A look ahead: 2017

Last year I did this in three parts, but to me that may be overkill this time around. Consider that 2017 is not an election year, so if anything we will not see much on that front until the latter stages of the year as the campaigns for 2018’s state elections ramp up. And because all but one of our local officials are first-term representatives in their respective offices, it’s likely they will wish to continue in office. Bear in mind, though, on the Senate side longtime House member Addie Eckardt will be 75 and Jim Mathias (who is in his second term as Senator after one-plus in the House) will be 67 by the time the next election comes around, so they are likely closer to the end of their lengthy political careers than to the beginning. And thanks to Wicomico County voters who passed the referendum this past November, 2017 will be the year we formally set up the elections which will net the county its first fully-elected Board of Education in late 2018.

Speaking of the local BOE, we still have an appointed board until that election and the two members whose terms expire this year are both Democrats who are term-limited. I suspect the local Democrats will try and send up names of people who will run for seats in 2018 to gain that incumbency advantage – as envisioned, though, these will be non-partisan elections. And the final say goes to the state Secretary of Appointments, who over the years hasn’t always been kind to those we preferred, either. Or, conversely, since the incumbents serve until their successors are appointed, we may see a long stalling technique, too. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, but I’ll bet those who are appointed will use that tenure as a springboard for eventual election.

Elsewhere in Wicomico County as 2016 comes to an end, it appears the city of Salisbury and Wicomico County are working out their issues rather well. The biggest sticking point remains fire service, and it’s relatively likely the city is going to see more of a reimbursement from the county when it comes to that – perhaps to the tune of up to $2 million a year. It’s possible there may be something to cut to make up for this, but as the county has increased its debt in the last few years to build several schools it leaves less room for spending cuts to make up the difference. If the city receives $2 million annually that would equate to about a 3 or 4 cent property tax increase for county residents. There’s also the chance that a tax differential or rebate may be on the table in order to reimburse city residents, as they pay the same tax rate as county residents. Wicomico is one of only three counties in the state that choose not to provide a tax differential to their municipalities.

But there is another factor to consider. Back in June the number of people working in Wicomico County set an all-time high of 52,010, eclipsing a mark that had stood for nearly a decade (July 2006.) That record lasted a month, as July came in at 53,668. While the number of jobs has finally reached where we were a decade ago, bear in mind the labor force is about 1,000 larger – so unemployment is in the 5.5% range rather than 4%. Even so, that extra number of people working – a number which year-over-year between 2015 and 2016 has fluctuated quite a bit but usually comes in at 1,000 or more additional workers in 2016 – means there’s more revenue to the county from income taxes so paying the city of Salisbury may not be such a heavy lift. The question for 2017 will be whether these economic conditions continue and whether Wicomico County will want to spend every “extra” dime on items which are unsustainable in rougher economic times.

That same question goes for the state, but the trend there has been for more spending. Democrats in the General Assembly added millions in mandated spending to the state budget and it’s a sure bet they will try again this year. Add to that the general belief that year 3 of a Maryland political cycle sees the most ambitious agenda put forth – it’s time for those incumbents to bring home the bacon and burnish their re-election chances the next year – and you can bet that paid sick leave will pass, Radical Green will have its day (perhaps with a fracking ban, which would devastate Western Maryland), and any Hogan veto will be promptly overridden. It’s certain that they will leave enough time in passing these controversial bills to do so. We’ve already seen battle lines drawn with the counter-proposal from Governor Hogan on paid sick leave and the social media-fueled drive to repeal the “Road Kill Bill” that Democrats passed over Governor Hogan’s veto in the spring of this year.

The wild card in state politics, though, comes from national politics. It’s not because we had the well-publicized answer to an extremely nosy press – if only they paid as much attention to some of Martin O’Malley’s foibles and scandals! – that Larry Hogan wasn’t going to support his (nominally at best) fellow Republican Donald Trump, but the idea that Donald Trump may actually do something to cut the size and scope of government. (Military contractors, particularly, have reason to worry.) And because Maryland’s economy is so dependent on the federal government, to a shocking and sickening degree, we know that if Trump begins to make cuts it will hurt Maryland the most. Given the typical bureaucrat CYA perspective, it explains perfectly why four of the five jurisdictions Trump did worst in – the only five which came in below his 35% statewide total – were the four counties closest to the District of Columbia (MoCo, PG, Charles, and Howard. Baltimore City was the fifth.) While I am entirely a skeptic on this, there seems to be the belief that Trump will take a meat cleaver to the budget and thousands of federal and contract workers will be cast aside because of it.

And in a situation where revenues are already coming up short of forecast, a recession in the state’s biggest jurisdictions, coupled with the mandated spending Democrats keep pushing through, will make it really, really difficult on Larry Hogan going into 2018. You will be able to judge who has the most ambition to be Governor by who carps the longest about these cuts.

While the Dow Jones stalled this week in an effort to breach the 20,000 mark by year’s end, the rise in the markets echoes consumer optimism – even as fourth quarter GDP forecasts turned a little bearish, consumers still feel a little better about the state of our economy. If we can get the 4% GDP growth Donald Trump promised we may see some of these fiscal crises take care of themselves.

