For First District Congress

My final primary endorsement comes in a race that, for me, has come down to the wire: do I go for the known conservative quantity that’s part of one of the most unpopular institutions in the country or do I go for one of the upstarts in a hope to bring about change or a more libertarian direction?

Well, the answer became a little easier as I looked into two of the four GOP candidates. Both Jonathan Goff, who challenged Andy Harris in 2014 and got the 22% of the anti-Harris vote in that primary, and Sean Jackson have expressed their support for Donald Trump so that eliminates them automatically as not conservative.

Yet despite the entry of Goff and Jackson, the Congressional race has been figured all along as a two-man contest between Harris and former Delegate Mike Smigiel.

We pretty much know the backstory on Andy Harris: he served in the Maryland State Senate for a decade before challenging incumbent Republican Congressman Wayne Gilchrest in 2008. The problem with Wayne, as Harris and many others saw in the district, was that Gilchrest was too centrist for a conservative district. Harris ended up winning a contentious primary, alienating enough Gilchrest supporters in the process that Democrat Frank Kratovil (who Gilchrest eventually endorsed) won by a narrow plurality in the Obama wave election of 2008. (A Libertarian candidate took 2.5% of the vote, denying Kratovil a majority.)

Harris finished out his term in the State Senate as he plotted to challenge Kratovil, who served as a “blue dog” Democrat (case in point: he voted against Obamacare.) Winning a far less acrimonious GOP primary in 2010 over businessman Rob Fisher, Harris went on to defeat Kratovil by 12 points in the first TEA Party wave election of 2010. Since then Harris hasn’t been seriously challenged in either the primary or general elections, winning with 63.4% of the vote in 2012 and 70.4% in 2014 after Goff challenged him in the primary.

While Democrat Jim Ireton may think he has a shot against Harris, it’s very likely that Tuesday’s election is the deciding factor in who will be our representative to the 115th Congress. But Mike Smigiel is the first serious candidate with a pedigree to challenge for the First District seat since Harris and State Senator E.J. Pipkin, among others, both took on Wayne Gilchrest in 2008.

Like Harris, Smigiel served for 12 years in the Maryland General Assembly but he served in the House of Delegates, representing the upper Eastern Shore. This factor is an important one in determining who will be the better candidate, as their terms of service overlapped from 2003-2010. Smigiel ran for re-election in the 2014 primary, but finished fourth in a seven-person field. It’s worth noting that four of the District 36 contenders were from Smigiel’s Cecil County, which may have sapped his electoral strength – or reflected a dissatisfaction with Mike’s approach. Only one of them could have advanced, so in effect they cannibalized the primary vote.

Mike’s case for unseating Harris has evolved from an undertone of dissatisfaction from those who supported Harris for the seat. They say that Andy is not a fighter or a leader in the conservative movement, and long for a more libertarian Congressman perhaps in the mold of Justin Amash or Thomas Massie. To that end, Smigiel has advocated his case for a Constitutional, limited government, often waving his copy of the Constitution in a debate or forum session. His campaign has focused to a great extent on a number of Congressional votes that Harris has cast, particularly the 2014 CRomnibus bill.

In looking at this race, it should be pointed out that I saw Smigiel’s libertarian approach as an asset; however, I felt the strong emphasis on Harris’s voting record masked some of the real truth.

A key difference between the legislative process in Maryland and the federal sausage-grinding we find in Washington is that Congressional legislation is not limited to a single issue as Maryland’s is. You can take the CRomnibus bill as an example, as it was a compromise hammered out between the various factions of Congress. That’s not to say Harris made the correct vote, but Smigiel is counting on a bit of ignorance in how the system works. I could say the same thing about Smigiel since he voted for the first O’Malley budget while Harris voted no.

So let’s talk about voting records, shall we? Because voting in a federal legislature is not the same as voting on state matters, we have an apples-to-oranges comparison between Harris and Smigiel. But over the eight years both men served in the General Assembly, a more apples-to-apples approach is possible.

