Troubling ethics charges in county race

This letter was sent to me by incoming Central Committee member Dr. Greg Belcher. His concern was an e-mail sent out by Tamara Lee-Brooks, the county’s Public Information Officer, to her county e-mail address list.

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Wicomico County residents should be informed about recent events involving the County Executive and his staff.

It has come to my attention that on October 17 the Wicomico County Public Information Officer sent an e-mail message to various persons announcing a joint press conference to be held by Anthony Brown, Rick Pollitt (Brown’s local campaign manager), and the mayor of Salisbury to criticize Brown’s opponent, Larry Hogan. In her e-mail Ms. Lee-Brooks stated that she “was asked to forward” the announcement but did not identify by whom. However, Mr. Pollitt is her superior, in essence if not directly.

It is my understanding that such a communication is a clear violation of the County’s ethics law by Ms. Lee-Brooks, and more significantly the supervisor who ordered it, reasonably assumed to be Mr. Pollitt or another member of his staff. Using public resources (and personnel) for partisan political purposes is strictly prohibited by the law.

Other conduct by Mr. Pollitt and/or members of his staff deserves the voters’ consideration, as well. It has been reported that County vehicles are being used for personal matters, including visiting a local bar and grill. And – in response to Freedom of Information requests – it has been disclosed that Mr. Pollitt has used his County credit card to buy personal groceries on more than one occasion and pay for meals at restaurants. Such conduct is unacceptable, even if Mr. Pollitt promptly reimbursed the County. This, too, is a likely violation of the County’s ethics law.

A complaint is being filed with the County’s Ethics Commission asking for appropriate sanction for matters discussed above. That body should investigate the charges and act appropriately in advance of November 4.

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This is the text of the e-mail sent by Lee-Brooks, who added she was “asked to forward for your attention.”

FOR ADVISORY PURPOSES
Friday, October 17, 2014
Contact:
Jerid Kurtz: 443-297-7702
JeridKurtz@AnthonyBrown.com

Press Office: 240-478-6488
Press@AnthonyBrown.com

FRIDAY: Anthony Brown, Rick Pollitt, Jim Ireton to Hold Press Conference on Harm Larry Hogan’s $450 Million Cut to School Construction Would Cause to the Eastern Shore

Hogan’s “Savings Plan” includes a $450 Million Cut to School Construction Funding that Would Threaten Projects – like Bennett Middle School- Throughout the Eastern Shore

Upper Marlboro, MD – On Friday at 11:00 a.m., Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt, and Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton will hold a press conference to discuss the harm that Republican Larry Hogan’s $450 million cut to school construction would have on the Eastern Shore.

These cuts are contained in Hogan’s so-called savings plan — a plan whose numbers the Baltimore Sun noted “don’t add up.”

Hogan’s proposed $450 million cut to school construction could put projects like the construction of Bennett Middle School out of reach for many communities along the Eastern Shore. For the next four years, counties across the Eastern Shore have requested millions in state funding for repairs and renovations in order to modernize their classrooms and deal with overcrowding. But school construction cuts could put all of these local projects at risk.

What:
Press Conference to discuss the harm Larry Hogan’s $450 million cut to school construction would cause to the Eastern Shore’s public schools.

When:
Friday, October 17th at 11:00 a.m.

Where:
Outside of Bennett Middle School
523 South Division Street, Fruitland, MD
Click here for a map.

It’s worth pointing out that the State Ethics Commission has already deemed this letter improper, but for some strange reason none of the local media is very interested in that fact.

In response, county Republican Party Chairman Dave Parker has today asked the county attorney to investigate:

I am deeply concerned that recent actions by elected and appointed Wicomico County officials were in direct violation of §37, the Wicomico County Ethics Law – and likely also the Maryland Ethics law.

The Brown/Ulman gubernatorial campaign recently scheduled a “press conference” in Salisbury claiming “to discuss” Hogan’s alleged plan to make a $450 million cut to school construction on the Eastern Shore. That alleged cut is clearly part of the political dialog which typically occurs during campaigns for office, and as such is clearly more a scare tactic than a reliable statement of fact. At best it is a partisan political disagreement.

However, as the attached email indicates, Tamara Lee-Brooks, the Wicomico Public Information Officer, honored a request (from an unnamed source) to forward the announcement of Brown’s press conference, and Matt Creamer, the Wicomico County Council Administrator, further forwarded this request (as a media advisory). Members of the media consequently reported this so-called press conference, apparently actually attended by Brown. Regardless of the number of individuals to whom this request was forwarded, the County time and other County resources consumed are what are what I believe were unethical.

As I understand the law, because these were obviously partisan political actions in support of the Brown/Ulman campaign, using County Offices, County email, and County employee time to forward Brown’s announcement were are all violations of ethics laws. Because County Executive Rick Pollitt is not only ultimately responsible for supervising Tamara Lee-Brooks but because he also serves as Brown’s local campaign manager, an investigation will likely identify others who used County resources to promote the Brown/Ulman campaign.

Accordingly, with this letter I am, in accordance with instructions I received from your office by telephone, herewith submitting to you a formal ethics complaint for you to deliver to the Wicomico County Ethics Commission for their action. Moreover, I’m requesting that the Commission first thoroughly investigate, then determine and publicly identify and announce both what ethical violations have taken place (and by whom) and what corrective measures will be taken to prevent similar violations in the future.

On the other hand, if overt partisan political activity using County time and resources is not a violation of law, then please so inform me, in writing, that this is the case, citing the appropriate legal authorities.

It’s highly unlikely at this late date that any resolution will occur before Tuesday, but this is just another example of shoddy ethics in Wicomico County government.

Yet these scare tactics from local and state Democrats – in lieu of a record of success from nominee and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown – are par for the course. Sensible voters know Bennett Middle School will be finished and other projects will probably get their funding. It’s worth pointing out as well that there may be some cost savings on individual projects which could make a big difference that Larry Hogan could – and should – get behind, such as eliminating the need to comply with LEED Silver standards and prevailing wage for school construction (as Ohio did some years ago.)

Of course, the real change which should be made in Maryland education creates a prospect that scares the living bejeezus out of Maryland Democrats and their wholly owned subsidiary, the Maryland State Education Association. That would be a program of money following the child regardless of schooling situation, forcing public schools to compete on a level playing field with charter, for-profit, and faith-based educational institutions as well as making homeschooling more affordable.

So it’s not a surprise that Democrats circle the wagons around school construction because it’s not the buildings that are being threatened, it’s the power structure.

An early voting update

If you subscribe to the theory that the most motivated voters will be there with bells on when early voting starts, it appears that statewide Republicans are slightly more enthused than Democrats.

Final update, Friday 10/31: While Democrats pulled away ever-so-slightly to finish with a higher percentage of early voters statewide than Republicans (9.29% – 9.17%) there are two conclusions which can be drawn.

One is that early voting seems to have gained acceptance among Republicans, as the total nearly matched the 2012 Presidential election number of 9.31% of the electorate.

The second is that Eastern Shore voters are by far the most receptive to the concept. While the major parties picked up just under 10% of voters statewide, about 1 in 5 Talbot County Republicans and Democrats used the process. As for the four lower Shore counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 9.64%, Democrats 7.68%
  • Somerset: Republicans 11.69%, Democrats 9.27%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 10.50%, Democrats 8.92%
  • Worcester: Republicans 11.49%, Democrats 9.57%

If four more Kent County Republicans had voted early, the entire Eastern Shore would have had a Republican advantage in early voting. As it stood for yesterday’s final day of early voting, the Democrats held sway by a 827-795 tally. Republicans, despite a significant registration disadvantage, had more voters for five of the eight days locally and ended up with 5,056 voters to 5,024 for the Democrats.

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Update, Thursday 10/30: The race is almost tied between Democrats and Republicans (by percentage) statewide, as the two sides are 0.02% apart (7.35 to 7.33). Democrats maintain that slight edge statewide, but the GOP is still ahead locally by wide margins:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 7.52%, Democrats 6.12%
  • Somerset: Republicans 9.58%, Democrats 7.86%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 8.90%, Democrats 7.43%
  • Worcester: Republicans 10.01%, Democrats 8.18%

Republicans on the Lower Shore maintained a raw advantage for the day at the polls by a 678-671 count.

