we turn from crushing disappointment to “winner, winner, chicken dinner” simply by getting an extra 1 in 10 Republicans to turn out.

If Republicans turned out like that for an election which was an almost foregone conclusion in this state, hopefully this simple calculation will provide the incentive to Maryland Republicans to come out in a gubernatorial election where they have a shot to sneak away with a close victory!

Early voting numbers were encouraging, but Tuesday it will be time to finish the job.

Update: Hey, I missed a key set of races. It’s not a partisan race, but M.J. Caldwell is a far more qualified jurist than the guy Martin O’Malley picked based on his last name. And speaking of O’Malley picks, there are two others on our ballot who we can remove from office and perhaps allow for the first crop of Larry Hogan appointees. So vote “no” on continuance in office for Kevin Arthur and Andrea Leahy.

Troubling ethics charges in county race

This letter was sent to me by incoming Central Committee member Dr. Greg Belcher. His concern was an e-mail sent out by Tamara Lee-Brooks, the county’s Public Information Officer, to her county e-mail address list.

**********

Wicomico County residents should be informed about recent events involving the County Executive and his staff.

It has come to my attention that on October 17 the Wicomico County Public Information Officer sent an e-mail message to various persons announcing a joint press conference to be held by Anthony Brown, Rick Pollitt (Brown’s local campaign manager), and the mayor of Salisbury to criticize Brown’s opponent, Larry Hogan. In her e-mail Ms. Lee-Brooks stated that she “was asked to forward” the announcement but did not identify by whom. However, Mr. Pollitt is her superior, in essence if not directly.

It is my understanding that such a communication is a clear violation of the County’s ethics law by Ms. Lee-Brooks, and more significantly the supervisor who ordered it, reasonably assumed to be Mr. Pollitt or another member of his staff. Using public resources (and personnel) for partisan political purposes is strictly prohibited by the law.

Other conduct by Mr. Pollitt and/or members of his staff deserves the voters’ consideration, as well. It has been reported that County vehicles are being used for personal matters, including visiting a local bar and grill. And – in response to Freedom of Information requests – it has been disclosed that Mr. Pollitt has used his County credit card to buy personal groceries on more than one occasion and pay for meals at restaurants. Such conduct is unacceptable, even if Mr. Pollitt promptly reimbursed the County. This, too, is a likely violation of the County’s ethics law.

A complaint is being filed with the County’s Ethics Commission asking for appropriate sanction for matters discussed above. That body should investigate the charges and act appropriately in advance of November 4.

**********

This is the text of the e-mail sent by Lee-Brooks, who added she was “asked to forward for your attention.”

FOR ADVISORY PURPOSES
Friday, October 17, 2014
Contact:
Jerid Kurtz: 443-297-7702
JeridKurtz@AnthonyBrown.com

Press Office: 240-478-6488
Press@AnthonyBrown.com

FRIDAY: Anthony Brown, Rick Pollitt, Jim Ireton to Hold Press Conference on Harm Larry Hogan’s $450 Million Cut to School Construction Would Cause to the Eastern Shore

Hogan’s “Savings Plan” includes a $450 Million Cut to School Construction Funding that Would Threaten Projects – like Bennett Middle School- Throughout the Eastern Shore

Upper Marlboro, MD – On Friday at 11:00 a.m., Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt, and Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton will hold a press conference to discuss the harm that Republican Larry Hogan’s $450 million cut to school construction would have on the Eastern Shore.

These cuts are contained in Hogan’s so-called savings plan — a plan whose numbers the Baltimore Sun noted “don’t add up.”

Hogan’s proposed $450 million cut to school construction could put projects like the construction of Bennett Middle School out of reach for many communities along the Eastern Shore. For the next four years, counties across the Eastern Shore have requested millions in state funding for repairs and renovations in order to modernize their classrooms and deal with overcrowding. But school construction cuts could put all of these local projects at risk.

What:
Press Conference to discuss the harm Larry Hogan’s $450 million cut to school construction would cause to the Eastern Shore’s public schools.

When:
Friday, October 17th at 11:00 a.m.

Where:
Outside of Bennett Middle School
523 South Division Street, Fruitland, MD
Click here for a map.

It’s worth pointing out that the State Ethics Commission has already deemed this letter improper, but for some strange reason none of the local media is very interested in that fact.

