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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Conditional Party Government and the GOP Speaker Turmoil

If you are at all confused by the turmoil in Washington and the sudden one-two punch of John Boehner's sudden retirement and presumptive successor Kevin McCarthy's equally sudden decision to withdraw from the Speaker race, fear not! Political science has the explanation. It all comes down to a very elegant theory of power in Congress known as Conditional Party Government

It its simplest form, Conditional Party Government holds that whether or not power in Congress will be highly centralized among party leadership is conditioned upon two things - 1) the degree of unity (homogeneity) within each party and 2) the degree of difference (heterogeneity) between the parties. If each party is internally united around a common set of policy goals then there is little to fear from centralized power among the leadership. Leadership will put forward legislation favored  by the party and block legislation that is opposed. Likewise, if the two parties are deeply divided then there is significant motivation to ensure that the minority party have as little influence over the legislative process as possible. This is more easily achieved if power, and therefore access to the process, is controlled by party leadership. 

But, if a party is divided there is little to gain from centralized control. After all, leadership may push an agenda that many in the party oppose. Likewise, if the two parties are not far apart on the issues then there is little reason to want to exclude them from the process.

There can be no question that House Republicans and House Democrats are deeply divided and, as such, there is every reason for the House GOP to want to exclude Democrats from the legislative process. But that's only one of the two conditions.

The House GOP is internally divided, especially on matters relating to the budget and the debt ceiling. It's divided between two camps 1) a pragmatic wing of the party that believes they have an obligation to govern, to deliver a budget, and to avoid a government shutdown - even if that means compromising with Democrats and President Obama - and 2) an insurgent minority, the Freedom Caucus, that prefers confrontation, showdowns, and shutdowns to compromise. And both factions have to deal with the pressure coming for the Republican party base, the activists who vote in primaries, which is more aligned with the Freedom Caucus. The Freedom Caucus is no longer willing to accept centralized power in the leadership and base voters are encouraging them to push back.

For the better part of 30 years, the trend in the House has been toward ever more centralized power. So being Speaker meant controlling the agenda. Controlling committee assignments. Controlling the rules of debate. The GOP divisions are making that approach to leadership impossible. The Freedom Caucus wants consultation, access, influence. They want a more subservient Speaker. So any new Speaker will have to consult, get permission, and make concessions (something that was once normal back when the two parties were more ideologically diverse). So far, nobody wants to be Speaker under those restrictions. Boehner wasn't willing to accept such a diminished role and neither was Kevin McCarthy. It appears that Paul Ryan will also take a pass.

Now, you may think that this simply represents arrogance on the part of those unwilling to accept diminished authority. It's more complicated than that. The Freedom Caucus is home to a lot of recently elected members with little institutional memory. Boehner, McCarthy, Ryan and many in the GOP's pragmatic wing understand a simply reality - anything done to weaken the Speaker will strengthen the Democratic minority. Members of the Freedom Caucus say that they want a more open process. There are few ways to open the process only to them. So if they prevail and elect a chastened and restrained Speaker they are likely to realize that the price of their expanded access was just too high. If the Freedom Caucus weakens the Speaker they will strengthen Democrats. In the end, I suspect the Freedom Caucus will realize that the price of a weakened Speaker is simply too high. I'm just not sure how quickly they'll realize it. But at some point, I think they'll have to see that what divides them from House Democrats is far greater than what divides them from the other members of their own party. 

*As a quick aside... I'd love to see centralized power in Congress subside. I would much prefer the days when free and open debate took place and when the minority party was treated with some degree of respect. I'm not advocating centralized power and I'm not cheer-leading for any faction within the House GOP. I'm just trying to make sense of what's going on.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Compromise Is Not A Sign Of Weakness, But Refusing To Compromise Is

There's a great quote in a New York Times article exploring the fallout from John Boehner's sudden and dramatic decision to resign as Speaker and from Congress.

"At its core, there’s a group of members in the House Republican caucus who affirmatively don’t want to govern if that means compromise. And governing always means compromise.”

This of course is the core problem. Folks on the right often claim to believe in the strict text of the constitution, yet their governing philosophy completely dismisses the constitutional order. From the moment the GOP won the House in 2010 a group of hard core Republicans decided that only they should determine the nation's agenda. Never mind that Democrats had the presidency and the Senate. Now the GOP has the House and Senate and the hard core are doubling down. Again ignoring the presidency and the Dem's ability to filibuster.

And when leaders like Boehner and McConnell try to govern by negotiating the compromises that our constitution demands they are treated as weak leaders and sell outs. Former Majority Leader captured it well in a recent Op-Ed:

"...somewhere along the road, a number of voices on the right began demanding that the Republican Congress not only block Mr. Obama’s agenda but enact a reversal of his policies. They took to the airwaves and the Internet and pronounced that congressional Republicans could undo the president’s agenda — with him still in office, mind you — and enact into law a conservative vision for government, without compromise.
Strangely, according to these voices, the only reason that was not occurring had nothing to do with the fact that the president was unlikely to repeal his own laws, or that under the Constitution, absent the assent of the president or two-thirds of both houses of Congress, you cannot make law. The problem was a lack of will on the part of congressional Republican leaders."
In truth, Republican leadership has been anything but weak. Instead they've tried hard to fashion compromises in the face of a partial party revolt. Ronald Reagan cut deals and compromised with Democrats often. The folks who now claim to revere Reagan actually revere a myth of an uncompromising conservative who never existed and never would've been a success if he had. When Reagan proclaimed that government was not the solution to our problems and that government was the problem he was referring to a convoluted tax code and excessive regulations. Reagan did succeed in lowering taxes and easing some regulations, but he never preferred a shut down over cutting a deal. And Reagan also agreed to tax increases, new regulations, and several sizeable expansions of Medicaid. For all of the railing against "Obamacare" the Medicaid expansions under Reagan transformed Medicaid from a relatively small program into the largest single source of health coverage in the nation. But Reagan used his leverage as President and the GOP Senate majority to reach compromises he could live with. He never got everything he wanted, but neither did Democrats. That's how are system is supposed to work.

