The truth about ‘Liberal Jim’

For several years I’ve done the monoblogue Accountability Project for this very purpose – disseminating the truth about how members of the Maryland General Assembly really vote when the rubber meets the road. There are few races with as clear-cut of a difference as the 38th District Senate race between incumbent Democrat Jim Mathias, whose mAP score as a Delegate from 2007-10 was a 15 (out of 100) and Senate lifetime score from 2011-14 has been 28 (out of 100) and Republican Delegate Mike McDermott, who replaced Mathias in the General Assembly and has a lifetime rating of 84.5 of 100. (The 2014 version of the monoblogue Accountability Project is here.)

But what does this mean in terms of issues? I went back and researched the common votes taken by both men. Since 2012, I have set up the mAP to use bills which received votes in both the House of Delegates and Senate – out of 25 votes, 22 of these would be common. (The other three were committee votes for the respective bodies.) So 66 votes over the last three years’ worth of sessions were placed in front of both men.

In 2011 I hadn’t changed the rules yet, so while I had standardized the number of votes at 25, only 9 were common. Yet of those 9 common votes, Mathias and McDermott only voted the same on two. In total, out of 75 possible votes, Mathias and McDermott differed a total of 45 times while agreeing on 27 occasions. (Mathias was absent for three votes in that time period.)

Eleven of those 45 votes of disagreement were budgetary. Year after year, Mathias has been a rubber stamp for the annual spending and debt increases put in by the state. It’s not just the operating budget but the creation of more and more state debt and all the legerdemain that goes into each year’s BRFA. The only agreement between the two: Mathias voted against the original 2012 BRFA.

But in 2011, Mathias also voted to force home care providers into paying union dues, which created an unearned estimated benefit to Big Labor of over $430,000, the crony socialism of the InvestMaryland Act where the state ate its seed corn of future receipts, state law conformity with Obamacare, and the gerrymandered Congressional districts which took effect for 2012.

Mathias also had a hand in some dreadful 2012 legislation, voting for the state health exchange that’s only enrolled about 1/3 of the expected number of people at a wasted cost of over $125 million. Some guy named Anthony Brown was taking credit for that until it tanked. On a related front, Jim also voted to establish so-called “health enterprise zones,” which was something requested by minority legislators. Wouldn’t it make more sense to lift all boats?

But that’s far from all of it. Remember that “flush tax”? Mathias voted to double it. Jim also voted to burden the nascent state natural gas industry with the presumption of guilt in well contamination, mandate expensive fire sprinkler systems in new homes, adding thousands to the cost, and punished cellular customers with an expansion of the USTF surcharge. And again, Mathias did a favor to unions by expanding their reach among state employees.

And remember the “doomsday budget”? In that 2012 special session, Mathias voted for the measure that transferred teacher pensions to the counties and forced Wicomico County to raise its income tax and maximize its property tax increase to stay eligible for a $14 million lower maintenance of effort payment. Thanks for the higher taxes, Jim.

2013 was the year with the most departure between the two, as they differed on 15 of 22 votes. Several of these were bills dealing with the state’s implementation of Obamacare – including Medicaid expansion which is purportedly covered by federal funds (for now) – but there were other differences. Mathias supported provisions permitting voting by mail and, beginning in 2016, same-day registration during early voting. Both are invitations to voter fraud.

Mathias also voted in favor of the $18 annual surcharge residential customers start paying if offshore wind becomes a reality. (This may be hundreds of dollars annually for commercial customers and thousands annually for industrial users.) Jim also allowed the Maryland Stadium Authority to fund the construction of schools in Baltimore City. I’m not sure what sort of precedent that sets, but is Somerset County any wealthier of an area? Why is Baltimore City getting this new source of debt?

Nor were Jim’s union friends left out. In 2013 he voted to enact so-called “service fees” at five state universities and statewide for public school employees.

But the most interesting vote was on the Transportation Trust Fund “lockbox.” While it’s supposedly in place to prevent the annual raid of the TTF by a governor who can’t suppress his appetite for spending, the key to unlock is laughably weak: a 3/5 majority of both houses of the General Assembly. At this point Democrats by themselves could allow the transfer with 13 House votes and 6 Senate votes to spare. Those lucky Democrats, likely in swing district’s like Jim’s, would have the pass to go against their party while knowing passage is safely in the bag. I sense that Mike McDermott knew this when he properly voted no.

(That Constitutional Amendment is on the 2014 ballot as Issue 1, and I would encourage a vote AGAINST it. Make the General Assembly come up with a real lockbox – either a blanket prohibition or a 3/4 majority, which would require at least some Republicans to buy in – 106 House votes and 36 in the Senate.)

This year’s agenda was somewhat less ambitious, but there were still major differences. Mathias dodged a bullet when the bridge-eligible assistance program he voted for proved to not be too expensive (although there was no final expense tally at the point this was updated) but he also kept adding more Obamacare provisions to state law while paying for a needle exchange program in Baltimore city.

On the educational front, Mathias supported a pre-K expansion which will be of dubious benefit (except to public school unions) and supported a workgroup of yes-men studying how to better implement Common Core, which they don’t call Common Core anymore. And not only did he once again support a bloated budget, he tacked on a $10 additional fee for pesticide registration. Granted, it’s an aggregate of about $130,000 a year but it’s yet another burden for businesses.

Aside from the budget bills, though, the supporters of Jim Mathias would probably point to the bills both voted for as evidence of his moderate stance.