Yet there was also a sentiment in 2016 that the world was going mad: consider all the terror attacks, the seemingly unusual number of and extended shock over high-profile celebrity deaths, and a general turning away from that which was considered moral and proper to that which fell under the realm of political correctness, wasn’t a “trigger” and didn’t violate the “safe spaces” of the Millennial “snowflakes.” (I can’t resist linking to this one I wrote for The Patriot Post.) At some point the pendulum swings back the other way, but in most cases that takes a life-changing event like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. I’d prefer a much softer transition but a transition nonetheless.

As I see it, the key word for 2017 will be leadership: if the current elected officials and new President have it and use it wisely to the benefit of our county, state, and nation “so help me God” things will be okay. If not, well, we’ve seen that movie for about eight or ten years already and we will continue to slouch toward Gomorrah.

A potential power grab?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A nation divided against itself cannot stand.

The right idea but with the wrong approach

September 4, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on The right idea but with the wrong approach 

I find the controversy over Governor Hogan’s executive order mandating that Maryland public schools begin classes after Labor Day and wrap up by the following June 15 to be a good opportunity for commentary, so I decided to add my couple pennies.

First of all, this isn’t a new idea. In 2015 and 2016 legislation was introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to create a similar mandate. As proof of how Annapolis works, the 2015 versions only got House and Senate hearings but the 2016 versions picked up the remaining local House delegation as sponsors (only Delegates Mary Beth Carozza and Charles Otto were local co-sponsors in 2015) and got a Senate committee vote. (It failed on a 5-5 tie, with one of the Republicans on the committee being excused. The other two voted in favor.) There was a chance this legislation may have made it through in 2017, but apparently Hogan was unwilling to take the risk. He took the opportunity to make a news event at a perfect time – when most local districts were already a week or two into school, Larry announced this from the Ocean City boardwalk on a pleasant beach day – and showed he was willing to stand up for one of his principles, that being improving opportunities for small business. (At a minimum, with Hogan’s edict kids are off for 11 weeks for summer vacation.)

In reality, what Hogan has done is shift the calendar backward by about a week: for example, Wicomico County public school kids had their last day of school June 9 and returned August 29 and 30. But the thought process is that families are more likely to take a vacation in July and August than they are in June, so because Ocean City is a great tourist attraction the state should follow Worcester County’s lead and begin school after Labor Day. (They simply went an extra week into June, concluding on June 17 this year.)

Granted, our family has enjoyed a post-Labor Day start for a number of years since parochial schools have more calendar flexibility: our child began her summer vacation after classes ended June 3 and returns on Tuesday the 6th. Growing up, I seem to recall the city schools I attended began after Labor Day and went into June but the rural school I graduated from began classes in late August and was done by Memorial Day. (We had a longer Labor Day weekend, though, because our county fair runs that weekend and the Tuesday after Labor Day was Junior Fair Day. Thirty-odd years later, it still is.) The point is that each of these localities knows what works best, so I can understand the objection from those who advocate local control of school schedules. And talk about strange bedfellows: I’m sure many of those praising Hogan’s statewide mandate locally are also those who have fought for local control of our Board of Education – after at least ten years of trying, we finally have a chance for local control (as opposed to appointments by the Governor) over our Board of Education through a referendum this November. (I recommend a vote for the fully-elected Option 2 on Question A.)

So I agree with the objections on those grounds, even though I personally think a post-Labor Day start is a good idea based on the school calendar typically used. (If I truly had my way, though, we would adopt a 45-15 style plan so that summer break is somewhat shorter and kids spend less time relearning what they forgot over the break.) What I don’t see as productive are those who whine about how this would affect preparation for particular tests – that shouldn’t be the overall goal of education. Obviously they would be the first to blame the calendar (and by extension, Larry Hogan) if test scores went down. But Hogan’s not alienating a group that was squarely in his corner anyway, as the teachers’ unions almost reflexively endorse Democrats, including his 2014 opponent, and mislead Marylanders about education spending. It’s increased with each Hogan budget – just not enough to fund every desire the teachers have.

Come January, it will be interesting to see if the Democrats attempt to rescind this executive order through legislative means, daring Hogan to veto it so they can override the veto and hand him a political loss a year out from the election. While most Marylanders are fine with the change, the Democrats are beholden to the one political group that seems to object and those special interests tend to call the tune for the General Assembly majority.

Yet the idea that the state feels the need to dictate an opening and closing date to local school districts is just another way they are exerting control over the counties. We object when they tell us how to do our local planning, so perhaps as a makeup for this change our governor needs to rescind the PlanMaryland regime in Annapolis.

WCRC meeting – June 2016

June 29, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – June 2016 

You know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men? It applied to last night’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting, as the expected legislative wrapup from the remaining non-participants in our May meeting were those slated to speak this month. Unfortunately, the MML conference and a Hogan fundraiser took precedence for those candidates, so it actually fell on a somewhat unexpected guest to deliver a few off-the-cuff thoughts on the session: Delegate Charles Otto, who came up from Somerset County to speak with us. As he was originally elected in 2010 in a district that then included a portion of Wicomico County, he’s considered us his constituents despite the fact he was redistricted out for this term.