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Update, Wednesday 10/29: Democrats extended their lead on a statewide basis 6.04% – 5.97%. But the GOP maintains its edge in local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 6.12%, Democrats 5.11%
  • Somerset: Republicans 8.26%, Democrats 6.63%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 7.55%, Democrats 6.15%
  • Worcester: Republicans 8.35%, Democrats 7.04%

Republicans on the Lower Shore maintained a raw advantage for the day at the polls by a 671-621 count. And there are some incredible totals among some counties: both parties in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties are already over 10% turnout, but Talbot County Republicans have already eclipsed the 15 percent mark with the Democrats not far behind at 12.46 percent. Obviously that part of the Eastern Shore has embraced early voting, while the western end of the state seems to lag with Allegany and Washington counties well below average.

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Update, Tuesday 10/28: Democrats still lead by a slim margin on a statewide basis 4.80% – 4.76%. But the GOP maintains its edge in local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 4.91%, Democrats 4.24%
  • Somerset: Republicans 6.45%, Democrats 5.57%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 6.10%, Democrats 5.00%
  • Worcester: Republicans 6.96%, Democrats 5.86%

All but one of the Eastern Shore counties have Republicans leading Democrats (Kent is the exception), and Wicomico joined Worcester as the second-highest GOP margin in the state behind Talbot County at this juncture. Republicans added a county as well and now lead by percentage in 15 of the state’s 23 counties. Republicans on the Lower Shore regained a raw advantage for the day at the polls by a 624-606 count.

I was doing some research on 2010 election turnout and it looks like turnout is tracking about the same as it did back then, at least locally.

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Update, Monday 10/27: At the halfway point of the eight days (through Sunday), Democrats finally edged ahead on a statewide basis 3.58% – 3.56%. But the GOP maintains its edge in local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 3.72%, Democrats 3.31%
  • Somerset: Republicans 4.92%, Democrats 4.59%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 4.73%, Democrats 3.91%
  • Worcester: Republicans 5.68%, Democrats 4.68%

All but one of the Eastern Shore counties have Republicans leading Democrats (Kent is the exception), and Worcester remains the second-highest GOP margin in the state behind Talbot County at this juncture. Republicans lead by percentage in 14 of the state’s 23 counties and the Eastern Shore sha 8 of these 14. But local Democrats won this day at the polls by a 332-304 count.

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Update, Sunday 10/26: On a slow Saturday for voting overall, Democrats came back to close the statewide gap; it’s now 3.11% – 3.08%. New totals for local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 3.43%, Democrats 2.96%
  • Somerset: Republicans 4.21%, Democrats 3.90%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 4.03%, Democrats 3.35%
  • Worcester: Republicans 4.94%, Democrats 3.91%

All but one of the Eastern Shore counties have Republicans leading Democrats (Kent is the exception), and Worcester has the second-highest GOP margin in the state behind Talbot County at this juncture. But for the second straight day, local Republicans outpaced Democrats at the polls by a 342-331 count.

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Update, Saturday 10/25: The GOP extended its lead in the state to 2.56% – 2.47% partly on the strength of solid gains on the lower Shore. All four of these counties added to Republican gains, with the raw number of Republicans actually exceeding Democrats on Friday by a 750-697 count. New totals:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 3.11%, Democrats 2.57%
  • Somerset: Republicans 3.66%, Democrats 3.32%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 3.15%, Democrats 2.69%
  • Worcester: Republicans 4.17%, Democrats 3.30%

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1.34% of GOP voters statewide made it to early voting compared to 1.31% of Democrats, but this marks the first time Republican turnout as a percentage outstripped Democrat turnout on the first day of balloting in a general election. In the Presidential election of 2012, 2.56% of Democrats came out compared to 1.68% of Republicans, and that advantage grew greater with each passing day. Meanwhile, 2010 saw Democrats edge Republicans on the first day by 1.04% to 1% on their way to an overall advantage of just under 1 percent. So a Republican advantage at this juncture could spell good news for their candidates.

However, on the Lower Shore Republicans have a distinct advantage in turnout percentage and nearly eclipsed the Democrats – who hold a registration advantage in all four counties – in terms of raw numbers. Democrats held a slight 939-892 advantage in first-day turnout. (For the four counties overall, Democrats lead in registration 56,462 to 46,862.)

  • Dorchester: Republicans 1.66%, Democrats 1.49%
  • Somerset: Republicans 2.37%, Democrats 2.17%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 1.54%, Democrats 1.49%
  • Worcester: Republicans 2.39%, Democrats 1.86%

The turnout is brisk in legislative District 38C, where 2.02% of voters turned out on the first day and made it the fourth-best rate in the state. In Wicomico County, District 38B leads the way with 1.62% while, ironically, District 38C performs the worst at 0.82% – perhaps due to distance from the county’s lone early voting polling place in Salisbury. Reportedly, candidates from both parties are hitting this Wicomico County location hard and the Republicans are set up there with a table.

But on a state and local basis, this has to be encouraging to Republicans who didn’t adopt early voting originally but have been encouraged by party brass to take advantage of it to make sure their votes were cast in this important election. If Republicans can hang with Democrats in terms of percentage of early voters, it may be their Election Day turnout will push them to a better overall showing than expected, making the turnout models pollsters use overly optimistic toward Democrats.

Time to do the deed

Today is the day that tiny percentage of Maryland registered voters who actually do this begin going to the polls for early voting. I know some of my party cohorts will be out at the Civic Center campaigning for the Republican ticket, and needless to say it’s a straight R year for me.

But there are races I’m much more passionate about than others, so let’s go through the list and I’ll tell you what I think. That IS why you come here, isn’t it? If my number 16 race doesn’t come out I won’t be all that upset, but if the top half-dozen or so go the wrong way I’ll be pissed. These are the 16 items on my specimen ballot – I live in House District 38B and Wicomico County Council District 3, which is one of only two of the five districts to have a contested race.

