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.

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.

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.

2014 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

October 13, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on 2014 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text 

Plagued once again by poor weather on its bigger day (Saturday) nonetheless hardy beer enthusiasts from around the region gathered to sample a few swigs and generally celebrate all things beer.

Did I mention the weather was subpar? At least we salvaged one decent day, unlike last year.

Unlike last year’s effort, though, there weren’t a whole lot of new wrinkles. Coming back for another year, for example, was the home brewer’s competition and dedicated area.

Another old favorite kept around was the TV lounge, where people cheered on the Ravens and Orioles on Sunday.

Close by were the cornhole games and that maddening peg hook test of skill.

Once the skies cleared for Sunday, those in attendance could (and did) express themselves.

Those chalkboards were mounted aside the local beer garden, which had an interesting occupant.

Perhaps Backshore Brewery (from Ocean City) was here last year but I don’t recall the old VW Microbus.

They also win the monoblogue prize for the best beer name. That and $4 would have secured a pint, I guess.

Yes, I did try it and I thought it was pretty good. But their Boardwalk Blonde Ale was one of my two favorites along with the Shotgun Betty Ale from Lonerider Brewing, which I think came from North Carolina.

Perhaps pale ales weren’t this guy’s style, but it’s what I prefer. I just wanted the shot of his hat, a style I saw on a couple people over the two days. I didn’t notice anyone selling them.

Another local brewer, though, was angling for donations to a different cause.

Burley Oak is doing a Kickstarter campaign to enable the canning of its beer – as it turns out, they achieved their goal. But the coasters were a nice reminder and quite useful, since that coaster is under my drink (alas, diet Pepsi) as I sit here.

Oh, did I mention I was there for political reasons?

It wasn’t quite dripping with political types as the last time we were in a local election year (the first rendition of the GBF back in 2010) but some of the local political incumbents came to cut the ribbon Saturday.

Doing the honors in this instance were four members of County Council: Bob Culver, Matt Holloway, Stevie Prettyman, and John Hall. Culver was around on both days to press the flesh for a County Executive run, but he was pretty much the only one there.

Yet the reception at our tent was quite good and I handed out a lot of items. My emphasis, particularly with out-of-town people who were interested in Larry Hogan items, was on promoting William Campbell for Comptroller and Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. Those statewide downballot races are very important as well.

And despite the rain attendance held steady, described as just under 3,000. It’s good exposure and this year there wasn’t much obnoxious behavior. In short, a good time was had by all.

Oh, and about that top picture? I’m not averse to bartering advertising space for a monthly supply…just saying.

Muir Boda for County Council

Muir Boda Ad 160 WideIf you have only one vote in the Republican primary for County Council at-large here in Wicomico County, make it count. Vote for Muir Boda.

This year’s at-large County Council election is unique in two respects: first, it features two candidates who have already served four years on County Council in John Cannon and Matt Holloway. Secondly, unless there is a strong write-in campaign, a Republican is assured of winning at least one of the two seats because the Democrats only fielded one candidate, Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell.

To me, Cannon and Holloway are akin to peas in a pod. Both have earned the reputation as being the moderate Republican swing votes on a Council which desperately cried out for conservative leadership. Obviously one of them has to be nominated since there are two slots, but the winner between those two is not nearly as important as making sure Muir advances to the next round.

I’ve known Muir since before he first ran for office five years ago, and he’s always impressed me as earnest, down-to-earth, and willing to work hard to solve problems. I was happy to vote for him as one of my endorsed City Council candidates in 2011 (had I lived in the city in 2009, he would have received my vote that year as well) because I believed he would add a voice of sanity to the body, and with a County Council that will feature a lot of new faces – including at least four new members since Gail Bartkovich, Bob Culver, Stevie Prettyman, and Sheree Sample-Hughes are departing for retirement or for other offices – having someone with his understanding of the working man’s perspective will be important.

Crime is Muir’s biggest issue, and for good reason: he sees it on a daily basis as part of his job. Boda is a believer in the High Point Initiative, which is being instilled by Matt Maciarello and other members of the law enforcement community, but would like to take it further with another unique idea worth considering and discussing.

As many know, Muir ran for Congress as a Libertarian in 2012, and served for several years as an officer in the Maryland Libertarian Party. One might consider him an opportunist for changing to the GOP for this election, but as for me I see this as a welcome change. We need new, younger blood in the local party and this is one opportunity to put a good, thoughtful conservative on County Council. He and District 2 candidate Marc Kilmer can be the building blocks to a conservative rebirth in Wicomico County, but the hardest step will be his getting through the primary with two opponents who certainly have more of a bankroll than Muir does.

But it can be done, with your help. Let the chips fall where they may for slot number 2, but let’s make sure Muir Boda makes the November ballot – even if you have to “bullet vote” and leave a choice blank.