Thus, once we took care of doing the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and treasurer’s report, we heard Otto’s assessment that “we have a challenge this year” in electing our President and U.S. Senator. On the latter race, Otto praised his colleague, saying of Kathy Szeliga that “I can’t think of anyone better to fill that position.”

As for the legislative session, he felt that we had “a lot of threats” in the 90 days, but “I think we fared well.” Efforts to mandate paid leave and a minimum wage increase were rebuffed, and while he termed the Justice Reinvestment Act “a decent bill,” he admitted it was one of the hardest votes for him to consider in his six years on the General Assembly. To a degree, the same was true for the budget, which was more spending growth than he would have likely preferred.

Otto also believed that the transportation bill will be a “big hurdle” to overcome in the coming years, as it favors larger jurisdictions. But local development may be helped by the Triton unmanned aviation program, which is being considered for Wallops Island. Charles noted it has bipartisan support from all three Delmarva governors, who understand the economic impact this could have locally.

But Otto didn’t have an answer regarding a question about the aging school program and $80 million that was supposed to be included. It was a question brought up by John Palmer, who sits on our local school board. I chimed in with a somewhat rhetorical question about the many funding mandates Democrats seem to be adopting to tie Governor Hogan’s hands when it comes to the budget – could we do a reverse BRFA and try to get rid of them? It made for some discussion, and I was thanked later for bringing up the point. (Perhaps I need to save it for a Democratic Club meeting if I ever go to one.)

For being placed on the spot, Delegate Otto did a nice job, so we turned to the Central Committee report from Mark McIver. He noted that the Secretary of Appointments had selected two new Board of Education members who sounded like fine additions, but both of them applied directly to the Governor’s office. None of the five we interviewed, including the incumbent who desired another term, were picked. Yet McIver was “hopeful” about the selections, noting the Appointments office contacted him regularly through the process with questions.

But now it was time to work on the school board referendum, said Mark. It would involve creating a political committee to promote the fully-elected option.

We also learned Mark has tickets to the upcoming Tawes Crab and Clam Bake in Crisfield and our committee’s next meeting would be pushed back until July 11 thanks to the Independence Day holiday.

Jim Jester revealed “we’ve made progress” on the Crab Feast: we have secured the all-important one-day beer license. Now we just have to get approval from the health department, after he found out he filled out the obsolete old form that was online and was given a longer, more complicated new one.

Shawn Bradley updated us on Third Friday, which “was a nice surprise” with plenty of involvement as the Republican Club has tried to maintain a table there each month. This month they had the political realm to themselves as the Democrats apparently weren’t there.

Our next piece of business was a lengthy discussion about where to place a headquarters this year and how to pay for it. It will be a joint effort between the club and Central Committee, with a number of locations under consideration.

A contingent from the Republican Women of Wicomico was present to speak on their annual Constitution Day celebration on September 17 at City Park. Former Delegate Mike McDermott is the featured speaker, and the festivities will begin early: a 10:30 a.m. start is planned since Somerset County will be celebrating their 350th anniversary that day in Westover, as Delegate Otto pointed out. (It was also noted that we were sitting in what once was Somerset County; that is before it was split along Division Street in Salisbury and Fruitland to first create Worcester County to its east. Both then ceded territory in 1867 to create Wicomico County. So I stand corrected since Somerset preceded Worcester.)

We then found out from John Palmer that Wicomico County Board of Education meetings would soon be streamed online thanks to the PAC14 website. The eventual idea is to allow real-time involvement from those watching.

Finally, we were alerted to a townhall meeting Congressman Andy Harris would be holding tonight (June 29) at Black Diamond Catering in Fruitland from 6-7 p,m,

In less than an hour we had taken care of our business and become more informed. Next month we go off the political board a little bit as our speaker will be Mitzi Perdue. That meeting will come July 25.

The question of slates

You may recall that I wrote about the “Conservative Club” and its slate of proposed Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the Republican National Convention, and that discussion came up briefly tonight at our meeting (which was actually to interview candidates for the Wicomico County Board of Education; the discussion came as we were tallying the ballots for ranking the candidates for submission.) Later on, I observed in an e-mail to another member that there will probably be a “Trump slate,” “unity slate,” and any other number of combinations.

So, lo and behold, I came home to see my mail for the day. One of the two envelopes to me had a letter I’ll get to tomorrow evening, but the other had these sentences:

I was honored to be asked by the Trump Campaign to be a Trump Delegate. I will be running on the Trump Slate.

(snip)

As a central committee member, you play a very important role in the future of our Country. Thank you for your service. I respectfully ask for your vote as a Trump Delegate to the National Convention representing Maryland.

Indeed Trump will have a slate. Without revealing the name of the letter writer, I can tell you this person ran in our Congressional district but did not win because he wasn’t one of the “official” Trump delegates. (Editor’s note: I stand corrected, this person alerted me to the fact he DID NOT run in the primary. My error.) And while I happen to know this person is a businessman, I have to question his wisdom when he “believe(s) that he will stay true to his promises and fight and scrap for our future.” It’s taken Trump just a few days to flip and flop on some key issues, so I have to ask why this tendency wasn’t as obvious to everyone else as it was to me?

The letter writer is a nice guy, but I’m afraid he’s going to get egg on his face before this is all over by supporting Trump.

I hope someone publicizes the Trump slate because it will make a handy guide of people I can skip voting for come Saturday. (Turns out they did.) I think I have a pretty good idea of who I’ll favor, but there’s still a lot of research to do before I make my decisions on that front.

Update: There is also an official Cruz list, so I encourage you to start there with your voting.

WCRC meeting – April 2016

April 25, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Campaign 2016 - President, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – April 2016 

We had a good gathering for our primary eve meeting, buoyed by the presence of the families of the winners of our annual scholarship contest. Three things that were missing at the start, though, were three of our officers so Second Vice-President Shawn Bradley got things underway with a little assistance from me. Fortunately, we do pretty much the same thing as an introduction every month so we made it over those bumps in the road and heard our Central Committee report first.

County Chair Mark McIver announced we were still seeking applicants for our two upcoming Board of Education appointments, although we already had 5 with their information turned in. He also reminded us that the end of this process could be at hand, as the bill allowing us to vote on whether we wanted an elected school board was passed by the General Assembly. Jackie Wellfonder revealed the signing ceremony was slated for tomorrow, with Governor Hogan signing the Senate version sponsored by Senators Jim Mathias and Addie Eckardt.

He also spoke about the voter affiliation drive to allow people to vote in our primary. It was a multi-prong push combining a mailing, letters to the editor, and advertising in local media. I noted that the effort had worked to some extent – according to Board of Elections statistics, I recalled the GOP had gained about 400 voters in March, the Democrats about 250, and unaffiliated voters falling by about 250. (Actual numbers as I looked them up just now: Republicans +398, Democrats +261, and unaffiliated -247. We also lost 5 Greens and 18 “other” but gained 9 Libertarians.)

Mark also allowed Nate Sansom to speak. On his behalf, we are planning to bring a resolution to the Spring Convention asking for electoral votes in Maryland to be awarded to the winner of each Congressional district instead of all ten being winner-take-all. (Maine and Nebraska have such a system.) As I pointed out, it’s only fair after the way Democrats gerrymandered our state.

McIver also announced he would be hosting a pig roast fundraiser on June 11, and it was likely several state candidates may be there to help the Wicomico GOP.

Ed Senkbeil, representing our scholarship committee, had the honor of presenting two local seniors WCRC Scholarships. Taylor Creighton of Mardela High School and Jessica Willey of Parkside High School were the two winners. Creighton will be heading off to Clemson University to study in the field of genetics, while Willey will be studying psychology at Washington College. Both of them gave brief introductory remarks and did well for an impromptu engagement.

We then heard from our featured speaker: the incoming president of the Maryland College Republicans, Patty Miller of Salisbury University.

After Miller introduced her successor as SU chapter president, Shelby Hall, she remarked that the College Republicans were “on the front lines of dealing with liberal college students.” Under her leadership of the SU chapter, they had become active in local and state campaigns and recently hosted an address by Ben Shapiro, a writer, editor, and author perhaps most famous for working at Breitbart.com until he resigned after the Michelle Fields incident.

It was interesting to learn that her maternal family has a rich heritage in politics. Miller’s mother is a native of Honduras, where her family was involved in the 2009 removal of President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ally of the late Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez. Zelaya was ousted after attempting to circumvent a constitutional provision against serving more than one four-year term. These family ties made her “passionate about capitalism…the American Dream is still alive.”

As the CR state chair, she announced “I’m here to get stuff done.” She actually wasn’t originally seeking the office of president but a series of events led her to take the top position, which oversees 11 school-level chapters around the state – Miller would like to secure two others as well. She also gets a non-voting seat on the state party’s executive committee, although there is a proposal before the membership next month that may allow the CRs to have a vote once again.

After Miller’s remarks, we went through some business. Jackie Wellfonder had the list of polling places for sign placement, which would commence after the meeting. She also announced the newly-formed Wicomico Republican Women’s Club would host a “Welcome Back Reception for the Eastern Shore Delegation” on May 5.

Jim Jester let us know the Crab Feast will be September 10, once again at Schumaker Pond. His next step was securing the beer permit, but Muir Boda added we were seeking event sponsors for the first time to help defray the costs.

Nate Sansom was pleased to say the second meeting of the Wicomico Teenage Republicans was a success. Through his diligence, Nate was able to secure a phone visit from two local candidates: Anthony Seda for U.S. Senate and Jonathan Goff for Congress. He also received information from several other candidates to distribute, so these were well-informed TARs.

While we waited for 50/50 tickets to be sold as our last event, I asked Muir Boda to give us a City Council update. He had just come from the first budget meeting, where they were attempting to raise water and sewer rates. Muir also explained one of the budget priorities set out by Mayor Jake Day: the construction of a community center to host city-sponsored after-school programs as well as more immediate funding for a summer youth employment program. While the city of Salisbury would purchase the land and build the community center, funding for its operations would come from local non-profits.

Boda also noted that getting more highway user revenue from the state would assist in fixing some of the city’s worst streets, which have been neglected for years if not decades.

So while the meeting turned out to be less than an hour, several people stuck around to help with signs for tomorrow. If you ask me, the most effective ones should be the red Ted Cruz sign, the blue-and-white Richard Douglas sign, and the yellow-and-blue Andy Harris one.

Next month’s meeting (and yes, we will have a May meeting thanks to a late Memorial Day) will be May 23. It’s not official, but I think we are due for our annual legislative wrapup.

WCRC meeting – February 2016

This time we meant it. After having a last-minute meeting called last month, a little planning made this month’s meeting go a long way. It got off to an unusual beginning as the Jaycees meeting in the next room joined us for the Pledge of Allegiance before we went solo on the Lord’s Prayer. (Usually we do this in reverse – as a former WCRC president once said, God before country. I think that it was the late George Ossman who introduced that tradition.)

The meeting was jam-packed with information because we had two speakers. It was suggested to us that we have Anthony Gutierrez from the Board of Elections in to go over the new paper-ballot voting machines we will be using, so he led off the evening with a pair of short videos explaining how they will work. For early voting there will be one ADA unit (which is slightly enhanced for those who are physically impaired but can be used by anyone) and two optical scanner units. Filling out a paper ballot is like filling out the standardized tests you had in school except you fill the circle in with an ink pen.

There were a few other election notes he passed along, including the fact that over 10,000 Wicomico voters will not be participating in April’s primary because they are unaffiliated. (This is out of about 58,000 total.) Gutierrez noted as well that the last Presidential primary with no incumbent (2008) had 48.9% for a February primary, but he predicted April’s turnout would be more like 35-40%. There will be five separate races on the ballot, he added: President, U.S. Senate, Congressional representative, and delegates/alternate delegates to the national convention. Voters will be sent their specimen ballots the Monday before early voting begins.

Mark McIver of the Central Committee asked whether more election judges were needed, and Gutierrez said they were fine for the primary. But he encouraged those interested to apply anyway for November and to be backups in case they have a need in April. Compensation for the day is $250.

Another question about same-day registration came up, and Anthony replied that it would be effective only for early voting. Some voters who had MVA information in the system would be “precleared,” he added.

I asked if the new machines would result in delays, but Gutierrez noted from the experience he had with observing these machines in other elections that the process was actually faster. They would use the primary to make adjustments for the larger turnout in November, he added.

Once Gutierrez wrapped up, our other featured speaker began. Having served as the co-chair of the Redistricting Reform Commission (RRC), Walter Olson came to speak about Maryland’s gerrymandering and the commission set up to suggest improved voting districts. Legislation to create a non-partisan redistricting body was introduced earlier this session, with hearings next week in both the House and Senate.

“I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around.” Those weren’t the words of Walter Olson; it’s a quote from the most recent State of the Union speech Barack Obama delivered. He also made the point in Illinois during a recent appearance there, said Olson. Moreover, 70 percent of Maryland residents would prefer an independent commission, which is fitting: since North Carolina’s gerrymandering (considered the worst in the country) was struck down in court, the new number one worst was the great state of Maryland.

With the recalcitrant Democrats being placed in an uncomfortable position of being against both their president and the voting public – as Olson pointed out, “they’re not happy with what we’re doing” – their only response was to complain that five hearings around the state weren’t enough. And “did we ever get an earful” at the hearings, said Walter. Districts were created not to fairly represent, but “to reward and punish” legislators. Olson handed out a chart that clearly showed how the system was exploited: all but 6 Republicans represent districts with larger-than-average population, while Democrats represent all but one of the smallest 25 districts. (The one Republican who represents a small district won election in 2014 over an incumbent Democrat.) Needless to say, Mike Miller and Michael Busch are “not enthusiastic” about this proposed change, even though it’s been debated off and on over the last half-century.

The RRC was an 11-member commission, with seven selected by Governor Hogan (3 from each party, plus one unaffiliated) and two from both the House and Senate, one from each party. Their report of suggestions were based mainly on those adopted by California, with some tweaking to fit our Constitution. The report was adopted by a 9-2 vote, and you can imagine which party had the two and where they came from to serve on the RRC. The legislation introduced on Hogan’s behalf has “most of” the recommendations, Olson added.

What the RRC asked for was stronger criteria for population, with just a 1% variation. Districts had to comply with the Voting Rights Act, of course, but also needed to be congruent, contiguous, and compact. No more “blood splatters at a crime scene,” as Olson described Maryland’s Third Congressional District.

The redistricting body itself was intriguing to me. Applicants would be screened to make sure they weren’t connected to the process as members of the legislature, their families, etc. After that, they would be placed into groups representing each of the two principal parties and unaffiliated/minor party voters, those who hadn’t switched registration recently. Out of 10 applicants in each pool (Republican, Democrat, unaffiliated) selected based on these criteria, three of them would be randomly chosen to serve on the body, with the chair chosen out of the three unaffiliated members.