But the current crop of hard core GOP in the House and folks like Ted Cruz in the Senate believe that they should get 100% of what they want. They're not willing to accept anything less. Though that strategy may please the small number of folks who vote in primaries it's unlikely the majority of general election voters will continue to back a majority party that refuses to govern.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Questioning Maryland Democrats and Their New Found Religion on Redistricting Reform

In response to Governor Hogan's call for redistricting reform, Democratic members of Maryland's congressional delegation have argued instead for national reform. Representatives Hoyer and Van Hollen have each argued that Democrats in Maryland should not surrender the redistricting power so long as Republicans hold onto the power in other states. So only bilateral disarmament is acceptable. 
I have advocated national redistricting reform for years. Nothing would please me more or be better for our democracy than national reform. But forgive me for not placing much stock in Md Democrats' new found redistricting faith. Rather I think they are calling for national reform in an effort to provide cover for state Democrats who don't want to give up the power pick and choose their voters. Why am I so dismissive? Let's just say our Democratic delegation sang a different tune when their party controlled Congress AND the White House a few years ago and had the power to enact reform.
In 2008 and 2009, a bipartisan group of Representatives sponsored legislation to enact nation-wide, non-partisan redistricting reform and called on then Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold hearings - but it went nowhere. Democrat Zoe Lofgren sponsored the Redistricting Reform Act, but it died as well - and no one in the MD delegation co-sponsored it.
2008 offered a perfect storm for reform - under divided government and 2 years prior to a new Census neither party knew who would be in control of drawing new district lines. That uncertainty would have made reform achievable.
If you think that President Bush would have vetoed the measure, the legislation was reintroduced in 2009. At that time Democrats controlled the whole process - the House, the White House, and held a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. President Obama was on record as opposing gerrymandering having once commented "too often, our representatives are selecting their voters, as opposed to the voters selecting the representatives. That is a situation that I think the American people should not accept."
But these efforts at bilateral disarmament went nowhere. In fact, as sponsors of the bill were advocating nationwide, bilateral disarmament, Nancy Pelosi joined an effort opposing non-partisan redistricting reform in her home state of California.
None of the members of the MD delegation co-sponsored or expressed any support for Lofgren's measure. None.* And all of MD's current Democratic incumbents, except for John Delaney, were in Congress at the time. In fact, Steny Hoyer was Majority Leader at the time. Van Hollen was chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fifth-ranking position among House Democrats. Support from either man would've guaranteed passage of the bill - but both were silent. Both knew all too well that it was the gerrymandering efforts of Parris Glendening in 2001 that transformed Maryland's 4 to 4 congressional delegation into a 6 to 2 delegation. Gerrymandering was specifically responsible for Van Hollen's defeat of liberal Republican Connie Morella in 2002. 
Why else did Democrats refuse to reform? Because 2006 and 2008 were great years for Democrats. The party regained control of the House and Senate in 2006 and won the White House in 2008. In both elections, the party made gains in state legislatures and governorships.  In 2009 talk was of a Democratic realignment and a new coalition of voters that would continue to deliver for Democrats. In short, the party gambled on winning big in 2010 and being in control of redistricting in states across the nation. They saw an opportunity to undo Republican gains made after the 2000 Census and secure a Democratic House majority for a decade.
Of course, they lost big on that gamble. In 2010, Republicans made the largest gains in state legislatures by a single party in a century. They used that new power to do what Democrats had planned to do - they gerrymandering the hell out the states they controlled (with especially egregious examples in PA, NC, and TX.  Democrats did the same in the few states they controlled (with their own equally egregious examples in IL and MD).
So when you hear a Democratic member of Congress calling for national reform or condemning Republican gerrymandering, do a quick search to see if he or she supported reform in 2009 when their party faced no obstacles to reform. If they were in Congress at the time, and the answer is "No", then feel free to cast a cynical eye upon them. They had the chance to reform the process, but their commitment to reform lost out to their avarice.
Now let me get to the Republicans (of course there's only one Republican in MD's delegation, but his party controls Congress). There is redistricting reform legislation in Congress right now (and 3 of MD's 6 congressional Democrats are co-sponsors). Republicans control the House and Senate and there remains every reason to believe that President Obama would sign a reform bill. The ball is their court now. If they refuse to reform, they easily could find themselves on the losing end of redistricting after the 2020 Census.
It's a perfect time for reform as neither party can predict who will be in charge after 2020. So call on Speaker Boehner, on Steny Hoyer, on Elijah Cummings, on Dutch Ruppersberger, on John Delaney and on Andy Harris to lend their support to the Redistricting Reform Act of 2015. Let's end this nonsense once and for all.

* Though this article references sponsorship of Zoe Lofgren's Redistricting Reform Act, which has been reintroduced in every Congress for the last decade, John Sarbanes was a co-sponsor of John Tanner's Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act of 2007. But did not co-sponsor the bill when it was reintroduced in subsequent Congresses. Chris Van Hollen signed on as a co-sponsor of the Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act of 2009, signing on a year after it was introduced, but did not co-sponsor the bill when it was reintroduced in the following Congress.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Maryland Needs Redistricting Reform Now

During his State of the State address, MD Governor Larry Hogan called for redistricting reform in Maryland. As he condemned the process of partisan Gerrymandering (used by both parties to create artificial party strength by disenfranchising members of the minority party) most Democrats in the General Assembly sat on their hands and refused to embrace his call. Their reluctance is easy to understand once one looks at Maryland's state legislative and congressional district maps (see below).

Democrats outnumber Republicans in Maryland by roughly 2 to 1, but that voter registration advantage overstates the actual electoral strength of Democrats. As I have detailed in prior posts, the effective partisan breakdown in Maryland is closer to 1.5 to 1. It's an advantage sufficient to explain Democrats' dominance in statewide elections, but insufficient to explain their 3 to 1 domination in the General Assembly and their 7 to 1 advantage in the state's Congressional delegation. In order to maintain those tremendous advantages, Democrats have rigged the game. They have manipulated the states legislative and Congressional districts so as to effectively disenfranchise non-Democratic voters.

Maryland's state legislative districts look as though they were created by an over-caffeinated 4 year old with a paint gun. But the haphazard appearance obscures what is actually a carefully crafted map. Jagged and sprawling districts have been created solely to serve a single purpose - maximize the number of Democratic seats. Each of Maryland's legislative districts elect 3 members to the House of Delegates. The districts can either elect all of the members at large or a district can be subdivided into 3 single member or into a 1 single member and 2 two member districts. As originally intended, single member districts were to be reserved for geographically large rural districts. Democrats have used the district structures to carve out Democratic districts in otherwise Republican regions - this is clearly evident in Districts 2, 3, 30 and 37. Democrats have leveraged their effective map making into a nearly 3 to 1 majority in the General Assembly.



But Maryland's legislative districts cannot hold a candle to the state's Congressional districts when it comes to political manipulation. During much of the 1990s, Maryland had a 4-to-4 congressional delegation. But during the 2001/2002 redistricting process then Governor Parris Glendening and state Democrats dedicated themselves to correcting that "flaw." The new map resulted in a 6-to-2 Congressional delegation and elevated Maryland to the proud status as one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. Casper Taylor (D-Allegany), then Speaker of the Maryland House, said the plan was the best way to elect more Democrats, arguing "We Democrats deserve six [Democrats] and two [Republicans]." 

In 2011, Governor O'Malley had a chance to correct the abuse of process committed in the name of petty partisanship in 2002, but instead he doubled-down and gerrymandered Maryland so drastically that the state now stands side-by-side with the Rorschach test that is the gerrymandered mess created by the GOP in Texas. The O'Malley map created a 7-to-1 Congressional delegation in Maryland. According to data from the 2010 Census, only 174,000 Marylanders actually needed to be placed into new districts in order to create districts with equal populations. The O'Malley plan placed over 1.5 million Marylanders - nearly a third of the state's residents - into new districts.


