Remembering Harry Hughes by Rob Etgen

Harry Roe Hughes, two term Maryland Governor from the Eastern Shore, foremost champion of saving the Chesapeake Bay, and long-time Chairman of Eastern Shore Land Conservancy (ESLC), passed away comfortably at home last week after a long and very full life. Harry was a true statesman who had an incredible impact on Maryland, the Chesapeake Bay, the Eastern Shore, and all of us here at ESLC.

Just after Harry left the State House and his leadership role in stimulating the multi-state Bay cleanup, he was recruited to ESLC by his high school physics teacher – Howard Wood – one of ESLC’s Founders. Once on our Board Harry jumped right in and quickly started presiding at meetings, raising funds and shepherding me around the halls of government in Annapolis. Harry stayed active with ESLC in various roles even through his later years. During 2005, Harry and John Frece used the ESLC offices for the drafting of his autobiography, My Unexpected Journey.

Harry often loosened up ESLC crowds with stories of baseball and growing up in Denton when you could ramble unhindered across field and forest throughout Caroline County. He also took pride in his mischievous streak often telling about pushing his parent’s car out of the driveway and down the road before starting it to conceal nighttime joy rides. Many of his stories were prefaced by Harry saying he was killing time to avoid leading everyone in the ESLC fight song – “Don’t Bring In Sprawl” – which he hated singing.

My favorite Harry memory was in 1995 when he recruited the USDA Secretary to speak at ESLC’s annual gala in celebration of our proposed Security Corridor of protected farmland on the Eastern Shore. The morning of the sold out event at the Tidewater Inn the USDA Secretary was called out of the Country, and when I called Harry with the terrifying news, he simply said, “Let me see what I can do.” By that evening Harry had choreographed a speech by Maryland Agriculture and Natural Resources Secretaries and with Governor Glendenning on speakerphone that announced a major new State effort to protect our Corridor – and our crowd cheered! Now known as Maryland’s “Rural Legacy Program,” this initiative that Harry started that evening has now protected 920,694 acres of beautiful farmland and habitat. A nice day’s work!

Harry would often tell a joke about how someone in an elevator once asked him, “Didn’t you used to be Harry Hughes?” And his punch line was “Still am!” Truthfully, that joke is not that good, but when Harry told it, people roared with laughter. That was just Harry’s way – low key, comfortable, and lighthearted. We could use more of that today in our leaders.

Rob Etgen is the president of the East Shore Land Conservancy

All Bets Off on Beto by J.E. Dean

What’s not to like about the next John F. Kennedy? After admittedly not following Beto’s every move in his unsuccessful but widely acclaimed race for Senate against Ted Cruz, I was interested in learning more about the “the most charismatic” candidate in the Democratic presidential race.  The more I learned, the more I see that interest in Beto reflects much of what is wrong with US electoral politics.

First, it is legitimate to wonder if anyone would take Beto seriously if he looked like, say, Mitch McConnell or Hillary Clinton.  Second, I found that the more I learned about him, the more skeptical I became.

Here’s why. While some, especially those much younger than I, may be intrigued by a “world-class hacker” running for President, I wonder what those actions say about Beto’s respect for law, or his true character.  Is it O.K. that he routinely hacked his way to free long-distance phone calls and expropriated “cracked” video games to avoid paying for them? Or that he did both those actions while having the wherewithal to pay his own way. Doesn’t such behavior suggest that Beto as President might be equally as comfortable in breaking rules (read laws) to further his own agenda?

And what exactly is his agenda?   When I reflect on Beto, I immediately think of his arms flapping up and down (and am ashamed because this innocent characteristic is how Trump chose to shame him), but then I realized I wasn’t aware of any of his own positions other than opening the borders, “Medicare for All” (minus any details about how to pay for it), and a general endorsement of “the Green Deal.”  Then I remembered his authorship of “violent fantasies” during his youth—the opus written under the pen name Psychedelic Warlord.  I wonder where reality starts and ends with this guy.

We now read about the “magic” of a Biden-Beto ticket (what happened to the far more qualified women candidates?) and that Beto is the key to the Generation X vote. Maybe the party would be just as well served with Justin Bieber (if he weren’t a Canadian) or a recent winner of American Idol. Seriously haven’t we learned anything from our previous mistakes?