In 2011, both voted against the supplemental 3% alcohol tax and in-state tuition for illegal aliens. 2012 brought several points of agreement: voting against a prohibition of arsenic in livestock feed, enactment of same-sex marriage, the “rain tax,” the Septic Bill (with a caveat as I’ll get to momentarily), and even requiring helmets for moped riders. In the first Special Session that year both voted against the income tax increase.

When I revisited the Septic Bill, though, I noticed there were two Third Reading Senate votes – one for the Senate bill and one including some changes from the House version which passed, which had to be voted on again as amendments to the Senate version. Oddly enough, on the first iteration Jim voted yes but on the final product he was a no vote. Apparently Jim was for tier maps before he was against them?

Anyway, 2013 brought a lot of disagreement but Mathias and McDermott voted alike on some key issues: the gas tax increase, death penalty repeal, driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, and the SB281 gun bill all drew their opposition. Credit Mathias with unsuccessfully trying to place a sunset date on the gun law. This year they both fought the minimum wage increase as well as prevailing wage applicability, helped to decrease the estate tax (a rare win for conservatives) and the “bathroom bill.”

One thing I noticed in my research, though, is that Mathias rarely offers any floor amendments, whereas McDermott has several per term. Obviously that stage seems to me the one point where Republicans get in their say, giving Democrats more opportunities to be on the record as opposing common sense.

So while it’s true that Jim will “stand up to his own party” on some limited instances where tax increases are too obvious, he gives the game away by voting for each budget. I suppose the question is who is really fighting for the district, and in part two of this post I’ll look into where McDermott is fighting the other side.

To re-coin a phrase

It took a few days for word to filter out through the local media, but I was very pleased to see Larry Hogan borrow a phrase which has become a rallying cry to some here on this side of the Chesapeake. According to Gail Dean of the Dorchester Star:

For the past eight years in Annapolis, Hogan said, “There’s been a war on rural Maryland. There’s been a war on the Eastern Shore and there’s been a outright assault on watermen and farmers” and other small businesses.

Dean describes what Hogan said about watermen and farmers, and they were all very good points. But those only cover a few fronts on the War on Rural Maryland and its impact on the Eastern Shore.

For example, let’s start a conversation about private property rights in this state. Due to the ill-advised Senate Bill 236 of 2012 – better known as the septic bill – counties are forced to either draw restrictive tier maps or endure an even more draconian rule on subdivisions cast upon them by onerous state law. In 2013 there was an effort made by local Delegates to repeal the so-called “Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012,” the original of which incidentally was sponsored by a Governor who was a former mayor of Baltimore and five Senators from suburban districts. What they know about either sustainable growth or agricultural preservation is probably less than the intelligence of the average farmer or waterman’s pinkie finger.

(It should also be noted that Norm Conway voted FOR Senate Bill 236 [and against farmers] and so did Jim Mathias on the original Senate third reading. He changed his vote to no on the conference bill, perhaps because he knew what the fallout would be.)

Obviously my question is whether Hogan would look to repeal that bill, or make other moves to restore county autonomy in zoning. I know Hogan is gun-shy about repealing law already in place – and yes, that phrase was intentional – but he should know downzoning isn’t popular in local farming circles. Another whisper for Hogan’s “open ear” on that same front would be a moratorium imposed on new Chesapeake Bay regulations until after the Conowingo Dam sediment cleanup is complete.

Now, as far as the War on the Eastern Shore, I think one step in assisting us would be to waive the sales tax for the nine counties on that side of the Chesapeake in order to better compete with sales-tax free Delaware. (All but one of those counties shares a border with Delaware.) If the state can have the precedents of tax-free days for school clothes and various regulations which only apply to certain counties or regions, I think this is one way of jump-starting the local economy and encouraging growth in a region which generally lags the state in employment. It’s also an idea which has been tried and failed in the General Assembly on several occasions, so perhaps it needs a gubernatorial champion. And wouldn’t it be neat to see the phrase “By Request – Administration” on some good bills for a change?

So I’m glad Hogan gets it as far as Eastern Shore matters are concerned, because we would likely never reach our potential under a third term of Martin O’Malley in the guise of Anthony Brown.

Cane no longer able

As I predicted in this space a few weeks ago, Rudy Cane has indeed pulled out of the District 37A race; he will leave after 16 years of service to his Dorchester and Wicomico county constituents. While the Delegate is having some minor health issues, the fact that he all but ceased fundraising last year and allowed his website to go dark pretty much revealed his plans. It seems he was in the race simply to keep other interested Democrats away from challenging his would-be successor.

With Cane’s withdrawal Wednesday, current Wicomico County Council member Sheree Sample-Hughes will become the Democratic nominee. And unless a Republican who is agreeable to both the Wicomico and Dorchester county Republican Central Committees steps forward before next Monday, it’s likely she will be sworn in next January as the new District 37A representative. I think this was the plan all along.

So the questions going forward are twofold: what will happen to the $47,742.40 remaining in Cane’s campaign account, and how would Sample-Hughes fare in the General Assembly if no opponent is found?

I suspect a number of Democrats – particularly minority ones – around the state already have their hands out trying to get some of Rudy’s leftover campaign cash. In order to close his books according to state requirements, he has to have a balance of zero. Rudy has already transferred $6,000 to Sample-Hughes, which made up most of her cash on hand as of the January filing.

As far as voting record goes, Sample-Hughes will probably be as reliably leftwing as Cane, which doesn’t necessarily reflect the makeup of her district. For example, while Cane serves as the Chair of the Agriculture, Agriculture Preservation and Open Space subcommittee of Environmental Matters, he voted for the SB236 Septic Bill in 2012 and against its repeal in 2013 as a member of the Environmental Matters Committee. Cane is also infamous for his strident opposition to an elected school board in Wicomico County, a position which is shared by Sample-Hughes. While they cite the concerns of the minority community, it would be interesting to see how quickly those concerns would vanish should a Republican governor be elected.