So brazen were the efforts to gerrymander the map that few bothered to disguise their motives. Maryland's 3rd District is considered to be one of the most gerrymandered districts in the nation. Why does it look like "broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate” across Central Maryland? According to Senate President and map co-author Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) the answer is simple, the map was gerrymandered to meet the needs to the 3rd District's Democratic representative. "Congressman Sarbanes lived in Baltimore County, but wanted to continue to represent the capital city Annapolis." Why do so many districts claim a part of the Baltimore region? Again, according to Miller, because so many of the state's incumbent Democrats live in the Baltimore region. But such accommodations were not afforded to the state's Republican incumbents. Republican Roscoe Bartlett saw his once conservative sixth district fundamentally altered in a successful effort to create a new Democratic district.


Miller attempted to defend the map with a rather peculiar argument. He stated, "Maryland is a small state ... and it doesn’t have many rural, conservative areas that would vote for Republicans that could comprise a district of 700,000 people." This is of course wrong. The reason the map is so gerrymandered is because Maryland is full of regions that would and do vote Republican and these regions surround four counties and Baltimore City that represent the bulk of the Democratic vote. If Democrats were to produce a map containing compact districts that respected existing county lines then there would be 4 or 5 Democratic districts packed along the I-95 corridor and Republicans would carry the rest of the state.

Miller's response to Larry Hogan's call for redistricting reform - "It's not going to happen... this is an issue that needs to be settled nationally." Miller cited Republican gerrymandering in other states and a reason to not reform the process in Maryland. Maryland Democratic Party executive director Pat Murray criticized Hogan's proposal as "dabbling in national politics instead of focusing on issues that impact middle-class families."  Both are just sorry statements. There is perhaps no issue of greater import to state and local politics than the issue of gerrymandering. And there is perhaps no issue more important to middle and working class families than that of fair representation. At it's heart gerrymandering represents the concerted effort by partisans to undermine the fundamental right democratic representation. Gerrymandering creates a system in which those in office choose their voters instead of a system where voters choose those in office. Miller understands this all to well as he took advantage of his position on the redistricting committee to redraw his own district in an effort to boost his electoral fortunes. 

Of course it would be preferable to have national redistricting reform, but those who represent the people of Maryland have first and foremost an obligation to the people of Maryland. As such, any effort to avoid reform of Maryland's redistricting process by calling for national reform is simply an excuse to put the interests of the people of Maryland secondary to the interests of the national party. Maryland needs redistricting reform now.




Sunday, July 12, 2015

Civil War Was About Slavery, Claiming Otherwise is Revisionist Nonsense

I've heard some familiar comments of late, such as "the Civil War wasn't about slavery" or the Confederate Flag isn't a symbol of racism.  So I want to address both claims in this post - sorry for the length.

As to the Civil War, slavery was the central cause of secession, which of course led to war. Look at the secession declarations of SC, GA, TX, MS, and VA. Why were they seceding? Because of northern states interfering with the institution of slavery. The redefinition of the cause(s) of the war came many years later. In the disputed election of 1876, the GOP agreed to abandon Reconstruction in exchange for a Hayes victory. With Republican reconstructionists gone, white southern Democrats began the systematic purging of blacks from public office and voter rolls. That's also when the efforts to romanticize the war really began - it was about tariffs... it was about state's rights...

That slavery was the cause of secession was openly admitted by southern politicians at the time.  Lawrence Keitt, a congressman from South Carolina, in a speech to the House on January 25, 1860 said "African slavery is the corner-stone of the industrial, social, and political fabric of the South; and whatever wars against it, wars against her very existence. Strike down the institution of African slavery and you reduce the South to depopulation and barbarism... The anti-slavery party contend that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States." Later, as a delegate to the South Carolina secession convention, during the debates on the state's declaration of causes: "Our people have come to this (secession) on the question of slavery. I am willing, in that address to rest it upon that question. I think it is the great central point from which we are now proceeding, and I am not willing to divert the public attention from it." Charleston, South Carolina, Courier, Dec. 22, 1860.

Henry Rector, Governor of Arkansas,  on March 2, 1861, said at the Arkansas Secession Convention, "The area of slavery must be extended correlative with its antagonism, or it will be put speedily in the 'course of ultimate extinction.'....The extension of slavery is the vital point of the whole controversy between the North and the South...They believe slavery a sin, we do not, and there lies the trouble."

Thomas Goode a delegate to Virginia Secession Convention, in March 1861 said, "Sir, the great question which is now uprooting this Government to its foundation---the great question which underlies all our deliberations here, is the question of African slavery..."

G. T. Yelverton, delegate to the Alabama Secession Convention in January 1861 declared, "The question of Slavery is the rock upon which the Old Government split: it is the cause of secession."

John Baldwin, as a delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention, In March 1861said "There is but one single subject of complaint which Virginia has to make against the government under which we live; a complaint made by the whole South, and that is on the subject of African slavery.... the great cause of complaint now is the slavery question, and the questions growing out of it. If there is any other cause of complaint which has been influential in any quarter, to bring about the crisis which is now upon us; if any State or any people have made the troubles growing out of this question, a pretext for agitation instead of a cause of honest complaint, Virginia can have no sympathy whatever, in any such feeling, in any such policy, in any such attempt. It is the slavery question. Is it not so?..."

It was openly, proudly, and repeatedly proclaimed by those pursuing secession that slavery was the central issue. Shouldn't we give serious weight to the opinions of the men who actually led the secession fight? They clearly thought it was about slavery.

So how can it be that so many folks are convinced that slavery was a side issue? Most likely because they were taught that it was. Consider a recent story in the Washington Post, "A lot of white southerners have grown up believing that the Confederacy’s struggle was somehow a noble cause rather than a war in the defense of a horrific institution that enslaved millions of human beings.” Sadly, plenty of northerners have fallen prey to the same myth. Many southern states adopt textbooks at the State level and they will not accept books that tell the true history of the south. As such, textbooks gloss over and often omit meaningful discussions of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, white primaries, etc... and students north, south, east, and west grow up with precious little understanding of our history. Indeed there is plenty to be proud of, but we must acknowledge as well that of which we should be ashamed.

We should be ashamed of slavery and we should be ashamed of any effort to present those who fought for the preservation of slavery as men with noble intentions. The South seceded to protect slavery, victory would've meant the continuation of slavery. So whether or not slavery existed in some northern states, whether or not most Southerners didn't own slaves, and whether or not individual Confederate soldiers supported slavery are all irrelevant arguments. The soldiers fought on behalf a treasonous government dedicated to perpetuating slavery. As such, they are as guilty of that sin as are Nazi soldiers and guards at concentration camps who claimed after the war that they were only following orders. Under no circumstances should any government entity, from a local park service to the national park service, do anything to honor the Civil War South, those who fought for it, or symbols created solely to represent the struggle (The state song of Maryland is a prime example. It was written during the secessionist furvor and is a plea to the State to secede).

