2009: A clarion call

New Year’s Day is always a day of optimism as the old is swept aside and the new looked forward to as the light at the end of the tunnel for some and a vast frontier of new possibilities for others. I suppose those who share my belief in conservative political principles would tend to subscribe to the former, but I’m choosing the latter road in this instance.

This optimism, though, comes with the galvanizing thought that things almost can’t get worse, either as a nation whose economy is ravaged by a deep recession or as those who comprise the bulk of a political party whose influence was even more severely tarnished and corroded in recent national election. One could almost describe our movement as equivalent to the Tampa Bay Rays baseball franchise, whose short existence was marked by year after year in the basement of the American League.

In 2008, however, the Rays turned their fortunes around by securing the American League pennant for the first time in franchise history. And while they fell short of their ultimate goal by losing the World Series to the Philadelphia Phillies (who had also overcome a lengthy streak of futility), they achieved their true initial goal of making the playoffs, a possibility many baseball observers didn’t even have on the radar screen as the 2008 season commenced.

Oddly enough, the Rays’ triumph actually is reflective of how our movement can succeed in two key areas.

For several years, the Rays had quietly built up a very successful farm system with a number of solid prospects and those young players all worked their way up the minor league ranks until they were ready to come of age in 2008.

Secondly, the team stressed fundamentals and preached a team concept with a goal in mind. Rays manager Joe Maddon termed it as 9=8: nine players playing smart, hard baseball for nine innings equals one of the eight playoff spots available to teams in Major League Baseball. The Rays accomplished that goal in each game often enough to win the American League’s Eastern Division, then defeated two other teams in the playoffs to win the AL flag.

While a political movement is no leisurely pastime, those principles can apply to our cause as well.

For years, we’ve spoken about building up a farm team of prospects who begin in local and state political races and work their way up the ladder. While we as conservatives rightfully point to two state governors – Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Sarah Palin in Alaska – as examples of the GOP’s future leadership on a national stage, part of the overall question becomes who replaces them as they graduate up the ladder in politics.

More importantly to me, however, is the other part of the query: how will they be assisted in their efforts? We saw in Palin’s case a serious reluctance by many in the party to assist her efforts both in Alaska and in her campaign backing John McCain’s run for the White House. Palin’s political career has been one of alienation as she wasn’t the GOP establishment candidate in Alaska nor did she have the full support of many of the so-called establishment Republicans in the nation’s capital. On the other hand, Jindal hasn’t received that same treatment but the situation in Louisiana was far different as the state Republican party wasn’t already in power as he made his bid, nor has he ever been thrust into a situation of running on a national stage. It remains to be seen how he’ll be treated should he decide to run for national office in 2012, but one of his advantages could be having spent some time in the nation’s capital as a Congressman.

From where I sit as part of the grassroots, I look at those establishment Republicans and shake my head in disbelief. I’m sure I speak for many among us who cringe every time someone in Washington or a state capital talks about “bipartisanship” when the other side rarely gives an inch – at least insofar as the size and scope of government is concerned. The way I look at it, slowing down the pace of government growth isn’t a concession by the other side.

This brings me to the other part of the equation, fundamentals.

When I signed up for this Republican Party gig, I did so because they were the closest political home to my core beliefs of limited, Constitutional government and as a party that has won on a national stage with at least one candidate who had a similar political outlook, he being Ronald Reagan. The first vote I ever cast for President was for Reagan’s re-election in 1984, and to this day it’s likely the one Presidential vote I didn’t regret making somewhere down the line.

Prior to his election as President, in fact years prior to his nomination as the party’s standardbearer, Reagan spoke of a political palette comprising bold colors rather than pale pastels. Reagan spoke as one who had little to lose by making his beliefs public, and we as a movement find ourselves in a similar position as 2009 dawns.

I’m writing to you from the state of Maryland, whose General Assembly is about to convene for what I like to term the “90 days of terror” that the body’s session is limited to by our state’s Constitution. To gain power in our state’s legislature, the Republican Party next year (and yes, 2010 is now “next year”) would have to add 35 seats to the 36 it currently holds in the House of Delegates and ten seats to the 14 they have in the State Senate (which in total number 141 and 47, respectively.) They would have to win four of the state’s eight Congressional seats – including one they just lost in the 2008 election – and keep their one incumbent to become a majority of the state’s Congressional delegation, and defeat a Senator who’s been in office since 1986 to regain a Republican Senate seat for the first time in decades. To more or less of a degree, this situation exists in many other states. We are in a position where we have nothing to lose by attempting to shift the debate in a more conservative direction.

For years, we have allowed those who favor a larger, more powerful yet less Constitutional government at all levels to control the debate.

This has to end now.

The debate should be moved to the court of making them justify why their programs, some of which have been in force now since the New Deal of the 1930’s and others from the Great Society of the 1960’s, should remain in place when their stated goals have not been met and their continuance threatens the very foundation of the nation’s economy. To that end, we need to engage those who believe in an overarching, all-powerful government in ways they haven’t been before. Perhaps this is controversial to say, but we need to conduct our own sort of guerrilla warfare here – not with bullets or bombs, but by forcing them to defend their points at times when they would be otherwise off-guard. In truth, it’s what we should do for all of our elected leaders of whatever stripe; however, those who are on our side should rarely need to be questioned as to why they advocate policy and vote as they do.