  1. Carl Anderton, Jr. for Delegate, District 38B. I am really tired of my poor representation in Annapolis from Norm Conway. He votes for every bloated budget, (almost) every conformity with Obamacare, every accommodation to Big Labor, and a number of other dreadful things as well: in 2011 he voted for the Congressional redistricting that made our state a laughingstock but in committee he helped kill provisions to allow referendums on tax increases and proof of lawful presence before collecting benefits. In 2012 he voted to saddle new homeowners with the added expense of sprinklers, but he saddled the rest of us with the rain tax, tier maps, and the key to getting around our county’s revenue cap by mandating maintenance of effort spending. Granted, once in awhile he votes the right way but why lose on three or four issues to gain one? Republicans and pro-Wicomico Democrats: don’t fall for the hype of potentially losing a committee chair – even though Norm is a fairly nice guy, if he were all that powerful we would be the richest county in the state and we are far from that. It’s definitely time for some new blood to get us back to work. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  2. Mike McDermott for Senate, District 38. Really, this should be 1-a but my function won’t let me do that. Jim Mathias may vote a little better than Norm Conway, but I would rather have someone who’s a thorn in the side of the current Annapolis majority – who went out of their way to lump him into a district with another sitting Delegate – than a backbencher. What better way to thumb your nose at those who believe the Eastern Shore is the state’s “shithouse” (in more ways than one) than to foil their political intentions? If I can pick up 60 points on the monoblogue Accountability Project by changing my representation, you know the answer is yes. This is another race where conservatives need to come home and not cross the aisle, because Jim’s few blind squirrel votes aren’t worth the overall pain. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  3. Bob Culver for County Executive.  Our county has stumbled and staggered through this so-called recovery with the incumbent Rick Pollitt, a self-described bureaucrat, in charge. Don’t forget that Rick whined about the revenue cap for the first three years in office and promised a zero-based budget I haven’t seen yet. After eight years, it’s time for a change in tactics and Bob can be a fresh set of eyes to address our declining number of employed. I know Bob may rub some the wrong way but I’m willing to overlook that because, to me, re-electing Rick Pollitt is the definition of insanity for Wicomico County. Chances of success: I would say about 40-50 percent.
  4. M.J. Caldwell for Circuit Court Judge. To me, this is a perplexing case. Here you have an experienced attorney who knows his way around a courtroom taking on a person whose claim to fame is his last name – if it were Swartz, he’d still be at his old firm. But because people still know the Sarbanes name in this area, the newly-appointed “incumbent” got the gig. I was extremely disappointed and somewhat disgusted to see that Caldwell only won the Republican primary with 57 percent of the vote – people, do your homework! Caldwell would be a good judge. Chances of success: about 1 in 3 unless Republicans shape up.
  5. William Campbell for Comptroller. You’ll notice Peter Franchot has played up his fiscal watchdog tendencies in this campaign, but I think that if Larry Hogan becomes governor we need Bill to keep him grounded and make the Board of Public Works work in a conservative direction for the first time in…well, ever. Unfortunately, Bill has little money to get his message out and Franchot’s too scared to debate him. One problem with Larry Hogan taking public financing is that the Maryland GOP is spending maximum time and effort fundraising for Larry instead of helping these downballot races. Chances of success: alas, probably less than 1 percent.
  6. Larry Hogan for Governor. All politics is local, so I think the state race can take care of itself. But I hope that Hogan has enough coattails to bring in a dozen Delegates and half-dozen new Senators, including the two mentioned above. While I hated his primary campaign, I have to admit Hogan’s done a good job in the general election round. But will it be enough? Polls suggest it might. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  7. Larry Dodd for District 3 Council. The thing that bothers me about his opponent is that, for all his “aw, shucks” demeanor, he’s been exposed to a large number of anti-property rights zealots. He worked for Joan Carter Conway, the Senate’s EHEA Chair, and not only does she have a lifetime mAP rating of 4 (yes, that’s really bad) but she has passed a lot of bad legislation through her committee over the last several years – something Josh fails to mention. But I will give Josh Hastings his due: he’s campaigning hard, knocked on my door and has worked harder for the seat than Dodd has. It would be a shame to succeed a good, conservative Councilwoman in Gail Bartkovich with a liberal who may have grown up on a farm but has spent his politically formative years more readily influenced by Baltimore City and Annapolis. Chances of success: about 35 to 40 percent.
  8. John Cannon for at-large County Council. While his voting record has often been a disappointment, he was one of the two who got through the primary. I have more hope for him becoming a conservative stalwart, though, than I do for his fellow Republican. Chances of success: around 60 percent.
  9. Voting against Question 1. I’ve stated my reasons for opposition before, but most of the money is backing it and referendum items rarely fail. Chances of success: less than 10 percent.
  10. Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. We are really in trouble, folks. We could have had one of our good county state’s attorneys (or my personal favorite, Jim Rutledge) step up but instead we got Pritzker, who I have never met. When I see prominent conservative-leaning bloggers backing the Libertarian in the race, it can’t be much of a campaign. That’s a shame, because there’s more to the campaign than legalizing pot. And losing this seat means the gun-grabbing Brian Frosh will be our Attorney General. Chances of success: even less than Campbell’s sub-1 percent shot.
  11. Matt Holloway for at-large County Council. There are many holes in his voting record as well, but winning the primary makes him the odds-on favorite to not be third on November 4. So I guess I’ll have to wonder how often he’ll cave for another four years. Chances of success: over 80 percent.
  12. Andy Harris for Congress. No muss, no fuss. Have you heard a word about Bill Tilghman? The one thing you can say about Bill is that at least we haven’t caught him voting twice. This race is perhaps the closest thing to an automatic win for our side – when even the Daily Times has to endorse you, it’s a good sign. Chances of success: over 95 percent.
  13. Voting against Andrea Leahy as a Special Appeals Judge. Similar to the election involving Jimmy Sarbanes, Judge Leahy is up for election because she was appointed by Martin O’Malley in March. I looked at her profile and wasn’t impressed, but it’s rare a judge is tossed out. I would love to see who Larry Hogan would appoint, but if Leahy lost Martin O’Malley would rush another appointee through – and he or she would sit until 2016. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  14. Voting against Kevin Arthur as a Special Appeals Judge. His profile is better than Leahy’s but, still, he is an O’Malley appointee. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  15. Grover Cantwell for Orphan’s Court Judge. I have never met the guy, yet he wants my vote. This is a part of the ballot where those who get listed first (the Democrats) have the advantage because they’ve all been on the ballot before. Chances of success: perhaps 1 in 3.
  16. Voting for Question 2. I can get behind this proposal, which allows charter counties like Wicomico the option to have special elections to fill County Council seats. Having gone through the process of filling such a vacancy, I think it should be opened up despite the risk of losing a GOP seat to a Democrat. Chances of success: over 90 percent.

So this is how I think my local election will go. As for some other contested county races I’m supporting, in order of likelihood of success:

  • Addie Eckardt for Senate, District 37. The hard part for her was winning the primary. Sure, there may be some diehard Colburn supporters out there but their other choice is a guy he beat by 20 points last time around. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Mary Beth Carozza for Delegate, District 38C. Having an opponent who wears a “Ban Assault Weapons” t-shirt to an Andy Harris townhall event provides an immediate advantage in this area. But Mary Beth has been working since the summer of 2013 on this race, and that hard work is on the verge of paying off. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Marc Kilmer for District 2 Council. When your opponent threatens to go to court for winning, you know you’re in good shape. But Marc has taken nothing for granted, works hard, and has a fairly solid Republican district. Chances of success: at least 80 percent.
  • Christopher Adams for Delegate, District 37B. He wasn’t the top vote-getter in any county, but he’s run a solid campaign and the dynamics of the race give him a better path to victory than fellow Republican contender Johnny Mautz. Chances of success: a solid 75 percent.
  • Johnny Mautz for Delegate, District 37B. By far the top primary vote-getter, the one drawback is that he has to finish ahead of Keasha Haythe because both hail from Talbot County and there’s a limit of one per county. If he were second to her in the overall voting, he would lose and the third-place finisher moves up. With that in mind, I give him just ever-so-slightly less favorable odds. Chances of success: a solid 74.9 percent.

My advice to every contender in the last two weeks: run like you are five points behind. See you at the polls!

2014 Autumn Wine Festival in pictures and text

October 21, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off 

Yet again I was found at Pemberton Historical Park for an event involving potent potables. But this one was more like work for me because I’m simply not a wine drinker – didn’t have a drop. Yet I did take a few photos.

So once the ribbon was cut by (among others) County Council members Matt Holloway, Stevie Prettyman, Gail Bartkovich, and John Hall, we were underway. I was really there for our Republican booth.

Carol Rose is a big fan of monoblogue and now she’s famous. Actually it gives me an opportunity to thank a whole crew of people who helped out for at least part of a day for the two events: Jackie Wellfonder, Shawn Jester, Carol Rose, Greg Belcher, Linda Luffman, Phil Adkins, David Warren, and Larry Dodd, who you’ll see in a little while. Jim Jester didn’t sit with us, but he was valuable for helping me to set up and take down for each event. That’s a job in and of itself.

But I wasn’t the only person helping get out the vote. Circuit Court judge candidate M.J. Caldwell had his own space.

These were the Ritz crackers with cheese. Sunday visitors got the upgrade to Triscuits.

On the other side of the aisle (literally) were our friends, the Democrats. Pete Evans was there most of the weekend, and as I noted this morning I spoke to Delegate candidate Rod Benjamin for a bit while I was there. I also saw Laura Mitchell from afar.

I was a lot closer to Mike McDermott and Chris Adams, who stopped by Saturday to try and collect votes.

As I noted, District 3 contender Larry Dodd was by on Sunday checking out my neighboring tent while helping man the table.

It’s worth pointing out that attendance between Saturday and Sunday was like night and day. While I took these from different vantage points, the time of day was pretty close between the Saturday photo on top and the Sunday one at the bottom.

Something else a little different was the use of one space. On Saturday, the top photo shows a VIP area. On Sunday it was converted to an artisan’s tent with some of their wares put out.

For a few extra dollars on Saturday, you got the nicely appointed tables, a bigscreen TV, a large sectional sofa, and private restrooms. With the exception of the tables, they kept those things on Sunday but very few were there.

Of course, the weather had a lot to do with the spotty Sunday attendance. While it was in the 70s and balmy Saturday, a chilly, cloudy morning and gusting gales on Sunday reminded me again why I call it the Autumn Wind Festival. And those gusts created havoc at the other political tents, oddly enough.