Yet this potential Sample-Hughes walkover could be a concern a few years from now, as she may use the Delegate seat as another stepping stone to the Maryland Senate in 2018, as either Richard Colburn or Addie Eckardt may be ready to retire. (Current Democratic opponent Chris Robinson lost to Colburn by 18 points in 2010, so it’s likely the winner of the GOP primary will be the Senator.) But with the prospect of a majority-minority district remaining carved out of the strip between Salisbury and Cambridge, she may be difficult to beat (but not impossible – ask Don Hughes, who squeaked out a win over Cane in 1994 in a 3-way race) regardless of voting record.

Opposing a good idea

This came to me from the Wicomico Society of Patriots:

Citizens of Wicomico:

There is a county council meeting this Tuesday, January 21, at 10 a.m. that should not be missed by anyone concerned about their property rights, property values, and drastically increasing levels of taxation.

Your input is essential to let the counsel know how you feel about this county fighting back against legislation and regulation that will significantly effect our way of life here on the shore. The Septic Bill (SB236), the Phosphorus regulations, the Accounting For Growth land use regulations, and the 1.2 billion dollar estimated cost for imposing the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan (on Wicomico County alone) are in play this Tuesday.

Several weeks ago in conjunction with a County Council meeting our County Executive, Rick Pollitt, pledged his support and that of the county in backing the work of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. He also pledged $25,000 to help with the work of the Coalition. The Clean Chesapeake Coalition is the working group for those counties and other organizations and individuals who believe strongly that the state’s efforts at Bay cleanup, including those listed in the paragraph above, are not supported by sound science and will impose huge costs on individuals and businesses with very little if any measurable gain in the stated goal of Bay water quality improvement. The work of the Coalition is an outgrowth of the activism on the part of those Maryland rural counties who began to organize over two years ago in response to these onerous, questionable, and prohibitively expensive state mandates.

Partly in response to pressure from environmental groups, the Wicomico County Council voted to allow testimony and public comments in a future council work session prior to the council voting whether to go forward with county support for the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, or not. That work session is this Tuesday and should start around 12:30. I hope I can count on you to be there; and please pass the word.

So here’s the scoop: bowing to the same environmentalists who take the ideas “not supported by sound science” as gospel, the County Council is going to allow them to speak and try to back the county away from the $25,000 investment in the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. I’m not thrilled about dropping $25,000 on the effort, but if it saves us the $1.2 billion tab the county is supposedly on the hook for it would be money well-spent.

Obviously the same old environmentalist wackos will be there to spout their tired line that we need to pay more to make sure the Bay is pristine. They probably were tipped off to the hearing before anyone else.

I also realize that many of us work for a living; in addition, the weatherman is predicting about 4 to 8 inches of global warming, er, snow for tomorrow. For some, no big deal, but on Delmarva many freak out at the sight of a flake so proceedings may be delayed. It’s also worth pointing out that a future vote is in the offing for this so you can make your feelings known after the hearing (if it occurs) as well.

We all want the Chesapeake Bay to be a usable body of water for all those who depend on it. But the question is truly whether the additional taxes and restrictions on our freedom to develop our property as we see fit are worth a marginal improvement in water quality which could be wiped out by inaction by another state. In my opinion, the answer is no.

Update: the work session scheduled for this afternoon has been cancelled. Those environmentalists who worship Gaia may be cursing her for bringing the half-foot of snow and giving the side of common sense more of a heads-up to prepare.

Next stop Maryland? Or is it already here?

At the risk of making this the return of FNV on a Saturday (because I’ve featured videos on two posts in a row), I became aware of this video through a pro-liberty friend of mine who found it on a site heretofore unknown to me called The Unsolicited Opinion. While this comes from the People’s Republic of California, we can rest assured that there is something similar afoot in Maryland.

Now bear in mind that the landowner didn’t wish to develop his property for a residential use, but an AGRICULTURAL one.

The discussion initiated by my pro-liberty friend which made me aware of the video was one on conservation easements; that is a sore subject with me as is the concept of transferable development rights. I pointed this out in my reply:

This is why I’ve always maintained that development rights should only be sold on a generational basis (20-25 years) and Program Open Space should be chopped out of the state budget. Land taken off the property tax rolls by state ownership means taxes go up for the rest of us.

But in concept, no one really “owns” their property: property taxes = rent to government. Try not paying them and see what happens.

There are many other encroachments on our rights over the last few years, particularly in the septic bill but also in seeing critical areas legislation covering land farther and farther away from bodies of water. What used to be a 100-foot buffer in subdivisions is now 200 feet, for example. It’s all done in order to preserve Chesapeake Bay, although whether this overzealous assault on property rights is actually working to that end is a questionable proposition. It seems to me as if the goalposts continue to move in terms of what defines a suitable water quality.

So where should the line between the public good and the interests of the landowner be drawn? Most localities have some sort of zoning code in place, and generally they are thought of as the compromise point between unfettered development and overly restrictive regulations. Unfortunately, the general trend has been towards more restriction – one could consider the tier maps now adopted in most Maryland counties as yet another form of zoning, but with potentially economically disastrous consequences for those hapless enough to be stuck in Tier IV without hope for development potential. It reminded some of us of the “downzoning” controversy we had here in Wicomico County a few years back.