Which brings us to the current flap over the "confederate flag"  (actually it was a battle flag). Many will tell you that the flag is simply a symbol of Southern Pride, or that it represents the ideals of limited governments and "state's rights." But such claims are derived from the same revisionist nonsense that sought to rewrite the true cause of the Civil War. In reality, the confederate battle flag pretty much disappearing from view and memory after the war. The KKK liked to use it, but that was about it.  The flag truly became a symbol of the south during the late 1940s and the 1950s - and racial prejudice played the key role in its reemergence. In 1948 Southern Democrats split from the Democratic party over the issue of civil rights.  Strom Thurmond ran under the banner of the States Rights Democratic Party, or the Dixiecrats. They adopted the battle flag as their symbol and their party platform declared "We stand for the segregation of the races..." Thurmond won in South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. In fact, he topped 70% in AL, MS, and SC.

In 1956, Georgia incorporated the battle flag into its state flag. Why did GA make the change? To protest the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling which outlawed school segregation. Then, in 1962, George Wallace, governor of Alabama, and proud segregationist, raised the battle flag over the State house. Why? To link the south's battle against integration to the glorious Civil War. Wallace ran for president as a third party candidate in 1968, and segregation was a central theme of his campaign. He carried 5 southern states and came in a close 2nd in 4 more. So the reemergence of the confederate battle flag was driven by opposition to integration and civil rights and those who adopted as their symbol linked that opposition to the cause of the Civil War.

So the war was over slavery and the flag was a symbol of segregation and oppression.  Now, I don't think that every person who displays the flag is a racist who endorses the flag's history. Rather I think they are unaware of its true history and have accepted the popular myth that the flag simply symbolizes southern culture or heritage. It may be that many of the folks who display the Confederate flag today do so with no racial motivation. They may believe that it represents limited government or state's rights.  But their intentions and motivations cannot undo the flag's true history and purpose. The Swastika long predates Nazi Germany. The word and the symbol mean "good fortune." The symbol was widely used across Europe in the early 20th Century. I doubt anyone would be OK with any person, organization, or country displaying the Swastika today and saying it only represents their wish for "good fortune." Nothing can separate the symbol from its horrific past. It has been forever tainted. This applies to the Confederate flag as well. So people are absolutely justified in being offend by its display and no state or governmental entity should be honoring or displaying it as a contemporary symbol.

Does that mean that Civil War gift shops shouldn't sell replicas or that TV Land should pull the Dukes of Hazzard from it's lineup? I don't think so, the flag has a history and was a symbol of the South. It's appropriate to display it in that context. Purging it from Civil War sites would undermine the telling of our history. As to the Dukes of Hazzard, folks offended by the car can change the channel. Concerned advertisers can direct their money elsewhere. These are quite distinct from a government displaying and honoring the flag. Should people be able to display their Confederate flags? Of course, free speech protects the right to be offensive and ignorant of history.  But freedom of speech does not mean freedom from judgement. And those who proclaim that the flag is about "heritage and not hate" should know that those of us who actually know the history of the flag also know that the flag represents heritage AND hate.




Monday, July 6, 2015

"Endaxi" and the Greek "No" Vote


(I'm writing this from the Greek island of Chios, home to my wife's family, and my adopted second home for nearly 15 years. I offer this observation not as an expert on Greek politics or culture, but as a political scientist who has enjoyed many a day in the generosity and warmth of that culture).

While walking with my father-in-law along the main harbor today he was telling me about WWII when Chios was occupied by the Germans (he was a young boy at the time and remembers it vividly). The harbor was bombed by the allied forces, the people were starving, Red Cross food drops were bombed out of fear the Germans would use them. Mainland Greece and the islands were divided among Axis powers. It occurred to me during that talk that I better understand the reaction of the Greek people to all that is going on as well as the overwhelming "No" vote. Look at Greece in the 20th Century, war with Turkey, the Greek genocide, the war with Italy, the German invasion and occupation, the communist v anti-communist civil war after WWII, the (re)return and then (re)rejection of the monarchy.

The history of Greece in the 20th Century is one of upheaval, struggle, and crisis - but especially of survival. Through it all, Greece persevered. There was always a tomorrow and it was better than the dark days that preceded it.  There is a word in Greek that pops up in nearly every conversation - "endaxi." Roughly translated means "ok" or "alright," but is better understood as equivalent to "everything is alright" or "it will be ok." I can't tell you how often you hear "endaxi" in conversations. The word is more than an expression, it's an attitude that permeates the culture. "It's alright, it will be ok." So as Greece teeters on the brink of a Eurozone exit, as banks remain closed and people stand in lines for their $60 Euro withdrawal limit, and as they vote "oxi!" overwhelmingly rejecting the Eurozone's proposal for a path forward, there is among all of the concern and confusion the sense of "endaxi." It will be ok.

I hope it's true. The unfortunate downside to the "endaxi" attitude is a feeling that nothing need be done. That it will be ok, with or without my help. This why it's easy for a demagogic leader like Tsipras to convince people that they could vote "No" with no consequences. That Greece is the victim of Europe's selfishness. "It will be ok, you don't need to do anything - endaxi."

We'll know soon enough if "endaxi" is a blessing or a curse.

Friday, June 26, 2015

In Marriage Equality Ruling, It was the Constitution that Won

I've seen a few posts from folks today arguing that the Supreme Court was wrong to legalize same-sex marriage. Many of these folks argue that we do not have a right to marry (or a right to privacy for that matter). These folks are making a common, but dangerous, mistake. They are assuming that our rights are enumerated in the Constitution. They are not. The 9th amendment makes clear, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." In other words, we have other rights. Rights in addition to those not enumerated. The burden is not on we, the people, to prove which additional rights we have, the burden is on government to show which rights it can deny, limit, or abridge. The 14th Amendment's equal protection clause ensures that rights, and even privileges, which do exist must be afforded equally. In ruling in favor of the rights of same sex couples to marry, the court simply (and quite conservatively) concluded that no state or party could show a compelling reason to deny a right. Much as there was no compelling reason to deny marriage between people of different races/ethnicities. With all due respect to Justice Roberts, the Constitution (and the 9th Amendment) won today.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Governor Hogan Wants To Do What?

Last week Governor Hogan caused a big stir in MD politics when he announced that he was moving ahead with a plan to reopen the Annapolis State Police Barracks and add 100 officers - even though the General assembly never considered, let alone approved, his supplemental budget request to do both.

Hogan announced that he would pay for the initiative by line item vetoing a $2 million earmark in the Capital Budget that was supposed to finance improvements at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis. A Hogan spokesperson said of the plan "This demonstrates Governor Hogan’s overall commitment to general savings for Maryland taxpayers..."