In response, county Republican Party Chairman Dave Parker has today asked the county attorney to investigate:

I am deeply concerned that recent actions by elected and appointed Wicomico County officials were in direct violation of §37, the Wicomico County Ethics Law – and likely also the Maryland Ethics law.

The Brown/Ulman gubernatorial campaign recently scheduled a “press conference” in Salisbury claiming “to discuss” Hogan’s alleged plan to make a $450 million cut to school construction on the Eastern Shore. That alleged cut is clearly part of the political dialog which typically occurs during campaigns for office, and as such is clearly more a scare tactic than a reliable statement of fact. At best it is a partisan political disagreement.

However, as the attached email indicates, Tamara Lee-Brooks, the Wicomico Public Information Officer, honored a request (from an unnamed source) to forward the announcement of Brown’s press conference, and Matt Creamer, the Wicomico County Council Administrator, further forwarded this request (as a media advisory). Members of the media consequently reported this so-called press conference, apparently actually attended by Brown. Regardless of the number of individuals to whom this request was forwarded, the County time and other County resources consumed are what are what I believe were unethical.

As I understand the law, because these were obviously partisan political actions in support of the Brown/Ulman campaign, using County Offices, County email, and County employee time to forward Brown’s announcement were are all violations of ethics laws. Because County Executive Rick Pollitt is not only ultimately responsible for supervising Tamara Lee-Brooks but because he also serves as Brown’s local campaign manager, an investigation will likely identify others who used County resources to promote the Brown/Ulman campaign.

Accordingly, with this letter I am, in accordance with instructions I received from your office by telephone, herewith submitting to you a formal ethics complaint for you to deliver to the Wicomico County Ethics Commission for their action. Moreover, I’m requesting that the Commission first thoroughly investigate, then determine and publicly identify and announce both what ethical violations have taken place (and by whom) and what corrective measures will be taken to prevent similar violations in the future.

On the other hand, if overt partisan political activity using County time and resources is not a violation of law, then please so inform me, in writing, that this is the case, citing the appropriate legal authorities.

It’s highly unlikely at this late date that any resolution will occur before Tuesday, but this is just another example of shoddy ethics in Wicomico County government.

Yet these scare tactics from local and state Democrats – in lieu of a record of success from nominee and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown – are par for the course. Sensible voters know Bennett Middle School will be finished and other projects will probably get their funding. It’s worth pointing out as well that there may be some cost savings on individual projects which could make a big difference that Larry Hogan could – and should – get behind, such as eliminating the need to comply with LEED Silver standards and prevailing wage for school construction (as Ohio did some years ago.)

Of course, the real change which should be made in Maryland education creates a prospect that scares the living bejeezus out of Maryland Democrats and their wholly owned subsidiary, the Maryland State Education Association. That would be a program of money following the child regardless of schooling situation, forcing public schools to compete on a level playing field with charter, for-profit, and faith-based educational institutions as well as making homeschooling more affordable.

So it’s not a surprise that Democrats circle the wagons around school construction because it’s not the buildings that are being threatened, it’s the power structure.

Catching my breath

After a tremendously busy last few days, I’m finally able to catch my breath a little bit and take stock of where we are.

At the top of my site since last Thursday is the reporting on early voting trends. To me, this is key because it’s not something Republicans have adapted to despite the pleas from the state party – until this year. As a whole in the state, Republicans and Democrats are utilizing early voting at the same rate which indicates turnout may be a tick or two better than expected for the GOP. And remember, polling is released based on a turnout model that they attempt to predict will hold true for the election, but there are so many variables. At this stage weather doesn’t appear as it will be a factor, though.

I just finished downloading the last of the pre-election financial reports for most of those on the ballot locally in contested races. There may be a minor scandal here because I noticed District 37B candidate Rod Benjamin didn’t have a report on file yet – he’s submitted affidavits of limited contributions and expenditures through his campaign, but still has to file timely or face a $20 daily fine that comes out of his own pocket. In the last few days before the election I’ll distill the numbers and see if any new trends develop.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard about the irregularities in voting machines in some areas; a phenomenon addressed by the state Board of Elections. But how about irregularities in support? Some local Republicans are outraged about two photos which have appeared on Facebook.

