A welcome respite

The sign said Andy Harris was welcome. But how would the crowd feel?

The last time I went to an Andy Harris town hall meeting, it was a time when “Indivisible” passions ran high and the “traveling roadshow” was out in force. One successful re-election for Harris later, the group on Monday was more subdued.

My spot of activity this week didn’t allow me to get to this right away, which wasn’t the worst thing in the world. I was sort of curious to see if any of his other stops would be controversial and it doesn’t appear they made a splash in the news cycle. And speaking of news cycle, this was a familiar sight.

WBOC wasn’t the only TV station at the event, but they were set up in the lobby when I walked in.

As a matter of fact, had I chose to I could have been on TV myself (on local rival WMDT) but I just didn’t feel like I could answer their questions. My thoughts and recollections are better suited for this space.

After doing it for almost a decade, perhaps Andy has figured this town hall thing out. First of all, you couldn’t help but admire his work in getting a local veteran named George Hornsby the medals and commendations he’d been owed for over fifty years.

Something else that was different (and better) was how the questions were selected. Rather than soliciting index cards for written questions for a moderator (and leaving himself open for the charge of not answering difficult questions) each person had a number given to them and when their number was drawn, they were given the opportunity to stand up and ask their question. In a little over an hour, we got to about 15 people that I wrote down.

And I thought the questions were nicely varied, which made them a little bit difficult to categorize. As a summary and not a blow-by-blow, I think I can take a bit of editorial license and group questions into more broad categories.

The first is a sort of “role of government” track. People had concerns about the direction of the House, and were asking what he could do to assist President Trump. There was a person concerned about robocalls, another who asked about sanctuary cities, and someone else who asked about the Kavanaugh confirmation.

Regarding the direction of the House, Harris just reminded us, “everybody has a vote” each two years. It’s the worst system – except for all the rest, he continued, conceding that the voters wanted divided government. “I try to represent the district,” he added, noting his belief he’s conveying the wishes of the majority of the First District.

Unfortunately, being in the House minority means there’s “not a whole lot” he can do to help Donald Trump, a President he agrees with “90 percent of the time.” One of those cases will be his vote to sustain President Trump’s veto of the rescission of his state of emergency. “My vote will sustain his veto,” said Harris.

One reason he cited was funding for border security. “As a nation you have to control your borders,” he said. Andy also alerted us to the 90% of our heroin that comes across the southern border, not to mention the amount of fentanyl – enough to kill 9 times the population of Maryland from one particular recent seizure – that we stop.

Eventually the conversation on the border led to a question on sanctuary cities, and whether we could cut their funding. Andy told the questioner there was no statutory authority to do so, but having sanctuary cities also “creates a lack of rule of law,” which was something we needed to get back to. I also learned how Andy would handle the DREAMer situation: a “legal pathway” with permanent residency status but no citizenship unless they returned to their home country to start the process there.

All that made the concern about robocalls, which was a concern he agreed with – and even spoke to the committee chair regarding it – rather mundane. It also has an international aspect to it since most originate in foreign countries but spoof domestic numbers.

Harris also agreed the Kavanaugh confirmation was “a spectacle,” although as a member of the House he was but an observer like the rest of us. “In the end, I think the American system worked,” he added.

In a sort of peripheral way, those couple people who were concerned about environmental issues were looking at the government for help, too. One was concerned about garbage, which is a problem in, of all places, the middle of the Pacific. In that case, one of the issues was that China no longer takes our garbage. The reason? We are dirty recyclers: oftentimes the leftover products originally encased within the plastic containers are still present in enough quantity to make recycling less cost-effective. Perhaps a solution is in “waste-to-energy” or chemical recycling.

Their other concern was Bay funding, which President Trump’s budget cut from $73 million to $7 million. The Maryland delegation is working to at worst level-fund it, although if there is a continuing resolution the spending would continue as before, too.

Here Andy brought up one area where he and I part ways: stating that offshore drilling needs the permission of the state, Harris stated his opposition to not only offshore drilling, but offshore testing as well. That is a short-sighted approach, but I think opponents like him are afraid that there’s a vast supply of black gold or natural gas out there. I’m not sure why that’s something to fear, but why not do the testing anyway to verify one way or the other?

A lot of people had guns on their minds. There are “too many guns in this country,” said one questioner. But we have the Second Amendment, which makes us unique among nations.

And guns aren’t necessarily the problem, said Andy. We’re not dealing adequately with the issue in several respects:

  • The celebration of violence in video games, which was even something President Obama spoke about.
  • The lack of control of gangs and drugs. Are laws as enforced as they should be?
  • A decrease in religious observance, which you could also consider a lack of morals if you prefer. (My words, not his.)

And while Baltimore “went after their police force,” they are “allowing young lives to be destroyed” there. And as an homage to Captain Obvious, Harris said “we will never disarm non-law-abiding citizens.”