Oh, and just to answer the question surely to come: this is a personal endorsement, and not one with my Central Committee hat on.

WCRC meeting – January 2014

It’s a new year, and apparently people are pent up with political desire. Benefitting from this enthusiasm in particular were Comptroller candidate William Campbell and District 37B hopeful Dr. Rene Desmarais, both of whom were our featured speakers tonight.

So once we handled the usual opening of reciting the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance and introducing the growing number of distinguished guests, we heard mainly from Campbell and Desmarais about their proposals if elected. We began with the second-time Comptroller candidate, who ran for the same post in 2010.

The reason he ran, said Campbell, was that he met the incumbent. But Comptroller was the “second most important vote you’ll make” behind the governor’s race. The Comptroller, Campbell continued, acts as the watchdog over the “rapacious” actions of our governor and legislature.

He also has a vote on the Maryland Board of Public Works, and if Republicans are elected to both the governor and comptroller posts they could “end the lunacy” in Maryland’s spending.

Chief among those flaws was pension funding. Campbell explained that a program which was fully funded just 12 years ago was only 65% funded when he ran in 2010 and is down to 60% now – although William argued that new accounting standards could prove that number to be closer to 50% funding. It’s a $40 billion unfunded liability.

Finally among the Comptroller’s chief duties is regulation of alcohol, fuel, and tobacco in the state of Maryland.

He went on to outline his qualifications, which were more than sufficient for the job: 9 years as chief financial officer of the United States Coast Guard, a stint as CFO of the Department of Veterans Affairs – where he oversaw a $65 billion budget and 225,000 employees; figures which dwarf the state of Maryland – and two years at Amtrak, which is still a money pit but “lost less money with me.” His planning to address the shortfall enabled Amtrak to buy locomotives for the first time in decades.

After leaving Amtrak, he did pro bono work for NASA, making their books auditable for the first time in years. Campbell did it for free because “I believe in good government.”

Speaking to his 2010 run, he conceded that he started late and ran a campaign with no more than 4 figures in the bank and 30,000 miles on his truck. Yet he outpolled U.S. Senate candidate Eric Wargotz, who spent far more money, garnering 691,461 votes and only trailing Bob Ehrlich by about 85,000 votes (Ehrlich had 776,319, which translated to 3% more.) He learned that you have to get voters to know you, like you, and trust you, so he started running last year for 2014. “I know the things to fix,” concluded Campbell.

When asked about how he would deal with Annapolis Democrats, Campbell’s initial inclination would be that of “quiet persuasion,” but it would escalate to that of a bully pulpit if needed. “I see a lot of ignorance in Annapolis,” said Campbell.

He was also asked if marijuana would fall under his supervision if legalized. It would, but the $150 million projected annual revenue was “a rounding error” in a budget of $40 billion. More important was the lack of attention to the pension fund, which should ideally be replenished to the tune of $500 million a year but was getting $350 million or less under Martin O’Malley. He charged current Comptroller Peter Franchot with “not living up to his fiduciary responsibility” by his handling of the pension funds, including coming in way short of the 7.5% annual return projections are based on.

Turning things over to Dr. Rene Desmarais, he began by stating the obvious: “Health care is a mess.” If elected, Desmarais added, he would be the only Republican doctor in the House of Delegates.

Desmarais was more brief, given a tighter time constraint, but spoke about three distinct themes: vision, connection, and opportunity.

The lack of vision in Annapolis was apparent in that there was no help in getting from point A to point B – government was just asked to solve the problem. This was true, not just in health care, but in a broad array of subjects like education, phosphorous regulations, and even the Second Amendment, Desmarais argued.

Connections abound from health care to a number of political topics, added Rene, but he spent part of the time discussing the connections to Obamacare, which has “22 missing things” and “done harm to people.”

Yet we also have opportunity because of a unique hospital payment system which can be the foundation to making needed changes. It would take a “message of clarity”for Republicans to succeed overall, but it can be done. Moreover, Maryland “can push the reset button” on the health insurance market, providing a better alternative than the current system where Eastern Shore residents get to choose from a whopping two insurance providers through the state exchange.

That concluded the portion of the program devoted to our guest speakers, but the treasurer’s report was brief and club president Jackie Wellfonder recounted a breakfast held with Delegate Addie Eckardt a week ago Saturday before yielding her time to County Council member Joe Holloway.

Holloway wanted to remind us that the County Council would meet next Tuesday evening (February 4) and discuss the recently-discovered $3;7 million revenue shortfall in the county’s budget, along with raises for various county officials and the allocation of $25,000 to the Clean Chesapeake Coalition.