Since 2007, I have done the monoblogue Accountability Project, so it covers the last four years that Harris and Smigiel served together. As an aggregate, I found that Smigiel voted as I would have 77.7% of the time, or 101 times out of 130. On the other hand, Harris was “correct” 89.1% of the time, or 122 times out of 137.

I even went back and found three years’ worth of data on the old Maryland Accountability Project that mine continued. While the author perhaps had a different standard of what he considered “conservative,” in each of those three years (2003-2005) Harris had a higher score: 84%-60% in 2003, 80%-75% in 2004, and 84%-83% in 2005. (The 2006 results were not available for the House, but Harris only scored 65% in the Senate – so Smigiel may have prevailed that year.)

Yet these are not “clean” comparisons, either, because in my case I hadn’t streamlined the process of doing the mAP yet. (Since 2011, both House and Senate ratings are based on the same bills.) So I went back and tried to locate the cases in my work where Harris and Smigiel voted the opposite way. There were a handful that over time have mattered less, but I would like to point out a few items that Harris favored and Smigiel opposed, since Mike has attacked Andy’s record:

  • Smart, Green, and Growing – Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission (2010) – replaced a task force with the MSGC, an O’Malley-sponsored bill.
  • Higher Education Investment Fund – Tuition Stabilization and Funding (2010) – a spending mandate O’Malley also sought.
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act of 2009 – this was a horrible bill that established and codified carbon reductions into state law.

One can definitely argue that Harris was trying to soften his image with these votes, since they came after his unsuccessful 2008 run.

But there is another side: those bills that Smigiel favored and Harris opposed:

  • Other Tobacco Products Licenses (2010) – required separate licenses for those who sell cigars, snuff, or pipe tobacco. Harris was one of just 7 in the MGA to oppose this.
  • High Performance Buildings Act – Applicable to Community College Capital Projects (2010) – required LEED Silver or above ratings.
  • Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – Maryland Strategic Energy Investment Program (2008) – an O’Malley bill to spend RGGI money.
  • Environment – Water Management Administration – Wetlands and Waterways Program Fees (2008) – established a fee of up to $7,500 an acre for certain developments.
  • Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Protection Program – Administrative and Enforcement Provisions (2008) – additional mandates on local government.
  • High Performance Buildings Act (2008) – the precursor to the 2010 act above.
  • Maryland Clean Cars Act of 2007 – an O’Malley bill requiring California emissions for Maryland cars, which added cost to new cars.
  • Higher Education – Tuition Affordability Act of 2007 – another O’Malley bill that extended an artificial tuition freeze.
  • Electricity – Net Energy Metering – Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard – Solar Energy (2007) – a good old-fashioned carveout, picking a winner.

It seems to me there’s a major difference on environmental issues between Smigiel and Harris, and while that may not matter so much at a federal level my belief that “green is the new red” leads me to think that Smigiel’s pro-liberty case isn’t as airtight as we are led to believe.

I can go all night looking at voting records, but there is one other thing I’d like to point out.

Last week I criticized Smigiel for spending part of the weekend before the primary at a cannabis convention, a stance he took exception to in a private message to me. Without divulging the full conversation, which I assumed was just for my private use, the upshot was that he argued there were going to be fundraising benefits for him as well as possible job creation in the 1st District. I can buy that argument, but if it hinges on him winning the primary Job One has to be getting the votes.

So it was interesting that a friend of mine shared a card her daughter received, which looks like the one below.

420 USA PAC Smigiel postcard

My friend speculated the card was targeted to a certain age group of Millennials since her daughter was the only one in the house to receive it. Yet the card isn’t from Mike’s campaign but instead an organization called 420 USA PAC, which advocates for cannabis legalization.

Of course, my personal stance is not all that far from Mike’s, but we also have two laboratories of democracy in Colorado and Washington state to see how the legalization of marijuana plays out. Smigiel argues the District of Columbia cannabis initiative is a state’s rights issue but should know that in the Constitution Congress is responsible to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District per Article I, Section 8. So Harris performed some oversight.

On the other hand I can vouch for Andy being in the district over the weekend. Perhaps this is a classic conservative vs. libertarian matchup, although both men are well-accepted in the pro-life community.

This has been an endorsement I have had to think long and hard about; luckily it’s a case where I could easily work for the other gentleman if he will have me.

But I have decided that Andy Harris deserves another term in Congress. Saying that, though, it’s obvious people will be watching and if I were Mike Smigiel I wouldn’t dismiss trying again in 2018 because we could use his kind of voice in Congress as well. Think of the next two years as a probationary period for Harris.

So allow me to review my three endorsements for the major races.

For President, I urge you to vote for the remaining true conservative in the race, Ted Cruz. He has six people running for Delegate and Alternate Delegate who need your votes as well (although my friend Muir Boda is on the ballot, too.)

For U.S. Senate, I had a hard time deciding between Dave Wallace and Richard Douglas, but the backbone Richard Douglas has shown earned him my endorsement and vote.

And finally, retain Andy Harris as our Congressman.

Just don’t forget to vote Tuesday. It’s up to us to begin turning Maryland into a more conservative state – not just trying to teach the benefits of conservatism to an audience charitably described as skeptical but making sure we vote in the right manner as well.

A lack of interest?

January 28, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on A lack of interest? 

There are still a few days to the primary, but I’m using the occasion of Greg Holmes’s entry to the Republican U.S. Senate race and check how the field is shaping up. (And if you say “who?” you’re not alone – Holmes was one of the also-rans in 2014’s Fourth Congressional District primary.)

Having done this political thing for a few years, I know that there are usually 10 or so Republicans who run for U.S. Senate in any given cycle. My first election here was 2006, the year Michael Steele was the overwhelming choice of the state party (and accordingly won 87 percent of the vote.) Despite that, there were 10 people on the GOP primary ballot, nine of whom split the other 13 percent of the vote. (With an open seat, that was a scrum on the Democratic side – they had 18 running.)

As of this writing, though, we are only at eight running on the GOP side and Holmes would be nine – so we should be in the ballpark for an average election. On the other hand, the open seat on the Democratic side isn’t bringing out nearly as many – just nine have signed up for the Democrats, with at least four being the perennial candidates who rarely get more than 1% of the vote.

Of those nine Republicans, most have some sort of electoral history: Holmes and John Graziani both ran for the same Congressional seat in 2014, while Dave Wallace was the Republican nominee against Democrat Chris Van Hollen that same year. Richard Douglas was a Senate candidate in 2012 and Richard Shawver was in 2006, but Kathy Szeliga is the only one who’s won a legislative position as a Delegate in the Maryland General Assembly. It appears Chrys Kefalas, Lynn Richardson, and Anthony Seda are first-time candidates.

So while Szeliga probably has the greatest name recognition, followed by Douglas, it is a relatively wide open race. If someone were to do favorability numbers on the GOP side right now, I doubt any one of the candidates would be over 20% favorable, with the vast majority saying “never heard of them.” I myself didn’t know many of these people were in the race until I looked tonight.

Meanwhile, in looking at our First District, it’s still a four-person race on the GOP side where incumbent Andy Harris is joined by 2014 challenger Jonathan Goff, first-time candidate Sean Jackson, and former Delegate Mike Smigiel. Jim Ireton hasn’t filed yet, so Joe Werner (who ran for the seat in 2008) is the only candidate so far on the Democratic side.

I think there will be between one and three more in each of the aforementioned races by the time Wednesday’s filing deadline expires. But I am sort of surprised that we’re not seeing as many candidates up and down the ballot this year.

Phone polls, show votes, and truth

By Cathy Keim

I was just thinking the other day that now that the holidays were over, the Congressional races in Maryland should start heating up. Before the thought disappeared, my home phone rang – and I was asked to take a survey. I usually enjoy these surveys, as I try to see behind the questions and guess who is paying for the poll. If they have a live person, then I will ask questions to see if they will give out any information.

This automated poll asked questions about Congressman Andy Harris, the incumbent, and former Delegate Mike Smigiel in the Maryland First Congressional District race. The questions were worded in this format: “If you knew such-and-such about Andy Harris, would you be more likely to vote for him, less likely to vote for him, or no difference?” After several questions the questioning switched to Mike Smigiel, repeating the process but with different questions. The phone poll closed by asking who you would vote for if the election were today and gave three choices: Andy Harris, Mike Smigiel, and Sean Jackson. This surprised me, as I was not even aware of the third candidate.

I went to the Maryland Board of Elections website and found that candidates can file a Certificate of Candidacy until February 3, meaning we still have several weeks for additional candidates to file. So far one Democrat (Joe Werner of Harford County) and three Republicans (Jonathan Marvin Goff, Jr. and Sean M. Jackson, both of Harford County, and Smigiel from Cecil County) are listed. I am assuming that Andy Harris will file before the deadline.

(Editor’s note:  Since Cathy wrote this, Matt Beers, a Libertarian candidate from Cecil County, has filed for the First District seat with the state Board of Elections. Meanwhile, federal campaign finance filings are not completed for the last quarter of 2015, but only Harris and Smigiel are listed with FEC campaign finance accounts.)

The primary is not until April 26, so we still have plenty of time for these candidates to present their positions.

But what are their positions? At least with Congressman Harris we have a current track record that can be poked and prodded, thus enabling the prospective voter to review the information and make a decision. But is it really that easy to know how any politician voted?

And even more to the crux of the matter: which vote do you look at?

John Kerry, former Senator and current Secretary of State, famously uttered the words, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it,” cementing his reputation as a flip-flopper. But knowing which vote you are looking at and the context in which it was cast is particularly crucial in an election year. Voters’ memories are short, so a candidate usually only needs to vote as his constituents desire in the last few months before an election.

Congress just voted to pass the omnibus spending bill which provides funding for Obamacare, Planned Parenthood, refugee resettlement, and oodles of other awful programs. If your Congressman voted no on it, then he should be in the clear, correct? Well, maybe not. You need to step back and examine the background behind the bill. Why was it allowed to be brought to a vote so it could be passed with Democrat votes? The Speaker of the House controls what comes up for a vote so Speaker Ryan did not have to bring the omnibus bill up for a vote where he knew it would pass with mainly Democrat votes. But he did.

Paul Ryan was elected Speaker of the House after John Boehner was forced out for not leading the fight against President Obama. Only nine Republicans opposed his nomination as Speaker. If a Republican Congressman voted for Paul Ryan to be Speaker but then voted against the omnibus bill, did he or she vote correctly?

Let’s go further back. How do last year’s votes count? What if a Republican Congressman voted for the CRomnibus bill in December 2014? Should that be held against them if they voted against the omnibus bill in December 2015? It takes a bit of interest and time to dig through the old votes to get the whole picture. And that is why politicians can dissemble so well. Who can keep up with the constantly changing stream of votes?

Remember: as Election Day draws closer and closer, we are going to see votes on one politicized project or issue after another — none of which will significantly change anything because the Omnibus bill, funding the Federal Government through next October, was passed in December. Congress, under the GOP leadership of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave up all power of the purse and the only restraint that was possible on an out-of-control President in his final year.

Do not be impressed by these showcase votes! The deed is done and all we can do is hang on for the increasingly bumpy ride until the new President is elected — and it may get bumpier yet depending on who is elected.

So how did Andy Harris vote in the last two Speaker of the House elections? He voted for Speaker Boehner last January, even after the CRomnibus horror was pushed through (which he also voted for). He voted for Paul Ryan to replace Boehner as Speaker this fall. Despite these votes, however, he “bravely” voted against the Omnibus Bill this December.

So, to paraphrase John Kerry, Congressman Harris voted for Speaker Ryan, Speaker Boehner, and CRomnibus before Harris voted against the Omnibus Bill.

Those are the facts. What is the truth?

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