Running the US as President should be seen as something other than the ultimate prize.  Sound and sane candidates are humbled by the responsibilities entailed. Is it possible that the right candidate will see running for President as a call to duty rather than an opportunity for a fabulous adventure?

Until I see signs of substance and maturity, Beto is not my man.  

J.E. Dean is a retired Washington, D.C. attorney and a current resident of Oxford, Maryland

 

 

Report from Annapolis – Part 5 by Laura Price

Another week of legislative committee brought fewer bills to consider, as just about everything has already been introduced.  We are winding down taking positions on various pieces of legislation.  But this week brought a biggie!  The Kirwan “Blueprint” Bill – SB1030/HB1413.

By now you have probably already heard of the “Kirwan Commission” (Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Maryland) and the 2+ year study on completely overhauling education in the State of Maryland.  There were 25 members appointed to the commission and five main areas were studied in separate workgroups:

Early childhood education (Universal Pre-K), High-quality teachers and leaders (Raising teacher pay), College and career readiness pathways (CTE), More resources for at-risk students and Governance/Accountability.

While there has been much debate on the policies and what this may or may not do for the outcomes on the education of our children, what we do need to recognize and also discuss is the cost of implementing these policies.  The price tag is estimated to be nearly $4 billion dollars over 10 years, but most of it coming in the first 3 years.

As I mentioned in my first report last month, “we are talking about massive tax increases, whether on the state side or mandating it on the county side.”  There is currently no revenue source to pay for all of these initiatives, either at the State or Local level.  Originally, when formed, the commission was supposed to look at the funding formulas and what was never addressed during the two-year study, was the “split” between the counties and the state.

Each county has a different “wealth formula” for how much state aid goes to education.  The formula basically puts 2/3 of the weight on a county’s assessable property base and 1/3 on the household income.  In Talbot county’s case, we lose out on state money and pay 75% of the total Board of Education budget.  We have a skewed assessable base, because of some high value property.  Meanwhile, our average household income is 20% below the state average.  I have been trying to get that message out, especially to the state, that it unfairly penalizes Talbot (and some other counties with similar circumstances) because our people who are actually out earning an income, have less of an ability to pay.  Many of our people, with a higher property value, either live elsewhere more than 6 months and a day, or are retired and don’t pay income tax.  We also have a homestead tax credit that keeps our property tax revenues low, based on the original selling price of your home and not it’s current value, which is the number the state uses in the formula.  Not to mention our revenue cap which severely hampers our county.

This week, a “Kirwan” bill was introduced and there wasn’t even supposed to be one this year, other than about $3 million in funding towards Pre-K.  This one has a price tag of about $1 billion over the next two years.  The hearing was scheduled with only 2 days notice.  MACo had to analyze the 29-page bill in a day and bring a recommendation to the legislative committee.  It was a tricky position to be in and here’s why.

This bill does not “require” any county funds in order to be able to receive state money.  It creates a grant of $23 million for areas with at-risk students and another grant of $137.5 million for students with disabilities.  The third area is a grant of $75 million for teacher salary increases.  This grant does not require a county to participate, but if they want to receive the funds, they must raise teacher salaries by at least 3% in our 2020 budget.

The other good thing is this bill, is that the counties will receive “credit” for anything we do above Maintenance of Effort (MOE).  That was a big concern and many counties were apprehensive about funding above MOE this year, wondering whether new Kirwan funding would be on top of a new base.  So, we can in essence, make a “down payment” this year and not be penalized next year.

On this bill, MACo did come out with a position of support because there is no requirement from the county.  I joined the MACo panel in delivering testimony to the joint Senate committees of Budget & Tax and Education, Health & Environment and stated:

My county has been willing to invest in education.  Over the last several years, we have increased our property tax rates by 30%, all of it for education.  We exceeded our citizen-imposed tax cap to do so and that was not an easy decision.  We also put a ballot initiative, which I wrote, in front of our voters this past election to raise our revenue cap to help with increased funding for all of county government.