He had some unkind words about Maryland, too, noting that while the state has universal background checks, they are one of the worst states at reporting mental health issues to the federal government for those checks. Don’t do more gun laws if you’re not enforcing the ones you have, he said: for example, out of the thousands who knowingly stated falsely they didn’t commit a crime – thereby committing perjury on a federal form – only ten of those cases were prosecuted because former AG Eric Holder didn’t make it a priority.

Andy’s opposition certainly had its say, although to their credit they were reasonably non-disruptive. The only exception was a case where two people objected to Andy’s reticence to commit to an hour-long face-to-face meeting with that constituent who disagreed with Andy’s stance against Obamacare. The tension got thick when Andy was accused of anti-Semitism for meeting with a “Holocaust denier” as well as chastised for a visit to Hungary to meet with Prime Minister Victor Orban, leader of a “center-right” government. (Harris, a first-generation American whose parents fled Hungary amidst a Communist takeover, leads the Hungarian-American Caucus in Congress.) It’s “pretty repulsive to me” to be called anti-Semitic, Harris countered. But the disruptive pair were not escorted out as cooler heads prevailed.

While Harris objects to Obamacare, it should be pointed out that he’s for several reforms to Medicare Part B – specifically, the area of prescription drugs administered in a physician’s office or hospital where Andy remarked “Medicare has no leverage” to deal with increasing costs. As it stands now, these providers are allowed a 6% surcharge on top of list price reimbursement, as I understand it. (I’ll plead ignorance since I am not on Medicare.) Apparently HHS Secretary Alex Azar has a plan to revise this scheme to account for the reduced price other nations pay to allow these drugs into their market – a gatekeeping system Medicare doesn’t have. Using a weighted average of the prices charged to 12 other leading industrialized nations plus a 30 percent premium is “a pretty good compromise” according to Harris.

I suppose if the drug cost us $10, the weighted average of the 12 was $5, and the 30% premium added $1.50, yeah, there could be some savings. Of course, I have no idea about the actual numbers.

(It should also be mentioned that opioid addiction was brought up in the meeting. His opinion: “It will take a long time to fix,” because the problem isn’t just drug companies or overly aggressive doctors. But no one ever did any studies on how addictive these painkillers could be until much more recently.)

A more significant part of the time was spent by Andy explaining his opposition to H.R. 1, the (so-called) For The People Act. “What part did you object to?” he was asked, answering “why not (send up the provisions) one at a time?” rather than a 400-page bill that’s been amended several times. “We have to stop doing bills like this,” he continued, holding up a copy of the bill that takes up half or more of a ream of paper.

“Really, it’s an incumbent protection plan,” Harris added, and while in that respect he theoretically should favor it, his primary complaint on it was that “it tells states how to conduct their elections.” He wasn’t in favor of public financing of elections and had a problem with its oversight provisions, such as voting in other states (as a former opponent of his was caught doing.)

Yet a GOP amendment making “ballot harvesting” illegal was defeated – its main flaw is allowing anyone to bring in ballots, rather than specifically a family member or guardian. I personally see it as a chain of custody issue, and ironically the same technique that turned the tide in several California House races was the reason North Carolina voters in their Ninth District have an upcoming “do-over” in their race, won on election night in 2018 by a Republican. Ballot harvesting is illegal in North Carolina, precisely because of those chain of custody issues.

One last thing I’ll bring up is the charge Andy often receives about not having empathy or sympathy. “I take care of patients!” he replied. His job is to pay attention and read the bills, and when it comes to health care it’s to maintain coverage of pre-existing conditions and keep insurance affordable. Personally, I just think there are too many people who equate big government with empathy or sympathy but would object to a faith-based solution because it’s “pushing their religion on people.” To those whose god is government, perhaps I’m tired of you pushing your religion on the rest of us. I’d just like to render unto Caesar only what is supposed to be his and not all of my freedom, too.

But a nice lady had her number called shortly after this and told the audience she had dealt with Congressman Harris’s office regarding her mesh implants and thanking him for helping her with the issue. It’s one where the public and physician databases need to be better integrated so that doctors can be better informed with real-time reporting and analysis. “Sunlight solves a lot of problems,” said Andy.

We also talked about suicide, which was a byproduct of the same culture that’s led to so much gun violence. In a nation founded on religious principles, it’s no surprise to me that being religious cuts the risk of suicide in half – at least that’s what Harris claimed. “If we abandon religion, we abandon some of those (founding) principles,” Harris remarked.

I’m certain there were those agnostics in the room who scoffed at that assertion. “There’s a separation of church and state!” they thunder, and if there could be a border wall built between the two that’s a wall they would support 200 percent and have that sucker built a mile high and twice as deep, halfway to God or Gaia or who/whatever they believe in.

In a letter from John Adams to officers in the Massachusetts militia (October 11, 1798) our second President remarked as a close to a longer point, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” If you presume that “any other” is the irreligious lot we have now, Adams was probably right and, as a group, they tend to be the ones who want to revamp our founding document.