In most states, 2009 is simply a year where local offices are up for grabs. It’s a perfect time to lay the groundwork for what is to come next year; a crush of mid-term and state elections which will shape the political landscape for a decade or more as redistricting will for the most part be in the control of next year’s winners.

As movement conservatives, it is our task to develop, engage, and most importantly educate those who haven’t developed or are amenable to change their political philosophy by practicing what we preach in limiting government and explaining why this is to the public’s benefit, particularly when the Left is reliable in trotting out “victims” of “mean-spirited cuts” in government spending and regulation.

Unlike the Rays, whose “next year” finally came in 2008, we still may not achieve all of our goals in 2010. Political change takes a much longer time on the calendar than uprooting the previous American League standings does, although our Orioles seem to be an exception to that rule. As a movement, we need to become anti-political as far as thinking one generation ahead rather than one election ahead. When the Left says that something is “for the children” they need to be asked whether the effect their new program will have on that generation’s freedom and wallet is being taken into account, and whether the benefits merit the cost. In many cases, they’ll have a hard time justifying the effort if challenged to prove their point.

Our success will not be measurable in what’s accomplished, but by what does not happen. Barack Obama is on record as complaining that the Constitution is written as “negative rights” – those things which government cannot do. If we are to be the party that reflects the intent of the Founders, we must engage in pressing for negative government and bringing back the equilibrium between the branches of government and the tension between rights of the government and the governed, erring in favor of the governed.

I hope everyone running for the chairmanship of the Republican Party will read and understand what I’ve written here. Principle over politics need not be unpopular. Let’s make 2009 the year we begin the recovery – not just an economic one but one of Constitutional government as well.

2008 State of Wicomico County

This morning County Executive Richard Pollitt gave a speech the County Charter dictates he give annually, the State of the County address.

In a departure from tradition, he had ordered that the curtains of the Council chamber in the Government Office Building be opened up, and despite the dry rot he claimed the curtains had from being closed so long the reflected sunshine shone into the chamber. It was to symbolize the “sunshine nature” of county government, which he wanted to portray as a “glass house” to take the mystery out of county affairs.

After a nod to PAC-14 (the local public access channel) and their live broadcast of the event, Pollitt commented on the pending reorganization of the channel, asking citizens to “let the county government know how you feel about this asset.” It was among a number of topics Pollitt covered in the address, which lasted less than a half-hour.

While the County Executive praised the “strong sense of community” in Wicomico County as a blessing, he also cautioned that we faced challenges greater than we’ve seen in our lifetimes. And no longer can the excuse of changing over to the strong executive form of government be used; Pollitt termed that this “transition is complete.” Instead, the time of adjustment needed to be converted to a time of action, something he opined was “well underway.”

For 2009, Richard’s goal was to restore confidence in our county government, which had been shaken by previous profligate spending. That spending led to the adoption of a revenue cap earlier this decade. But, he noted, our fiscal success since has been “remarkable”, with Standard & Poor’s recently bolstering Wicomico County’s financial rating from A+ to AA-. Further, a conservative budget allowed the county to not yet require some of the cuts that other governmental entities were being forced to make.

Other successes Pollitt pointed to were the upgrading of the Wicomico Housing Authority from “troubled” to “standard”, the rating of the county’s nursing homes as 4 stars of 5, both marinas being assessed as “environmentally friendly” by the state of Maryland, a $1 million grant from the state to acquire conservation easements, and America’s Promise once again selecting Salisbury as a Top 100 city to raise children in, for the third year in a row.

The County Executive noted at the top there would be challenges, though, and 2009 promised to be a trying year due to the difficult economy and the constraints of the revenue cap. After all, Pollitt said, the county was not spending “just for the fun of it.” Items that we wanted already cost a lot of money, and would cost more in the future.

With property tax revenues in a “steep decline” – county residents now pay the same assessed rate as they did in 1991, Richard claimed – it amounted to a decline which “cost us $8 million.” At this point, Pollitt continued, we need to “take stock of (our) quality of life” and make the tough decisions about where to cut the budget. In short, because of the revenue cap, Pollitt insisted that we had to decide what services we want and how to pay for them. His suggestion was to either adopt a tax rate cap or higher revenue cap.

Nor would the state provide much in the way of help, as Richard insinuated that those in Annapolis would be less likely to assist a county which had a revenue cap in place. We had to “come to grips with the burden on our back.”

Another challenge Pollitt pointed to was how to manage growth. One goal was to control sprawl by removing the pressure on landowners to develop their land through compensating them now in exchange for placing their property off-limits to future development. But, he warned, the county shouldn’t adopt regulations that “take something important or personal from (the people).” He mentioned that, next to taxation, the greatest impact government had on the citizenry was regulating their homes and property.

Looking back to an event which grabbed local headlines in 2008, the County Executive admitted that a promised report on the theft of items from the county landfill was still in progress, but was expected to be completed early next year. Many of the steps suggested by an outside auditor had been undertaken though. As for the resolution of the criminal cases, Richard conceded that he was disappointed in the light sentences handed down to the offenders, but warned that those on the county payroll who steal from the public till “will be fired.”