The photos were reportedly taken at a recent fundraiser for current Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt, who is a Democrat. In the top photo second from left is outgoing County Council member Stevie Prettyman. In the bottom photo is, left to right, County Council members Matt Holloway and John Hall along with Pollitt and Salisbury City Council president Jake Day. All three Council members pictured are Republicans, a trio which generally votes opposite Republican County Executive candidate Bob Culver (who is one of two to consistently oppose Pollitt.) While Prettyman is leaving, Holloway is in a good position to be re-elected since only one Democrat filed for two at-large posts, and Hall is unopposed for a District 4 Council seat.

My take on this: of course I’m disappointed with these Republicans attending a fundraiser for a Democrat, but the time to address this will be 2018 primary. Just file it in the memory bank.

And then we have this which just came to my attention from the Maryland Pro-Life Alliance.

Contrast that, if you will, to opponent Mike McDermott’s support for pro-life causes such as the recent Eastern Shore Pregnancy Center dinner.

Jim Mathias has spent thousands of dollars – much of it money from PACs and out-of-district – trying to convince District 38 voters he’s “always working for you.” But the question is whether simply voting for or against a particular issue is “working.” As a member of the majority party, he’s in the position where his negative vote can be made with little consequence except to placate the people back home. He doesn’t stick his neck out and publicly testify at a pro-Second Amendment rally or participate in a pro-life march, despite the fact his district would welcome that with open arms. We’re just supposed to count the effort and not the results.

But there are more important items to deal with – I’m watching Game 7 of the World Series.

Time to do the deed

October 23, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Time to do the deed 

Today is the day that tiny percentage of Maryland registered voters who actually do this begin going to the polls for early voting. I know some of my party cohorts will be out at the Civic Center campaigning for the Republican ticket, and needless to say it’s a straight R year for me.

But there are races I’m much more passionate about than others, so let’s go through the list and I’ll tell you what I think. That IS why you come here, isn’t it? If my number 16 race doesn’t come out I won’t be all that upset, but if the top half-dozen or so go the wrong way I’ll be pissed. These are the 16 items on my specimen ballot – I live in House District 38B and Wicomico County Council District 3, which is one of only two of the five districts to have a contested race.

  1. Carl Anderton, Jr. for Delegate, District 38B. I am really tired of my poor representation in Annapolis from Norm Conway. He votes for every bloated budget, (almost) every conformity with Obamacare, every accommodation to Big Labor, and a number of other dreadful things as well: in 2011 he voted for the Congressional redistricting that made our state a laughingstock but in committee he helped kill provisions to allow referendums on tax increases and proof of lawful presence before collecting benefits. In 2012 he voted to saddle new homeowners with the added expense of sprinklers, but he saddled the rest of us with the rain tax, tier maps, and the key to getting around our county’s revenue cap by mandating maintenance of effort spending. Granted, once in awhile he votes the right way but why lose on three or four issues to gain one? Republicans and pro-Wicomico Democrats: don’t fall for the hype of potentially losing a committee chair – even though Norm is a fairly nice guy, if he were all that powerful we would be the richest county in the state and we are far from that. It’s definitely time for some new blood to get us back to work. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  2. Mike McDermott for Senate, District 38. Really, this should be 1-a but my function won’t let me do that. Jim Mathias may vote a little better than Norm Conway, but I would rather have someone who’s a thorn in the side of the current Annapolis majority – who went out of their way to lump him into a district with another sitting Delegate – than a backbencher. What better way to thumb your nose at those who believe the Eastern Shore is the state’s “shithouse” (in more ways than one) than to foil their political intentions? If I can pick up 60 points on the monoblogue Accountability Project by changing my representation, you know the answer is yes. This is another race where conservatives need to come home and not cross the aisle, because Jim’s few blind squirrel votes aren’t worth the overall pain. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  3. Bob Culver for County Executive.  Our county has stumbled and staggered through this so-called recovery with the incumbent Rick Pollitt, a self-described bureaucrat, in charge. Don’t forget that Rick whined about the revenue cap for the first three years in office and promised a zero-based budget I haven’t seen yet. After eight years, it’s time for a change in tactics and Bob can be a fresh set of eyes to address our declining number of employed. I know Bob may rub some the wrong way but I’m willing to overlook that because, to me, re-electing Rick Pollitt is the definition of insanity for Wicomico County. Chances of success: I would say about 40-50 percent.
  4. M.J. Caldwell for Circuit Court Judge. To me, this is a perplexing case. Here you have an experienced attorney who knows his way around a courtroom taking on a person whose claim to fame is his last name – if it were Swartz, he’d still be at his old firm. But because people still know the Sarbanes name in this area, the newly-appointed “incumbent” got the gig. I was extremely disappointed and somewhat disgusted to see that Caldwell only won the Republican primary with 57 percent of the vote – people, do your homework! Caldwell would be a good judge. Chances of success: about 1 in 3 unless Republicans shape up.
  5. William Campbell for Comptroller. You’ll notice Peter Franchot has played up his fiscal watchdog tendencies in this campaign, but I think that if Larry Hogan becomes governor we need Bill to keep him grounded and make the Board of Public Works work in a conservative direction for the first time in…well, ever. Unfortunately, Bill has little money to get his message out and Franchot’s too scared to debate him. One problem with Larry Hogan taking public financing is that the Maryland GOP is spending maximum time and effort fundraising for Larry instead of helping these downballot races. Chances of success: alas, probably less than 1 percent.
  6. Larry Hogan for Governor. All politics is local, so I think the state race can take care of itself. But I hope that Hogan has enough coattails to bring in a dozen Delegates and half-dozen new Senators, including the two mentioned above. While I hated his primary campaign, I have to admit Hogan’s done a good job in the general election round. But will it be enough? Polls suggest it might. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  7. Larry Dodd for District 3 Council. The thing that bothers me about his opponent is that, for all his “aw, shucks” demeanor, he’s been exposed to a large number of anti-property rights zealots. He worked for Joan Carter Conway, the Senate’s EHEA Chair, and not only does she have a lifetime mAP rating of 4 (yes, that’s really bad) but she has passed a lot of bad legislation through her committee over the last several years – something Josh fails to mention. But I will give Josh Hastings his due: he’s campaigning hard, knocked on my door and has worked harder for the seat than Dodd has. It would be a shame to succeed a good, conservative Councilwoman in Gail Bartkovich with a liberal who may have grown up on a farm but has spent his politically formative years more readily influenced by Baltimore City and Annapolis. Chances of success: about 35 to 40 percent.
  8. John Cannon for at-large County Council. While his voting record has often been a disappointment, he was one of the two who got through the primary. I have more hope for him becoming a conservative stalwart, though, than I do for his fellow Republican. Chances of success: around 60 percent.
  9. Voting against Question 1. I’ve stated my reasons for opposition before, but most of the money is backing it and referendum items rarely fail. Chances of success: less than 10 percent.
  10. Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. We are really in trouble, folks. We could have had one of our good county state’s attorneys (or my personal favorite, Jim Rutledge) step up but instead we got Pritzker, who I have never met. When I see prominent conservative-leaning bloggers backing the Libertarian in the race, it can’t be much of a campaign. That’s a shame, because there’s more to the campaign than legalizing pot. And losing this seat means the gun-grabbing Brian Frosh will be our Attorney General. Chances of success: even less than Campbell’s sub-1 percent shot.
  11. Matt Holloway for at-large County Council. There are many holes in his voting record as well, but winning the primary makes him the odds-on favorite to not be third on November 4. So I guess I’ll have to wonder how often he’ll cave for another four years. Chances of success: over 80 percent.
  12. Andy Harris for Congress. No muss, no fuss. Have you heard a word about Bill Tilghman? The one thing you can say about Bill is that at least we haven’t caught him voting twice. This race is perhaps the closest thing to an automatic win for our side – when even the Daily Times has to endorse you, it’s a good sign. Chances of success: over 95 percent.
  13. Voting against Andrea Leahy as a Special Appeals Judge. Similar to the election involving Jimmy Sarbanes, Judge Leahy is up for election because she was appointed by Martin O’Malley in March. I looked at her profile and wasn’t impressed, but it’s rare a judge is tossed out. I would love to see who Larry Hogan would appoint, but if Leahy lost Martin O’Malley would rush another appointee through – and he or she would sit until 2016. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  14. Voting against Kevin Arthur as a Special Appeals Judge. His profile is better than Leahy’s but, still, he is an O’Malley appointee. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  15. Grover Cantwell for Orphan’s Court Judge. I have never met the guy, yet he wants my vote. This is a part of the ballot where those who get listed first (the Democrats) have the advantage because they’ve all been on the ballot before. Chances of success: perhaps 1 in 3.
  16. Voting for Question 2. I can get behind this proposal, which allows charter counties like Wicomico the option to have special elections to fill County Council seats. Having gone through the process of filling such a vacancy, I think it should be opened up despite the risk of losing a GOP seat to a Democrat. Chances of success: over 90 percent.

So this is how I think my local election will go. As for some other contested county races I’m supporting, in order of likelihood of success:

  • Addie Eckardt for Senate, District 37. The hard part for her was winning the primary. Sure, there may be some diehard Colburn supporters out there but their other choice is a guy he beat by 20 points last time around. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Mary Beth Carozza for Delegate, District 38C. Having an opponent who wears a “Ban Assault Weapons” t-shirt to an Andy Harris townhall event provides an immediate advantage in this area. But Mary Beth has been working since the summer of 2013 on this race, and that hard work is on the verge of paying off. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Marc Kilmer for District 2 Council. When your opponent threatens to go to court for winning, you know you’re in good shape. But Marc has taken nothing for granted, works hard, and has a fairly solid Republican district. Chances of success: at least 80 percent.
  • Christopher Adams for Delegate, District 37B. He wasn’t the top vote-getter in any county, but he’s run a solid campaign and the dynamics of the race give him a better path to victory than fellow Republican contender Johnny Mautz. Chances of success: a solid 75 percent.
  • Johnny Mautz for Delegate, District 37B. By far the top primary vote-getter, the one drawback is that he has to finish ahead of Keasha Haythe because both hail from Talbot County and there’s a limit of one per county. If he were second to her in the overall voting, he would lose and the third-place finisher moves up. With that in mind, I give him just ever-so-slightly less favorable odds. Chances of success: a solid 74.9 percent.

My advice to every contender in the last two weeks: run like you are five points behind. See you at the polls!

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices

October 20, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices 

As I noted the other day when I broached the subject, more than a dozen candidates shared the stage for a forum sponsored in part by the Coastal Association of Realtors and the Salisbury Independent newspaper. In this first part, I’ll discuss some of what the county candidates said.

First, the contenders:

For County Executive, two-term incumbent Rick Pollitt faced off with challenger County Councilman Bob Culver. Pollitt was elected in 2006 as Wicomico County’s first County Executive and narrowly won re-election over Republican Joe Ollinger in 2010. Bob Culver lost in a three-way Republican primary in 2006 for County Executive to eventual nominee Ron Alessi and B.J. Corbin before rebounding to win an at-large County Council seat in 2010.

Culver’s seat is being sought by two who join Republican Matt Holloway in attempting to win one of the two at-large County Council posts. Holloway was elected to County Council in the same 2010 election that brought Culver back; ironically those seats opened up because the two incumbents decided not to continue. One of those two was John Cannon, who unsuccessfully ran for the General Assembly in 2010 after one term on the County Council from 2006-10. Now John seeks a return after a four-year hiatus, noting that being a Council member was his “lifeblood.”

The lone Democrat seeking one of the two at-large seats is current Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell. Mitchell has served on the City Council since being elected in 2011.

(While there are 7 contenders for the five district Council seats, the forum only covered the pair of countywide posts.)

In the County Executive race, the two contenders disagree on a lot but agree that they would have “stark contrasts” in their approaches to governing. For example, when asked what the most pressing issue was, Culver was blunt: it was the loss of jobs over the last 18 months. (In the July 2013-July 2014 period, BLS statistics show Wicomico County lost 429 jobs as its labor force fell by 649.)

On the other hand, Pollitt asserted we were still in a recession and pleaded that “we have to rebuild our community.” He went on to describe how the needed to “leverage assets” like Wallops Island, Virginia, the port of Salisbury, and the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development organization. It was part of a required overall strategy for the “new normal,” added Pollitt.

When it came to whether additional tax increases would be required, Pollitt pointed out that the property tax rates had to increase just to stay even – four cents of the five cent increase this year simply brought us back to constant yield, with the other penny being allowed under the revenue cap. Four of of six Republicans voted for this tax increase, which was the “only responsible thing” to do.

Culver wasn’t one of those Republicans, though. He contended the county needed to go back to zero-based budgeting and trim the fat one step at a time. “Right now the time is not for a tax increase,” said Bob. “We have to do it from a business aspect.”