In a Central Committee report which was more brief than usual, Dave Parker pointed out a candidate conference call slated for Tuesday and that the deadline for candidates was approaching quickly. “This could be a very good year for Republicans,” said Parker. We also heard plans for the Lincoln Day Dinner, which promises to be a memorable event if we can pull off getting our preferred guest speaker.

Turning to club business, we nominated new officers for 2014 – a simple process as all but one current officer volunteered to stay on. So we nominated one person to fill the vacancy and nominations were closed.

After that, we heard quickly from a number of other candidates who updated their campaign status. John Cannon, who served from 2006-10 on County Council, has decided to return to the at-large position he vacated to run for Delegate. He praised the current Council for making sure tha county didn’t tax its way out of the recession, and said his campaign would be based on business and job growth. Businesses “can’t find educated and drug-free workers in Wicomico,” said Cannon.

District 37B hopeful Johnny Mautz, Jr. invited people to a campaign kickoff in St. Michaels on February 9 from 4-6 p.m.

Matt Maciarello, our State’s Attorney, pointed with some pride to the fact that Salisbury has improved from the 4th most dangerous city per capita in the country to 52nd most over his tenure, although he was disappointed to find we were still on the top 100 list. Matt was more pleased, though, with the renovation of an old downtown building into new offices for his department along with space for the Maryland State Police, Sheriff’s Department, Salisbury city police, Children’s Services, and room for therapy for abuse victims.

Larry Dodd was another interested in a return to County Council, where he served from 2002-2006. He praised outgoing Council members Stevie Prettyman and Gail Bartkovich as being a “hard act to follow” – he’s running for the District 3 seat Bartkovich is vacating – and stressed his tenure on the Board of Education (where he’s a current member) as an advantage.

District 38B hopeful Carl Anderton, Jr. spoke about how he’s already “made a mark” in Annapolis, where the traditional introduction of the Maryland Municipal League president at the opening ceremony of the Maryland General Assembly was somehow skipped this year – coincidentally, he’s running against longtime member Norm Conway. Anderton also quipped that the state “wasted $100 million on a website that doesn’t work” but he spent $20 on his and it runs just fine. Carl’s having a meet-and-greet at Main Roots Coffee on Saturday from 11-1, added campaign manager Bunky Luffman.

Marc Kilmer, running for District 2 County Council, stated that the coverage of the $3.7 million county shortfall ignored a key fact – the budget went up by $10.9 million from the year before. We need fiscal discipline and not the “sky is falling rhetoric” the county seems to employ.

Touching on that, Joe Holloway praised local activists Johnnie Miller and John Palmer for trying to bring that shortfall to the county’s attention. “We were warned” that the county was being overly optimistic on revenue projections, Joe said.

On behalf of Christopher Adams, Jackie Wellfonder let us know he was still out knocking on doors and talking to people.

Finally, we were asked if any Democrats were in any of the races. At this point, the only Democrats who have filed are the incumbent Clerk of the Courts and Register of Wills, along with two seeking the District 1 County Council seat.

It really wasn’t a lengthy meeting, but it turned out to be chock full of information. The next meeting is February 24, with a speaker to be determined.

A look ahead: 2014 in Wicomico County

I covered some of the events from this year last night, but as we enter 2014 some interesting political campaigns and battles are taking shape.

The largest question for 2014 will obviously be who gets the keys for the next four years as County Executive, with the sidebar being whether he, along with County Council and some other leadership, will be paid more. I suspect the latter measure will be voted in with a close vote, as the County Council seems to have its Republicans divided into two groups of three, one being much less fiscally conservative than the other and carrying a 4-3 vote when they side with the lone Democrat.

As for that County Executive race, Republican County Council at-large member Bob Culver announced earlier this month that he would seek the office for a second time, with current County Executive Rick Pollitt planning to file for a third term next month. Pollitt is the only chief executive the county has known, winning the position in 2006 over Republican Ron Alessi and narrowly escaping a challenge from first-time officeseeker Joe Ollinger in 2010. Culver has a history in running for County Executive, though; finishing a distant third in the three-way GOP primary race in 2006 with 23% of the vote. And while he managed to win an at-large County Council seat in 2010, he was second overall to political neophyte Matt Holloway.

Whoever wins the County Executive race, he will be dealing with a radically revised County Council. Much like the 2006 election, which marked the end of a commission style of government with the Council serving as leadership, the 2014 balloting will result in large turnover. That 2006 campaign featured none of the four incumbent Democrats, all of whom decided not to seek another term as legislators rather than commissioners, while one of the three Republicans lost in the primary. Eight years later, while Matt Holloway has filed for another term at large, Culver will seek the County Executive position and leave the other at-large seat to another. Republican Muir Boda is thus far the only other one to file.