But don’t be surprised if some of the stealthier moves in next year’s Maryland General Assembly session come in the area of infringements on property rights, cloaked in the guise of “saving the Bay.” It’s not hard to write legislation so it doesn’t take effect until after the election, so the Annapolis liberals can campaign on good intentions knowing the undesirable results will only come when they are safely back in office – four years later they can come back with yet another “fix.”

It’s time to end that vicious cycle.

Gubernatorial hopeful Blaine Young speaks in Wicomico County

On Monday night the Wicomico County Republican Club held its monthly meeting with gubernatorial candidate Blaine Young as the guest. Young spoke for about a half-hour on a number of topics, mainly relating to events in Frederick and surrounding Frederick County, a place where rapid growth over the last several years has come from those he jokingly described as “refugees from Montgomery County.”

Blaine outlined his position as President of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, although that position will soon be abolished as Frederick County will join a number of other Maryland counties which have adopted a County Executive form of government. In fact, just like Wicomico County, Frederick will have a similarly-comprised seven-member County Council as well beginning in 2014.

In speaking to those gathered, though, Young made it clear his biggest influence after completing a brief previous political career as an alderman in the city of Frederick was that of becoming a small business owner. “It woke me up and opened my eyes,” he said. Blaine is also a radio host, a daily enterprise he claimed the local papers and liberals hate. But his overall stable of business support between 120 and 140 people, stated Young.

But Blaine made the case that he took the appointment to the Commission in 2010 and subsequently decided to run for a full term because his predecessors “liked to spend money.” Instead, the slate he led into office is “a very property-rights oriented commission” which “started slashing away” at a $48 million deficit and turned it into a $29 million surplus. They did so by cooperating with the local Chamber of Commerce to adopt over 200 of their suggestions, eliminating taxes and rescinding “frivolous” fees. The number of county employees had also declined by 400 during his tenure, Young added.

(continued at the Watchdog Wire…)

Wicomico Tier Map hearing provides guidance for County Council

On Wednesday night over 200 people jammed a converted gymnasium at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center to hear what interested observers had to say about the prospect of a Tier Map to place the county in compliance with last year’s Senate Bill 236, better known as the “Septic Bill.” Over two dozen members of the public, including this reporter, stood up to give testimony on the concept of adopting a map as prescribed by the state in the adopted law. For Wicomico County and other jurisdictions without an approved map, the clock is ticking: they’ve passed a December 31, 2012 deadline to adopt an acceptable map and cannot legally allow a new “major subdivision” of more than seven lots.

At the hearing Wicomico County Council president Matt Holloway made it clear that no decisions would be made at the meeting. Instead, it was an opportunity to solicit public comment on the zoning issue. “(We will) hear input and discuss the septic bill,” said Holloway.

Wicomico County’s planning director Jack Lenox gave a brief overview of the proposal, noting that while Senate Bill 236 was not a zoning or subdivision bill, it “has the same effect.” Two-thirds of the county was already zoned as agricultural-rural, he added.

(continued at the Watchdog Wire…)

As bonus monoblogue content, here is my testimony as prepared for delivery last night:

Ladies and gentlemen of Wicomico County Council,

My name is Michael Swartz and I live on Mount Hermon Road in Salisbury.

The Septic Bill passed last year has been of keen interest to me, not because I’m a farmer, but because when it comes to government I tend to believe the closer the government is to the people, the better it performs.

While I noticed the Septic Bill passed last spring, it really didn’t get onto my radar screen until I realized over the following months what the impact would be on the local agricultural industry as well as how our county operates its own affairs. To me, it was another strike by Annapolis in what’s been called the “War on Rural Maryland”, a case of once again governing in the pursuit of centralized power rather than the benefit of the people.

So I was pleased to see that Delegate McDermott introduced a Septic Bill repeal bill this year in the General Assembly. To be quite honest, I held little illusion it would pass because power gained by the bureaucrats and majority party in Annapolis is rarely given up easily. Still, I took the time to write testimony for House Bill 106, which I will quote from.

In my testimony I wrote the following paragraphs:

There is little doubt that Chesapeake Bay defines Maryland as a state, and, while there are differences in opinion as to the best course to take in preserving the quality of the estuary for future generations, the goal for all is a cleaner Bay. These concerns have already been addressed on many fronts, with assistance from both the state and federal governments.

That assistance is not at question here, because the law which this bill aims to repeal is not a bill to directly clean up Chesapeake Bay. Rather, HB106 corrects an ill-considered measure which, if not changed, will permanently and adversely affect the farmers who create much of the wealth in rural areas of the state like the local government as elected by the people of Wicomico County.

When the county places land in a tier where development is permanently limited by the newly-created law, I believe the landowner is harmed as the potential value of his property is decreased via the lack of development options. Though some landowners have already given up development rights, which was their decision, I do not believe this can be a one-size-fits-all approach as the state is dictating. Instead, I believe that farmers are the best stewards of their land and many have already taken common-sense measures to protect both their investment and the health of the Bay, with planting cover crops being one prime example.

Because they realized our job is to allow farmers and the agricultural industry to engage in the practices they find best, at the end of last year our County Council considered a provision which would allow an agricultural landowner to voluntarily opt into a Tier IV designation. But Maryland Department of Planning and Zoning Secretary Richard Hall made it plain that, “The law pretty much makes clear that agricultural zones are to be in Tier IV, and so to opt in or opt out is not what’s in the legislation.”

What an attitude exhibited by Secretary Hall! Annapolis knows best, and we should just sit down and shut up. That’s not going to happen.