M.J. Caldwell’s tent reared up on two legs before being corralled. But as David Warren saw with his photo, the Democrats weren’t as fortunate.

You’ll notice how devoid of people this end of the festival appeared on Sunday. Unfortunately for a lot of vendors, it was that way Saturday, too. I took this about 3:45, just at the end of the peak time.

While a few were playing games and some watched the college football – granted, the television tent was a little busier on Sunday afternoon for the Ravens game – there was another place people stayed.

Bear in mind I took the next picture Sunday, with the smaller crowd.

Practically every section of this fence had a group staked out. They were close to the wine tents, lucky ones had a view of the stage, and they had their chairs for the duration. With the layout of the event, it was tough on the vendors beyond the last tent – we were lucky enough to be on the back side of it so at least we had some traffic.

If you noticed the chair Larry Dodd was sitting in, it was part of a collection from this vendor.

They have an interesting story since this couple, who I presume are married, traveled from Ohio to the AWF – apparently they do several similar shows a year around the country with the next one in Texas.

So if you wondering who the couple in the Cleveland Browns gear was, there’s your answer. And the chairs seem to be fairly comfortable based on my limited experience of sitting in one for five minutes, so why not give them a plug as thanks? Besides, at $139.95 I figure a year’s free advertising on my site is a fair trade for an air chair. (Never hurts to ask!)

Of course, my better half might prefer the Gollywobbler.

That was fairly good marketing, but not as unique as this tagline.

And since I had the hop head from last week, why not the grape guy?

Still, I favor the more traditional. I really liked the usage of the barrel.

And, of course, the more colorful the bottles in the sunshine, the more likely it is I’ll use the shot. The Winery at Olney gets that honor this year.

But as a vendor, I want to close with my two cents. For those at the south end of the festival, it was pretty brutal. One thing about the layout they use is that 80% of the people can conceivably cluster around the four large tents and the stage in the middle all day. I saw a few people who brought their lunch so they were all set aside from the bathroom breaks.

What I would suggest is a two-stage setup like the Good Beer Festival employs, because it may entice a little more churn in the crowd. Yes, you will get your campers but they may be more inclined to move during an hour break between bands than a 30-minute one.

I’m sure we’ll be back next year, even though it’s pretty much an off-year election (except for the city of Salisbury, which will be in campaign mode.) We may have a little Presidential material as well as those who may run for the Senate, but we won’t have a lot to give out. I would like a little more traffic, though.

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 2: District 37

Yesterday I discussed what was said by the county-level candidates at this forum, so today I’m covering the six hopefuls who represented District 37: Addie Eckardt and Chris Robinson for the Senate seat, and Christopher Adams, Rod Benjamin, Keasha Haythe, and Johnny Mautz for District 37B.

Of the two seeking the Senate seat, Eckardt has by far the most political experience as she was elected as a Delegate in 1994, serving in the House ever since. At the eleventh hour this cycle she dropped her quest for a sixth House term and jumped into the Senate race, defeating longtime incumbent Senator Richard Colburn in a bitterly-contested primary. Robinson, on the other hand, is making his second straight bid for the Senate seat after losing to Colburn in 2010. He could be considered a perennial candidate as he’s also run unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 and 2006, twice finishing second in the First District primary. Chris was also a last-minute addition after original Democratic candidate Cheryl Everman withdrew.

Their first question had to do with the retirement climate in Maryland, which is bad, but relevant to the district as a number of retirees live along the Chesapeake Bay. Eckardt properly noted the state’s poor showing in rankings of best states to retire in, but added that we needed to look at tax policy across the board, along with addressing the “duplicative nature” of our regulatory system.

After stating that “our jurisdiction is no different than any other jurisdiction,” Robinson agreed that we had to “ratchet back” spending and not raise taxes. But on the second question about the Affordable Care Act, Chris made the case that “it hasn’t worked its way through the country,” and while the rollout of the state exchange was “botched” he thought the emphasis on preventative care was worthwhile. “Give this process a chance,” he concluded.

Eckardt told us that the “good news” about the state’s adoption of Obamacare was the Medicaid expansion, which she believed should have been done first before the exchanges. With it being done in its present manner, premiums were up and employers were dropping coverage. She believed the states needed to promote change at the federal level.

When asked about key real estate issues, Addie wanted to bring together mortgage holders and first time homebuyers by conducting an inventory of tax sales and foreclosures. Meanwhile, Robinson wished to “put points on the board” by making towns exciting and vibrant, calling on builders to create quality homes.

I found Robinson’s closing statement to be intriguing, as he said he was “inspired” by Rick Pollitt and Norm Conway. “I want to be just like them,” he said. Eckardt stressed the power of communication to solve problems, and pledged to be focused and deliberate.

To be honest, I didn’t see Robinson saying or doing anything which would suggest he’ll do much better than the 40 percent he got last time against Colburn. He tried to portray himself as a fiscal conservative, but in this region it’s tough to out-conservative the Republicans.

In contrast to the veteran presence of Eckardt and the perennial candidate in Chris Robinson for the Senate race, the House of Delegates will have two new representatives. Those representatives will have to pay attention to southern and western Wicomico County, which has felt underrepresented in the past based on the thrust of the opening question.

As it turns out, Christopher Adams is from Wicomico, so he stated the obvious: he will be a resident delegate, focusing on our municipalities and business. That business background led him to pledge that “my customers will be my constituents,” regardless of where they live in the district. But he also stressed that we have to start “winning the argument” against the Democrats.

Keasha Haythe replied that she was used to working across county lines as an economic development director, so working with Wicomico County residents wouldn’t be an issue. Similarly, Rod Benjamin pointed out the similarities between his home area in Church Creek and the area of western Wicomico County.

Johnny Mautz noted that he had spent a lot of time in Wicomico County and would work with its local and municipal governments.

This quartet got perhaps the strangest question of the night, one which asked about the effects of climate change and flooding.

Mautz indicated his belief that the state should help flood-prone landowners, but reminded us the flood insurance rates are based on federal mandates.

Benjamin also believed the flood insurance cost was “unfair.” And climate change? “Truth is, I don’t know what the truth is,” he said, noting that he’d seen some extreme tides recently.

Haythe believed we needed to be proactive about the sea level rise, stating it’s already affecting the planned Harriet Tubman visitor center.

But Chris Adams turned the question on its head, taking issue with subsidized government interference. The Eastern Shore, he said, “should be pro-growth, pro-construction.” He also objected to the federal government turning a significant part of Dorchester County into a national park, warning that it would adversely affect private property owners in the area who would lose their rights.

Adams stayed in that vein during the “realtor” question, making the case that Sussex County, Delaware was the prime beneficiary of Maryland’s mistakes, which include a prospective 64% property tax increase because of our state’s growing debt. He pledged to be business-friendly, saying “I’m about jobs.”

Haythe thought a path to success for realtors involved taking advantage of state and federal programs, and leaning on pros (like herself) who know how to create jobs.

Land use was “a large concern” to Johnny Mautz, as were taxes.

Benjamin was asked a little later on about this question, and made the case that local control of issues is preferred. He also offered that the “tier system is better than the smart growth system.” He also proposed a Startup Maryland program, based on a program Wicomico County already has in place for tax abatement.

Later, in his closing statement, Rod told us all we had homework: tell others about what was said tonight. He repeated a mantra of “reduce taxes, reduce government.”

Reducing taxes was also on the agenda of Johnny Mautz, who told us “my word is my bond.”

Keashe Haythe encouraged us to consider both her track record of results and her “human American platform.”

Finally, Christopher Adams begged Annapolis to “leave us to our Shore way of life.”

To me, this was the weakest link in the debate. The questions were relatively uninspiring and most of the answers were fairly rote. One interesting aspect of the House of Delegates discussion was that Rod Benjamin was openly trying to sound as conservative as the Republicans. (In fact, I ran into him at the Autumn Wine Festival and his tone was relatively the same.) On the other hand, Keasha Haythe wanted to make us believe that an economic development director could create jobs.

Yet I did a quick bit of research into Dorchester County’s job creation and retention since 2009, and it shows their labor force has declined by 921 people in five years, with 554 fewer unemployed but 367 fewer actually working. Since she began her job in 2008, Dorchester isn’t doing all that well and one could argue it’s state policies holding her back – policies which emanate from her party. Perhaps it’s something which a woman who’s worked in the public sector for over a decade may not understand.