The districts will be where the real change occurs, though. Not only were some of the battle lines radically redrawn by redistricting, but only District 5 Council member Joe Holloway is truly seeking re-election, since District 4’s John Hall will be running for the first time for the seat he holds. Hall was appointed in 2011 to finish the term of the late Bob Caldwell, who died in office after winning the closest county election in recent memory. Caldwell unseated incumbent Democrat David MacLeod by two votes out of 4,072 cast.

Yet three district Council members will not be seeking another term – the body’s lone Democrat, Sheree Sample-Hughes of District 1 is seeking a seat in the House of Delegates, while Stevie Prettyman in District 2 and Gail Bartkovich of District 3 opted not to stand for re-election after lengthy tenures. They were the lone holdovers in the aforementioned 2006 election, and it’s possible 2014 will be similar. Two Democrats, Ernest Davis and McKinley Hayward, have already filed in District 1; meanwhile, the District 2 seat has attracted Republican Marc Kilmer.

For the most part, other county offices will hold their status quo as most incumbents have already filed for re-election. The only turnover will be in the Orphan’s Court, where two of the three current members had previously indicated their current term would be their last. Republican Grover Cantwell has already filed, but will likely be joined by a host of others from both parties – raising the prospect of contested primaries on both sides.

And while many of these officers will receive a modest bump in their paychecks in 2015, they will be hoping that 2014 brings a resolution to a number of nagging issues. Our small county can’t do a whole lot to improve the national economy, but financial pressures brought on by a shrinking income tax base and flagging property values will press County Executive Pollitt to submit a far leaner budget than he might like in an election year. While the state gave Pollitt an “out” by allowing him a workaround to the county’s revenue cap to fund local schools, the money may not be there for everything government wants – particlarly since the other end of that state deal was a larger maintenance of effort requirement. It’s noteworthy that Pollitt was vague about 2014 plans in his recent State of the County address.

The state mandates will also affect our planning. Our development is currently stymied by state law, which severely curtails the subdivision of land in areas not served by a municipal sewage system because we haven’t submitted an approved tier map. Wicomico County is closing in on a year overdue with the map, which has met resistance because farmers are understandably worried about their property values should they be placed in the most restrictive development tier. Most likely this will lead to a solution few on the local level will embrace. We also may find our county has to enact the dreaded “rain tax” since we’re one of the more populous counties not to have one yet – so we are in line.

Accountability for county schools may become an issue as well. Stymied by a legislative delegation which won’t allow the citizens a say in whether they desire an elected school board because County Executive Pollitt demands public proof of favorability – despite the 6-1 vote County Council made in favor of the resolution – the alternative may indeed become one of petitioning the issue to the ballot. The end result could be a compromise to place the issue on the 2016 ballot, one which will have a larger turnout and not feature the two Delegates who have stood in the way of Wicomico County joining the vast majority of others in Maryland and across the country which have elected bodies to monitor local education.

Obviously there will be a number of other issues which crop up in the upcoming year, but as we stand here looking forward it appears the local government is far more at the mercy of their state and national counterparts than many here feel comfortable being. These entities will be looked at tomorrow and Tuesday, the final two days of a politically bruising year.

2013 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

October 14, 2013 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off on 2013 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text 

I’ll charitably call it a race run on a sloppy track, but let’s just say the weather conditions kept most but the diehards away from this year’s Good Beer Festival – despite the welcoming sign from my favorite brewery.

Once I get to the upcoming Weekend of Local Rock feature you’ll better see what I mean, but for the most part Saturday’s proceedings were endured in a steady light drizzle. It’s unfortunate because there were some neat new features this weekend, like the Local Beer Garden.

Several local breweries secured a small corner for their pouring stations or a place to enjoy the product.

Another corner had a unique feature which many enjoyed and employed.

Me? I was just doing what I was told (for once.)

(Yes, I can be a smartass at times. But if you can’t have a little fun in life, why bother?)

Aside from the chalkboard, I took those shots before the event even began Saturday. Meanwhile, the volunteer pourers were receiving their final instructions.

It was only when I walked over to the ribbon cutting that the sprinkles began, literally minutes before the GBF was opened.

Among those participating were Wicomico Recreation Chairman Allen Brown (holding microphone), who actually wielded the scissors, and fellow Commission member April Jackson to his left. Elected officials flanking Brown in the background from left to right were County Council members Bob Culver, Gail Bartkovich, and Stevie Prettyman, with Delegate Addie Eckradt at the far right. Aside from a brief walkaround, though, I don’t think the elected officials stuck around.

At least I had the little sampling glass they gave out. The slips of paper served two purposes: a sticker for the event you could wear and a ballot for the Taster’s Choice Awards.

It wasn’t a complete surprise that local favorite Evolution Craft Brewing Company was knocked out of its three-time defending Taster’s Choice champion perch by the Tall Tales Brewing Company – after all, Tall Tales was the lead event sponsor. But newcomer Fin City Brewing Company from Ocean City finished third. All this was announced just before closing on Sunday.