But I get the idea that our Constitution was Divinely inspired, and as such I like to see us hew to it as best we can. While it does need some modern-day tweaking, including a pruning of the amendments ratified in 1913, the Constitution can continue to serve us well if lawmakers just remember their oath to defend it. I think Andy Harris does a reasonable job of that and I’m glad he stopped by.

There’s something about Andy…

It has now made national news that the townhall meeting held by Andy Harris up at Chesapeake College turned into a loud protest brought on by the local, so-called “Indivisible” groups. (Even more amusing is their reaction when Harris called out one woman who continued to be disruptive. It’s from a page called “Shareblue” which is trying to be the Breitbart of the regressive Left.) Now I have attended Harris townhalls in the past (here are three examples; unfortunately two of them no longer have the photos) and they have often began with PowerPoint presentations – this is nothing new. But it seemed like the fringe Left wanted blood, so they reacted accordingly.

In some other forum I made the point that we never get to hear from the other side. Maybe I just don’t find out about it because I’m not on the radical left e-mail list, but it seems to me that our Senators rarely hold townhall meetings and when they do they are in politically safe (for them) areas like Silver Spring.

Yet the argument from the Left is that they are simply doing what members of the TEA Party did during the initial Obamacare debate in 2009. (The “Indivisible” crowd claims to be using the same tactics the TEA Party did.) I will grant the TEA Party stepped out of bounds on a few occasions – one case in point was this protest* in front of then-Congressman Frank Kratovil’s Salisbury office in July of 2009 that I covered (which remains one of the most commented-upon posts I’ve ever done here) – but when it came to a townhall setting, yes, we showed our passion. In comparison to the new alt-Left, though, we were well-behaved.

Then again, local conservatives have had to put up with disruptions from the Left for awhile so perhaps this isn’t a new phenomenon.

As evidence of the difference, I attended a meeting set up by Senator Cardin in August of 2009. It wasn’t initially intended as a true townhall meeting because its target audience was seniors, but a few of those in the local TEA Party (including me) managed to secure tickets – the 100 or so there could have easily been double or triple if the room were set to accommodate them. This explains how the meeting came to be:

Originally the meeting was set up back in March and wasn’t intended to be a town hall; however, once the health care controversy blew up this became a hot ticket. The intention was to get the perspective of residents who are over 50 and live on the Lower Shore, and the ground rules were pretty strict. There would be no questions during Senator Cardin’s presentation, the ratio would be one question for a GraySHORE member for each one from a non-member, and questions would have a 30-second limit.

In the welcoming remarks, it was noted that the state as a whole is getting younger but the Eastern Shore is aging. While the state is a “net exporter of seniors” at least 7 of the 9 Shore counties are net importers. We are also older and poorer than the state at-large. The idea behind GraySHORE was to brief elected officials with policy recommendations.

Something I found intriguing was the mention of Senator Cardin’s career. He has been our Senator since 2007, but served in Congress since 1987 and was a member of Maryland’s General Assembly for almost two decades before that – he was first elected in 1966. Basically, Senator Cardin fits the definition of a professional politician and I thought that was worth mentioning before I got too far.

When Senator Cardin came up, he noted that he was skipping the slide show to get to the questions. He also commented that this size group was a “manageable” group for dialogue.

As he had on prior occasions, the Senator couched the health care question as one of “what happens if we do nothing?” Health care costs were rising faster than income and would double in the next decade. As well, Cardin gave that mythical 46 million uninsured figure as part of his case and claimed that it cost each of us “an extra $11,000 per year to pay for (those not covered).”

The idea behind reform was to bring down costs through wellness and prevention and through better recordkeeping, while creating individual and employer mandates through the bill. It would provide a “level playing field” for private insurers and remove the caps on coverage, but above all reform “must reduce costs and be paid for.” Cardin compared the idea to Medicare, which has worked “extremely well” over its lifespan and was put into place because insurers wouldn’t cover the elderly or disabled. (Emphasis added for this post.)

It should also be pointed out that most of the TEA Party objections centered on policy and not necessarily personality. Bear in mind that the first TEA Party protests were over the stimulus proposal because the bill that eventually came to be known as Obamacare (which used as its shell a bill passed in the House but completely gutted by the Senate in order to satisfy the Constitutional requirement that bills dealing with revenue had to come from the House – a legislative sleight-of-hand if there ever was one) hadn’t been introduced yet. That came later on in the summer. So at the time this was done there were a number of competing bills for the Senate to consider.

And did the TEA Party raise a ruckus over that summer? Certainly, and they asked a lot of questions. But listen to how this went down. My guess is that the context of this video is one where it was taken after some townhall event or other public appearance by Kratovil. The questions are certainly pointed, but the key is that the audience is listening to Frank’s side of the story. They may not believe it, but they are being respectful. Now imagine if the lot at Chesapeake College were to be in that same situation with Harris – I doubt Andy would get a word in edgewise.