The Commission, and the legislature, already has more work to do – the formulas that distribute state funding really need a reality check. We have counties where the tax base does not reflect people’s ability to pay taxes today. We know that’s still on the “to do” list… that’s an important part of the path ahead. Several counties have an average household income far below the state average, yet they are considered wealthy because of a skewed assessable base.”

The reality is, this is the “carrot” before the “stick.”  We know the massiveness of what is to come next year.  Counties have huge concerns about the price tag and how much will be “mandated” to be the county share, with no alternative but immense tax increases to pay for it.  MACo has been saying for two years that the “formula” needs to be sorted out before we can take a position on the main bill that will come next year.  This is a different bill and it is all state funded. However, we know that will change next year and we need to stay actively engaged.

Laura Price is on the Executive Board of Directors of MACo, the legislative liaison and member of the Talbot County Council.

 

This is US by Angela Rieck

I believe that by winning the birth lottery I was given the gift of growing up in this country.  Because my great grandfather was the right color, the right religion and the right nationality, he was allowed to immigrate in the late 19th century. His fortune became mine, as I was given the opportunity to be what I wanted to be (sexual harassment aside) through education.

Todays undocumented workers have not received that same gift—to be born here.  Due to our quirky immigration strategy, many are not allowed to immigrate legally, but come here to find work, raise their children and contribute to our society.

If you have read my past columns you know that most of us form opinions and then corral the facts to support our beliefs.  This is one such instance, I believe in immigration, but I would like to present both sets of facts in hopes of demonstrating that this belief is justified.

Before I review the “good” and “inconvenient” facts, let me remind everyone that all immigrant data is speculative.  As statisticians, we know how to coax the data to support our beliefs.  For that reason, I have selected conservative sources (since I am liberal) with credentials for reporting accurate data.  I have avoided data from FAIRUS, Breitbart and other biased sources. I also excluded a report by the Heritage foundation, since its methodology has been sharply criticized by experts from both sides of the debate.

First, the inconvenient facts, immigration is not without cost. It is estimated that health care costs can be as high as $18.5B per year (Forbes), while most estimates put the cost at $11B per year. These costs include emergency room care for uninsured workers, births, and health care to US citizens born to undocumented workers.  

It is estimated that six percent of US births were to undocumented workers (Pew Research Center, 2016 estimates).  The 14th amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born in America is a likely incentive, however, it is impossible to assess its impact.  I am not going to get into an argument on the merits of the 14th amendment, but if I were young and undocumented, I would want my children to be citizens of this amazing country.

Education is the largest cost for state and local governments.  Due to a Supreme Court ruling (Plyer v. Doe, 1982) all children, regardless of immigration status, must be provided with a public education.  Undocumented workers are also eligible for state Head Start programs. Education costs are estimated at $11-$30B annually (note the wide range, which shows how speculative the data are).

The “good” facts are compelling.  Economists agree that immigration (both documented and undocumented) is an overall net positive to our economy (George W Bush Institute, 2016). Their data estimates that immigration increases the productive capacity of the economy and raises the GDP. Called the “immigration surplus,” its value is estimated at $36 to $72 billion per year (which offsets the costs listed above). In addition to the immigration surplus, undocumented workers help the economy by working in industries and locations where there is a need for workers.  

The Congressional Budget Office concluded in 2007 that over the long term (but not in the short term), tax revenues collected from undocumented workers (including income tax, sales tax, property tax through rents, tolls, etc.) exceed the cost of services provided to them.

A national panel of economists concluded in 2016 that due to cheaper labor, the average consumer reaps the reward of undocumented workers through lower food costs, construction and services. Its value is estimated to be in the billions.

Undocumented workers are ineligible for most federal benefit programs, including social security, even though it is estimated that 50-75% of them pay taxes and contribute to social security (Congressional Budget Office, 2007).  Legal immigrants are entitled to programs after 5 years but use the benefits at a lower rate than native born American citizens (Fact Sheet: Immigrants and Public Benefits, National Immigration Forum, 2018).

Most importantly, two studies conducted separately by states with high immigration rates (Arizona and Florida) concluded there is a net gain for undocumented workers when comparing costs (such as education) to their tax payments.