So you could tell Saturday’s rain had its effect on the crowd. This shot was taken about 1:30, looking down the food court.

Did I say food? Yes, they had plenty of food to go with the beer, for the most part conveniently lined up along the fence line. I had some good pulled pork sliders, North Carolina style.

Yet a strange thing happened: by 4:30 there were a LOT of hungry folks despite the persistent mist. I wondered where they all came from!

As it turns out – and I was floored by this – they had 1,700 at Saturday’s event. No, it’s nowhere near record territory but for the conditions of the day I was impressed.

The crowd – and a week’s worth of rainy conditions – was already beginning to take a toll on the grassy meadow the GBF is held on.

So when I arrived Sunday morning, and found a nice puddle had collected on the roof of our tent, it was no surprise to find some no-go zones. The tape was removed before the event formally opened.

One thing I’ve noticed about the Sunday crowd (as opposed to the Saturday gathering) is that it’s somewhat smaller and many of them partake in the other amusements scattered about the grounds. Always popular on Sunday is this tent with the big screen televisions.

Others played cornhole, although this group had a different idea of the rules.

Luckily, I think she missed – didn’t need an Orlando Brown incident at the GBF.

Meanwhile, this little game can be maddeningly addictive. I keep coming thisclose to hooking it.

Sunday also brought the home brewers out, with their own contest and enclave.

I don’t recall who won, but it was with a fruit-based home brew. It’s worth pointing out that, in the spirit of the Halloween season, a number of breweries had pumpkin-based beer. There was also one concoction featuring Old Bay I didn’t try and the 16 Mile Killer Tiller Brown Ale, which I did. That stuff BURNED all the way down. I’ll stick with the Blues’ Golden Ale (which, sadly, wasn’t on tap there), thanks.

It’s also a more intimate gathering. My guess is that attendance was about 1,000. You’ll notice in my 1:30 shot that it’s cloudy but the rain held off all day.

I know I’ve discussed the more humorous signage at the Autumn Wine Festival and Pork in the Park, and the brewers are beginning to catch up.

And if you wanted to flaunt your drunken humor I’m sure these guys had the shirt for you.

But perhaps most emblematic of the rollicking, fun-loving spirit of the Good Beer Festival were these young ladies who happened to be next door to us. (No, not the guys in the kilts.)

Where else could you do this?

The Salisbury Roller Girls aren’t a new group and they’re regulars at Third Friday. But I found out that they have Old Bay as one sponsor and they were using the arm wrestling as a fundraiser along with shirt sales and such. It takes money to get the rinks, hire the refs, and travel around the region playing teams like the New Jersey Hellrazors or Black Rose Rotten Cherries.

So why was our humble group of Republicans there? Because the Democrats weren’t!

Among my Sunday volunteers was County Council candidate Muir Boda, who’s in the center between Greg Belcher and Shawn Jester.

Shawn is also in this shot with District 38C hopeful Mary Beth Carozza, who stopped by with the signs and magnets you see in the above picture. And remember that name of Shawn Jester; I think you’ll be reading it in the future here.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my volunteers: not just Shawn, Muir, and Greg, but Phil, Bob, and Bunky as well. It made for an enjoyable weekend – and wasn’t that the point? Giving out literature, meeting Republicans who urged us to keep up the fight, and recruiting new potential Wicomico County Republican Club members is great, but the idea is to be in the community and enjoy being there.

We will see you next weekend at the Autumn Wine Festival, but you’ll be able to relive the bands which played as an installment of Weekend of Local Rock over the weekend.

One seat, fourteen applicants

Monday evening the list of applicants for E.J. Pipkin’s District 36 Maryland Senate seat came out, and there were several surprises on the list. We knew some of the names which would be on there, but there is no lack of aspirants for the job. In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Steven Arentz, a Queen Anne’s County Commissioner elected in 2010
  • R. Scott Bramble, of Cecil County
  • Frank Frohn, a former member of the Queen Anne’s County Planning Commission and unsuccessful 2010 Commission candidate
  • John Graham, of Queen Anne’s County
  • Stephen Hershey, current District 36 Delegate from Queen Anne’s County (elected in 2010)
  • Andrew Langer, president of the Institute for Liberty and Red Maryland radio host
  • Tim McCluskey, a town councilman from Centreville since 2009
  • Audrey Scott, onetime mayor of Bowie, Secretary of Planning, and more recently Maryland GOP Chair 2009-10
  • Michael Smigiel, current District 36 Delegate from Cecil County (first elected in 2002)
  • Richard Sossi, former District 36 Delegate from 2002-10
  • Robert Thornton, Jr., former Delegate from Caroline County (1990-94) – elected as a Democrat
  • John Leo Walter, who ran for Congress in 2008, from Queen Anne’s County
  • John Walton, Jr., of Caroline County
  • Eric Wargotz, GOP Senate nominee in 2010 and former Queen Anne’s County Commissioner

So as far as I can tell, most of these officeseekers have already served in some capacity, while many others have run for office. I would imagine that most, if not all, of them would try once again if one of the two current Delegates in the mix (Hershey or Smigiel) is elevated to the Senate (and if they are eligible, based on my recollection of state law – see below.)