The decision represents quite a few things, but a commitment to cost savings clearly ain't one of them. This audacious proposal has so many problems that one really needs to question just who has been advising the Governor.

Consider - during the legislative session, the Governor sent the Assembly a supplemental budget for the State's Operating Budget (which funds day-day operations of the state) requesting $8 million to reopen the Annapolis Barracks and hire 100 new troopers. House Speaker Michael Busch did not brings the supplemental to the floor for consideration.  Hogan is now proposing to delete $2 million in spending approved in the Capital Budget (which funds construction and infrastructure) so that he can use those funds to move forward with the barracks reopening and the new hires.

In only three sentences, the prior paragraph has laid out multiple problems in Hogan's plan. Consider first the question of math. Hogan estimated the cost of reopening the barracks and hiring the troopers to be roughly $8.2 million. He now plans to pay for the $8.2 million plan via the cancellation of a $2 million project. I'm not quite clear how a cost deficit of $6.2 million demonstrates an "overall commitment to general savings."  But the issue of cost is actually not the biggest problem with the proposal. As Governor, Hogan has the authority to strike an item from the Capital Budget. But he cannot then take that money and spend it something not already in the Capital Budget. Nor can he - as is the crucial point here - take money allocated in the Capital Budget and transfer it to the Operating Budget. Which is exactly what he would need to do in order to fulfill his plan. Oh, and he can't spend money in the Operating Budget that wasn't authorized by the Operating Budget - so he can't add money to the authorized budget for the state police.

So Governor Hogan wants to transfer $2 million out of the Capital Budget and into the Operating Budget (which he can't do) in order to fund an $8 million program (which $2 million can't do). So unless the Governor's advisors have discovered a previously unknown section of the Maryland constitution this plan is going nowhere and may prove to be the most significant unforced error yet committed by this young administration.

So if the $2 million can't really be used to pay for the barracks and the officers what else could be the motivation for the plan? The likely answer is very disturbing and very unfortunate. The Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts is in Speaker Michael Busch's district and the Speaker has been a tremendous benefactor over the years. Hogan has made clear that he is unhappy with Busch. Hogan blames Busch for the agenda failures he endured during the legislative session and called Busch "petulant" for refusing to allow consideration of Hogan's supplemental budget proposals. By claiming $2 million in savings from an earmark that is insufficient to fund the barracks and unavailable to the Operating Budget, Hogan did little more than take a figurative swing at Speaker Busch (a man without whom Hogan can never achieve his legislative goals). What a ridiculous motivation.

I admit to being generally supportive of Governor Hogan and I have (justifiably) defended his actions on many occasions. But this bizarre proposal is simply beyond my comprehension. If the Governor has some larger plan or some clear legal guidance that would better explain how the $2 million for the Capital Budget can have any impact on his plans via the Operating Budget then he owes it to everyone in the state to release that information as soon as possible. But if he is moving forward with this based solely on the idea that saving $2 million from the Capital Budget would produce general savings to the state in order to offset new spending that he is not authorized to spend, all in an effort to hurt Speaker Busch, then I'm left with the quote from the esurance commercials so aptly applied to this situation by Bryan Sears of the Daily Record - that's not how any of this works. And It's certainly not what voters were looking for when the rejected politics as usual last November.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Overreaction to Hogan's GCEI Decision Does Not Reflect the Reality of the Situation

In what has become a recurring theme, Democrats and their allies - like the Maryland State Education Association - are overreacting to Larry Hogan's decision to not fully fund the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) which allocates additional education funds to certain counties. The $68 million he is withholding represents less than 1% of the state's $7.5 billion education budget. In a recent Twitter post, a representative of the MSEA stated that per pupil spending in MD had increased every year of the past 10 years... until now. Problem is, it's not true. According to an annual report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau Maryland's per pupil spending in 2012 was below both the 2010 and 2011 levels. The reference to per pupil funding is clearly part of an effort to get the public to equate per pupil spending with student achievement. But numerous studies have confirmed there's no correlation between spending and achievement.

If I were advising Hogan I would've told him to spend the $68 million for the GCEI, but by no means do I think that his decision to withhold the money will undermine the quality of education in the state. One must consider as well that the withheld GCEI funds total only $68 million out of $7.5 billion in K-12 education spending in Hogan's budget. That's less than 1%. Governor O'Malley funded none of the GCEI in his first year in office and only one-third of it in his second year - and no one questioned his commitment to education. Additionally, Hogan's budget increased overall K-12 spending by 1% over FY 2015, that is the same spending increase contained in Governor O'Malley's budget last year. And again, there was no gnashing of the teeth then. The fact that Governor O'Malley got a free pass to make K-12 funding decisions similar to those made by Governor Hogan suggests that the criticism of Hogan is mostly driven by political opportunism and not true policy opposition.

And let's remember as well where that contested $68 million in GCEI funds came from - the woefully underfunded state employee pension fund. Though the money already in the pension system is untouchable, payments intended for the state pension system, specifically the OPEB (other post-employment benefits), were repeatedly cut by the Assembly in order to free up money for other priorities. Years of treating those intended payments like an ATM helped to create billions in unfunded future obligations. So a few years ago, Governor O'Malley and the Assembly pledged to make it sound via annual supplemental funding via the budget, as well as increased cost sharing and reduced benefits for employees. Then O'Malley and the Assembly failed to make the promised supplemental payments even as employees endured the new costs.

So what does this have to do with the $68 million in GCEI funds? In his budget, Governor Hogan proposed a $150 million supplemental payment to the pension fund and proposed funding half of the GCEI. He also proposed the elimination of some Medicaid coverage and the cancellation of a 2% raise that had been given to all state workers. The Assembly wanted to fully fund the GCEI and the other two measures as well, but because of strict restrictions on their ability to add spending to the Governor's budget they needed to first find the money and then recommend that the Governor spend it. Among other found savings, they decided to take half of the pension supplemental payment, but in doing so they claimed as well that future supplemental payments could be reduced as well. This was crucial as it freed up $2.5 over the next 10 years billion for spending elsewhere. But the decision to reduce the supplemental payments is expected to impose new costs of about $4.5 billion in the next 10 years as the state must make more payments to make the system sound. That equals $2.5 billion that won't be available for other priorities - such as education. Diverting that money, knowing the future costs, was the very definition of short sighted. Hogan has pledge to return the $68 million to the pension fund

Consider as well the context of Governor Hogan's surprise victory in 2014. Maryland had a serious structural deficit problem - ranging from $750 million to $1 billion. Over the past many years the Governor and the Assembly tried to close the gap via increases in sales, income, gas, cigarette, and alcohol taxes. But the deficit persisted. So to meet the balanced budget requirement the folks in Annapolis raided the pension system, the highway trust fund, and the Chesapeake Bay fund - all to achieve single year fixes to the deficit. Governor Hogan campaigned on a promise to truly eliminate the deficit, no more single year fixes by raiding other funds. Taxes in Maryland had been increased already w/o closing the gap, suggesting that the time had come to place the same focus on spending that had been placed on revenue.