On the other hand, Adams and Mautz both run businesses so they have created jobs and added value. (Both also support this local blog.)

To me, it was telling that almost all of the candidates tried to convince the crowd of their conservatism. It was much the same in District 38, although there were a disappointing number of omissions. More on that tomorrow.

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices

As I noted the other day when I broached the subject, more than a dozen candidates shared the stage for a forum sponsored in part by the Coastal Association of Realtors and the Salisbury Independent newspaper. In this first part, I’ll discuss some of what the county candidates said.

First, the contenders:

For County Executive, two-term incumbent Rick Pollitt faced off with challenger County Councilman Bob Culver. Pollitt was elected in 2006 as Wicomico County’s first County Executive and narrowly won re-election over Republican Joe Ollinger in 2010. Bob Culver lost in a three-way Republican primary in 2006 for County Executive to eventual nominee Ron Alessi and B.J. Corbin before rebounding to win an at-large County Council seat in 2010.

Culver’s seat is being sought by two who join Republican Matt Holloway in attempting to win one of the two at-large County Council posts. Holloway was elected to County Council in the same 2010 election that brought Culver back; ironically those seats opened up because the two incumbents decided not to continue. One of those two was John Cannon, who unsuccessfully ran for the General Assembly in 2010 after one term on the County Council from 2006-10. Now John seeks a return after a four-year hiatus, noting that being a Council member was his “lifeblood.”

The lone Democrat seeking one of the two at-large seats is current Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell. Mitchell has served on the City Council since being elected in 2011.

(While there are 7 contenders for the five district Council seats, the forum only covered the pair of countywide posts.)

In the County Executive race, the two contenders disagree on a lot but agree that they would have “stark contrasts” in their approaches to governing. For example, when asked what the most pressing issue was, Culver was blunt: it was the loss of jobs over the last 18 months. (In the July 2013-July 2014 period, BLS statistics show Wicomico County lost 429 jobs as its labor force fell by 649.)

On the other hand, Pollitt asserted we were still in a recession and pleaded that “we have to rebuild our community.” He went on to describe how the needed to “leverage assets” like Wallops Island, Virginia, the port of Salisbury, and the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development organization. It was part of a required overall strategy for the “new normal,” added Pollitt.

When it came to whether additional tax increases would be required, Pollitt pointed out that the property tax rates had to increase just to stay even – four cents of the five cent increase this year simply brought us back to constant yield, with the other penny being allowed under the revenue cap. Four of of six Republicans voted for this tax increase, which was the “only responsible thing” to do.

Culver wasn’t one of those Republicans, though. He contended the county needed to go back to zero-based budgeting and trim the fat one step at a time. “Right now the time is not for a tax increase,” said Bob. “We have to do it from a business aspect.”

Another bone of contention came in the question about how best to assist realtors. Culver argued that dropping the county’s impact fee had resulted in 54 new homes being built in Wicomico County, and pointed out that there was only 16% of the county’s land mass which could be developed and we had just 3 percent to go.

Pollitt shot back that the impact fee change was part of the overall budget Culver opposed, restated that government needs to provide services and reminded us that five of the seven Council members had been correct in voting for the budget.

Rick closed with a familiar theme of “building community,” noting as well his role as the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition legislative chair and in the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. The more plain-spoken Culver repeated his assertion that “I think Wicomico County government is broken.”

If you look at it stylistically, Pollitt is a sharper debater. But the approach he’s taken over the last few years has been pragmatic by circumstance rather than by choice. And since the zero-based budgeting Pollitt did as city manager of Fruitland and promised early on doesn’t appear to be the case now – because it’s a campaign issue – and he whined early on in his tenure about the voter-installed revenue cap,  one wonders what the budget and tax rate would be if not for the recession.

Rick Pollitt often talks about what he calls “quality of life” issues. But it has to be asked whether our quality of life is better when job numbers are going the wrong way.

The County Council members were asked a different set of questions. One of them was on how to take the good things happening in downtown Salisbury and jump start the area outside the metro core and the other dealt with thoughts on the comprehensive plan.

John Cannon got first shot at the former question, and he opened by praising the “refreshing” leadership of Salisbury City Council president Jake Day. But he believed the county had the responsibility to create its own environment for growth, and Cannon wanted to bring together the major players on a quarterly basis.

As far as tier maps went, John believed it was an argument of local vs. state control and was hoping for relief with the new administration, presumably a Larry Hogan one. He also advocated for enhanced transfer of development rights and perhaps even a wastewater treatment authority. He also noted that he had pushed for a reduction in impact fees six years ago when he was on County Council.

Matt Holloway outlined some of the accomplishments the county has achieved since he came on board: decoupling the personal property tax rate from the real property tax rate, phasing out the inventory tax, and making the manufacturer’s tax exemption automatic. He suggested a focus on public relations and enhancing our one-man economic development team.

Holloway also believed the comprehensive plan needed a “fresh set of eyes” with his goal being that of not impacting property values. But Matt cautioned that the state “has the trump card” under the law. They could help us with our septic issues, however.

Because she is on City Council, the initial question was right in Laura Mitchell’s wheelhouse: “That is why I’m running.” She wanted to translate Salisbury’s excitement to the county and talk about the positive things. She also thought the idea of an EDU bank, which allocates unused sewage capacity that developers donate back to the city, had merit on a countywide level.

Unfortunately, while it is “convoluted, to say the least,” Mitchell dropped the ball on even a rudimentary understanding of the tier maps. She advocated for infill development and sustainable growth, while addressing the double taxation and foreclosure issues in response to the realtors’ question.

Mitchell stressed her accounting background and budgeting experience as the key reasons to vote for her, portraying herself as sort of a budget nerd. But I found it interesting that the city budget had increased for three years in a row before finally declining this year. It’s still almost 7% higher than it was in FY2011, when she won election. (The first budget she would have approved would have been FY2012.)

And while you can’t expect expertise on every issue, her befuddlement on the tier maps was a bad sign.

It’s interesting that tier maps are an issue in this county, which now labors under the state’s default position that lots of any size can’t be subdivided into more than seven lots. Unfortunately, no county has found someone aggrieved enough by this terrible law that they could have standing to sue for the law’s nullification. (It’s doubtful the Democrats in the General Assembly would consider a repeal such as that tried in 2013.) Much as I’d love to force the state to pound sand, I’m not an injured party.

But there can be steps taken in the right direction. If we must have a tier map, the amount of land placed off-limits to development should be minimized because to do otherwise is an infringement on private property rights.

And while downtown development is indeed encouraging, the best way to replicate it isn’t to precisely duplicate it. While entertainment districts are nice, we need more industrial districts, more transportation hubs, and more encouragement of overall development. We shouldn’t shackle ourselves to one approach, either – if Chesapeake Shipbuilding, which isn’t exactly a glamorous company but a useful one that actually is seeking tradesmen, needs something to create another 150 jobs, that should take priority over yet another entertainment venue that may create 20 or 30.

Part 2 tomorrow will look at District 37 races.

2014 Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The truth about ‘Liberal Jim’

For several years I’ve done the monoblogue Accountability Project for this very purpose – disseminating the truth about how members of the Maryland General Assembly really vote when the rubber meets the road. There are few races with as clear-cut of a difference as the 38th District Senate race between incumbent Democrat Jim Mathias, whose mAP score as a Delegate from 2007-10 was a 15 (out of 100) and Senate lifetime score from 2011-14 has been 28 (out of 100) and Republican Delegate Mike McDermott, who replaced Mathias in the General Assembly and has a lifetime rating of 84.5 of 100. (The 2014 version of the monoblogue Accountability Project is here.)

But what does this mean in terms of issues? I went back and researched the common votes taken by both men. Since 2012, I have set up the mAP to use bills which received votes in both the House of Delegates and Senate – out of 25 votes, 22 of these would be common. (The other three were committee votes for the respective bodies.) So 66 votes over the last three years’ worth of sessions were placed in front of both men.

In 2011 I hadn’t changed the rules yet, so while I had standardized the number of votes at 25, only 9 were common. Yet of those 9 common votes, Mathias and McDermott only voted the same on two. In total, out of 75 possible votes, Mathias and McDermott differed a total of 45 times while agreeing on 27 occasions. (Mathias was absent for three votes in that time period.)