In truth, I think the “Indivisible” group would have began no matter which Republican secured the nomination and won the election – out of the field of contenders for the 2016 GOP nomination Donald Trump was probably the second-most philosophically close to the left (with onetime New York governor George Pataki, a pro-choice Republican, the only one being closer.) Remember, Trump is the one that added the “replace” to repeal of Obamacare.

I will grant that several of Trump’s Cabinet choices are relatively conservative, but for the most part they are also outsiders and I think he was looking more for that aspect of “draining the swamp” by intentionally selecting people outside the Beltway axis than selecting those who are for rightsizing government. But the leftists would likely be out in some force for John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, et. al. – just not to this extent. About the only two 2016 aspirants who would have attracted as much ire as Trump would have been Ted Cruz (because he would have governed from a truly conservative philosophy) and Scott Walker (based on what happened in Wisconsin.) Maybe Bobby Jindal would have been a third.

But here’s a message for those who believe Andy Harris can be toppled in 2018: Go ahead and nominate the most radical leftist you want to Congress, and you will watch Harris spank him or her by 20 to 25 points. Thanks to your favorite former governor, this district basically has the bulk of Republicans in Maryland and considering Andy had almost 80% of the primary vote (over a candidate with legislative experience, a previously unsuccessful candidate, and one other “regular” person) I don’t think you will get too far.

And I know you will point to Frank Kratovil’s 2008 victory over Harris as proof a Democrat can win here but bear in mind that the redrawn district took away the portion of Anne Arundel County Harris won by about 3,000 votes and added Carroll County, where Republican Roscoe Bartlett won by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, or 25,000 votes. Even though the First District doesn’t take in all of Carroll County, I think that with the post-2010 First District Harris would have won in 2008 with over 50% of the vote.

Your caterwauling doesn’t help your cause. And if you want to use the TEA Party as your measuring stick, it’s worth noting that their success was really fairly limited insofar as national electoral results go. The problem with those on the far Left is that they are trying to sell the same stuff that didn’t work for their other “answers” to the TEA Party like the Coffee Party, Occupy Wall Street, and so forth, and most Americans don’t buy it. They wanted repeal without replacement, immigration laws to be followed and the border secured, regulatory agencies reined in, and – most especially – they didn’t want a third Obama term via Hillary Clinton.

Of all the things that fuel the Indivisible movement, they can’t get over the fact that under the rules in place Hillary lost despite getting more votes. Well, to borrow a phrase from another liberal movement, it’s time for you all to move on.


*As longtime readers know, many of my photo archives were lost with the demise of an Adobe website where I used to link to them rather than place them on my website server – at the time my storage there was limited. In a stroke of remarkable fortune, this Kratovil protest piece was on the front page of my site when the Wayback Machine did its occasional archive so I recovered these photos earlier today – the post is once again complete and coherent.

Harris slates Fruitland townhall for Tuesday

Unlike many of his counterparts, our Congressman Andy Harris is holding another town hall meeting during the “District Work Period.” His announcement was simple:

Dear Michael,

I’m hosting a town hall event in Fruitland on Tuesday to let you know about the work I’m doing in Washington and answer questions you may have about important issues like Obamacare, immigration, the NSA, government spending, and jobs. The event will be at Black Diamond Catering and Lodge (219 S Fruitland Blvd) starting at 5:30 PM.

I hope to see you on Tuesday!

Whether I’ll be able to make that early time depends a lot on how my outside job goes. But among the laundry list of items he cites, the NSA jumps out at me. Andy was one of those who voted for the Amash amendment, which was intended to curb the NSA and their domestic spying program. Of all the issues facing the nation in this session of Congress, that may have split the body most as far-left liberals rubbed shoulders with TEA Party conservatives in supporting Justin Amash.

So as long as no one in a chicken suit shows, things should be heated similarly to his Bel Air townhall. It will be interesting to see what media shows up, won’t it?

Harris slates townhall meeting

Sure, it’s kind of short notice and perhaps not the best time of day for us working folks but Congressman Andy Harris has scheduled a townhall meeting for tomorrow afternoon (Tuesday) from 4 to 5 p.m. at Adam’s Ribs in Fruitland.

Certainly there are a lot of topics which could be brought up – and it will be interesting to see if the moveon.org crowd or someone in a chicken suit shows up. But I’d like to hear what Harris has to say about getting the nanny state off our back. I understand that not a whole lot can be done while Democrats rule the roost in the White House and Senate, but there can be a number of opportunities for positive change in appropriations bills which have yet to be passed. We need to stay on the offensive.

But all in all I believe those of us who believe in the right things locally ought to come out and give our Congressman a show of support. Those few cranks protesting his office or donning a chicken suit aren’t the majority in this district or even this town – those who work hard to make a living despite the obstacles thrown up by government are. We just need not be silent or silenced.

Oh, and one more thing: it’s nice to see that our Congressman likes to show up in person for these townhall meetings. A phone call is so impersonal.

Andy’s Salisbury townhall

Finally, I get a chance to reflect on Monday’s townhall meeting with a suitable multimedia presentation.