Medicaid and education are the state's largest spending obligations - it's hard to imagine how one could address spending w/o education and Medicaid being affected in some way. In the face of all that, a decrease in spending on the non-mandatory GCEI by an amount equal to less than 1% of the state's K-12 budget isn't very severe and certainly isn't unreasonable or an education Armageddon. And it doesn't demonstrate a lack of investment in our children. Governor Hogan did accept the Assembly's request to reinstate the Medicaid spending and the 2% state employee raise - but he said "No" to the GCEI request. In a prior post, I urged Governor Hogan to approve spending the $68 million on the GCEI - mostly as a political calculation intended to foster some goodwill in the Assembly. My colleague David Lublin wrote a piece for his Seventh State blog in which he referred to Hogan's decision as an "unforced error."

David and I agree that this was an unnecessary strategic error, but we clearly disagree with regard to the likely ramifications. As with so many things related to Hogan, Maryland Democrats cannot seem to avoid hyperbolic overreactions that cause no harm to Hogan while undermining their agenda. During the general election the Brown campaign and the state Democratic establishment decided to embrace the strategy of painting Hogan as a radical. They wanted voters to believe that Hogan was a Tea Party Neanderthal who wanted assault rifles on playgrounds and had no respect for women. The portrayal was so ridiculous that in undermined faith in Brown's campaign and boosted Hogan. Then, after Hogan delivered a less than conciliatory State of the State speech (another unforced error) Democrats again overreacted - most notably by holding up confirmation of Hogan's appointees. In the end, the overreaction caused far more harm to democrats than the speech did to Hogan.

Democrats and their allies are now repeating the overreaction mistake. Perhaps the most ridiculous example being the attempt to paint Hogan as someone who would rather jail children than educate them based on the decision by the Board of Pubic works to approve the creation of a youth detention facility so that minors charged as adults will no longer be housed with adult criminals - an incredibly compassionate decision. In recent years, Maryland families have absorbed tax increases as well as stagnant wages. They've tightened budgets and forged ahead. I don't think that folks who voted for Larry Hogan are going to be very bothered by a decision that involves less than 1% of K-12 education and that only benefitted certain counties - especially when Hogan's budget increased overall K-12 spending. The hyperbolic rhetoric over, and overreaction to, his decision to not spend the money simply does not match the reality of the situation. And I think it will again do more to undermine Democrats than it will Hogan.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Nonsensical End to the 2015 Legislative Session

Maryland's 2015 Legislative Session has come to an end, and what a silly end it was. Though the session got off to a rocky start - with a partisan State of the State address and a ridiculous overreaction to it by Democratic members of the Assembly - it quickly settled into a rather calm and productive session. Governor Hogan submitted his budget in late January and, as promised, he eliminated the state's structural deficit in a single year. The editorial boards of the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post both saw much to laud in his budget. Many assembly Democrats were relieved that the budget was not a scorched earth effort to redefine state priorities. But Democrats did object to a few provisions. Hogan did not provide funds for a 2% cost of living raise (COLA) that had been given to state employees (essentially cutting their pay), he provided only half of the funding needed to meet the state's Geographic Cost of Education Index formula or GCEI (which provides additional funds to parts of the state where the cost of providing an education is higher), and he reduced Medicaid spending by taking away funds that would provide doctors with higher reimbursement and by eliminating Medicaid coverage for pregnant women earning between 186% and 250% of the poverty line.

Democrats pledged to find the roughly $200 million needed to fund those initiatives. The General Assembly cannot increase spending in the Governor's budget. They can cut spending, they can identify and recommend additional spending, and they can prevent a governor from spending money that they cut and recommended for other uses. The House budget committee found enough savings from cutting other programs to restore funding for the COLAs, the GCEI, and Medicaid. But in a controversial move, they found $75 million of that money by cutting in half a $150 million supplemental payment to the state pension fund proposed by Hogan. After years of underfunding the state pension fund, former Governor O'Malley and the legislature passed a plan to restore the pension balance via supplemental funds. But in his final budget, O'Malley reneged on the promise. Hogan attempted to meet the state's obligations, but the Assembly Democrats needed to find money to spend elsewhere. 

The revised budget was unanimously passed out of committee and then passed by the House with all but 10 members voting in favor. Democrats were criticized by the Washington Post for diverting the pension funds and the Senate attempted to compensate for the cut by passing a so-called sweeper amendment that would have dedicated up to $50 million of any year end surplus to the pension fund.

Initial indications were that Governor Hogan was satisfied with the budget deal. Though he believed that the budget was only part of a package that would include much of his legislative agenda. Though the Senate acted on much of his agenda items, the House was slow to follow suit. As the end of the session neared there was tremendous doubt regarding the outcome of the Governor's agenda.

As the final weekend approached, Hogan insisted that the General Assembly restore the $75 million in pension funds. The Assembly leadership was unmoved. The two sides attempted to reconcile their differences. On the final Friday of session, the House/Senate conference committee ultimately adopted much of the Senate's version of the budget. They offered the sweeper amendment, but not restoration of the $75 million. Hogan wasn't interested. On Saturday Hogan offered his plan - with roughly 60 hours remaining in the session. He was willing to fully fund the COLAs for state employees, he offered to increase funding for the GCEI from his initial 50% up to 75%, and he offered Democrats roughly half of the additional Medicaid money that they had sought. But in exchange, he wanted his legislative agenda enacted. Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch said "no."

And this is where the nonsense reaches a fever pitch. Hogan, Miller, and Busch were arguing about $200 million in a $40 billion budget - roughly 0.5% of the budget. They all wanted to spend it, they just wanted to spend it differently. In the end, they were really only disagreeing about $75 million - Hogan wanted it dedicated to pensions and Miller and Busch wanted it to go to GCEI and Medicaid.

Neither side would budge. On the final day of session, the House and Senate passed their version of the budget. Neither the COLA, GCEI, Medicaid, nor pension money was going to be spent. Rather the budget recommended that Hogan fund the COLAs, GCEI, and Medicaid and he was prohibited from using the money on anything else. Hogan announced that he was unlikely to do so. Then, in the final hours of session, the House passed much of Hogan's agenda.

So session is over. There are no COLAs for state employees, the GCEI is only partially funded, pregnant women between 186% and 250% of poverty have no Medicaid, and the supplemental pension payment was $75 million short.

If Miller and Busch had simply agreed to Hogan's agenda (a rather modest one) on Saturday then they would've gotten the full COLA, 75% of the GCEI, and 50% of the Medicaid funds. Instead they said "No" and got nothing. Then they passed much of Hogan's agenda anyway.