Eleven of those 45 votes of disagreement were budgetary. Year after year, Mathias has been a rubber stamp for the annual spending and debt increases put in by the state. It’s not just the operating budget but the creation of more and more state debt and all the legerdemain that goes into each year’s BRFA. The only agreement between the two: Mathias voted against the original 2012 BRFA.

But in 2011, Mathias also voted to force home care providers into paying union dues, which created an unearned estimated benefit to Big Labor of over $430,000, the crony socialism of the InvestMaryland Act where the state ate its seed corn of future receipts, state law conformity with Obamacare, and the gerrymandered Congressional districts which took effect for 2012.

Mathias also had a hand in some dreadful 2012 legislation, voting for the state health exchange that’s only enrolled about 1/3 of the expected number of people at a wasted cost of over $125 million. Some guy named Anthony Brown was taking credit for that until it tanked. On a related front, Jim also voted to establish so-called “health enterprise zones,” which was something requested by minority legislators. Wouldn’t it make more sense to lift all boats?

But that’s far from all of it. Remember that “flush tax”? Mathias voted to double it. Jim also voted to burden the nascent state natural gas industry with the presumption of guilt in well contamination, mandate expensive fire sprinkler systems in new homes, adding thousands to the cost, and punished cellular customers with an expansion of the USTF surcharge. And again, Mathias did a favor to unions by expanding their reach among state employees.

And remember the “doomsday budget”? In that 2012 special session, Mathias voted for the measure that transferred teacher pensions to the counties and forced Wicomico County to raise its income tax and maximize its property tax increase to stay eligible for a $14 million lower maintenance of effort payment. Thanks for the higher taxes, Jim.

2013 was the year with the most departure between the two, as they differed on 15 of 22 votes. Several of these were bills dealing with the state’s implementation of Obamacare – including Medicaid expansion which is purportedly covered by federal funds (for now) – but there were other differences. Mathias supported provisions permitting voting by mail and, beginning in 2016, same-day registration during early voting. Both are invitations to voter fraud.

Mathias also voted in favor of the $18 annual surcharge residential customers start paying if offshore wind becomes a reality. (This may be hundreds of dollars annually for commercial customers and thousands annually for industrial users.) Jim also allowed the Maryland Stadium Authority to fund the construction of schools in Baltimore City. I’m not sure what sort of precedent that sets, but is Somerset County any wealthier of an area? Why is Baltimore City getting this new source of debt?

Nor were Jim’s union friends left out. In 2013 he voted to enact so-called “service fees” at five state universities and statewide for public school employees.

But the most interesting vote was on the Transportation Trust Fund “lockbox.” While it’s supposedly in place to prevent the annual raid of the TTF by a governor who can’t suppress his appetite for spending, the key to unlock is laughably weak: a 3/5 majority of both houses of the General Assembly. At this point Democrats by themselves could allow the transfer with 13 House votes and 6 Senate votes to spare. Those lucky Democrats, likely in swing district’s like Jim’s, would have the pass to go against their party while knowing passage is safely in the bag. I sense that Mike McDermott knew this when he properly voted no.

(That Constitutional Amendment is on the 2014 ballot as Issue 1, and I would encourage a vote AGAINST it. Make the General Assembly come up with a real lockbox – either a blanket prohibition or a 3/4 majority, which would require at least some Republicans to buy in – 106 House votes and 36 in the Senate.)

This year’s agenda was somewhat less ambitious, but there were still major differences. Mathias dodged a bullet when the bridge-eligible assistance program he voted for proved to not be too expensive (although there was no final expense tally at the point this was updated) but he also kept adding more Obamacare provisions to state law while paying for a needle exchange program in Baltimore city.

On the educational front, Mathias supported a pre-K expansion which will be of dubious benefit (except to public school unions) and supported a workgroup of yes-men studying how to better implement Common Core, which they don’t call Common Core anymore. And not only did he once again support a bloated budget, he tacked on a $10 additional fee for pesticide registration. Granted, it’s an aggregate of about $130,000 a year but it’s yet another burden for businesses.

Aside from the budget bills, though, the supporters of Jim Mathias would probably point to the bills both voted for as evidence of his moderate stance.

In 2011, both voted against the supplemental 3% alcohol tax and in-state tuition for illegal aliens. 2012 brought several points of agreement: voting against a prohibition of arsenic in livestock feed, enactment of same-sex marriage, the “rain tax,” the Septic Bill (with a caveat as I’ll get to momentarily), and even requiring helmets for moped riders. In the first Special Session that year both voted against the income tax increase.

When I revisited the Septic Bill, though, I noticed there were two Third Reading Senate votes – one for the Senate bill and one including some changes from the House version which passed, which had to be voted on again as amendments to the Senate version. Oddly enough, on the first iteration Jim voted yes but on the final product he was a no vote. Apparently Jim was for tier maps before he was against them?

Anyway, 2013 brought a lot of disagreement but Mathias and McDermott voted alike on some key issues: the gas tax increase, death penalty repeal, driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, and the SB281 gun bill all drew their opposition. Credit Mathias with unsuccessfully trying to place a sunset date on the gun law. This year they both fought the minimum wage increase as well as prevailing wage applicability, helped to decrease the estate tax (a rare win for conservatives) and the “bathroom bill.”

One thing I noticed in my research, though, is that Mathias rarely offers any floor amendments, whereas McDermott has several per term. Obviously that stage seems to me the one point where Republicans get in their say, giving Democrats more opportunities to be on the record as opposing common sense.

So while it’s true that Jim will “stand up to his own party” on some limited instances where tax increases are too obvious, he gives the game away by voting for each budget. I suppose the question is who is really fighting for the district, and in part two of this post I’ll look into where McDermott is fighting the other side.

WCRC meeting – August 2014

Safely ensconced in our new headquarters, the Wicomico County Republican Club held its first official meeting there, with the special guest speaker being State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello. Matt has the enviable position of needing one vote for another four-year term because he’s unopposed.

Before we heard from Matt, though, we had the usual Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests, a list which included our state party Chair Diana Waterman. We also received a brief update from Larry Hogan’s regional coordinator Joe Schanno, who was pressed for time. He noted the need for volunteer help for the Hogan campaign, and pointed out the recent poll results that showed the race within the margin of error.

We also learned Larry would be here on Sunday for a series of events: the official opening of our headquarters from 2 to 4 p.m. followed by a fundraiser for District 37B hopeful Christopher Adams at Perdue Stadium from 4 to 8 and an appearance at a fundraiser for County Executive challenger Bob Culver from 5 to 9 at a private residence. There may be some other visits with local businesses added to the schedule, said Schanno.

After Joe wrapped up, we introduced Matt Maciarello. He recounted that when he took office in 2011 it was about the same time as Salisbury police chief Barbara Duncan was selected, a time when “crime was out of control.” But with Duncan and Sheriff Mike Lewis, they planned a line of attack on the spiraling situation. Matt’s areas of interest in that regard, naturally, were the district and circuit courts, although there’s also a children’s advocacy center and drug task force.

It’s the latter item which creates much of our problem, said Maciarello. He claimed that there’s “one (fatal heroin) overdose a week in Wicomico County” and surmised that the appetite for opioid drugs “fuels a lot of crime.”

In combating crime, Matt also noted he’s been an advocate on the legislative level, monitoring legislation and providing input, both as testimony and direct discussions with legislators. After a bill is passed, his office provides roll call training to street officers to make sure they understand new and revised laws.

Much of his time of late, said Matt, has been spent compiling and writing reports on a pair of recent police-involved shootings, reports he personally wrote and took the time to talk with the families of the victims about the reports if they were inclined to discuss them.

But he concluded by stating that citizens have a choice on where to live, and the perception that a place is safe is important to an area’s well-being.

Matt then answered questions, many of which queried him about gun laws. A recent profile of Sheriff Lewis as one who would refuse to enforce federal gun laws led to a discussion on nullification, which he felt was “more symbolic than anything.” On that subject, “I want to be on solid legal ground” – for example, what exactly would be nullified? So while he felt parts of the Firearm Safety Act were “clearly unconstitutional,” he believed opponents should get the advice from a Constitutional scholar before proceeding in order to pick and choose the best points for a legal counterattack.