Looking ahead to 2009, Pollitt anticipated the “almost complete” report from the Civic Center Committee, and announced the formation of a Council for Physical Fitness, with local resident and onetime Green Bay Packer and Washington Senator baseball player Tom Brown as the titular head of the effort. As part of this effort, Richard was going to work on trimming some of his own excess – just like millions of other Americans, the onset of 2009 will be time for Pollitt to get in shape.

While I applaud Richard for his desire to trim his waistline, I’m not as enthused about his wish to raise or remove the revenue cap.

That $8 million “cost” to the county reflected in Pollitt’s remarks is money that wasn’t drawn from the wallets of county property owners. And with our housing market in the tank, anything that can help sales such as a relatively low tax rate is advantageous. (The sales also bolster the transfer tax revenue.)

It also occurred to me that Pollitt ran on a promise to prioritize the budget. Sure enough, from the monoblogue archives of October 13, 2006:

(Pollitt said) that he “would do better by fire companies” in the budget but the budget had to be prioritized. In fact, Pollitt claimed that each year he started the Fruitland city budget from scratch and built it as a whole (rather than the federal style of baseline budgeting.) Pollitt advocated a “climate of thrift and economy” with incentives for department heads to save money.

A week later, I added on this post:

One comment on his literature reads that within the first year of a Pollitt administration, he will begin to “(p)repare a budget that provides the most bang for the buck within the limits of our funding resources while acknowledging that there will be serious needs under-funded until our community finds the will to fill them.” (emphasis mine.) I can’t say that this statement advocates less intrusive government as getting the additional funding resources almost always means John Q. Public has to dig deeper into his pockets.

While the literature comes from 2006, the term he was elected to is four years and he’ll have to deal with the financial hand he’s dealt.

Another item I happened to receive from attending the event was a full-color 12-page county report with an insert depicting the General Fund revenues and expenses from FY2008. As it turns out, education far outstrips the remainder of the General Fund budget and now, in FY2009, comprises over half of expenditures. Obviously some portions of that educational budget need to be trimmed for FY2010 if revenue is faltering. That’s one possible solution; certainly other cuts can be made far from the public’s eye. Perhaps the “economic summit” Pollitt is planning to kick off his citizens’ advisory panel for the county’s financial health can also comb through the budget.

With that, let me throw something else into the hopper. One other item that has come up on the state level (albeit unsuccessfully) and should be looked into on a local level is what’s been actually achieved by the number of commissions, boards, and other entities which have been created under both Pollitt’s watch and by previous County Councils when they ran the affairs of Wicomico County as a body. My point on this is, while the idea of a citizens’ advisory panel for fiscal affairs or a Council for Physical Fitness has some merit, I fear that they may go the way of another good idea gone bad, the Wicomico Neighborhood Congress. There will definitely be a need for strict limits on the power and function of these new bodies, lest they begin (using the physical fitness one as an example) to push for new fitness-related sources of revenue like a “fat tax” or additional expenditures such as money for bike paths rather than maintaining county roads.

As it is with practically all localities at this point in time, the State of the County could use some improvement. Rather than pine about what could be if the revenue were available, we need to set our priorities and fund them as best we can, keeping in mind that the more money left in the hands of the private sector, the faster the recovery here and nationwide will be. That will make the State of our County strong in the long run.

Ten Questions for – Bill Wilson, President of Americans for Limited Government

I was pleased to have the opportunity to quiz ALG head Bill Wilson about a number of issues facing the conservative movement and the nation at large.

Bill was elected President of Americans for Limited Government two years ago, which was the latest step in over 30 years of work within the conservative movement. Wilson began as an organizer for Ronald Reagan’s 1976 Presidential campaign in Maryland and southeast Pennsylvania and later spent a decade at the National Right-to-Work Committee before spending the last 15 years with the Americans for Limited Government organization. He’s also been active on the political end, managing a number of Congressional, state, and local campaigns.

monoblogue: Obviously you’re an advocate for limited government, simply based on the name of your organization. With the recent election of Barack Obama and the promise of a more powerful federal government, how do we sell the benefits of limiting government when millions of people want to get their piece of the bailout, either via their employers or their mortgage companies?

Wilson: As a country we are at or very near the tipping point. With approximately 40% of the population now dependent on government support and 60% doing the supporting, the first step has to be to do no more damage. Organizing the producers of income to defend their position is the first and most important step we and others interested in restoring Constitutional government have to take. No American likes to be conned or ripped off. But that is exactly what is happening. Constantly pointing that out, giving examples, and providing ways and platforms for those paying taxes to fight back is our primary objective.

monoblogue: With that said, Obama won because he promised “change”, and many of his promises involved increasing spending in a number of areas. What do you see as the biggest threat on the Obama agenda?

Wilson: There are almost too many to list. Money to do many of the things Obama promised will simply not be available. The government is already putting the country in position for a massive inflationary cycle. Every new spending item only will make it worse and longer. So, I am betting Obama will push the ideological, non-spending items. Things like union-boss privileges with Card Check or forced local unionization, the gag law known as the “Fairness Doctrine,” and every loony environmental scheme Al Gore can come up with. These actions taken one by one may not appear to have that much impact. But taken together they comprise a radical shift in power.

And, of course, trumping all of this will be the Obama defense policy. Keeping Robert Gates was designed to calm fears. But with zealots like Barney Frank calling for a 25% reduction and key slots manned by anti-defense advocates, this could be the one ultimate battle everyone will have to fight.

monoblogue: Now letʼs look on the other side of the aisle. Many conservatives arenʼt fans of President Bush, and in many respects itʼs because he grew the federal government in a number of areas. While you and I probably agree thereʼs a number of programs and initiatives ripe for criticism, which Bush-era program do you think was the worst offender?

Wilson: Many of our supporters would say the so-called Patriot Act was the most offensive because of its destruction to civil liberties. I believe the most long-term destructive policy advanced by the Bush Administration is the $700 billion give-away package to Wall Street. Bush has legitimized attacks on the very concept of free markets. This one action will be seen as igniting an inflation bomb that, when it explodes, will destroy the savings and livelihoods of millions of families. Absent the bailout, I would have said No Child Left Behind. The federalization of education has accelerated, and will continue to exacerbate, the downward spiral of education in America, affecting the future of everyone in the country for the worse.

monoblogue: There is some tension in the conservative movement between those who favor a strict limit on the size and influence of government and the social conservatives who look to the federal government in order to limit or eliminate abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. Does the limited government ALG favors leave an exception for social issues?

Wilson: Yes and no. Our view of limited government is based on the clear intent of the Founders for localities and states to run their own affairs. Those advocating a variety of social issues have seen great success on the local and state levels. I see our efforts running in parallel – to the extent we and others working in the area of limiting government succeed, social issue advocates will find they can expand their successes. Where we will not agree is looking to an all-powerful federal government to impose any set of cultural policies on the entire nation.

monoblogue: In that same vein, does the definition of limited government as you see it call for a non-interventionist foreign policy?

Wilson: Again, yes and no. The federal government’s primary responsibility is the common defense. And, I have no doubt that ensuring that common defense will from time to time require the U.S. to be very interventionist. But as a rule, any government powerful enough to intervene in the affairs of other countries on a whim is just too powerful and should be cut back.

monoblogueOn the federal level there have also been attempts to enact a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and a call for term limits for members of Congress, with the argument that these would encourage a more limited government because members would have to prioritize spending and not be quite as likely to dole out pork to ensure perpetual re-election. Does this also fit into the scope of limited government as you see it or is that too much intervention in the process?

Wilson: It does fit into our view. For nearly 150 years of our history, men and women were elected to Congress, stayed a short period and, for the most part, followed the intent of the Founders by returning back home. Government started down the road to becoming the massive, centralized beast we see today when politicians began staying for longer and longer periods of time. Term limits were debated at the Constitutional Convention, but were thought to be unnecessary – which proves that even the great ones miss now and again.

The “process” has been so distorted and mutated by those looking to build power bases and expand the reach of government that now only counter-intervention can restore the rights of the people and return us to a system of true self-government.

monoblogue: Certainly the impact of big government isnʼt just felt at the federal level but at the state level as well. Given the number of governors forming a line to receive a federal handout from the bailout money, are there leaders we can point to at the state level as good examples to follow in limiting government?

Wilson: Absolutely. Mark Sanford in South Carolina has drawn a clear line in the sand over spending, taxes, and individual liberty. Rick Perry in Texas has been a leader, too. As for that mob of Governors running to the federal government for handouts, they really are pathetic. Having spent money like fools in the good times, they are now refusing to take the necessary steps to put their fiscal houses in order. They know they are spending more than they can ever hope to legitimately pay. But rather than rein in their wretched excesses, they go begging the Feds pay their bills. As for those ideologically blind who push for higher taxes, I believe they will find a very hostile and energized public.

monoblogue: In the previous election cycle, a number of Presidential candidates and others formed groups to finance chosen political candidates in the form of political action committees – some examples are Fred Thompson starting FredPAC, Mike Huckabee creating HuckPAC, and the Our Country Deserves Better PAC formed by Howard Kaloogian in California. Since itʼs not apparent that Americans for Limited Government participates in that arena, is this something ALG will be exploring for the next election cycle?

Wilson: ALG has no plans for a PAC that would spend hard dollars. Frankly, we have no desire or intent to be strip-searched by the Thought Police of the FEC. That said, ALG has and will continue to engage in free issue discussion. The Supreme Court decision in Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC sets out clearly the path to get in the middle of the debate without surrendering First Amendment freedoms to the bureaucrats of the FEC. We intend to be very active in speaking out.

monoblogueGiven that there will be 35 Senate seats, all 435 House seats, and 37 governorships up for grabs in the 2009-2010 election cycle, who would you most like to see ejected by the voters the next time theyʼre on the ballot?

Wilson: Oh, that is a long list. There is Harry Reid in Nevada, arguably one of the most ruthless hacks in Congress. And, it can be argued that Barney Frank has done more damage to America than any other single member with his defense of the theft by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As for Governors, I would personally hope that any of them who abdicated their responsibility by running to Congress for bailout money would be kicked to the curb.

monoblogue:  ALG is trying to expand its influence on the internet with the Daily Grind update that you edit (and I subscribe to) along with the formation of the NetRightNation website, which promises to harness the power of thousands of grassroots bloggers to influence policy. While you are making steps in the right direction, what other steps are you contemplating to combat the massive Obama propaganda organ and e-mail machine?

Wilson: Building traffic to our sites and expanding our email outreach capacity is the first step, of course. But it will have to go a lot further. The real genius of the Obama operation was that he melded new media outreach with a wide reaching old-style on the ground organization. The GOP and many conservatives seem to miss that point. At the end of the day, boots on the ground capture turf. The Internet, with all the new and expanding methods of communication, is a tool for organizing on the ground. Our goal is to unite a growing Internet based presence with on-the-ground organizing in selected locations aimed at having maximum impact on the legislative and political process.


Once again, my thanks to Bill for participating in what turned out to be an excellent exchange along with thanks to Alex Rosenwald of ALG for helping to set things up.

monoblogue’s Legislative Awards and Scorn for 2008

Back in July, faithful readers may recall that I published a post announcing the monoblogue Accountability Project, which extended the work of the former Maryland Accountability Project from the last General Assembly term.

At that time, I announced my 2007 picks and pans for the General Assembly and promised a post in December for the 2008 awards. Just a month before the next session begins, today I reveal the winners. They’ll be added to the 2008 General Assembly page as well, but this post brings them out onto the main screen of monoblogue. Without further ado, here are those deserving of praise and scorn.

I’ll start with the dubious distinctions, or what I call the Reasons To Adopt Recall. These legislators were the worst at taxing, spending, and generally taking away what little freedom we still have to do with our money and property as we wish. In the House of Delegates this group all had a zero or negative rating; in the Senate they rated less than 10. It’s my belief that each and every one of these folks needs to be thrown out in 2010, and I don’t care what the voter registration numbers in their district are!

What’s really sad is the sheer number of legislators on this list. There’s so many that in order to save space I’ll just do last names. You’ll see why they deserve scorn after reading the voting records of the House of Delegates and Senate. Note that names with an asterisk (*) are second-time dishonorees because they made the 2007 list as well.

Delegates: Anderson, Benson, Carter, Donoghue, Glenn, Hubbard, Hucker*, Levi, MacIntosh, Mizeur, Nathan-Pulliam*, and Pena-Melnyk.

Senators: Conway*, Currie*, Exum*, Frosh, Gladden*, Harrington, Kelley, Lenett, McFadden*, Middleton, Miller*, Pinsky*, Pugh*, Raskin, Robey*, and Rosapepe*.

While this hall of scorn comprises 8.5% of the House of Delegates (down from 12.8% in 2007), the share of Senators on the list increased from 29.8% to a truly stupefying 34.0 percent.

And then we have the RINO Huntee, the legislator who’s best at selling out to the Democrats and voting with them as they raise taxes and increase spending – all to suck up and maybe get a few crumbs for his or her district. In 2008, the person with that target on his or her back was:

Delegate D. Page Elmore, District 38A. Page is now a two-time “winner” of this award, and this year was outranked by five Democrats, including the two honored in the next category.

Turning to awards, next up is what I call the Top (Blue) Dog Award, given to the Democrat who best reaches across the aisle and votes with those of us who believe in limiting government while maximizing freedom – unfortunately, most of the time here in Maryland that vote is in vain. Nevertheless, my Top (Blue) Dogs for 2008 are:

Delegates Kevin Kelly (District 1B) and Joseph J. Minnick (District 6), who tied with the exact same rating. Kelly is now a two-time honoree.

I also have a group who I’ve dubbed the Legislative All-Stars. In most cases they score over 90% but also include at least the top scorer in a body who doesn’t make that threshold. They are the cream of the Maryland crop and those of us who desire a more sensible, limited state government would do well to have one like each of these men and women in every General Assembly seat. And I’m pleased that the ranks have grown from just four All-Stars in 2007 to seven in 2008. These honorees are:

Delegates Joseph C. Boteler III (District 8), Warren E. Miller (District 9A), Christopher B. Shank (District 2B), and Senators Janet Greenip (District 33), Andrew P. Harris (District 7) and Alexander X. Mooney (District 3). All three Senators are being honored for the second straight year, and another 2007 Legislative All-Star is my pick for 2008 Legislator of the Year.

So who is the winner of the coveted monoblogue award for the 2008 Legislator of the Year?

Along with Delegates Boteler and Miller, this man managed to achieve the highest rating for the 2008 General Assembly session. Because the three managed to all tie for the year’s top rating, the tie-breaker becomes the overall term rating, which became the basis for selection.

The 2008 monoblogue award goes to Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell (District 29). We couldn’t have a better person as the Minority Leader in the House of Delegates and hopefully 2010 will bring more Delegates for him to lead.

2008 Maryland GOP Fall Convention (part 2)

It was a pretty but chilly sunrise which greeted early risers at the 2008 Maryland Republican Party Fall Convention in Annapolis.

We met at dawn. All right, those of us who had breakfast did, and we were treated to remarks from Harford County Executive David Craig.

Harford County Executive David Craig related his personal experiences and thoughts in remarks over breakfast.

Craig related that the GOP had “lost its way…its confidence…(and) its faith in ourselves” as a result of November’s election “setback.” But he also gave examples that showed the “phoenix will arise”, reminding attendees that the pundits wrote the GOP’s obituary after the elections in 1964 and 1976 as well.

But to win, noted David, we had to get “back to basics” like a good sports team does – registering voters, finding good candidates, and getting out the vote. A little shoe leather doesn’t hurt either, as Craig told us where he and 20 other dedicated volunteers knocking at each of the 4,500 households in Havre de Grace (where he served twice as mayor) five times apiece in the last month resulted in his being placed back in the mayoral chair with 68% of the vote. While the future wasn’t certain, concluded Craig, it was “promising” for the Republican Party in Maryland.

Before I rejoin the proceedings as we assembled for the convention session, it’s worth noting that much of what was said during the morning session was a repeat of remarks made the prior night to the Executive Committee. Generally I took the better notes on Friday night but the pictures came out better Saturday morning.

And while I didn’t take pictures of state party Treasurer Chris Rosenthal nor will I divulge exact figures, it’s also worthwhile to point out that through September 30th our revenues were about 10% ahead of projections while expenses were just about 1% under the amount budgeted. So the Maryland GOP’s finances weren’t the mess many have written them off as.

Now I’ll return to the convention floor beginning with remarks by State Senator Allan Kittleman, who was the first guest speaker introduced by Party Chair Dr. Jim Pelura.

As he addressed the Maryland Republican Party's Fall Convention, State Senator Allen Kittleman is photographed literally making a point. December 6, 2008.

The message Kittleman delivered could be boiled down to two simple requests: we “need to work together” and stand on our principles. Moreover, he added that even though we “all failed” in 2008, Allan predicted that 2010 would be a “good Republican year.”

As part of our working together, Kittleman was the first of a few speakers who cautioned Republicans to not air their dirty laundry in public. I hope that doesn’t mean we can’t be crtical where we feel it’s necessary, although Allan also said that we should come to them first with any issues we feel merit the Senators’ attention.

Republicans, added Kittleman, are the party of opportunity (as well as the party of ideas and the party of freedom) but not the insurer of success. It wasn’t enough to talk about Democrats – in fact Kittleman noted he was “tired of having the GOP talk about how bad the Democrats are” – but we needed to present good alternatives too.

After Kittleman concluded, Delegate Tony O'Donnell also had brief remarks.

Next, Delegate Anthony O’Donnell addressed the grassroots of the party, stating that “I understand the importance of Central Committees.” What he urged those assembled to do was “throw away the rear-view mirror” and encouraged the county-level chairs to access the resources of the Minority Leader’s office. Better communications and a better message would help us succeed, O’Donnell claimed, using Jessica’s Law as one example.

Looking ahead to the upcoming General Assembly session, the obvious issue was the FY2010 budget – as O’Donnell put it this wasn’t a budget “crisis” but simply “mismanagement.” But another issue where Anthony used a visual aid was driver’s licenses.

As the board shows, Maryland lags behind most of the United States in not requiring proof of legal presence to receive a driver's license - making it a magnet state for illegal immigrants.

Obviously this will be addressed by our side in Annapolis next year but look for common-sense legislation to again be shelved or voted down by the Democrats. (And look for any such votes to be duly noted on next year’s monoblogue Accountability Project.)

Maryland GOP Chair Jim Pelura then delivered his Chairman’s Report.

Maryland Republican Party Chair Dr. James Pelura addresses the party's Fall Convention, December 6, 2008.

While Pelura thought the recent election was “as bad as 2006 for Maryland”, he didn’t blame those in the room. Instead he noted that the Democrats energized their base, registered more voters, and repackaged their agenda in a palatable way – by the end of the campaign, Barack Obama was considered the tax-cutter.

However, the focus now shifted to doing things differently, starting immediately. First, the GOP has a need to “push (our own) agenda” in the upcoming General Assembly session. At the same time we have to make sure Martin O’Malley and the Democrats in the General Assembly “will be accountable for every dollar” spent.

One move toward that end Pelura has made was asking Charles County Chair Charles Lollar to head up the “Maryland GOP Anti-Tax Plan Commission”, tasking Lollar to analyze the FY2009 budget line-by-line to see where possible cuts could be made. (More on this momentarily.)

The other action item was revamping a Maryland GOP website that was simply “not acceptable.” Starting today (Monday), the website is updated and being made more user-friendly. (It even has links to blogs, including mine. How’s that for influence?)

In the near-term future, Pelura stated that 2009’s municipal elections would be “taken very seriously” as these candidates are the farm team for future regional and statewide races. He also encouraged us to talk up our principles to the younger voters and voters-to-be, engaging them wherever possible such as asking to be invited to speak to a high school or college class. “We need a face to our message”, noted Jim.

A few moments ago, I brought up Charles Lollar, the Chair of Charles County’s GOP.

Eventually he may not be the most popular guy in Annapolis, but Charles Lollar is tasked with addressing the state's budget and helping to develop an alternative.

While he humorously brought his youngest daughter’s desire to see Uggs under the Christmas tree and that she thought perhaps the family needed a bailout, in that was a parable for our state’s budget. In fact, Lollar brought up an interesting comparison, stating that two of our more-populated neighbors have budgets similar in size to our $31 billion behemoth – Pennsylvania’s checks in at $28 billion while Virginia’s is $33 billion. More importantly, Lollar claimed that in the first 13 pages of the budget there was $127 million which could be cut. On the whole, he wanted to “welcome (us) to the state where less will be more” – more money in our wallets and more personal freedom.

As always, we also got reports from our National Committeewoman Joyce Terhes and National Committeeman Louis Pope. Terhes exhorted us to “hold true to Republican principles” and presented a laundry list of to-do items for 2009, while Pope looked at some of the voting numbers and selected polling for 2008. While it’s probably common knowledge that 97% of the black voters picked Barack Obama, 69% Hispanics also went for the Democrat and the under-25 set was 2-to-1 in Obama’s camp. Meanwhile, 68% of Americans held a negative opinion of the GOP, so the need to “rebrand” and “resell” ourselves by being solution-oriented was apparent.

Finally, we got to a number of resolutions presented to us.

It was fairly simple to approve Talbot County’s request to expand its Central Committee ranks from seven to nine and establish study committees to weigh the pros and cons of instant runoff voting and the merits of a pre-primary caucus for 2012. But the other two proposed changes drew plenty of debate.

One was the issue of regional chairs, which has been debated over the entire time I’ve been on the Central Committee. While it passed easily in 2006, a procedural error nullified the decision. Having rectified the problems and rewritten the language to adapt to the revised by-laws from 2007, the issue was brought to the floor.

While 13 of the 23 jurisdictions present (Kent County had no representatives to this convention) voted unanimously in favor of the idea, three others were split in its favor, and the LCD voting came out as a majority (68.19 to 51.82) the measure finished 3 LCD votes short of the required 3/5 majority for passage. The counties which voted against the idea were Anne Arundel, Carroll, Caroline, Dorchester, Montgomery and Prince George’s. I’m particularly disappointed in my Eastern Shore brethren for voting no, although even had they switched the effort would have still fallen barely short.

The same style of parochialism was exhibited on another proposal which would have switched the LCD voting method from a basis in registered voters to that of actual votes in the most recent election for Governor or President. (I posted an explanation of this concept last Wednesday.)

This time only eight counties voted unanimously in favor, while two others split in the affirmative direction. Not surprisingly, of the counties where the McCain vote fell short of the number of registered Republicans (ones who would have received the steepest penalties), only Frederick County had the courage and foresight to vote for passage. In all, the measure failed handily by a 47.23 to 72.78 LCD count.

As a resident of a county who was one of seven to lose on both propositions, it’s quite worthy to note that the a large part of the opposition to these measures came from two of the three counties who hold more votes themselves than the Eastern Shore does in toto – Anne Arundel and Montgomery. (Prince George’s County also was against both.) Our group of seven was Baltimore County, Cecil, Frederick, St. Mary’s, Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester – so the Lower Shore was whacked badly. I also would be remiss to not point out that both of these changes which were defeated were sponsored by Eastern Shore Central Committee members, including two of my fellow Wicomico County members who sponsored the registered voter to actual votes cast change in LCD voting composition.

With that said, there’s going to be a certain level of frustration expressed in the near future around these parts. However, local Republicans will soon have the Chair’s ear as Jim Pelura will be the speaker at our Wicomico County Lincoln Day Dinner on February 7, 2009.

We also had an informative luncheon session, but I’ve decided in the interest of time and space to leave that for another post, since I’ve asked to get a copy of the presentation.

I’ll leave you with two images of this year’s convention – one partisan and one pretty.

Considering Garrett County puts us all to shame as far as the percentage of registered Republicans vs. Democrats is concerned, I can't argue on sentiment.

My camera actually does this a little bit of injustice, but I took this shortly after the sunrise shot Saturday morning. I just liked the amount of color in the clouds.

2008 Maryland GOP Fall Convention (part 1)

As I did back in May (and because I have a number of photos to place in each post) I’ve again decided to subdivide the coverage of this year’s Maryland Republican Party Fall Convention into two parts. The first part this evening will essentially talk about the social aspect of the convention, most of which occurred Friday night. Tomorrow’s second part will delve more into what was said and done at the Friday evening Executive Committee meeting and the convention itself, which took place Saturday morning. That part will also discuss our breakfast and luncheon speakers – Harford County Executive David Craig and Scott Migli of Wilson Research Strategies, respectively.

It’s a Friday night tradition for those Central Committee members to attend hospitality rooms and suites that adjunct groups like the Young Republicans or various campaigners put in place. This gives Republicans from all over the state an opportunity to mix and mingle with each other.

Normally these begin after the Executive Committee meeting closes, but this time many partiers got underway a little earlier. The hospitality suite put together by this group started before the others:

While Delegate Donna Stifler had the sign out front, in truth the suite was co-sponsored by her District 35 cohorts State Senator Barry Glassman, Delegate Susan McComas, and Delegate H. Wayne Norman as well.

Because not all that many of the Central Committee people sit in on the Executive Committee meeting, this quickly got to be a hopping place. And I got to make acquaintances with the aforementioned Delegate Stifler.

If you liked pizza, this suite was the place to be. These guys had boxes and boxes of pizza, along with the beer and pop to wash it down.

A group known for having energetic and entertaining hospitality suites is the Maryland Young Republicans, and they did not disappoint in this instance either.

A picture of the unadorned but fun MYR hospitality suite. I'm going to operate under the assumption that the young man mugging for the camera was of legal drinking age.

In fact, it was at this suite I finally had the opportunity to meet fellow Red Maryland bloggers Brian Griffiths and Greg Kline. Perhaps they have observations on the events as well, but they didn’t have camera or notepad on them as far as I could tell.

There’s no doubt that most in the venue would dearly love to see former Lieutenant Governor and U.S. Senate candidate Michael Steele become the new head of the RNC, and this sign makes it quite clear that no good logo stays unused for long.

Switch the wording at the bottom and you repeat 2006. But I thought that Steele's was a cool and distinctive political image anyway.

The suite itself ebbed and flowed like the others did, although I think they had the best adult beverage selections. (Sorry, no pictures of the liquor stash.) The two gentlemen who hosted the party are immortalized here.

Andrew Langer and Daniel Zubairi put their names on the suite as hosts - too bad the guest of honor didn't make an appearance.

Perhaps it’s because Michael Steele likely knows he has much of our support in his back pocket, but he was a no-show at the party – and at the convention, for that matter. Had Steele made time for the affair, he would’ve needed a room more like this one.

The largest party suite was hosted by State Senator E.J. Pipkin.

No office stated on the banner, and the sign below it playing up his Eastern Shore residency. Are we looking at another contested GOP Congressional primary in 2 years?

Senator Pipkin was into the spirit of things. If you look closely the good Senator was attired in Hawaiian-style shirt, just left of center in the photo.

State Senator E.J. Pipkin and a few dozen of his friends celebrate the fact the Maryland GOP can get together.

But it was indeed a rough election for First Congressional District Republicans. This board was on an exhibitor’s table, and it had a message for the GOP that perhaps things were taken too much for granted.

This board makes the point that the ostrich with its head in the sand assumed that the portion of Anne Arundel County in CD-1 was in the bag for John McCain and Andy Harris, but the two maps under 'reality' tell a different tale. Areas in purple were won by McCain and Frank Kratovil.

The exhibitor, Nancy Hoyt, is a cartographer and GIS expert who merged political and geographical data to show areas where the GOP had work to do. Indeed, we did have work to do and that would begin bright and early the next morning.

A lapse in action

Hopefully you didn’t think I was kidding when I noted the other day that the folks at the Maryland Republican Party read monoblogue – I know Jim Pelura is a fan of the site. It took them about six days longer than I thought it would but they integrated the info I brought up into a new press release:

Following a report by the Tax Foundation last week ranking Maryland 45th in business-friendliness, the CATO Institute ranked Martin O’Malley as one of the worst governors in the country on fiscal issues, giving him an “F” grade for pushing through the largest tax increase in state history and dramatically increasing spending.

“Governor O’Malley has consistently supported higher taxes and runaway government spending during his two years in office,” said MDGOP Chairman Jim Pelura.  “His “F” grade is well-deserved and the low business friendliness ranking is a direct result of O’Malley’s tax-first policies.”

“Working families were already struggling in late 2007 and a recession was on the horizon.  Martin O’Malley and his allies in the General Assembly decided that the solution to the projected deficit was to raise taxes astronomically AND allocate new spending for new programs.  If we had just chosen to restrict government growth to the rate of inflation, we could have closed the budget gap without raising taxes,” concluded Pelura.

To give additional credit where credit is due, the article by Chris Edwards also appeared on National Review Online. So certainly Mr. Edwards is no slouch, and the reasoning behind Governor O’Malley’s poor rating is simple: he’s a tax-and-spend governor. As the CATO study notes:

The lowest-scoring governor, Martin O’Malley of Maryland, spearheaded the passage of a $1.4 billion tax increase in 2007, which was unique in its large size and scope. It increased the corporate tax rate, the top personal income tax rate, the sales tax rate, and the cigarette tax rate. It also expanded the sales tax base and raised taxes on vehicles. This enormous increase will hit Marylanders directly in the pocketbook, and indirectly through slower economic growth over time. (Emphasis mine.)

As a result many areas of Maryland are being hit hard by tough times, the Eastern Shore being one. Martin O’Malley and his cronies are about the only ones with a sure salary these days. And even the so-called fiscal panacea of video slot machines is now not going to be enough to plug the state’s budget hole (see page 32) because revenues are declining even with the higher tax rates (duh! Welcome to real-world economics, Martin.) The newly revised estimates for FY2009 now have a nearly $600 million revenue shortfall, up from $432 million just a month ago (see page 8). And FY2010 has a nearly $300 million hole which needs to be filled.

So it’s going to be up to the General Assembly when they meet in just a few short weeks to find ways of making the expenses match the revenues. Even if we pass the slots referendum (and I still think it’s a bad idea), there will have to either be cuts made or O’Malley will choose to once again do what he does best and tax Marylanders into other states. After all, it’s his budget – all the GOP can do is make helpful suggestions and proposals which won’t see the light of day.

Our next best chance to address this problem comes November 2, 2010. It’s time to place the adults in charge in Maryland.