As for Hogan, he was willing to give Miller and Busch nearly everything they wanted - save for the money he held back for pensions. But the Senate sweeper amendment offered a reasonable compromise. So Hogan walked away over a $75 million disagreement in a $40 billion budget - because he wanted all of his agenda.

What we witnessed in those final days of session was not governing. It was ego mixed with stubbornness. There was no reason for Hogan to reject the Miller and Busch plan and there was no reason for Miller and Busch to reject Hogan's plan.

Now the session is over. Hogan saw a significant amount of his legislative agenda passed by the Assembly. Much of it was modified and amended, but that's the nature of divided government and separation of powers. And the state has a budget. In that budget, roughly $200 million has been set aside by the legislature to fully fund state employee COLAs, GCEI, and Medicaid. It also has a provision to dedicate any surplus funds to the pension fund. All told, it's about $75 million away from Hogan's final offer to Miller and Busch. But none of it can be spent with Hogan's approval. With much of his agenda passed and the structural deficit greatly reduced, Governor Hogan should declare victory and agree to accept the Assembly's recommendations and spend the money they set aside. There's simply no good reason to keep saying "no."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Sorry...

Sorry for the lack of new blog posts. I have been finishing a new book on American politics and became Chair of the St. Mary's Political Science Department in the Fall of 2014. So I have not had as much free time to devote to the FreeStater. I hope to resume regular postings once I finish my book revisions and I get accustomed to my new responsibilities (meetings and paperwork...).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Instead of Railing Against Hogan's Budget, Assembly Democrats Should Focus Efforts on Reforming the Process

It's abundantly clear that most Democratic members of the Maryland General Assembly are not pleased with major elements of Governor Hogan's proposed budget. The most contentious issues include a significant reduction in the rate of increase for spending on K-12 education and the elimination of a promised 2% cost of living increase for state employees. House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate Budget Committee Vice Chair Richard Madaleno have been among the most vocal opponents of the budget. Numerous Democrats have pledged to fight Hogan's budget.

But their pledges and their passions amount to next to nothing. There is precious little that any Democrat (or Republican) in the Assembly can do to substantively change Hogan's budget. Maryland adopted an executive centered budget process via a constitutional amendment it 1916 and ever since the General Assembly has been without the power of the purse. According to the constitution of Maryland, the Assembly cannot increase spending in the governor's budget and it cannot move funds around in an effort to increase funding in one area by reducing it elsewhere. All the Assembly can really do is reduce the amount of spending proposed by the governor.  The Assembly can introduce legislation to provide funding for programs - but only if the legislation identifies a funding source (e.g. raising taxes). Certainly, members of the Assembly can work with Hogan and try to convince him to introduce a supplemental budget that provides more funding for programs they value, but failing that, Hogan's budget will stand.

If Democrats in the Assembly really want to make a difference they will work to support SB 660, sponsored by Senators Madaleno, Guzzone, and Manno.  The bill would undo a constitutional amendment that has long outlived it's usefulness. The key section in the state constitution can be found in Article 2, Sec. 52 (6):
(6) The General Assembly shall not amend the Budget Bill so as to affect either the obligations of the State under Section 34 of Article III of the Constitution, or the provisions made by the laws of the State for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools or the payment of any salaries required to be paid by the State of Maryland by the Constitution thereof; and the General Assembly may amend the bill by increasing or diminishing the items therein relating to the General Assembly, and by increasing or diminishing the items therein relating to the judiciary, but except as hereinbefore specified, may not alter the said bill except to strike out or reduce items therein, provided, however, that the salary or compensation of any public officer shall not be decreased during his term of office; and such bill, when and as passed by both Houses, shall be a law immediately without further action by the Governor (amended by Chapter 373, Acts of 1972, ratified Nov. 7, 1972).
So in Maryland, the General Assembly is allowed to amend the budget to increase or decrease appropriations for the operation of the General Assembly or the judiciary, but it all other cases it may only reduce or eliminate spending. This is simply ridiculous! It's hard to imagine anything more counter to the concept of representational democracy than a legislature without the power of the purse. In no other state are legislators so irrelevant to the budget process. In roughly half of the states, governors are tasked with developing a budget (much like the president), but that budget is then subject to revision by the legislature. In the other half, the governor and the legislature share the responsibility of making the budget.

How did we wind up with such an executive-centric process? We overreacted to a budget crisis. Maryland was faced with a huge deficit in 1916 and the blame fell squarely on the shoulders of the General Assembly. Our solution? Strip the Assembly of its budget power and hand it all over to the governor. We see how well that worked out. Our ongoing struggles with structural deficits make clear that executives are not any better at budgeting than are legislators.

It's time for Maryland to undo the overreaction of 1916. Instead of offering what are largely hollow pledges to "fight spending cuts," legislators should instead focus on an amendment to the state constitution that would restore the legislature's proper role in the budget process. SB 660 would restore the legislature's role while still respecting the power of the governor. The legislation is far from perfect, especially with regard to the line item veto restrictions that it would place on the governor, but it's a good start.

And no, I'm not proposing this because there's a Republican governor or because I agree with those who would have you believe that Hogan's budget is a draconian overreach. I'm proposing this reform for the same reason I support redistricting reform, because both proposals would boost accountability and representation - two essential ingredients for democracy (unfortunately, none of the redistricting reform legislation introduced thus far is worth discussing).

** I'd like to add that I think Republicans in the Assembly should line up in support of this reform as well. There have been 2 Republican governors in the last 4 decades in Maryland. In most circumstances the GOP is totally shut out of the budget process. If the Assembly actually played a meaningful role then the GOP could gain opportunities to have a role as well. And keep in mind, the GOP made historic gains in the 2014 election. In the Senate, they GOP is 5 seats away from being able to filibuster legislation, thereby earning an automatic seat at the bargaining table. There are 4 Democratic Senators who won with less that 52% of the vote and another 4 or 5 who won in districts carried by Larry Hogan. At present, the MD GOP is one or two election cycles away from being a full-fledged minority partner in governing in the General Assembly. Wouldn't it be better to be a minority partner with the ability to influence the budget as opposed to a minority partner forced to wait for the next Republican governor? 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Maryland Senate Democrats Offer A Clear Reminder of Why Hogan Won

In response to Larry Hogan's "partisan" and "campaign-like" state of the state speech last week, Senate Democrats in the MD General Assembly have decided to take a page from the Mitch McConnell School of Partisanship by slowing down approval of Hogan's appointments and by subjecting the appointees to retaliatory treatment... In other words, Senate Democrats are responding to a speech by jeopardizing the proper functioning of state government. It's always great to see my state Senators behaving like my 4 year old... 

I wrote last week that I believed Hogan committed a strategic error with his first state of the state address as it was a time for more cooperative language. But Hogan did win. And he won comfortably against the Maryland Democratic Establishment's hand-picked and coddled candidate. And Hogan won on a message and an agenda identical to what he proposed in his speech before the Assembly. So what did Assembly Democrats expect to hear? Did they think Hogan would stand before them, hat in hand, and pledge to make a better Maryland for more Marylanders? If they did, they were either naive or arrogant.