On Monday our Congressman, Andy Harris, culminated a day spent on the Lower Shore with a public townhall meeting at Chef Fred’s in Salisbury. Several dozen constituents took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions of Andy and otherwise say their piece.

His presentation began with a PowerPoint show which illustrated his main point of the evening: we have been “misled” for 20 to 30 years financially. Slides that showed the “reckless spending spree,” “tidal wave of debt,” “what drives our debt?,” and a comparison between the state we currently find ourselves in and the one in Greece before the EU bailout dominated his early remarks. One particularly interesting (and troubling) statistic: the foreign ownership that was just 5% back in 1970 is now 47 percent, with China the largest holder.

Against that stark backdrop, Harris told the group the aim of the House was to bring that debt under control. We “can’t be competitive with that amount of foreign debt,” he added. Their three-pronged approach was to trim spending without raising taxes – “increasing taxes is not the solution,” Andy said – and cutting regulation to “common sense” levels.

However, those cuts couldn’t just slash entitlement programs. “We have to establish a Social Security and Medicare system that’s viable,” stated Andy.

This took about the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the meeting. Most of the next two hours were spent answering questions on a number of subjects: among them the Federal Reserve, jobs and the economy, education, the PATRIOT Act, the Fourteenth Amendment, energy policy, and Medicare.

Perhaps my favorite question of the group was the one on education, which was asked as part of a soliloquy from a local teacher. It was a story from the front lines that lamented the amount of regulation placed on teachers, and Harris agreed that there was no federal role necessary in education.

I also thought Andy’s view on foreign aid was valid – we should require a country-by-country vote on foreign aid. This was friendly allies would be rewarded while those who oppose us would be first in line for cuts. Among those Harris favored retaining at least the present amount of aid for was Israel, our “staunchest ally” in the Middle East.

Andy also had a long explanation of his beliefs on the PATRIOT Act, a question asked by fellow blogger Julie Brewington of Right Coast. The process of resolving the act was “complicated” because of provisions which expired at different times and being of the belief that some parts of the PATRIOT Act were useful.

Of course, I asked a question, too. In short, what is wrong with the leadership?

Andy also revealed he’s a co-sponsor of a bill to clarify the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t apply to “anchor babies,” which makes sense because the parents aren’t under our jurisdiction as non-citizens.

Quite a bit of the discussion focused on government health care.

As a medical practicioner, Andy eaasily explained some of the factors which allowed drug companies to sell drugs cheaply to Canadians as opposed to here in America. Technically, purchasing drugs from Canada enables drug companies to flout Canadian law, but the reason drugs are cheaper there is the formulary they use – in other words, their selection is far less than ours. Later, there was a question about Medicare doctor reimbursements where Andy made the point that cutting the payments to doctors was a form of “backdoor rationing” because limiting Medicare payments to doctors forced them to stop accepting Medicare patients. (How many people would willingly take a 30 percent pay cut for doing the same amount of work? That’s what they are asking doctors to do, as I understand it.) A more desirable effect could be had by increasing competition between insurance companies, Andy concluded.

There was a questioner who asked about the cuts to job services, but Andy reminded her that there were 47 programs out there which still had $1.5 billion to spend this fiscal year. Meanwhile, due to overregulation, the poultry industry was “on the brink of leaving the country.” We have the workforce to bring light manufacturing to the area, but needed to have a government which would allow businesses to thrive.

Term limits? Andy is a co-sponsor of a term limits bill. I also recall in 2008 he said he’d serve no more than 12 years.

NASA was a good program, but in a time of limited budget flexibility they needed to prioritize their missions.

“Energy independence has to be one of our top priorities,” opined Andy. I couldn’t agree more. He pointed out the Marcellus Shale formation under portions of Maryland and other neighboring states as a key untapped resource.

But, it can’t be an Andy Harris event without somebody protesting, whether in a chicken suit or not.

Mike Calpino, the Libertarian candidate for a County Council seat last year, mildly protested the direction the two principal parties had led the country by holding this sign out front before the event. However, no one disrupted the proceedings inside. Aside from an admitted RINO who thought the Republican Party needed to jettison its right wing, the dialogue was relatively friendly.

Two final quotes from the meeting:

Referring to our financial situation: “(There is) an unwillingness in Washington to face the music.”

“My philosophy is, that if we reduce the size of government, we free up capital and our American entrepreneurship to create jobs and business, to be the best in the world.” That was a reply to the self-described RINO.

Needless to say, the Congressman encourages input from constituents. His district office is downtown at 212 W. Main Street, right inside the Gallery Building.

Another Giffords attack casualty: the town hall meeting?

I was told by the editors this was a good article but there’s no room at the inn over at PJM this week, so you get this in its entirety. It happens to the best of us.

Most pundits look at the voting records when comparing the performance of individual members of Congress, but a less-noticed aspect of their job description comes in the area of constituent service and interaction. To many, a good public servant in Washington doesn’t just bring home the bacon but answers that Social Security question for Grandma or gets the neighbor’s son into one of the military academies.

As part of that service, many members of Congress hold public interactions with the residents of their district. It was at one of these meetings she dubbed “Congress On Your Corner” where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot by a crazed assailant, Jared Loughner. Ironically enough, the attack, which killed six bystanders including a nine-year old girl born on September 11th and a federal judge, occurred in front of a Safeway supermarket.

There’s no question that the shooting has prompted even more heated discussion on the already hot topic of our national political discourse – blaming Sarah Palin, who was half a country away at the time of the incident, for having a hand in the attack proves this point – but perhaps the more chilling lasting effect will be to further close off our Congress from public interaction during the period when Washington is out of session. While the complaints of their voting public prompted many Democratic Congress members to eschew the usual round of summertime meetings or make them telephone-only, the threat of violence may cast a pall over the summer schedule this year. Being hung in effigy is one thing but getting shot is completely another.

Yet there are attempts to maintain the format in several areas, such as this Philadelphia television station or a Virginia state senator who changed his session from a telephone town hall to an in-person one in defiance of the Giffords shooting. The question, of course, is whether these will be exceptions to the rule.

Common sense would dictate, if and when a robust schedule of townhall meetings is resumed, that security measures will be stepped up with more of a law enforcement presence. This leads to the question of whether those who get angry and passionate about their pet issues will be discouraged from speaking up with the long arm of the law looking on. Since the TEA Party is continually miscast as a group of violent extremists – witness the quickly-formed bandwagon blaming the Giffords shooting on a member of the radical right wing – tolerance for perceived misbehavior at any such gatherings will be limited.

But the argument against any sort of crackdown is strong. Even in the midst of an anger-filled mob back in March when the health care bill was being passed and a number of Congressmen walked amidst the protesters in front of the Capitol, the worst incidents which (allegedly) occurred were verbal attacks on particular members who were the victims of flying spittle. Obviously at that moment a Jared Loughner in that crowd could have mowed down any number of elected officials and bystanders before Capitol police would have arrived for assistance.

Instead, we the people can look for an increase in those scripted, press-friendly events where the message can be controlled and interaction limited. Members of Congress may instead argue that their constituents are able to communicate easily with their staffers via e-mail or telephone and that they can have their concerns answered outside of a face-to-face meeting. That is, of course, if you don’t call into a voice mailbox that’s full, which happens quite often during those times one would most like to interact. And if you’ve had my personal experience with e-mailing my Congressman it’s likely you can expect a form letter in response well after the vote has been taken or the issue is moot.

Whether you favored Gabrielle Giffords’ voting record or not, by many accounts she was a stickler for constituent service. That fact may have turned the tide in her favor in November despite running as a Blue Dog Democrat who voted in favor of Obamacare but later voted not to keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House – she instead voted for Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Giffords only eked out a victory over Republican Jesse Kelly by 3,641 votes out of over 270,000 cast.

And whether you had that concern with Social Security payments, wanted to debate the health care issue, or was a neophyte politician who was just elected to her student council and sought to know more about the political world – as was the case with Christina-Taylor Green, the nine-year-old Tuscon shooting victim – the fact remains that the ability to speak in person with their representative in Washington face-to-face is a cornerstone of our republic. In Giffords’ situation, only the most extreme and draconian safety measures may have saved the victims, but they may also have served as an intimidating factor to those who simply wished to make their views known to her on a one-to-one basis.

While we generally identify with only our own era of history, it’s understood that political discourse has always been passionate and on four occasions our leaders have been slain by a madman’s bullets. But it’s a republic we remain, and we can’t allow the tragedy of Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting to place our government and its representatives farther from the people.

MDGOP townhall meeting April 5th


Take Back Washington and Annapolis Town Hall Meeting


Monday, April 5th


Doors Open at 6:15pm


Wicomico County Youth & Civic Center

Danang Room

500 Glen Avenue

Salisbury, MD

This event is free and open to the public. If you plan to attend please email

Kim Jorns at kjorns@mdgop.org


Democrat Leadership in both Annapolis and Washington continue to tune out the people of Maryland. Frustrations are growing!


Join us for the opportunity to discuss the current state of Maryland and the Nation with
Audrey Scott, Chairman of the Maryland Republican Party.


Chairman Scott will discuss what the MDGOP is doing to put a stop to one-party rule in Annapolis and Washington and she will
LISTEN to your ideas, needs and concerns.


We hope you will join us for this open dialogue!



Authority: Maryland Republican Party, R. Christopher Rosenthal, Treasurer. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate committee.


Of course, I plan on being there to cover the event, which is one of several being planned statewide that week.

Observations on the Conway-Mathias townhall meeting

Even with a camera-shy person, the attendance on Saturday wasn't half-bad for this townhall meeting.

On Saturday I was joined by about two dozen others – among them seemingly half the local blogger community – who wanted to pepper local Delegates Norm Conway and Jim Mathias of District 38B with questions about the direction this state is going and just what they would do to send it in the proper direction. At times this was a very contentious meeting when the questions began to be asked.

First they were introduced by Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton.

Fellow Democrat and Salisbury mayor Jim Ireton introduced the pair and pitched a new downtown library while he was at it.

Part of his introduction was an appeal to keep the library downtown, but as for Conway and Mathias Mayor Ireton noted that, “one of the reasons I support them is that they don’t vote no for the sake of voting no and they don’t vote yes for the sake of voting yes.”

Mathias began his presentation by stating “I’m just like you in many ways,” pointing out he had been a businessman, vetoed two budgets as mayor of Ocean City, and argued about increasing fees. Along with us, he felt that the state “should have a dependable budget” and asserted that he’d “stand up and take responsibility for the good things we’ve done and the tough things we’ve done.”

Jim seemed very defensive throughout the presentation, and speaking on the budget remarked that “we thought we’d close the (budget) gap (in 2007)…but we didn’t know the ‘great recession’ was on the way.” He made it clear that there were “a thousand sets of fingerprints to blame” so we needed “a thousand sets of hands to lift us up.”

Noting that much of the industry which had once been the backbone of the Shore – companies like Campbell Soup and Dresser – had abandoned the area, those entities which had taken their place like Salisbury University, Wor-Wic College, and Peninsula Regional Medical Center helped take up some of the slack but our number one industry remains agriculture. On that note, Mathias pled the case that they “tried very hard to get building permits for the chicken houses.”

District 38B Delegates Jim Mathias (left) and Norm Conway listen and interact with their constituents at a town hall meeting held February 20, 2010.

Unlike Mathias, who sat throughout the meeting, Norm Conway stood up to give his remarks.

One thing I didn’t know about Conway is that he’d been an elected official since 1970, beginning with the Central Committee and graduating to Salisbury City Council in 1974 before running and winning his current post in 1986. He recounted some of the mentors who had led him into his lifetime of public service as a teacher, school official, and political officeholder.

As a committee head in the General Assembly, he “tried to build alliances…build bridges” as Norm reminded those assembled that the sum total of the Eastern Shore delegation was 13 – 10 House members and three Senators. (Seems like it should be 12 because there are only three Eastern Shore districts – 36, 37, and 38. Point is we have a small delegation.)

Certainly those in attendance had known that Maryland “had some rough times over the last 2 or 3 years” as “revenues dropped off a cliff.” In the last year the Board of Public Works had chopped $1 billion out of the budget – it had been in balance at sine die of the General Assembly last April but once the fiscal year started July 1 things were already behind.

Norm observed, however, that revenues may be finally leveling off. His anecdotal basis of that claim was seeing more people shopping and in restaurants over the last few months, and to him that was “clear evidence” of a recovery.

But now the General Fund budget being debated was less than that approved for FY07 four years ago thanks to the shrinking revenues. Yet the untouchable area has been K-12 education and it was only this year the tuition freeze had been shelved, after three years of no change.

Delegate Norm Conway addresses the voters at a townhall meeting held in Salisbury on February 20, 2010.

As for the actual budget process, this year it was the Senate’s turn to begin the budget process (it alternates yearly between the Senate and House of Delegates.) Conway predicted the budget would be on the floor by the second week of March. One lament Conway had was the difficulty of maintaining funding for roads because once that area was cut it was “tough to catch up.” Yet we had to balance the budget and create jobs since Maryland’s 7.5% unemployment rate, while well below the national average because of the insulation of federal jobs, was still at a “high water mark.”

So far the meeting had gone fairly smoothly and people had listened attentively. Then the questions began.

Local Americans for Prosperity co-chair Joe Collins got the ball rolling by pointing out the examples of Dresser leaving and the Evolution microbrewery deciding to locate just across the state line in Delaware (after considering a downtown Salisbury location) and asking what can they do for the business community?

Mathias, who reminded us he was on the Economic Matters Committee, told us that part of the issue was local regulation. But he and Conway had urged a reduction in regulations, and Mathias called the poultry industry regulations “overbearing.” Jim also called it “embarrassing” that a permit for a fishing pier desired by a local businessman had languished for two years – that owner “should have had it in his hand by now.”

The former mayor also made the complaint that “as mayor, I was closer to a one phone call fix” but the state is a “matrix.” The only group which stays long-term is the bureaucracy.

Collins interjected that it sounded like Mathias was “making the case for less government.” Jim agreed that there was a need for incentives, less regulations, and more opportunity.

Delegate Conway spoke his piece, talking about how the poultry industry could be gone in a decade if things continue on their path, but bringing up the point that he has to work with other members and “help them.” But as head of the Appropriations Committee, “I do” use that as a weapon against the Maryland Department of the Environment in an effort to help local poultry farmers.

So when it was asked what they were doing to get rid of the bureaucracy, Conway pointed out that 400 vacant positions had been eliminated this fiscal year – but that may not be permanent.

Delegate Mathias then pointed out that, “bureaucracy is not just numbers…every business needs to have trained people.” Yet the government will have to continue to shrink, added Jim. Earlier this decade, we were largely in the ‘roaring Twenties’ of the 21st century.

Local businesswoman Sally Jones then asked about unemployment insurance, noting how much it affected her business.

The problem, responded Mathias, was that businesses were moving to a higher table on the unemployment scale and that raises their premiums. One change last year was adding part-time workers to the rolls, a move the Chamber of Commerce supported but Jim opposed (as did I.) But Jim also couched it as an issue between big business (like Wal-Mart, as Jim naturally mentioned) against small business and the NFIB.

Yet I happen to know there’s also a federal impact, as the bailout being proposed comes with strings attached. With Maryland’s fund in peril, the state is looking for an infusion of federal cash but in order to get it they have to “reform” their system (after just doing so five years ago.)

At that point, a questioner asked about illegal immigrants and the fiscal impact they have on our state, but neither Delegate was aware of a financial number and Mathias “doubt(s) my committee” has ever asked for one. Remember, Maryland is well known as a sanctuary state and is adopting a two-tier driver’s license system just for them. (That was a contentious bill, and many Delegates – including Conway and Mathias – asked their name by withdrawn as co-sponsors after numerous changes were made to gut that bill.)

Shifting gears, fellow blogger Joe Albero asked about the death penalty in the wake of the Foxwell case. Conway expressed his support for the death penalty but voted to weaken it in order to make sure it stayed on the books, noting wistfully “they have it where they want it” for now. He’s working on a bill to be heard tomorrow which would add scientific evidence to the criteria where the death penalty can be sought. Delegate Mathias chimed in that there “will be improvements” to sex offender laws and echoed Conway’s support for capital punishment.

Another fellow blogger (and the other AFP local co-chair), Julie Brewington, asked about the gas tax and why so much of it goes to public transit. Mathias said that he wouldn’t support an increase but also countered that “we all know we have to make that contribution” and perhaps change the funding mechanism for fixing roads as cars get more efficient. After our economy finally recovers, this will be “a different country than we know.” (He also had a sidebar about the one staunch Republican who supported Obama’s stimulus plan – that man runs a paving company.)

But here was a case of the quid pro quo which permeates Maryland politics. Delegate Mathias recounted his first votes, which were to override vetoes by Governor Ehrlich of various Baltimore City and County issues. He was going to sit them out (since he never voted on the original legislation) but was reminded by Norm Conway that the items he liked getting as mayor of Ocean City had to have the approval of Baltimore-area legislators to be done. In this case, they support the public transit predominant on the other side of the Bay as a trade-off for things we need.

One item that Conway said has been proposed in the past and could be revisited to address transportation would be a regional sales tax.

Johnnie Miller, a proponent of energy legislation, wondered why renewable energy bills pass the House easily but die in the Senate Finance Committee. He pointed out Delaware is way ahead of us in that area. More interesting was the fact he and fellow advocate John Palmer had written the draft of legislation to be introduced this year (they were only awaiting the legal language to be set) for energy policy.

To address the question, Delegate Mathias pointed out these bills generally come with a “strong fiscal note” which seems to scare off support. (Tellingly he also said, “maybe one day I’ll be on the Senate Finance Committee.” File that under “worst-kept secret.”)

This touched off a long and sort of meandering discussion which eventually returned to jobs and development. While it was pointed out (properly) that renewable energy was only made competitive when subsidized by the government and certain interests were more focused on rent-seeking than energy policy, the philosopical question was asked “how is it that government ever thought they could create development?” To that, Delegate Conway replied that there were a number of public-private projects under discussion but when pressed couldn’t name any local examples.

Delegate Mathias attempted to bail Conway out by postulating that even with the increasing amount of real property now owned by government (such as the ever-expanding Salisbury University and even the newly-purchased Pollitt’s Folly parking lot for the Civic Center) there are still jobs and disposable income being created by them. With all due respect, Delegate Mathias, at what cost to us? (I used that term because Delegate Mathias used it often.)

This is basically how it ended, since the time allotted for the meeting room was only two hours and it was booked for another group. I didn’t get a chance to ask my question, but did say my piece to Delegate Conway about the increasing proportion of the state budget comprised from federal dollars. To him, it was just our money coming back to us but that doesn’t address the philosophical difference I have that the money belongs to us in the first place and all that having a middleman does is keep some pencil-pusher (who may or may not live in Maryland) employed.

There was also a comment made by a guy whose name I didn’t catch which, to sum up, said that we should watch the Delegates in action before being overly critical. Come to Annapolis and watch them work on a Monday night or some other time during the week, he said.

That’s all well and good for a lobbyist or perhaps CASA de Maryland, but most working people in far-flung regions of the state don’t have the time to drive up to Annapolis and watch the legislature grind its sausage. We count on them to do what’s right and what’s proper in being stewards of our taxpayer money.

Instead we get “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” politics, trading favors at the expense of the taxpayer. So much for “One Maryland.”