Unfortunately, my testimony and that of others did little good as House Bill 106 was killed in committee. However, I would like to publicly thank Delegate McDermott for sponsoring the bill and Delegate Charles Otto for voting for it in the House Environmental Matters Committee. It should be noted, though, that Delegate Rudy Cane – who ironically enough chairs the Agriculture, Agriculture Preservation, and Open Space Subcommittee within the Environmental Matters Committee, voted to retain a bill which won’t do a thing to preserve agriculture – although it may increase the amount of “open space” as farms go bankrupt and become overgrown.

To me, given the small percentage of the Bay’s nitrogen problem traceable to rural septic systems, the bill passed last year is akin to using a sledgehammer to kill an ant. Out here, we know better than that.

So, as members of the Wicomico County Council, the ball is now in your court. In my opinion, if we have to have a tier map, let it place the absolute minimum amount of land off-limits to future development. To those of you here from the state or from environmental organizations recommending a more restrictive map, such as what happened in Cecil County last night after their original tier map was rejected, let me just say you may as well prepare for a fight.

I’d like to commend this Council for placing the needs of the people first and holding this hearing. Now let’s do the right thing and adopt true Smart Growth, allowing prudent development where land can be improved to its highest and best use.

Here’s the PAC-14 video.

I come on at about the 20 minute mark.

Expected: McDermott Tier Map repeal dies in committee vote

Update 2-21-13: Surprisingly, the Senate companion bill (SB391) received a vote in their Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. It failed 7-4, with the committee’s three Republican Senators (Jennings, Reilly, Simonaire) being joined by Democrat Roy Dyson – that part was no shocker.

I knew this would primarily be a symbolic bill because Democrats in Annapolis weren’t going to cede back any sort of planning control to the counties upon gaining it in 2012. But I was disappointed in the vote on Delegate Mike McDermott’s House Bill 106 for two reasons: the lopsided 19-5 margin and the abandonment of common sense by two Republicans: Delegates Cathy Vitale and Herb McMillan, both of Anne Arundel County.

It’s also worth pointing out on a local level that Delegate Rudy Cane, who is the Chair of the Agriculture, Agriculture Preservation, and Open Space Subcommittee within the Environmental Matters Committee, voted to retain a bill which won’t do a thing to preserve agriculture – although it may increase the amount of “open space” as farms go bankrupt and become overgrown.

While there is a companion Senate bill, Senate Bill 391, the common procedure once a crossfiled bill is killed in one chamber is for the measure to either be withdrawn or simply not get a committee vote since the other chamber rejected it. We’ll see if Senator E.J. Pipkin, who sponsored the bill, presses for a vote anyway to put people on the record.

Since the repeal bill was defeated in committee, it will be up to counties to now either defy the state’s edict or go along with it. There is another bill pending – House Bill 1385, also sponsored by Delegate McDermott – to extend the deadline to July 1, but any artificial deadline defeats the purpose of localizing zoning decisions. Wicomico County residents will have their say on the issue Wednesday evening at 6 at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center; also worth mentioning for my Cecil County audience is they’ll have a similar hearing on the Tier Map they already passed tomorrow night at 7:00 at the Cecil County Administrative Building, apparently because the state overlords don’t care for it.

Finally, it’s very likely that this HB106 vote will be one of the three Environmental Matters Committee votes I use for the 2013 monoblogue Accountability Project. So it looks like Delegates Hogan, Jacobs, Norman, O’Donnell, and Otto have an early lead on getting Legislator of the Year honors. I’d like to publicly thank them for voting for the people (and agricultural industry) of Maryland, even if it was in vain.

A week of hearings and forums

For some reason, next week is very busy with meetings in the public interest for local residents.

In fact, that docket begins today with a townhall meeting on the Second Amendment hosted by Congressman Andy Harris and featuring local perspective from Delegates Mike McDermott and Charles Otto. That’s going on at noon today out in Ocean City at the Holiday Inn Oceanfront, 6600 Coastal Highway. I would expect my friend Jackie Wellfonder will have full coverage on her site, since I can’t make it. (Right Coast Conservative beat Jackie to it.)

After catching a breather tomorrow, Monday’s a holiday. But it’s not stopping the Daily Times from hosting the first of two City Council forums, this one for residents in District 1. As reporter Jeremy Cox alerted me, The Daily Times ”wants to hear what issues matter most in the Salisbury city elections. Whatever issues are voted on by the community will be put to the candidates for their positions and become newspaper stories ahead of the Feb. 26 primary and April 2 general election. Light refreshments will be served.”

That Monday meeting will be held at the First Baptist Church at the corner of Delaware and Booth Streets in Salisbury from 5-7 p.m. It’s the same location where the NAACP forum was held last month. One thing not made clear is whether mayoral candidates Joe Albero and Jim Ireton would be invited; my assumption is that they are. But since they’re not subjected to the primary they may only come to observe the potential council member they’ll work with from District 1, whether it’s incumbent Shanie Shields, newcomer April Jackson, or the inimitable Cynthia Polk.

On Tuesday there will be a City Council Debate at Perdue Hall (Room 156) on Salisbury University’s campus, sponsored by the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce. It will run from 7-8:30 p.m. Questions from the public are encouraged, and can be submitted through either the Chamber’s Facebook page or via e-mail: chamber (at) salisburyarea.com. (Since there’s no mayoral primary, those two candidates will duke it out on March 26, along with the four City Council primary survivors.)

Wednesday turns to a meeting of another sort, as the Wicomico County Council is holding a hearing on the proposed Tier Maps at 6 p.m. in the Midway Room of the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center:

The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, commonly referred to as the Septic Bil (sic), enacted by the State of Maryland, may limit the number of residential septic systems allowed on property within the A-1 Agricultural-Rural Zoning District.