And let's keep something very important in mind. Martin O'Malley's state of the state speeches were partisan as well. And in recent years they amounted to little more than test runs for potential campaign themes in a future presidential run. And as Assembly Republicans sat on their hands, Democrats dutifully rose and applauded. But no one in the Assembly or the press cared that O'Malley was being partisan. No one cared that his speeches may have offended Assembly Republicans. With Hogan's speech, Democrats got a taste of their own medicine and decided they didn't like it. Too bad.

Yes, I think Hogan made a strategic error with the speech, but Senate Democrats are behaving like children. I half expect them to announce plans to hold their collective breath until they turn blue if holding up his nominees doesn't force Hogan to come before them seeking forgiveness. 

Senate Democrats may be pleasing the party faithful, the partisan activists, and the other members of the state Democratic establishment that failed to deliver victory in November, but I suspect that their behavior is reminding a lot of voters why they decided to stay home and a lot of other voters why they decided to vote for Hogan.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hogan May Have Stumbled, But State Democrats Fell Flat

Newly elected governor Larry Hogan delivered his first State of the State address this week and though he started off on the wrong foot he planted a firm landing. Hogan opened his speech be repeating much of his campaign rhetoric concerning the weak state of Maryland's economy. I believe he got some bad advice. He should've opened by saying the election was over, the time for assigning blame passed, and time to work together at hand. Instead, he told an Assembly full of Democrats that they had horribly mismanaged the state and he was there to fix their mess. That's an odd strategy considering that Hogan can't accomplish any of his broader agenda without the support of some Assembly Democrats. But once Hogan transitioned to his 11 point plan he recovered quickly and closed strong.

Even though I think Larry Hogan erred a bit in his speech, the Democrats' reaction has been downright ridiculous and really shows how coddled the establishment has been in this state. In reality, Hogan offered a pretty modest and moderate agenda - no automatic gas tax increases, a small personal property tax exemption for small businesses, a repeal of the so-called Rain Tax (keep in mind that the Total Maximum Daily Load mandate from the EPA applied to Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. But only Maryland implemented a tax to comply. So other approaches do exist), restrained growth in the rate of funding increases, renewed support for public financing of gubernatorial elections, and a fair redistricting process. There is nothing radical, ridiculous, our unreasonable in this agenda.

But state Democrats reacted as if Hogan had offered right wing, fire and brimstone red meat. Democratic Senator James Rosapepe suggested the speech represented a mix of Republican and Tea Party appeals. I'm sorry, but if Hogan wanted to appeal to the Tea Party, he would've delivered a far different speech. In reality, Hogan's speech was a reasonable response to the 2014 election results that saw the election of only the 2nd Republican governor in 4 decades and included record gains for Republicans elsewhere in the state (and if MD had a non-partisan redistricting process the GOP gains would've been even greater). It's a sad commentary that to some state Democrats moderation and pragmatism is equated with Tea Party extremism.

Unfortunately, too many Assembly Democrats had become accustomed to having a fellow partisan come before them, heap praise upon all they were doing, and tell them to keep up the good work. Voters sent a different message last November (only a fool would blame Anthony Brown for the outcome). The days of praise are over (for at least the next 4 years). Hogan's speech offered a rude awakening to many in the Democratic establishment and their reactions suggest that many had still not come to grips with the outcome of the election. Meanwhile, Majority Leader Anne Kaiser's Democratic response was a tone deaf bit of fluff that should have been backed by a choir of Democratic Assembly members singing "Everything is Awesome" from The Lego Movie. If voters agreed with Kaiser's take on the state of the state then Anthony Brown would've delivered the State of the State address and not Larry Hogan.

In the end, Hogan's speech, the official Democratic response, and the reaction of establishment Democrats tell us that Hogan understands the results of the 2014 election, but that many Democrats still don't. I mean who could sit stone faced and silent in response to a call for fair redistricting reform? Turns out the answer is nearly every Democratic member of the General Assembly. Hogan may have stumbled a bit out of the gate, but it was establishment Democrats who fell flat in the end. Yes, Hogan needs the support of Assembly Democrats to accomplish many elements of his agenda, but in a state where the governor essentially dictates the budget and wields a veto pen, Assembly Democrats may need him more.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Watergate Story... Kirby Delauter Style

It's late one evening in 1973 in the office of Ben Bradlee executive editor of The Washington Post, when the silence is broken by a ringing phone.

Bradlee: Hello, this Ben Bradlee

Caller: Please hold for the President of the United States

Richard Nixon: Mr. Bradlee, it's come to my attention that two of your reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Berstein, are preparing to publish articles in which you link my office, including myself, my Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and former Attorney General John Mitchell to the break-in at the Watergate Complex. Is that correct?

Bradlee: Yes sir, that's correct. The evidence is pretty overwhelming.

Nixon: Oh it is?

Bradlee: Yes Mr. President, it is.

Nixon: Well it just so happens that Haldeman and Mitchell are here in the office with me and we've decided that we're not going to authorize Woodward and Bernstein or the Washington Post to publish our names... right boys?

Haldeman and Mitchell: That's right! 

Bradlee: I'm sorry to hear that. But don't we have the right to a free press?

Nixon: Your rights end where mine start!

Moments later Bradlee pokes his head into the newsroom...

Bradlee: Woodstein!!!!

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: Yes Mr. Bradlee?

Bradlee: The Watergate story is finished...

Woodward: What happened? 

Berstein: Did we make a mistake?

Bradlee: Nope, but I just got off the phone with Nixon, Haldeman and Mitchell and they won't let us use their names.

Berstein: Gosh darn it!

Woodward: And it seemed like such an important story... but we certainly shouldn't be aloud to to just freely write about elected officials and their actions while in office.

Bradlee: Goodness no... what kind of society would allow such a thing!

Kirby Delauter...

"Frederick County Councilman Kirby Delauter wrote on social media that he plans to sue The Frederick News-Post if his name or any reference to him appears in print without his permission."

"Billy Shreve, R-at large, told The News-Post in a phone interview he supported Delauter taking legal actions.
“I did not see his post, but I think The News-Post is extremely biased and someone should sue them,” Shreve said.
When asked if news media outlets should obtain permission to publish an elected official's name or reference, Shreve said, “I think media outlets are cowards and they hide behind the label of journalists and that's a bully pulpit to expand their liberal (agenda)."  (Emphasis mine)

I really need to ask Billy Shreve a simple question... whose the coward, a reporter who writes about people in power and takes public credit for all that she writes or an elected representative of the people who threatens to sue a newspaper if it dares mention his name?

Oh, and one more thing... Kirby DelauterKirby Delauter, Kirby DelauterKirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter.