Not too late for change

June 28, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Inside the Beltway, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on Not too late for change 

It was 2009, and Americans were still captivated by a shiny and new (or articulate, bright, and clean, if you prefer) President. Yet deep in the nether lands of liberalism there were people already thinking about how to maximize the political gains they could make. In November of that year I wrote about a scheme dubbed the “10-0 project” where Maryland Democrats would gerrymander their way to having all eight Congressional seats by pairing up the few Republican strongholds in the state with large Democratic enclaves, such as wrapping the First District into Baltimore City. The person who developed that plan bragged how it split the McCain voters out so that no district had more than 40 percent McCain support.

While the redistricting plan developed after the 2010 census wasn’t quite that extreme, there were still some of the shenanigans of rerouting the Sixth District toward Washington, D.C. to pave the way for that district to turn Democrat (canceling out the GOP strongholds west of Frederick) and dissecting other heavily GOP areas in Carroll and Anne Arundel counties into multiple districts. They also made the First District a nearly impenetrable Republican fortress, an R+13 district in a state which is nominally D+26.

But while we are past the halfway mark to the 2020 census, there are still those out there who believe the state’s Congressional lines were drawn for partisan advantage rather than true representation. Last week a number of plaintiffs – one from each Congressional district – utilizing the assistance of Judicial Watch filed a federal lawsuit alleging the current setup “harms all Maryland voters, regardless of their party preferences or how they would vote in a particular election, by giving State legislators the power to make choices regarding the State’s congressional delegation that only the voters should make.”

As relief, the suit seeks to have the current districts tossed out and a new district plan drawn which better conforms to the Polsby-Popper compactness test. As it stands currently, Maryland has the worst score of any state, but the plaintiffs allege (through a map they created) that significant improvements can be made. (Unfortunately their map is somewhat confusing because the district numbers assigned on it are quite different than the ones in use now. As an aside, if this map were adopted we would likely be placed in the equivalent of the Fifth Congressional District while both Andy Harris and GOP challenger Michael Smigiel would land in what’s basically our Second Congressional District shifted more to the north and east.) Regardless, the plan appears to keep more counties and areas together rather than the Rorschach test we have now.

While Judicial Watch has stepped in, though, it’s obvious that the battle will be an uphill one. As the suit notes, this is not the first time there has been an objection to the Congressional redistricting plan, and the current scheme was maintained through a misleading referendum in 2012. Thus, the chances for success aren’t very good.

But this should come with a parallel effort to change the system once and for all by putting it into the hands of an independent commission comprised of citizens from each district or even each county. As an example of this, Wicomico County had a commission to redraw County Council districts and its end product had few complaints regarding compactness or gerrymandering. (The most unusually-shaped district here is the one mandated to be majority-minority.) Let them come up with the maps away from the General Assembly and have our legislature give them a simple up-or-down vote. The same goes for state legislative districts, which also should become exclusively single-member districts – no more jungle elections where the top two or three get in.

In our case, unless it sees significant growth, the Eastern Shore will likely always have to share its Congressman with someone else. But that someone else should be close and accessible neighbors – surely the folks in Carroll County are nice people but they really don’t belong in our Congressional district. If we have to take some of Harford and Baltimore counties to make up the population that’s understandable.

Maybe in the next Census I’ll draw a real map that shows the way it should be done. But if Judicial Watch somehow gets its way I can always move that timetable a little closer.

WCRC meeting – August 2012

August 27, 2012 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2012, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – August 2012 

It was a more crowded room than usual this month, telling me the excitement is palpable for this November’s election. The additional crowd was treated to a pretty thorough presentation on the county’s redistricting process by Redistricting Committee Chair Joe Collins, with additional insight provided by County Council member Gail Bartkovich.

Of course, we did the usual preliminaries: the Lord’s Prayer, reading of the minutes, and introduction of distringuished guests as well as a quite involved Treasurer’s Report thanks to expenditures for the Crab Feast.

But when Collins introduced his subject, he noted that his previous outsider’s perspective was changed by becoming part of the process and trying to “herd cats.” The cats in question were the seven members of the Redistricting Committee, each recommended by an individual County Council member. It’s worthy of noting that, as Bartkovich explained, two Republicans selected Democratic members – one to make sure a member of their Central Committee was on the panel and another who selected a Democratic woman at the eleventh hour so there would be a female representative. (Presumably the one minority member was picked by the lone minority member of County Council, their only Democrat.) So what could have by rights been a 6-1 GOP majority was voluntarily made more bipartisan. (Hear that, Martin O’Malley?)