Personally, I think it’s going to be Smigiel’s seat to lose, but he probably has to get the backing of all four counties to be selected. If more than one name is sent to Governor O’Malley, it won’t be Smigiel who’s picked, not after his strident opposition to the cherished O’Malley gun law. If Caroline County stays home and picks Thornton as one of several names submitted he may be the choice as a former Democrat and current attorney. Martin O’Malley can also then say he addressed the unfairness of having one county not represented in Annapolis.

To me, the most intriguing names in the running are Langer, Scott, Sossi, Walter, and Wargotz.

Obviously Andrew Langer is a political activist and could be an interesting bomb thrower in the Maryland Senate as a TEA Party stalwart. I think he has a slightly better chance of being selected as a Delegate should a seat open up thanks to the elevation of Hershey – I believe if Smigiel is selected his successor would have to come from a county not already represented in the district, which would leave only Caroline and Cecil counties as possibilities because Hershey is from Queen Anne’s and Delegate Jay Jacobs, who is not seeking the Senate seat, comes from Kent County.

I see Audrey Scott, meanwhile, as a possible compromise, caretaker candidate who probably wouldn’t run again in 2014. It’s not like she hasn’t come in to finish someone else’s term and opted not to run again, although she may then assume some position will be handed to her. Also worth mentioning: she’s the only woman in the field.

From what I gather, Sossi is running for the poetic justice of succeeding the guy who allegedly helped orchestrate his defeat in 2010 by Hershey. I suppose he could then run in 2014 as being the tan, rested, and ready candidate.

Most may not have heard of John Leo Walter, but I remember him. Lost in the bloodbath that was the 2008 First District Congressional primary was Walter’s principled, conservative campaign. Maybe this is his time, although he is probably the darkest of horses in this race.

And after passing up the 2012 Senate campaign and thoughts of climbing into the gubernatorial ring, it’s worth pointing out that Eric Wargotz has trimmed his aspirations back to where some probably thought they should have been all along.

It’s interesting to me that, when I did the research into one of the candidates, I came across this Free Republic thread from 2003 when Jeannie Haddaway (pre-Riccio) was selected for the then-vacant District 37B Delegate seat in a similar situation – four counties were involved there, too. At that time, both Caroline and Wicomico selected Jim Newcomb of Dorchester County but Haddaway was Bob Ehrlich’s choice as her name was submitted by Talbot County, which at the time was the largest jurisdiction in the district. But there were only six shooting for the seat back then as opposed to the fourteen-person scrum we have this time.

(As an aside, there was a fascinating mention of then-officeseeker Stevie Prettyman, who remains on Wicomico County Council to this day:

Stevie Prettyman, current Wicomico County Council member, supports conservative spending and agreed with the other candidate that Maryland citizens are over-taxed. Prettyman said building bonds with Democrats would be a key strategy if selected.

“You have to cross the aisle,” Prettyman said. “You have to be able to hold hands for a common goal – and that common goal is the best for the people you serve.”

To some, it seems to still hold true even when there’s only one Democrat on County Council because we’ve not managed to elect a GOP County Executive.)

I would imagine that the timetable has been set so that there’s plenty of breathing room before counties are required to submit nominees. Will the four counties go with the conventional wisdom, or will they break ranks and allow Martin O’Malley to select a centrist Republican who would bend to his will as he did when former Delegate Richard Weldon resigned in 2009? At that time, Frederick and Washington counties split and Charles Jenkins was picked over Michael Hough, who then ran against Jenkins and won the seat in 2010.

No one can be certain at this time. While Smigiel has claimed he has the votes, that’s not necessarily true.

Good Beer Festival 2012 in pictures and text

While I’ve heard conflicting tales about attendance – I had heard 2,900 people came on Saturday while this news report claimed 4,000 – somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 people attended last weekend’s Good Beer Festival at Pemberton Park.

You can judge attendance for yourself, as I took several crowd shots over the weekend. The first group are from Saturday and were taken at 1:30 and 2:30 on Saturday. (Bear in mind the festival opened at 12:30.)

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. I knew it would be a good day when I saw the lengthy line outside the ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday afternoon.

Allen Brown of Wicomico Parks and Recreation, the sponsor of the event, was holding the scissors. He was flanked by (left to right) Wicomico County Administrator Wayne Strasburg, State Senator Jim Mathias, and County Council members Stevie Prettyman, Sheree Sample-Hughes, Matt Holloway, Gail Bartkovich, and Bob Culver. Yet I noticed none of them stuck around very long, at least those I recognized.

Obviously the idea of the Good Beer Festival is to sample the brews of many different vendors, with my personal favorite being the 16 Mile brewery from Delaware.

Others, however, favored the hometown Evolution Brewery or national brands like Samuel Adams, Blue Moon, or Sierra Nevada. In all there were over 70 breweries represented.

But there was more to do than drink beer. There were games to play, like cornhole or the difficult contest shown below.

That’s my hand, by the way. Needless to say, I don’t have a knack for hooking that ring on the target.

On Sunday, the tent holding the big-screen TVs was crowded as the Ravens and Cowboys did battle.

You could even slow down and take a tour of the Pemberton house with guides in period costume like this woman.

Needless to say, there was also music – but I’m saving that for a future post.

There were also special one-day events. Saturday’s chili cookoff was a big draw, particularly considering the fall-like temperatures.

That same space was used on Sunday for a home brewer competition, which included this up-and-coming brewer from Delmar. That went better with the more summerlike weather featured on Sunday, with a high in the mid-70s.

I also ran across vendors which sold varied wares, mainly catering to a beer-drinking crowd like this apparel seller.

But this year there was a little something different. I spoke to the people working at this tent Sunday morning as I was getting reset and they said they were quite busy Saturday. No count on how many didn’t pass the test, though.

They probably didn’t have as much business Sunday, though. It was a far less crowded day, as the next series of photos taken at 2:00, 2:30, 3:30, 4:30, and 5:30 attest.

One benefit of the smaller Sunday crowd: a chance for some to bring out their furry friends like this little guy.

So why was I there the whole time? It’s because I coordinate the presence of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee and help staff the tent. It looked a little spartan this year to begin with considering there are only three candidates running, and the absolute raid on our Romney items Saturday left me without much to give out Sunday (when I took the tent photo.)

I know my blogging friend Jackie Wellfonder also posted her thoughts on the event, but I wanted to add my two cents in as well.

We had a location which was sort of out of the way. The photo of the Pemberton house was taken from in front of my tent, so you can tell we were off to the side of the main traffic flow where I took my crowd pictures. Nevertheless, enough people found us over the weekend that we ran out of Romney signs and Romney/Harris signs. (Maybe Dan Bongino needs some Romney/Bongino signs since people were happy to have the Romney/Harris combos even if they wanted just Mitt.)

I spoke to people from Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, Maine, and even Ohio while sitting in our little tent. While they assessed his chances of success differently, they all wanted to end this four-year national economic nightmare. Even shunted off to the side, we reached a lot of potential voters the Democrats may have missed because they weren’t there. Maybe they feel the wine (or is it whine?) crowd will be more to their liking because they will be present this coming weekend, as will we – I got my package in the mail today.

But as the sun set on Sunday – a pretty sunset at that – we found that the Good Beer Festival seems to have established itself as more or less equal to its older cousin, the Autumn Wine Festival; an event which will celebrate its tenth year at Pemberton this coming weekend. The GBF has grown quite a bit in the three years of its existence, and may soon have the pleasant problem of selecting from more local and national breweries than it has space to accommodate.

One conversation I struck up regarded the merits of the Good Beer Festival vs. Pork in the Park. While I still think Pork in the Park is the better festival overall, the GBF is closing in on a strong second place. And at a strategic time in the election calendar, it’s a resource candidates can use to establish themselves with a unique demographic. Shrewd Republicans who want to get a jump start on 2014 would be wise to make time next October and come see us. We’ll be there.

While I’m at the Autumn Wine Festival, you can review the bands which played this weekend as I’ll devote a new Weekend of Local Rock post to the twelve performers playing the GBF.

WCRC Crab Feast 2012 in pictures and text

Never let it be said that Republicans are a fair-weather party.

A rainy day certainly dampened the area surrounding Schumaker Park as the Wicomico County Republican Club held its annual Crab Feast yesterday, but it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. The picture below was taken at one of those rare points where the rain died down to a light shower, rather than the torrential downpour which plagued the event.

We still had our usual solid crowd of about 250, who I am convinced would come out in a hurricane for crabs and camaraderie. If you added a little wind I think we would have had a nice tropical storm like this same weekend in 2011 because there was a point it rained to beat the band.

One casualty of the weather was the silent auction, which for many items had to become a live auction because the tally sheets got all wet under the tent. Some items stayed out of the rain, though.

And the weather played havoc with the roster of speakers as well. I think this was the result of having to do a live auction, but in most years several elected officials will make remarks. This time the bulk of the talking was done by Congressman Andy Harris.