But the cool part was that anyone could submit a map. Olson said that Pennsylvania’s map, which replaced a gerrymandered original done by the legislature, was done by a piano tuner who submitted a map which best complied with the requirements.

In the question-and-answer period, Olson stressed that the redistricting body would do both Congressional and state legislative districts. But it likely wouldn’t be pressed into service until after the next census because it was unlikely the system in place now would be overturned unless it was found to be a Voting Rights Act violation. A suit by Judicial Watch regarding Maryland’s gerrymandering was “somewhat of a long shot” to succeed, assessed Olson.

Walter also was careful to add that, while he works at the Cato Institute, the Institute is not involved with this. He was doing this as a private citizen.

Finally, we got to club business. The treasurer’s report was given by Muir Boda, who has stepped in to become treasurer since the previous officeholder had to resign to take a job across the Bay. We are working out kinks in the accounts since they were based on her e-mail.

Mark McIver reported for the Central Committee. After a moment of silence for Blan Harcum, we learned his funeral will be Saturday, March 5 at Holloway Funeral Home, with visitation the evening before. He also related that he testified for the elected school board bill, which has now passed the full Senate (with a clean sweep 47-0 vote, by the way.)

Julie Brewington, speaking on behalf of the Ted Cruz presidential campaign as its Lower Shore coordinator, announced she had county chairs in each of her counties and was seeking sign locations along U.S. 50.

I made a motion to clean up some business so we could have our officer elections, and all five officers were nominated and elected by acclamation. I’m going to use Julie Brewington’s photo here. (She posted it on social media last night, so she gets the credit.)

From left to right, it’s Treasurer Muir Boda, First Vice-President Dave Snyder, President Shawn Jester, Second Vice-President Shawn Bradley, and Secretary Michael Swartz. (Me on the far right – whooda thunk it?)

We found out from Jackie Wellfonder that the Ehrlich book-signing was rescheduled for Friday, March 11 and relocated to the lobby of the City Center building, adjacent to Roadie Joe’s. She was hoping to coordinate with the College Republican event that has to be similarly rescheduled, but the date didn’t work with SU.

Woody Willing reminded us the WCRC Scholarship was still available, but the deadline was fast approaching (March 1.) Graduating seniors from any Wicomico County school (public, private, or homeschooled) are eligible provided they complete the application process. I asked if the application could be put online.

Willing also asked if we could make our annual YMCA donation, which was met with the club’s approval.

Julie Brewington returned to announce the Republican Women of Wicomico would next meet March 2, with Mitzi Perdue as the speaker.

Joe Ollinger and John Palmer gave us some news about the Wicomico Board of Education, which was getting deeper into its superintendent search. They should be close to selecting the next time we meet, said Ollinger. Various focus groups comprised of about 75 people total were considering the applicants, added Palmer. John also said we were “on track” to getting Board of Education meetings on PAC14.

Nate Sansom updated us on the Teenage Republicans, which would have their first meeting March 4 at the Centre of Salisbury library branch. This led to Patty Miller being asked to fill us in on the SU College Republicans, which are having a fundraiser at the Greene Turtle March 21 and are “working on some big things.”

Matt Maciarello updated us briefly on legislation he was interested in, adding the Eastern Shore delegation is “working so hard” on these items. Included in his assessment was the bomb threat prosecution bill sponsored by Mary Beth Carozza as well as a bill dealing with sex offenders.

As you can tell, it was a meeting full of information that we somehow crammed into about 90 minutes. Our next gathering will be March 28, with U.S. Senate candidate Dave Wallace the first statewide candidate to stop by one of our meetings since 2013.

Another step toward an elected Wicomico Board of Education

February 18, 2016 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2016, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Another step toward an elected Wicomico Board of Education 

With a unanimous 11-0 vote the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee passed SB145, the bill enabling us to vote on whether we will have a fully elected, hybrid, or appointed Board of Education here in Wicomico County.

Yet the bill didn’t quite pass unscathed. There was a minor committee amendment but it could have some impact at the ballot box come November. In the revised language, the first ballot question would now read:

Question 1: “For the current system, a Board of Education with Seven Members Appointed by the Governor”;

The underline in this case denotes language that was added. I suspect that could goose the total for that question a little bit; of course, if people really don’t like the current system they’ll now know what not to vote for so I suppose this is a double-edged sword.

Remaining amendments eliminated a redundancy in the law and extended the period to make appointments as needed from 30 to 60 days after a vacancy. All in all, though, the bill made it through the process reasonably well.

It’s also worth pointing out that the House version of the bill, sponsored jointly by the Wicomico County delegation, was introduced as HB1352. While it’s slated to have a hearing March 15, that slot could be filled by the House hearing of the Senate bill after it passes. Interestingly, the House bill is not considered a crossfile of the Senate bill because it was introduced with language similar to the Senate’s amended version regarding the ballot question. (It may be the House committee that makes the change and conforms with the Senate version or allows one body to recede since the difference is minor.)

It’s an encouraging beginning, but there is still a long way to go.

A tale of due diligence (with a lack of cooperation)

By Cathy Keim and Michael Swartz

I have never met Ann Miller in person, but I have exchanged emails with her and I have read her columns in the Baltimore County Republican Examiner. She has always been cordial when I have requested information from her about educational issues.

Ann is a parent who has given a huge amount of time and effort to fighting Common Core and PARCC. Even with that being known, Governor Hogan appointed her to the Baltimore County Board of Education and she was sworn in last month for a three-year term. Before she could even be sworn in, there were complaints that she was too narrow minded to be on the school board and appeals to Governor Hogan to reconsider Miller’s appointment. While Miller has one child remaining in public schools, she also has one in a private school and homeschools a third.

It is to Governor Hogan’s credit that he did not rescind his appointment under pressure. Anyone who is a fan of board members actually doing due diligence in fulfilling their duties will be impressed with Ann. Although she did not become an official member until this past December, she has been requesting information about the budget and the inner workings of the Baltimore County schools for months since her appointment. (Miller was appointed several months before her term actually began.)

A key issue she faces right away is that Dr. Dallas Dance, the superintendent of the Baltimore County Public Schools, is up for a four-year contract renewal. Miller wanted to review his term carefully before agreeing Dance should serve for another four years, so she compiled a list of performance-related items for her review and requested them from the Baltimore County Public Schools. And her wait began.

Since BCPS has not responded to her requests for information, she has now asked for the information under the Maryland Public Information Act. Here is the link to see her letter and what information she is requesting. The Sun has also placed its spin on it, noting that Miller would not agree to an interview unless they published her full letter – the Sun refused.

This battle is of interest to every taxpayer and parent in Maryland. Should the school system be accountable to its board and its taxpayers by allowing oversight of the huge sums of money that are spent annually? Where is the transparency that our politicians speak of so glowingly? More importantly: why is a board member, who is appointed to a position of public trust and accountability, having to file a Maryland Public Information Act request to gain access to the budget and information pertaining to the superintendent’s performance?

Would that more of our school board members would rock the boat and demand information rather than just renewing contracts and letting the machine roll along.

You will want to keep an eye on Ann Miller and the BCPS because I suspect that we will be seeing more articles in the Baltimore Sun about her. She is angering all the right people.

Michael’s observations: I have met Ann Miller years ago, and besides our common background as Examiners, I have come to realize she is very passionate about her children and their education. It seems to me that many of these same sort of complaints were levied when John Palmer, who is a stickler for fiscal accountability, was appointed to Wicomico County’s Board of Education. Ironically, our county finds itself in a similar position except we will be appointing a new superintendent as Dr. John Fredericksen is stepping down.

It may look like an exhaustive list that Miller is requesting; however, the district has been aware of it for several months so there really is no excuse. What are they trying to hide?

The next step in the process

The half-decade or more process of securing a Board of Education in Wicomico County that’s directly elected by the people entered a new chapter late last week with the introduction of the appropriate legislation in the Maryland General Assembly. Senate Bill 145, with Senator Jim Mathias as lead sponsor and Addie Eckardt as co-sponsor, provides for the makeup of the board as well as a three-way referendum to be placed on this November’s ballot. It’s a relatively complex 16-page bill, subdivided into several sections because the sections which would actually become law are dependent on the results of the referendum.

To make a long story short, voters would face three choices in November, from which they can only select one:

  • FOR a Board of Education with seven members appointed by the Governor;
  • FOR a Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members elected at-large;
  • FOR a Board of Education with five members elected by district and two members appointed by County Council.

The method with the most votes wins, regardless of whether it is a majority or plurality.

SB145 was assigned to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs (EHEA) Committee and given a relatively quick hearing date of Wednesday, January 27. The EHEA committee has 10 members and is led by Chair Senator Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City and Vice-Chair Paul Pinsky of Prince George’s County. Other Democratic members are Cheryl Kagan of Montgomery County, Shirley Nathan-Pulliam of Baltimore County, Jim Rosapepe of Prince George’s County, and Ronald Young of Frederick County, while Republicans Gail Bates of Howard County, Johnny Ray Salling of Baltimore County, Bryan Simonaire of Anne Arundel County, and Steve Waugh of Calvert County also sit on the committee.

At the present time it’s the smallest committee with just 10 members (and a slim 6-4 Democratic advantage) because there’s one vacancy in the Senate. At some point it’s presumed that a Montgomery County Democrat will join the committee to be its eleventh member, but the bill will likely have its hearing and committee vote by then. (Former District 14 Senator Karen Montgomery resigned as of January 1.)

An interesting note regarding the makeup of the committee is that Conway and Simonaire represent counties with appointed boards, while Pinsky, Nathan-Pulliam, Rosapepe, and Salling represent counties with hybrid boards. Moreover, none of these committee members represent the Eastern Shore. It’s worth noting as well that Conway was the chair of EHEA when Caroline County got its hybrid board. It was Senator Conway, who represents a district several counties and a completely different way of life away, that deemed that Caroline County didn’t have sufficient minority representation with a fully-elected board, so if the initial all-elected option is scrubbed for Wicomico it’s likely her doing. (This despite the fact we have one majority-minority County Council district and two others with significant minority populations, out of five.)

So the goal is to make sure this bill gets through without being tampered with, but that will be difficult since we don’t have a local representative on the board. And remember: last year when we had a bill for a hybrid board, their excuse for stopping it was that only one of the two Senators were supporting it. Now both are sponsors, and thanks to the public hearings we know that a lot of support was there for the all-elected option as one of three choices. Anything less is a disservice to the people of Wicomico County.

A look ahead: 2016 in Wicomico County

After doing this the last two years one would think I would be an expert at dissecting what will go on over the course of a year, but in this case my crystal ball is a little bit cloudy. Perhaps that’s because things are looking up for a change.

I went to the state Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation website and downloaded some figures which reflect great job creation news – particularly in the latter half of this year. Since June, Wicomico County employment figures are running between 1,300 and 1,800 jobs higher than the corresponding month of 2014. Conversely, in 2014 we never ran more than 753 jobs ahead of 2013 and by the end of last year we actually had fewer employed than the year prior. That downturn carried into this calendar year but by March we had turned the corner.

The growth in the latter half of the year was reminiscent of the boom period of 2004-06, when Wicomico County routinely gained 1,000 or more jobs in every month year-over-year.

So the question will be whether county revenues begin to increase. Unlike the boom of a decade ago, which was fueled by a rapid increase in property values that later translated into increased tax collections, this upturn doesn’t come with rapidly appreciating property values. And there are plenty of bills for the county to pay – two new schools with a third one now placed into the pipeline as well as new facilities for the Board of Elections, increased mandates for education spending and environmental cleanup from the state and federal governments, respectively, and a call from the city of Salisbury to assist them more with fire protection expenses through a more equitable revenue sharing. Certainly it appears that any new money has a number of hands reaching out for it.

Another question regards how well two relatively new leaders will work with each other. It’s fortunate that both County Executive Bob Culver and Salisbury Mayor Jake Day spent a little bit of time on the legislative side of things because it will help them understand the process the other has to go through to get things done. If there’s one thing we have learned from Culver, though, it’s that he’s a man of action who always seems to have a to-do list of improvements he’d like to see. It’s more autocratic than bureaucratic on the county side of the Government Office Building these days. Initial impressions of Day seem to be similar, although he’s made much less of an impact on taking office than Culver did insofar as personnel decisions are concerned.

But there are two key issues regarding education that will be out of Culver’s hands. One is the fate of the elected school board, which is now up to the Maryland General Assembly. The other is the new superintendent that will take over the county schools sometime in 2016. The Board of Education begins the selection process after the holidays – by the way, the county Republican Central Committee will be called upon to retain or replace two GOP members of that body this summer.

Getting around may become a little more difficult next fall as well, as the state will begin replacing 11 bridge decks on the U.S. 13 bypass. It’s a project that’s not supposed to impact summer traffic in 2017 but won’t be complete until 2018.

In comparison to previous years there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly contentious on the horizon – with the possible exception of the proposed large-scale chicken farms Radical Green is already up in arms against – which probably means we’re going to have an interesting year. If we can keep up the pace of job creation, though, eventually the local economy will get back to where it was a decade ago and prosperity takes care of a lot of problems.

Tomorrow I shift my focus to the state as a whole.

Threats and rumors of threats

December 20, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Education, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics · Comments Off on Threats and rumors of threats 

There’s been something going around the country recently, and it’s a disturbing trend.

I brought up my news feed to get a little bit caught up after an emotional and draining day, and what do I see? Another school district cancelling classes for a day because of a threat against one or more district facilities.

Obviously in the wake of San Bernardino people take this stuff seriously, never mind the recent third anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting. It was that incident which led to the most recent restrictions on gun ownership here in Maryland. Of course, I know of a handful of people who are convinced Sandy Hook never happened except as a “false flag” incident designed to be the pretext for confiscating our weapons, but I’m not into that sort of conspiracy theory. If the government has it in mind to do something, it’s eventually going to happen whether they get the excuse or not.

(The same mindset wonders about the third shooter in San Bernardino, since I recall the initial reports were that of three shooters, too. Maybe that neighbor did more than purchase the guns. But I digress.)

To me, this may not be a bad time to review policies and procedures for our local school district. It so happens that Friday was their last day before going on an extended winter break which runs until January 4, so there’s a chance over the holidays to look at the prospects for mischief and plan a course of action. While we’re not a large community, we are certainly no more immune from trouble than any other school district serving a county of 100,000 people. Nor do I think a limited concealed carry regimen within the school, through teachers who already have or wish to obtain the proper permits, is a bad idea. It’s certainly better than declaring schools a gun-free zone and watching kids be helplessly slaughtered by the first person who ignores that designation.

Fortunately, the schools which have closed have done so without incident. And while no amount of preparation can assure our schools will be completely incident-free, perhaps now is the time to deal with the likelihood something could happen. I wish I’d thought of this before I sat down since I was in the same room as two of our school board members this evening, but I think they’re smart enough to read here. If we put them on the board they must have some intelligence, right?

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