Collins pointed out the state’s process had “plenty of bad ideas” so the county’s goals were simple: districts which were compact and contiguous, with roughly equal population and minimizing movement from one district to another.

But the “compact” proved difficult to achieve with the mandate of having a minority district, Joe said. The goals of contiguous and equal in population were done quite well, with the deviations running at less than 100 people off the desired number for any district – compare that to the allowable of 5 percent, which in Wicomico County equals about 1,000 people more or less than an even five-way split. They were “just about as equal as we could get them,” said Joe. But it was hard not to shuffle people around between districts because, as Joe explained, the minority population had migrated somewhat and what was a majority-minority district when drawn in 2000 was no longer so. This map makes District 1 almost 60% minority.

(It’s also worth noting that the 2000 map drawn by a Democratic County Council had the two most Democratic districts as the smallest two and the most pronounced Republican district as the largest. This map is much more even-handed.)

Bartkovich filled us in a little bit on the process, telling those assembled that maps were sent to each municipality and each firehouse for public inspection. There were “very few comments,” she said, which in my opinion means the committee did a good job. (I wholeheartedly endorse this map.)

The one big complaint about this map came from the Board of Elections, which saw the number of precincts rise from 38 to 52. In part, though, the state is also at fault because of how they gerrymandered the county with its legislative districts. In contrast, the county’s redistricting committee tried to use natural and significant man-made boundaries to the fullest extent possible – case in point: the eastern half of the county is almost perfectly divided into two districts by U.S. 50.

Bartkovich announced it was likely the County Council would preserve this map, but with a “little tweaking.” Most of the changes sought were in the minority district, but others were more procedural: there are precincts with fewer than ten voters under this plan, so small portions may change for that sake. “Your committee did an excellent job,” Bartkovich told Collins. (I’m holding them to that, by the way.)

Turning to the Central Committee, Dave Parker related a number of upcoming events: a convention watch party at GOP headquarters on August 30 (to watch Mitt Romney accept his nomination), sign waving on August 31, the Addie Eckardt fundraiser I briefly detailed yesterday on September 9, Andy Harris’s Bull Roast on September 22, the state party’s Oktoberfest on October 19, and of course the Good Beer Festival and Autumn Wine Festival, where we will have a presence.

Cynthia Williams made the not-so-shocking announcement that the GOP headquarters was out of most Romney items except a lone t-shirt and some buttons. The same is true for Dan Bongino items, which Shawn Jester said they “can’t keep on the shelves.” (One reason for this I’ll share in an upcoming post.)

We received some good news from Woody Willing, who told us the local Board of Elections had done its job and purged unqualified voters from the voter rolls – most had come back as not living at the listed address. Over 900 voters were taken off from the most recent purge moved from active to the inactive list – now if other counties would do their job, Election Integrity Maryland wouldn’t have to nag them about it. Woody also had a minor victory to report on the scholarship front, as the WCRC scholarship will be listed by the Board of Education for this coming school year.

Speaking of EIM, Cathy Keim restated the group has online poll watcher training available and also announced that certain counties are crying out for Republican election judges – for example, Prince George’s County needs over 400. Locally, though, Keim announced “I have the utmost confidence in our election board.”

I duly noted (and was backed up by many others) that attendance at the Farm and Home Show was poor. Unfortunately, I also found out the awards were well-attended – but we had already pulled up stakes. That was my fault; I took the blame.

Bob Miller assessed that we “got through (the Crab Feast) okay” but he was ready to hand it over to a younger man. We indeed found someone who will take up the reins for next year.

Cynthia Williams, who is helping out with the Lower Shore headquarters, noted the hours of operation (10 to 8 weekdays, 10 to 4 Saturday) and added there are “lots of spaces on the signup boards.”

The annual Christmas Party will be December 2 at 5 p.m., announced Ann Suthowski. One change, though, will be the location as we move to Mister Paul’s Legacy for the event.

And while it wasn’t part of the agenda, there was a lot of talk about the “2016: Obama’s America” movie, which one observer called “a very unsettling movie…I can’t find fault with it.” Several in the crowd had already seen it, but it was recommended that the others make tracks to check it out.

Our next meeting is going to be unique as we leave the familiar confines of the Chamber of Commerce building to hold it at our Lower Shore headquarters on South Salisbury Boulevard. It will still be on the fourth Monday (September 24) at the same time.

Odds and ends number 56

I have a veritable catch-all of little feature items best handled in a paragraph or two, so I’ll get cracking!

First of all is an important update from the state Board of Elections with the ballot language for the seven statewide issues as well as a number of local questions (including four from Wicomico County.)

At first read, it doesn’t appear there’s any effort to deceive people into voting in a counter-intuitive manner (e.g. voting for an issue to repeal a particular law.) It appears that those who want to repeal certain laws would indeed vote against them at the ballot box.

I am a little concerned about the way Question 6 is worded, though. Here’s how the same-sex marriage bill is presented:

Establishes that Maryland’s civil marriage laws allow gay and lesbian couples to obtain a civil marriage license, provided they are not otherwise prohibited from marrying; protects clergy from having to perform any particular marriage ceremony in violation of their religious beliefs; affirms that each religious faith has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine regarding who may marry within that faith; and provides that religious organizations and certain related entities are not required to provide goods, services, or benefits to an individual related to the celebration or promotion of marriage in violation of their religious beliefs.

Of the seven questions the state presents to voters, this is the longest. Actually, if you removed the first clause it’s not a bad law but the part about gay and lesbian couples is a non-starter, which is probably why that language was added – people will say, oh, okay, the churches don’t have to participate. But that’s not the point, and the additional language obfuscates it.

I also wonder why the term “same-sex” wasn’t used. With the possible exception of Question 3, it’s just going to be down-the-line “against” for me. But on a local level, I’m all for two of the proposed changes – not quite sure about the last two questions quite yet.

I’m very disappointed, though, that the term limits proposal for the County Executive did not make it through County Council. Apparently several Republicans don’t have the spine to return the county to a citizen-based power structure, ensuring no individual would run the county for more than eight years. I guess we will have to primary them, won’t we?

Of course, last night the County Council heard testimony about the county’s redistricting plan for a work session today. I happen to think the plan put in place by the Redistricting Committee is quite sound and well thought out because it uses a number of significant natural and man-made boundaries (like U.S. 50) to define districts as well as making change easier in the future.

But scuttlebutt I’m hearing is that a second plan is in the works; one which will be more favorable to certain incumbents on County Council. While it’s true that about 1/4 of the county’s population is displaced by the Redistricting Committee’s plan, the goal is to establish more permanent district boundaries which won’t change as much in future years. One thing I like about the Redistricting Committee’s plan is how it keeps most of the communities together – obviously Salisbury has to be divided into at least two districts based on population and this map puts the heart of the city into either District 1 (the majority-minority district) or District 4. (Since I began work on this post last night, I have learned there is a second plan, drawn up by a county employee. While I haven’t seen it, my impression is that it’s closer to the old map.)

Speaking of elections, this tidbit came to me from Cathy Keim of Election Integrity Maryland. It’s “even better than being a poll watcher” and it goes right to the heart of the problem.

I asked Anthony Gutierrez, our local BOE head, if you have to be registered in the county that you serve as an election judge.  He said no.  As long as you are a Maryland registered voter, you can be an election judge in any county that hires you.  He also stated that Baltimore has a terrible time recruiting enough Republican and non-partisan election judges.  The goal is to have one chief judge from each major party at each polling place.  If they cannot do that, then they try to get a non-partisan judge.  If they can’t do that……then it just has to be two of the same party!  This holds for regular judges also.

Being an election judge is even better than being a poll watcher as you are actually running the election. Please bring this up to the GOP that they need to be filling these positions in Baltimore and PG County and maybe other counties.  I know that this is a regular problem, so the GOP should already be aware of it, but it never hurts to get people working on a solution sooner rather than later.

In Wicomico County we only have about 38 precincts, so presumably they only need 38 election judges from each party.  But if you’re armed with the poll watcher training and are an election judge in a “problem” county it’s indeed possible to give the Democrats fits by insisting the letter of the law be followed.

Apparently they’re not going to follow the letter of the law in Tampa during the Republican convention. If you believe the Accuracy in Media group and writer Tina Trent, agitators funded by radical left-wingers including George Soros are plotting to disrupt the proceedings – of course, they’ll get plenty of press coverage if they succeed. Meanwhile, during the next week there are going to be protests in Charlotte at the Democrats’ shindig (some by unions bitterly disappointed the convention is being held in a right-to-work state) but you won’t hear a peep.

The President’s campaign also has the laughable idea that seeing five years of Mitt Romney’s tax returns are enough. This is part of a missive from Obama For Against America’s Jim Messina:

Friday morning, I sent a letter to Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, asking that Romney release just five years of tax returns. And I made a commitment that, if he does, this campaign would not demand more.

You should add your name. Here’s why:

Right now, our opponent is proposing a $2,000 tax increase on middle-class families with kids in order to pay for tax breaks for millionaires like him.

He’s asking Americans to put him in charge of their taxes, while refusing to come clean about his own.

This isn’t going away because voters deserve better, and everyone but the Romney campaign seems to recognize that.

(snip)

Romney’s refusal to release his returns is raising more questions than he’s been willing to answer.

According to the one full year of returns he has released, Romney paid 13.9% in taxes on his income. Thursday, he said he went back and looked, and has never paid less than 13% over the last ten years.

Now we’re asking him to put his money where his mouth is.

It is absolutely relevant for us to ask how much a presidential candidate paid in taxes, if he sheltered his money or tried to get out of paying taxes at all, why he started — and continues to own — a corporation offshore in Bermuda, why he keeps his finances offshore in the Cayman Islands, and why he opened a Swiss bank account.

(snip)

This issue isn’t going away, and for good reason. Tell Romney to follow 30 years of precedent and release his tax returns.

Next thing you know, they’ll be asking for ten years’ worth. Meanwhile, we don’t have any of Obama’s college records, never mind the whole birth certificate thing. Of course, anyone can Photoshop any sort of “fake but accurate” documents they want, but that’s not the point, either.

I truly don’t give a damn whether Mitt Romney has a Swiss bank account or money in the Cayman Islands. It’s his money and he can do as he pleases with it. And paying almost 14% of his taxes on his income? Just ask an average American who scores a big tax refund check, complete with earned income credit, what rate he or she paid and I’ll bet the answer may surprise you. Sorry, Jim Messina, that class warfare card is no good here.

That’s Obama’s America. And to that effect a movie will be shown locally beginning Friday – showtimes are here, and the trailer is below.

I may have to go see this one, and I am not a movie buff.

I’m going to close with a little encouragement from a fellow blogger – Marianne (aka Zilla of the Resistance) has been through a lot with her late stage Lyme Disease. Well, not only has she found improvement with some of her most painful symptoms of late, she’s also received some cheering news from the Mitt Romney camp as he’s making what Marianne terms a “bold stand” against those medical professionals skeptical of some possible treatments for the disease. (Maryland is one area affected more heavily than most.) Perhaps there’s light at the end of the tunnel for her, and it’s not an oncoming train.

The light at the end of this post is also here, but it’s only the next post down. I encourage you to keep reading.

Odds and ends number 54

Yes, it’s time to clear out the e-mail box and since “random thoughts on the passing scene” was sort of taken by Thomas Sowell I call this exercise “odds and ends.” Usually I put up anywhere from a sentence to three paragraphs or so for items not long enough to stand a full post but interesting to me nonetheless.

Perhaps I’m reading more into this than I should, but the other day I found out Andy Harris is likely no fan of the FairTax. This is because, as part of an e-mail I received from him on real estate issues he wrote:

I oppose plans that would result in net tax increases by restricting or eliminating the home mortgage deduction.

Now maybe this is only in context with his next statement:

Reduction, modification, or elimination of all or some of the current tax benefits for homeowners will remain a risk as long as the Administration strives to reduce debt by raising tax revenue without getting wasteful and unnecessary spending under control.

This is where Andy was discussing recommendations by Obama’s deficit commission that would eliminate the mortgage interest deduction for certain (presumably wealthy) homeowners or cut these deductions across the board in an effort to raise revenue.

Andy makes the correct point in his note that we need to cut spending, but I’m hoping he’s not shut the door on a consumption-based taxation system.

One thing I can also say about Andy is that he’s not on any vice-presidential radar screen. But I got the results of a survey the other day which surprised me.

The Liberty News Network, which purportedly is representative of the TEA Party given its parent company is Grassfire Nation, conducted an online poll asking who Mitt Romney should select as his running mate. While the piece claims a “majority” of TEA Partiers prefer Marco Rubio, the last time I checked 36.6% wasn’t a “majority.” That, friends, is only a plurality.

Despite that LNN headlining faux pas, Rubio won the poll but I also find it interesting that the “racist” TEA Party’s top three choices were Marco Rubio, Allen West with 23.4 percent, and Condoleeza Rice, who had 18.2 percent. No one else was over 5.2% of the vote. Apparently almost 80 percent of these “racists” are fine with a Latino or black vice-president – I would be more happy with West than Rubio or Rice, though.

Speaking of Latinos, but more generally of the variety of those having dubious legality to be in our country, I was alerted to a Washington Post story that glowingly describes the city of Baltimore’s efforts to repopulate itself via the immigrant population. Shani George, the Post employee who occasionally feeds bloggers items of interest from the paper, wrote in her e-mail:

The welcome mats thrown out by struggling cities and states stand in stark contrast to the reception immigrants have faced in places such as Arizona and Alabama. Most of the immigrant-friendly measures around the country are in their infancy, so it is difficult to assess how effective they are.

Critics say cities that lure immigrants end up with high numbers of undocumented migrants. That also is difficult to measure, particularly now that immigration from Mexico, the largest source of illegal immigration, has dwindled to essentially zero.

And the story, by Carol Morello and Luz Lazo, starts right out with the emotional punch to the gut:

A native of Puebla, Mexico, (Alexandra) Gonzalez feels more at home in Baltimore with every passing year. She attends city-run nutrition and exercise classes in Spanish and takes her two young children to a Spanish-language storytelling hour at her neighborhood library. She plans to earn a GED and become a teacher.

Both of Gonzalez’s young children were born in America, so they are American citizens; meanwhile, the accompanying photo captions to the story say Alexandra and her husband are here sans permission. And it doesn’t sound like they’re looking to assimilate anytime soon, since she’s taking Spanish-language courses and sending her kids to similar classes. William Donald Schaefer is slowly spinning in his grave.

Of course, Pat McDonough weighed in. I did not change the text of this excerpt of his release – indeed, it is all caps:

THE MAYOR’S ‘AMNESTY ATMOSPHERE’ IS CREATING UNFAIR COMPETITION FOR JOBS AND ENTRANCE INTO COMMUNITY COLLEGE FOR THE LEGAL RESIDENTS OF BALTIMORE. THE MAYOR IS PANDERING TO THE HISPANIC VOTE, CREATING A SUPER MAGNET FOR AN INFLUX OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS.

(snip)

I AM SURPRISED THAT THE MEDIA, PRESS, AND OTHER ELECTED OFFICIALS HAVE NOT CHALLENGED HER IN THESE EXTREME AND RECKLESS POLICIES.

For the most part Pat is right, but how many people are going to kill the messenger? Dude, lighten up a little, stop being a publicity hog, and fire whoever is writing your stuff in all caps. You just might be the reason no one is challenging these policies.

And it’s a shame because being a bull in a china shop like that, in many instances, drowns out more reasoned arguments like this one from writer Hans Bader about upcoming proposed rule changes in Maryland schools. In many, the inmates would end up running the asylum. (Sorry about the link – Examiner is really overdoing it on intrusive ads.)

Finally, I want to send out a bat-signal to a couple of my loyal readers who have items before the County Council, ones which will certainly be decided during their next meeting. Both the Charter Review Committee and Redistricting Committee have finished their work, and I know the County Council held a work session on both in their last meeting.

If I can get an executive summary of the proposed Charter changes and a copy of the proposed map, I would find it most helpful for analysis of both. The briefing book County Council used in their last meeting is 90 pages long with a lot of extraneous information. Even though I’ve been described as “wordy,” “verbose,” and “wonky,” I like concise information.

The next County Council meeting will be Tuesday, August 7, and it should be the monthly evening meeting. From what I’ve read on the Charter changes, they should be palatable to most but I just want to make sure my interpretation is correct. Meanwhile, I understand the county’s district map had to change quite a bit and I think it would be helpful for my commentary on it to have a copy for sharing!

So there you have it, the odds and ends of life.

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