Asked for a definition of “good and substantial” cause, Maciarello said, “I personally believe the burden should be on the state.”

He also spoke about the relationship with the local NAACP given some recent tensions, explaining that “I see my role…as a public safety job. You have to represent justice.” He’s tried to be as transparent as possible in all his office’s dealings.

Jackie Wellfonder, who had attended the previous forum with several GOP candidates, noted that “we had an interesting dialogue.” The GOP presence was “a first step.”

After I gave the treasurer’s report in the absence of our regular treasurer, Jackie gave her formal president’s report, gushing that the headquarters has done “a complete 180″ from the state it was in when we took it over. She pointed out that donations would be welcome to help defray the expenses, and volunteers to man the phones and greet visitors would be great as well once we get the ball rolling on Sunday.

She also read a thank-you card from Elizabeth Mills, one of our two WCRC scholarship recipients.

David Warren, who is in charge of the headquarters, remarked again about the “once in a lifetime chance” we have to win seats in District 38.

He gave way to Diana Waterman, who commented about the ease of operating the “very user-friendly” phone system, and urged us to “step out of your comfort zone.” She also talked up the September 27 Allen West event and announced our Super Saturday would be October 4, just before the Andy Harris Bull Roast in Queen Anne’s County.

Dave Parker gave the Central Committee report, giving more details on the Allen West Patriot’s Dinner and repeating the information on the October 4th events.

It was then time to hear from some of the candidates in attendance.

Speaking on behalf of Larry Hogan’s campaign, Ann Suthowski revealed he would have a fundraiser featuring Chris Christie in Bethesda and there would be a day for LG candidate Boyd Rutherford in this area as well as for Hogan. She was looking for sign locations and letters to the editor as well.

Jackie Wellfonder spoke again, this time on Chris Adams’s behalf. She repeated the information about his Perdue Stadium fundraiser as well as the Bob Culver gathering that will also feature Andy Harris.

County Council candidate Larry Dodd acknowledged he took a little break after the primary, but pointed out while his opponent claims to be “moderate” he was really “100 percent Democrat.”

Johnny Mautz of District 37B introduced his local campaign coordinator and promoted three events: fundraisers for him in St. Michael’s and Easton on September 20 and 21, respectively, and a Larry Hogan event at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge on September 28. The Easton event he’s holding has as a special guest author and commentator S.E. Cupp.

Carol Rose spoke on behalf of Mary Beth Carozza and announced her fundraiser would be held at Frontier Town near Ocean City on September 7. She also noted a Worcester County TEA Party event featuring Carozza along with the other three Republican District 38 candidates was “fantastic.”

Marc Kilmer was pleased to have finally met his opponent. But on a more serious note, he was ready to resume doorknocking and was looking for volunteers to help at the Sharptown Heritage Days parade on September 20.

Muir Boda wasn’t a Republican candidate anymore, but revealed he was one of a dozen applicants for the vacant Salisbury City Council position. We will probably know Wednesday who will fill the unexpired term of Terry Cohen, he said.

We also heard from the unopposed County Councilman John Hall, who said his campaign was “going just swimmingly” and received an update on the September 6 WCRC Crab Feast.

So after one piece of new business, our formal meeting was done. But many stayed around for this. (Photo by Jackie Wellfonder.)

The Ice Bucket Challenge got another “victim” and this time it was MDGOP chair Diana Waterman. I guess “water” is appropriate in this case.

I’m not sure how we’ll top this in September, but someone else will have to let you know. I get a personal day from the next meeting, and those of you who know me well will know the reason why.

Let’s get back to work

Yesterday, in my thoughts on an unrelated subject, I alluded to the massive loss of jobs in Maryland. Turns out it was worse than I thought – based on the unrevised Bureau of Labor Statistics totals, 16,286 fewer people in Maryland were working in July than June, adding 10,057 to the ranks of the unemployed.

The state compiles this data for Wicomico County as well, and I thought it would be instructive to note the June totals for the last several years. It’s worth noting that employment here normally tops out in July, with June usually a close second. The numbers are readily available for the period 2009-14, which covers the trough of the recession and the recovery.

So here are the June totals since 2009:

  • 2009 – 49,271 employed, 4,556 unemployed (8.5%)
  • 2010 – 49,548 employed, 4,856 unemployed (8.9%)
  • 2011 – 49,160 employed, 5,030 unemployed (9.3%)
  • 2012 – 49,585 employed, 4,759 unemployed (8.8%)
  • 2013 – 48,991 employed, 4,526 unemployed (8.5%)
  • 2014 – 48,760 employed, 3,964 unemployed (7.5%)

Over the five-year period, the unemployment rate went down 1 percent, but the number employed also went down by 511.

Just as a comparison to use a (generally) worst-case scenario, here are January numbers:

  • 2009 – 47,015 employed, 4,722 unemployed (9.1%)
  • 2010 – 45,526 employed, 5,669 unemployed (11.1%)
  • 2011 – 46,838 employed, 5,393 unemployed (10.3%)
  • 2012 – 46,758 employed, 5,178 unemployed (10.0%)
  • 2013 – 46,806 employed, 5,066 unemployed (9.8%)
  • 2014 – 46,711 employed, 4,338 unemployed (8.5%)

Over that five-year period in the month which is generally the nadir for local employment, we still lost 304 jobs although the rate deceased 0.6 percent.

But it’s estimated that Wicomico County gained 2,163 people between the census in April, 2010 and the 2013 estimate. So how are those people supporting themselves on 300 to 500 fewer jobs?

The title of this piece comes from a tagline and hashtag that District 38B candidate Carl Anderton, Jr. has been using during his campaign. While state numbers have fluctuated due in large part to changes at the federal level, the number of jobs in this area really doesn’t depend on the mood of the federal government. Instead, much of it is influenced by the policies at the state level and, judging by the figures, it’s pretty obvious that what’s being tried isn’t working – particularly if you’re one of those who had a job and lost it.

It’s often forgotten that the government doesn’t necessarily produce anything nor does it create value. Even in cases where infrastructure is being improved (such as the airport runway I described a few days back) the actual work is contracted out to a private company. But that private company has to follow additional rules and regulations to access that federal money, ones which may not apply in a truly private transaction – oftentimes there is a prevailing wage provision, for example. Meanwhile, we also have to pay the bureaucrats who reviewed the grant application, wrote the specifications, and so forth. The airport is receiving $5.53 million, but it may have cost taxpayers $7-8 million with the overhead involved.

Simply put, the Washington bureaucrats served as a conduit and a filter, meaning they received their cut first. Sure, this project will create a handful of construction jobs but imagine what the overhead could have done. It’s pretty much the same when Annapolis or local government is involved, since they get their cues from higher levels.

There are a number of economic drivers which this area relies on: agriculture (particularly poultry, with the feed stock being an integral part of this), tourism, and to a small extent, technology (thanks to spillover from Wallops Island.) Here’s where we really need help from the state:

  • improving transportation by using the gas tax we pay to actually build the needed bypasses and through routes to make access easier for tourists and getting goods to market more efficiently for producers;
  • leaving alone our true environmentalists, the farmers, by allowing them to use their land as they see fit and reforming the transfer of development rights to a generational term rather than perpetual;
  • creating a sales tax-free zone to allow us to compete directly with Delaware for retail sales;
  • finally, putting an end to blaming farmers for environmental problems and looking at common-sense solutions for cleaning the Chesapeake Bay. Work on the problems we know we have and put a moratorium on new regulations until we can determine how well the ones we have in place work.

Larry Hogan addresses some of the problem in his new video:

But the other side of that is reining in the Maryland Department of the Environment and Chesapeake Bay Foundation, neither of which Hogan addresses. That’s okay, though; I’d rather not telegraph those sorts of moves.

I have often seen complaints from the other side (of both the Bay and the political spectrum) that we on the Eastern Shore take more from the state than we give to them. For the sake of the argument, let’s say that’s true.

One has to ask, then, why this is the state of affairs? The people of the Eastern Shore seem like the hard-working, prideful sort who don’t like the thought of handouts. All we want is a chance to shine and do what we do best – left to our own devices, we can prosper and lead the state.

But there are those who like the Eastern Shore just as it is, preferring it remain rural and backward so they can look down on us and refer to us as the state’s “shithouse” as they fly through on the way to their beachfront Ocean City condo. Those are the people who need to be on the outside looking in politically in order for us to succeed.

Snapshots of an election

To be honest, I took these photos on Tuesday intending to add them to my coverage – then promptly forgot and posted it anyway. But it doesn’t hurt to have a second look back before moving forward. There’s really not going to be a lot of fresh news until after the Independence Day holiday anyway, plus it also proves the adage that every picture tells a story.

So I’m going to lead with this one I also posted to Facebook.

It’s interesting to see this pile of Anthony Brown signs, which as I recall were pretty much all of the Brown signs I saw. Now one person suggested that they were originally set within the 100′ limit then relocated against the tree, which is possible – but I doubt it. Instead, my thought was someone left the pile of signs earlier that day or the previous night intending to have the first volunteer at the site place them in the morning – sort of like someone decided to have a insurance exchange website intending to have the thing actually work and not waste millions of dollars.

If you don’t get the small details, the large stuff bites you in the ass.

Speaking of signage, I did not count how many signs were out there on the grounds of the Civic Center, but I would suggest the ratio was perilously close to one for every other voter. Interest seemed to be quite low.

I took that picture about 5:00 after I arrived about 4:30. (This was an election day I had to work – I couldn’t alter my schedule enough to avoid it.) There were literally three people working the polls when I got there – M.J. Caldwell’s wife Pam, a lady representing Circuit Court appointee Jimmy Sarbanes, and Jim Jester, who was doing double duty with an Andy Harris shirt and Mike McDermott sign. This is one of the busier polling places in the county, and only three people were there.

If I saw 100 people vote in the time I was there, it was a lot.

Speaking of M.J. Caldwell, the Republican voters of this county need an education. I would expect about 60-65% of Democrats to blindly support someone named Sarbanes, but 43% of Republicans? Really? Someone selected not on qualifications, but on name recognition by a political hack governor we can’t stand? Get real. That has to turn around in November.

Even the news coverage was lackadaisical. Channel 47 did a live remote, but they never came out to talk with us. They probably showed the pictures of an all-but-empty polling place to an audience which can be charitably described as second-best in the market.

In terms of poll workers, it did pick up after a time. Jackie Wellfonder came along to work this poll.

Turned out the face-to-face didn’t do either of us much good because we got about the same amount of votes, and that wasn’t enough.

Josh Hastings was unopposed in his primary, so all he had to do was await the winner on the GOP side.

His opponent will be Larry Dodd, who had someone there eventually but he wasn’t the social type.

Having worked polls a few times here, I know that after about 7:00 it’s pretty well done for the night. So there were a gaggle of people with Hastings who got to talking down the way on the Democratic side, and a few of us for the GOP. It’s not like we had voters to convince, as maybe 20 stopped by during the last hour.

At the very end, Carl Anderton dropped by to retrieve his signs as did Jim Mathias. They had a nice conversation, although I didn’t get a picture. I was even bipartisan and helped Jim pick up some of the Democrats’ signs.

I was in a group which went on to The Cellar Door to check on the returns, but it wasn’t really a good night for most of us as you now know.

There were a couple things I learned, though. First and foremost is that Facebook is worthless as a campaign aid unless you want to pay through the nose. Social media isn’t really social anymore; it’s become commercialized like everything else. I had 60 likes for my Facebook page, which isn’t much but it at least gives me insight on how my posts did. (By comparison, Jackie Wellfonder also had a similar page and got 100 likes – but about 60 fewer votes.)

I placed a total of 41 posts on the page, although there was one I shared multiple times. My total reach was 2,718 – it’s about 66 per post. Ironically, my best post insofar as Facebook is concerned is the last one I think of as my concession speech, which reached 298 people. A little late, don’t you think? But if you figure a good number of those 66 per post see my stuff time after time, it’s not all that efficient for the investment.

I didn’t have thousands of dollars laying around to get my Facebook page up to 100,000 likes as Change Maryland did, and we only know about the last 30,000 or so because the campaign paid for those – Change Maryland was close to 70,000 when Hogan made it official. So who knows how much he paid for that promotion? More than I had in my pocket.

Anyway, social media isn’t really the way to go. But what is?

The second thing I found out is that the public seems to be unmotivated to find out what people really stand for. In race after race, I saw that those who spelled out their platform in the most complete manner lost to those who were a mystery to voters but had name recognition. It also didn’t necessarily matter how hard you worked – if John Cannon or Matt Holloway went door-to-door I didn’t hear about it, but Muir Boda did and got 18% of the vote to show for it. Tyler Harwood went door-to-door with Greg Belcher (in the same group which at times featured Carl Anderton, Marc Kilmer, and Boda) and finished dead last for Central Committee (Greg was 8th.) Hard work wasn’t its own reward, and no good deed went unpunished – or so it seemed. (Nope, Marc corrected me – it was just his lit, not him.)

In short, I’m not sure I did my job very well on a local level. If I have a mission to educate voters, it looks like I have to work a little harder on it – and so I shall. I suppose the one thing about being a lame duck is that I have no election to worry about anymore, so I can speak my mind perhaps a little moreso than political correctness may dictate.

One source of relief is that I have a smaller range of people to keep up with for November. I think we could have done somewhat better coming out of this primary, but at least now I know whose feet I’ll have to keep to the fire and who I should be able to count on with a minimum of supervision.

Pork in the Park 2014 in pictures and text

May 12, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items · Comments Off 

As I pointed out on Saturday, I talked about the music before the event, which was unusual for me. It was also unusual for us to go to Pork in the Park on Friday night, as I think I only have maybe one time before. But we had our reasons, and it turned out to be a good experience.

It didn’t turn out to be the rainy Saturday we all feared, but I found the crowds were much more manageable on Friday. For example, here was a shot of the food court as we arrived about 7:00.

One thing I found was that the change in date from its usual late April timeslot to Mother’s Day weekend probably affected competitor and vendor turnout. In 2013 there were over 100 competitors, but just 40 or so this year. So there were only a couple of non-local places actually selling ribs in the food court. Nothing against the locals, but I can have theirs any time.

I tried the Texas Rib Rangers on the right, which really didn’t have a line by the time we ate. Kim went with this outlet – maybe it was because Hess BBQ had all these trophies. (This photo shows about half, actually.)

I’m actually getting ahead of myself, though, because we didn’t eat until probably 8:30 or so. Initially we wandered around the grounds, getting a few photos of things we thought interesting like the rides.

They were tucked in alongside the judges’ tent, which invited business for next year.

I decided not to be too nosy and snap photos of the inside. To me it’s more appealing to wander around the competitors area with open eyes – and nostrils.

I don’t think I smelled THAT smell, though.

Some people believed they had a serious problem.

This group was an instant favorite with me, rocking the Gadsden flag.

And what barbecue festival is complete without beer?

This was in a good spot, in between the food court and the stage and not far from the porta-potties.

We walked back to get our food just in time for this spectacle.

I realize this is a shallow pond but where are their lifejackets? These guys almost capsized a couple times, but they lit the center bonfire and several other smaller ones.

So we went back and finally got our food. Here’s what I had.

Aside from the last couple, I thought the ribs were just okay and not great. The last two were done just right and I liked their sauce, but overall I have had better there – one batch from a Florida-based vendor who didn’t show and another victimized by the food court fiasco a couple years back. Now those were good North Carolina-style ribs.

By the time we finished eating, the food court was mainly deserted.

But the pond reflecting the lights was pretty. We were actually walking back to the stage to get my shots for the Weekend of Local Rock post when I took this.

My last shot hearkens back to the early days of Pork in the Park when they featured a Sunday car show. I just liked the Stingray and we were parked a few spots away. It was a good test shot for the camera.

Honestly, I’m hoping the change to May is not a permanent one because Easter will be back to its “normal” time slot for the next few years. The drastic decline in competitors has to be traceable to the later date, although the complaints about the new $7 entry fee were loud as well. There was also a VIP tent added to the mix, but I thought that was too far away from the action to be viable.

As of this writing I don’t know if the plan will be to hold it in May again next year or go back to the likelier date of April 17-19, 2015. As long as it doesn’t snow we’ll be okay.

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