The Wicomico County Council will hear public comments regarding the area proposed for limiting septic systems and requests that all interested persons appear at said time and place for the purpose of expressing their views and opinions concerning the matter.

In addition, this legislation may impact the future use and value of your property.

This meeting should bring a lot of spirited discussion, mostly in opposition to the state’s taking over of the approval process (as they have to rubberstamp these tier plans, or else certain developments can’t be approved.)

Finally, Thursday will bring the second of two Daily Times candidate forums as the hopefuls for District 2 take the stage. This event will also be held at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center from 5-7 p.m. Voters in that district will need to choose between incumbent Debbie Campbell and first-time aspirants Jake Day or Jack Heath.

Wow. I’m not sure I can make all of those events with my outside work schedule – that 5 p.m. Thursday start looks awful tenuous (and that’s my district to boot.) So it may be up to you to see for yourself what all the hubbub is about.

Testimony supporting HB106

I submitted the following for consideration before the House Environmental Matters Committee.

**********
Testimony in favor of HB106:
Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 – Repeal

Ladies and Gentlemen of the House:

In the interest of restoring the primacy of local government, I stand as a common citizen in supporting this bill.

There is little doubt that Chesapeake Bay defines Maryland as a state, and, while there are differences in opinion as to the best course to take in preserving the quality of the estuary for future generations, the goal for all is a cleaner Bay. These concerns have already been addressed on many fronts, with assistance from both the state and federal governments.

That assistance is not at question here, because the law which this bill aims to repeal is not a bill to directly clean up Chesapeake Bay. Rather, HB106 corrects an ill-considered measure which, if not changed, will permanently and adversely affect the farmers who create much of the wealth in rural areas of the state like the local government as elected by the people of Wicomico County.

When the county places land in a tier where development is permanently limited by the newly-created law, I believe the landowner is harmed as the potential value of his property is decreased via the lack of development options. Though some landowners have already given up development rights, which was their decision, I do not believe this can be a one-size-fits-all approach as the state is dictating. Instead, I believe that farmers are the best stewards of their land and many have already taken common-sense measures to protect both their investment and the health of the Bay, with planting cover crops being one prime example.

Because they realized our job is to allow farmers and the agricultural industry to engage in the practices they find best, at the end of last year our County Council considered a provision which would allow an agricultural landowner to voluntarily opt into a Tier IV designation. But Maryland Department of Planning and Zoning Secretary Richard Hall made it plain that, “The law pretty much makes clear that agricultural zones are to be in Tier IV, and so to opt in or opt out is not what’s in the legislation.”

This attitude exhibited by Secretary Hall brings us to the second part of my objection, the idea of local control.

As I stated above, all of us agree Chesapeake Bay is worth preserving. Local governments are just as steadfast toward that goal as those who would dictate to us in Annapolis, and what the Wicomico County Council was proposing was simply another form of public input. It seems to me that’s the goal of good government, but this law as interpreted by Secretary Hall seems to reveal the true intentions of the state as sole arbiter of all issues regardless of the local situation.

As county residents we trust our local Planning and Zoning Department would come up with a sound comprehensive plan which addresses Wicomico County’s current and future needs. All the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 has accomplished is to place another state mandate on what should properly be a local issue. Certainly we know what works in Wicomico County may not necessarily be the best approach for Montgomery County, and vice versa.

To that end, I ask that HB106 be adopted and local counties be allowed to resume the procedures they have found to work best for their local needs.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael Swartz

**********

Later this evening I’ll publish the testimony I wrote on SB281. It’s more biting than this one.

Ten Question Tuesday: January 29, 2013

My guest today is Patrick McGrady, who wears two hats: he’s a member of the Harford County Republican Central Committee, but more importantly for our chat today he’s also the Chair of the Maryland Liberty Caucus. That and the affiliated Maryland Liberty PAC are pro-liberty groups taking their fight to the key issues affecting all of us in Maryland.

This edition was done a little differently than my previous TQT efforts and more like older incarnations of the concept. It was based on a series of e-mails exchanged between Patrick and I over the course of several days. Obviously this makes it easier on me, but the question will be whether you find it as informative. I believe you will.

Full disclosure aside, here’s what McGrady had to say.

**********

monoblogue: My first question regards the Turning the Tides 2013 event. Several conservative PACs were represented and it seemed to me like a natural fit for your PAC to attend. So why did you skip the event as a sponsor?

McGrady: Yes, the MDCAN group and the Turning the Tides 2013 are noble events and we appreciate the serious efforts undergone to make them successful. Our PAC was solicited for a sponsorship, but at the time we were not able to commit the financial and human resources required to make the event worth the cost of sponsorship to our donors and supporters.

I would like to have attended the conference, but I was giving an activism training in Prince George’s County to some
very excited conservative activists that Saturday. Perhaps next year.

We have been in communication with Tonya Tiffany and I hope to connect with her this week about how of our conservative and liberty-focused groups can work together on important projects going forward.

monoblogue: I think that is a key, working together. How do you feel you complement some of the other groups, and where do you expect to find your niche?

McGrady: The Maryland Liberty PAC has a focus on identifying and training supporters of liberty in how to win, how to govern, and how to rise through the ranks. We don’t believe that anybody should get off the couch and seek statewide or Congressional office – we don’t have the ground game to make that happen yet.

And so, we believe in the Major League Baseball strategy: start with the minor leagues, than work your way to the major league. This way, we have ample opportunity to discover how our candidates will govern at the Town Council or Council Commissioner level before they can advance to County Executive or State Senate. We strongly believe that having a strong farm team of candidates and supporters is much better than putting all the money, time and energy on the line every four years.

We can work together on limited government ideas, even when the goals look less than possible. I am more than willing to work with anybody who is trustworthy and principled. We can develop the knowledge and skills needed to win, but you can’t fix those two items – I have learned this the hard way.

I have never been accused of being a pragmatist on matters of liberty. For example, I don’t want to fix speed cameras, I want them eliminated from our state. I don’t want to fix SB236 (the Septic Bill from 2012), I want to repeal it. I don’t want Republican big government or Democratic big government – I want Constitutionally-limited government.

And when elected officials vote wrong, the Maryland Liberty PAC will be sure to cause political pain during the election season. If we have to (we will) replace the Republicans and Democrats who vote the wrong way with those who will vote the right way.

monoblogue: I can see the benefits of that strategy. But there’s still the process of finding the people to run for office in the first place. Are you recruiting candidates yourself or are they coming to you asking for the help?

McGrady: Both – we have been soliciting for people to run and they have been approaching us.

For endorsed candidates, we offer top-to-bottom campaign management services. We write the literature, we send the mail, order robocalls, and help with fundraising – at no cost to the candidates. We ask only that they govern as they promise they will. With each applicant, we have a serious weeding-out program, and we assure them that if they choose to govern opposite their commitment, we will exercise the same efforts to remove them from office.

monoblogue: So you’re a one-stop shop, and it sounds like you go beyond the simple function of a PAC in terms of backing candidates beyond the monetary. I know you had one successful candidate last November – is there a goal you have for 2013, a number of candidates who achieve victory you’d consider a success?

McGrady: More than a specific number of candidates, we are planning to expand our level of influence across the state. We hope to find some candidates in Prince George’s, Frederick, Harford, Cecil, and Montgomery counties to start and build a foothold for freedom in Maryland.

We cannot afford to overlook any single local race. And party races either – it’s all on the table.

monoblogue: I’ve already seen evidence of that. You’re publicly backing the effort to repeal speed camera laws (“Repeal O’Malley’s War on Driving”) as well as last year’s SB236. When you add that to the post-Sandy Hook push for more gun laws, would you consider your plate already pretty full? And how do you think that will affect your group’s 2014 plans?

McGrady: We plan to achieve these legislative goals. We surely have a lot of work ahead of us.

We will find out which legislators represent the views of their constituents,  and then we will tell their constituents. There is a lot of room in primaries of both parties to impact who serves in the legislature. We will build over time, but I predict success for our model.

monoblogue: I noticed you made your first splash back at last fall’s MDGOP convention, and I know you serve on a central committee. Are you finding the MDGOP is being responsive to your goals, or is it a matter of educating them as well?

McGrady: As an organization, the Maryland Liberty PAC is non-partisan. With some projects, we are working within the Republican Party for change.

There has been some great response from the MDGOP, and some lukewarm. Maryland GOP elected officials don’t take kindly to having their records exposed, and that has caused some tension.

But the fact is that our motives are not biased toward or against any individuals or party affiliations. We care about freedom and respect for (both) the Constitution of the United States and of Maryland. On that front, there is always room for “education.”

monoblogue: I completely agree. Hopefully the “liberty” label isn’t giving people the impression that you’re way out on what they call the “Paulbot” wing of the party.

Then again, I took some time at the MDGOP convention and visited your Liberty PAC suite, finding that a good percentage of those there were younger faces I didn’t recognize from other traditional party events. Is this something you’ve done intentionally or are you finding the message just happens to resonate among that crowd?

McGrady: We are very reasonable and pragmatic people in the liberty movement. Our ideas are positive and will benefit society as a whole, instead of just pockets of either “rich” people or “poor” people. Under economic freedom, individuals can prosper and therefore society can prosper.

The future of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, for that matter, hinges on people who seek to be independent-minded. We are people who realize that our rights come from God, not government.

People don’t like to be fooled, and young people are drawn the ideas of liberty.

We put the call out to all of our membership, and that was who attended the GOP Convention. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that our Maryland Liberty PAC organization brought the most new people “under the tent” of the GOP.

monoblogue: Great! Anything else you’d like to add before we’re through: contact information, future events?

McGrady: We are excited to be working on so many projects and we hope people will visit our website at www.MarylandLiberty.org. If people have questions for me, I can be reached at 410.357.1234.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to answer these questions– and I hope to see everyone on February 6 in Annapolis for Testifying on the HB106 bill to repeal SB236 and against all the gun bills!

**********

I’d like to thank Patrick for agreeing to the interview. As I read it over, I found out I learned something and I thought I was already pretty familiar with the group. Yet they are one of many proactive groups in Maryland trying to save this once Free State.

Constitutional defender speaks in Salisbury

The crowd at the Wicomico Maryland Society of Patriots meeting, January 15, 2013. It was a pretty packed house last night for the Wicomico Maryland Society of Patriots meeting, in part because it was a joint meeting with Worcester County’s TEA Party chapter and partly because we had a strident Constitutional defender speaking. That gentleman is familiar to liberty lovers across Maryland as a leader who conceded that the Democrats and unions will be gunning for his seat next year. “They hate me,” said Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild.

But before Richard spoke, we had to get some of the preliminaries out of the way: a prayer, which was originally uttered by Thomas Jefferson in 1801, the Pledge of Allegiance, the assessment by host Dr. Greg Belcher that “I’m pretty confident we’ll have some good information” coming out of this meeting, and some words from Sam Hale of the Maryland Society of Patriots, who characterized our situation as “not only fighting for our freedom, but fighting for our lives.”

We also introduced a number of elected officials and other public figures, including three members of Wicomico County Council (President Matt Holloway, Vice-President Bob Culver, and former President Joe Holloway), Jim Bunting of the Worcester County Commissioners. and a number of Republican Central Committee members from Wicomico, Worcester, and Dorchester counties. Salisbury mayoral candidate Joe Albero also put in an appearance.

Matt Holloway alerted us to an upcoming hearing regarding how we’ll address the provisions of SB236 on February 20 at the Civic Center. It was also announced that Delegate Mike McDermott had filed a bill in the House of Delegates to repeal last year’s Senate Bill 236, which provided much of the impetus for tonight’s gathering. But as a pair of videos shown tonight revealed, the process has been in the words for nearly three decades.

Indeed, there was a lot to digest in the 2 1/2 hours we held court at The Legacy Restaurant, and I haven’t even gotten to what our featured speaker said yet. Granted, some of it – particularly on the Constitutional aspects of holding office – was rehashed from that which he said at the Turning the Tides conference on Saturday, but the Agenda 21 and SB236 information was less familiar. Some of it had appeared in 2011 at a conference he’d spoken at (before SB236 even passed) but a number of predictions Rothschild made within that presentation have panned out.

A pair of guests were pointed out by Richard, and they weren’t those you may expect at a TEA Party meeting. But the two came representing the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, venturing into enemy territory as it were. But Richard didn’t see it that way, encouraging the group to join the Clean Chesapeake Coalition of seven Maryland counties. And while he contended that conservatives were capable of abating more pollution than our liberal opponents, he assured the CBF representatives that “I am committed to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.”

Yet Richard also contended that “if it’s sound policy it won’t need to be forced by the state.” SB236 and PlanMaryland both fail that test. Moreover, Rothschild was distressed by the vague and undefined terms in PlanMaryland, giving several examples. To him, “‘sustainability’ is a euphemism for ‘government approved.’”

“I said to the state of Maryland, ‘let the free market do its work,’” repeated Richard.

Rothschild went on to explain that in the old days, planning was a map. Now it’s a goal, a movement, and a new way of life required by government. The “smart growth” concept was a noble idea, he continued, but it ignores empirical realities. “The facts do not support their assertions,” he said. One example of that was failing to take into account that clustering housing units as proponents of smart growth suggest won’t raise enough tax revenue per unit to be viable without a massive increase in the tax rate.

And if the numbers don’t support the correct assertions, then create new ones. Rothschild criticized the new Genuine Progress Indicator standard, in which some portions increase through negative outcomes – for example, if all of the job producers who make high incomes are driven out of the state, the “income inequality” indicator would reflect this in a positive direction. Never mind the higher unemployment and economic misery sure to follow. “This is Machiavellian,” said Richard.

Another facet of this push toward cleaning up the Bay by fiat was the uneven distribution of costs. Using what he termed “rough order of magnitude” costs as an example, in order to cover the increased costs of Watershed Implementation Plan compliance Carroll County would have to raise taxes 10 percent and Frederick County 20 percent. But those property owners here in Wicomico County would be saddled with a DOUBLING of the tax to cover a $1.2 billion overall cost – bear in mind our annual budget is not far north of $100 million.

Yet, as he described later, the state was less than aggressive in addressing the problems at the Conowingo Dam, where over 100 feet in depth of nitrogen-rich sediment has filled in the waterway behind the dam. In severe storms, that sediment escapes into the Bay, wreaking havoc on the uppermost portions of the estuary.

Part of this presentation was handled by Phil Hager, the Carroll County Director of Land Use, Planning, and Development. Rothschild noted that it took a long time to fill the position because “I couldn’t find a land use manager who respects the Constitution” until Phil came along.

Hagar focused on some of the nuts and bolts of the law, noting that SB236 was passed in lieu of a BAT (best available technology) law by the General Assembly. Instead, the Maryland Department of the Environment administratively enacted the BAT regulations a week after the session ended last year.

Phil also made it clear that Carroll County was not hurrying through SB236 compliance, instead choosing to address this as part of their comprehensive plan, with ample public input. He added that Cecil County passed its map “acting under duress and protest.” Wicomico County is charting a similar path to Carroll County’s, holding off on submitting a map until more public input is granted.

Returning to the podium, Richard stated the case again that we can’t be so bold and arrogant to presume we know what’s best for our children and grandchildren. Too many innovations can take place to assume what is now will always be – for example few know there once was massive concern over reliance on horses, dubbed the Horse Manure Crisis of 1894. Instead of being buried under tons of horse droppings, though, technology intervened as the automobile was invented.

“I personally believe this law demands nullification,” Rothschild asserted, adding “if I tried to go the other way (and make zoning less restrictive) I’d be told ‘you’re violating the law.’” Yet no one bats an eye at this process, whether it be intrusions on property rights, the Second Amendment – which Richard called “a God-given right that’s not negotiable” – or any other intrusion. “We (as counties) don’t project power,” said Richard.

Finally, Richard predicted 2013 would be the year of greenhouse gas in the Maryland General Assembly. The goals are already in place: a 15% reduction from 2006 levels by the year 2020 and 95% reduction by mid-century. The 15% reduction is expected to cost $20 billion, a toll which Rothschild charged would create “devastation of our economy of epic, Biblical proportions.”

He closed out by telling the crowd what many of us already harbor as a gut feeling: “It will end in a trainwreck.”

On the other hand, I found the meeting as informative as predicted. The good news is that PAC14 taped the proceedings, so at least some of it will be available for future viewing on our cable access channel as well as online.

Next Page »

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