Another bone of contention came in the question about how best to assist realtors. Culver argued that dropping the county’s impact fee had resulted in 54 new homes being built in Wicomico County, and pointed out that there was only 16% of the county’s land mass which could be developed and we had just 3 percent to go.

Pollitt shot back that the impact fee change was part of the overall budget Culver opposed, restated that government needs to provide services and reminded us that five of the seven Council members had been correct in voting for the budget.

Rick closed with a familiar theme of “building community,” noting as well his role as the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition legislative chair and in the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. The more plain-spoken Culver repeated his assertion that “I think Wicomico County government is broken.”

If you look at it stylistically, Pollitt is a sharper debater. But the approach he’s taken over the last few years has been pragmatic by circumstance rather than by choice. And since the zero-based budgeting Pollitt did as city manager of Fruitland and promised early on doesn’t appear to be the case now – because it’s a campaign issue – and he whined early on in his tenure about the voter-installed revenue cap,  one wonders what the budget and tax rate would be if not for the recession.

Rick Pollitt often talks about what he calls “quality of life” issues. But it has to be asked whether our quality of life is better when job numbers are going the wrong way.

The County Council members were asked a different set of questions. One of them was on how to take the good things happening in downtown Salisbury and jump start the area outside the metro core and the other dealt with thoughts on the comprehensive plan.

John Cannon got first shot at the former question, and he opened by praising the “refreshing” leadership of Salisbury City Council president Jake Day. But he believed the county had the responsibility to create its own environment for growth, and Cannon wanted to bring together the major players on a quarterly basis.

As far as tier maps went, John believed it was an argument of local vs. state control and was hoping for relief with the new administration, presumably a Larry Hogan one. He also advocated for enhanced transfer of development rights and perhaps even a wastewater treatment authority. He also noted that he had pushed for a reduction in impact fees six years ago when he was on County Council.

Matt Holloway outlined some of the accomplishments the county has achieved since he came on board: decoupling the personal property tax rate from the real property tax rate, phasing out the inventory tax, and making the manufacturer’s tax exemption automatic. He suggested a focus on public relations and enhancing our one-man economic development team.

Holloway also believed the comprehensive plan needed a “fresh set of eyes” with his goal being that of not impacting property values. But Matt cautioned that the state “has the trump card” under the law. They could help us with our septic issues, however.

Because she is on City Council, the initial question was right in Laura Mitchell’s wheelhouse: “That is why I’m running.” She wanted to translate Salisbury’s excitement to the county and talk about the positive things. She also thought the idea of an EDU bank, which allocates unused sewage capacity that developers donate back to the city, had merit on a countywide level.

Unfortunately, while it is “convoluted, to say the least,” Mitchell dropped the ball on even a rudimentary understanding of the tier maps. She advocated for infill development and sustainable growth, while addressing the double taxation and foreclosure issues in response to the realtors’ question.

Mitchell stressed her accounting background and budgeting experience as the key reasons to vote for her, portraying herself as sort of a budget nerd. But I found it interesting that the city budget had increased for three years in a row before finally declining this year. It’s still almost 7% higher than it was in FY2011, when she won election. (The first budget she would have approved would have been FY2012.)

And while you can’t expect expertise on every issue, her befuddlement on the tier maps was a bad sign.

It’s interesting that tier maps are an issue in this county, which now labors under the state’s default position that lots of any size can’t be subdivided into more than seven lots. Unfortunately, no county has found someone aggrieved enough by this terrible law that they could have standing to sue for the law’s nullification. (It’s doubtful the Democrats in the General Assembly would consider a repeal such as that tried in 2013.) Much as I’d love to force the state to pound sand, I’m not an injured party.

But there can be steps taken in the right direction. If we must have a tier map, the amount of land placed off-limits to development should be minimized because to do otherwise is an infringement on private property rights.

And while downtown development is indeed encouraging, the best way to replicate it isn’t to precisely duplicate it. While entertainment districts are nice, we need more industrial districts, more transportation hubs, and more encouragement of overall development. We shouldn’t shackle ourselves to one approach, either – if Chesapeake Shipbuilding, which isn’t exactly a glamorous company but a useful one that actually is seeking tradesmen, needs something to create another 150 jobs, that should take priority over yet another entertainment venue that may create 20 or 30.

Part 2 tomorrow will look at District 37 races.

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