Harris only made brief, somewhat boilerplate remarks about his race and the need to change the regime in Washington beginning with the removal of Barack Obama but continuing with the urgency of putting Dan Bongino in the United States Senate. (Unfortunately, Bongino couldn’t represent himself at the event; his county coordinator Shawn Jester filled in.) “Party today, but work for the next 73 days” to the election, Harris admonished us.

We also heard quite briefly from Delegate Addie Eckardt, who reprised her message delivered at the GOP headquarters opening last week about the need to “turn this ship around.” Also expressing his thanks for continued support was Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello.

So it wasn’t like the event in other years where a number of candidates seeking election locally or statewide were there to speak and press the flesh – while most made their rounds, they chose to be acknowledged but not make remarks. I don’t know if Matt Holloway or John Hall came, but I saw the remaining four GOP members of County Council there (Stevie Prettyman, Gail Bartkovich, Joe Holloway, and Bob Culver) along with the other three local Republican officials – Maciarello, Sheriff Mike Lewis, and Orphans Court Judge Bill Smith. We also had Delegate Charles Otto come up from Somerset County to join us. (Update: WCRC officer Marc Kilmer assured me that John Hall was there. Maybe I didn’t hear him being introduced.)

In that respect, look for next year’s event to be chock full of would-be aspirants for office because the 2014 event will be after the state election primary for the first time in several years unless they make it a spring event. (Once a late-September gathering, the Crab Feast migrated forward about a month beginning in 2010 to a late-August date – last year was an exception thanks to Hurricane Irene.)

I can say that I made the Republican Club a few dollars myself since I donated two copies of my book to the auction, and they sold for above face value. Then again, my contribution paled in comparison to how these buttons did, as well as the 50-50 drawing.

So after two years in a row of a late-August downpour (at least this year the hurricane was down in Cuba) chances are next year should be a beautiful afternoon like we’ve had in the past. In the meantime, the beer was cold and by many accounts the crabs delicious, so what’s a little rain?

A caving on Bennett Middle School?

Update: As projected, District 2 Council member Stevie Prettyman is indeed the one who sold us out in a 4-3 vote. She joined District 4 appointee John Hall, at-large member Matt Holloway, and District 1 Democrat Sheree Sample-Hughes in voting to commit the county to years of debt. Hope the squeaky wheel minority is happy.

According to published reports in both the blogosphere and mainstream media, Wicomico County Council is holding yet another meeting tomorrow morning to discuss the stalled Bennett Middle School project. County Executive Rick Pollitt has already asked County Council to allot a 7 cent per $100 increase in the property tax to help pay for the new school without presenting the remainder of his operating budget. (The phrase for that where I come from is “a pig in a poke.”)

First of all, it’s notable that the meeting will be a daytime meeting rather than an evening meeting, since I thought the intention of having night meetings would be to encourage participation. Perhaps that time worked better within the schedule of the few squeaky wheels who don’t understand that people are tapped out, so no means no. For working folks, it’s not that easy.

And since it will be a legislative session, this will give at least one of the four who originally voted to hold off on the school until funds are more available the opportunity to cave in to the caterwauling of these parents who are more than willing to pay higher taxes. News flash: there is nothing stopping those in Parents in Action from stroking a check to make up the difference in their tax rates; however, the rest of us may want to see a better funding plan for a more affordable school that won’t put those same children who attend the school into decades of watching the county pay for it.

G.A. Harrison opines in his piece that District 2 Council member Stevie Prettyman is the weakest link among the four, and that over the last week there has been a “sometimes mudslinging” campaign against the four who voted to be fiscally prudent – another I spoke to agreed that the County Council is getting “hate mail.” Perhaps supporters of fiscal sanity were a little too complacent.

Of course, there is the slim chance that we are the recipient of some fiscal miracle and the county can afford this project without saddling the next generation in debt or, more importantly, raising taxes on a population which is already overburdened. Harrison suffers from one possible inaccuracy in his report, though – I believe a seven cent rise in the property tax homeowners would result in a staggering 17.5 cent per $100 increase in the personal property tax Wicomico County businesses are saddled with. Certainly local businesses can weather that increase, no problem. </sarc>

Failing that miracle, it bears noting that a County Council which bends whichever way the wind blows is also subject to a primary challenge next time around. I can guarantee you local Democrats will give no credit for voting to raise taxes in the next election and will instead use the 2014 campaign to paint County Council as the obstructionists who rode Rick Pollitt out of a job.

When the time is right, we can build Bennett Middle School – if the state has it as its priority to build schools there will be no “end of the line.” I say call their bluff and hold the line on county spending.

If you can attend the County Council meeting, by all means do so. We need to support the fiscally conservative majority and make sure they can weather the storm presented by a few malcontents who seem to think a new school will solve all our educational problems.

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