While eyebrows may be raised about the costs of education, it is undeniably a benefit to our nation.

The education benefit came into focus for me about 7 years ago, as I sat next to my daughter’s former babysitter. She had illegally immigrated to escape poverty and violence in war-torn El Salvador and took advantage of the 1986 amnesty law to become a citizen. That evening, she was watching her granddaughter graduate from High School. Clutching mylar balloons and the best bouquet of flowers that she could afford, she blinked back tears of joy for the granddaughter for whom she had sacrificed so much.  

Immediately I was transported to a one room, dank, rustic, cold building, seated next to my great grandparents, as they watched my grandfather graduate from High School. Their weary, lined, hard faces remained stoic while mumbling “sehr gut”. I imagined my great grandparents believing in this moment that all of their sacrifice, prejudicial treatment, and struggles in a harsh farming life were for this moment.  Their son would go on to graduate from college, become a CPA and father 9 children, all of whom attended college. His 30 grandchildren would become benefactors, executives, Navy pilots, teachers, lawyers, PhDs, builders, computer scientists, accountants.

This babysitter’s granddaughter would go on to become the first member of her family to graduate from college. She became a teacher.

Ignoring our deplorable history of slavery, our history of immigration is the best of our history. This is US.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

 

Report from Annapolis by Laura Price

After missing a week due to the snow day last week, MACo’s legislative group had to pull double duty this week to catch up on all the bills counties needed to consider. We heard briefings on 44 different pending pieces of legislation in Annapolis. It is still fascinating to see some of the peculiar ideas for laws that cross the desk. Fortunately, most legislation is thought-provoking and addresses issues that deserve serious debate.

One problem that we have heard about and tried to mitigate for years is the pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. There are many reasons for the poor health of the Bay, but one major reason that was identified several years ago is the problem that stems from the Conowingo Dam. Phosphorous, nitrogen and sediment run off and flow down from Pennsylvania and New York through the Susquehanna River to the top of the Bay. Over the past 90 years, those nutrients have accumulated, so the reservoir is full and can’t trap them anymore. When we have storms and overflow, the pollution ends up in our Chesapeake Bay.

HB921 Conowingo Dam – Water Quality Certification would require the Department of the Environment (MDE), as part of its approval process for the relicensing of the Dam (owned by Exelon), to mandate some actions from the applicant. This would include requiring the applicant to meet specific conditions related to the removal of trash and debris from the reservoir and make this an emergency measure. Many may remember last summer, when all kinds of debris ended up in the Annapolis Harbor. That event may have spurred the legislators to act. This bill, supported by MACo, has a strong bipartisan sponsor line.

This is the type of legislation that is good to work on, when all sides can agree that a problem exists and hold those accountable in the process. We do recognize that Exelon did not create the nutrient buildup nor the debris; however, they do need to help in fixing this problem. We also need the support of the federal government, in holding those other states accountable (under the Clean Water Act) in reducing the nutrients that are being released into the river and end up here. Maryland has been working hard and spending an enormous amount of money to clean up the Bay; we need partners to help.

There’s another topic that has been the recent source of much discussion and consternation. Small cell technology is something that is coming in order to implement 5G service. So, what is 5G? Let’s start with what is 3G, which means connecting your computer to the internet. 4G means connecting your smartphone to the internet. 5G means connecting everything to the internet. Estimates project that we will grow from 2 or 3 connected devices per person to 40-100 connected devices per person.

What everyone is beginning to learn about are the “boxes” that are required for this technology and how many will be needed. These boxes, or “small cells,” can be up to 28 cubic feet in size – that’s the size of a refrigerator! Small cells could be mounted anywhere, to any pole, to any building, and there would need to be so many of them (100-150 feet apart), all within line of sight, it would be a tremendous eyesore to our communities. All of this with NO authority of the local government to control where they go. Further complicating the matter is that much of this has gone into effect already, so that many Counties and Municipalities are seeking a stay on the order by the FCC.

There are two competing bills in front of the legislature this session. They are very different in their impact on local government. HB654/SB937 Wireless Facilities – Installation and Regulation is the bill that was sponsored by the industry. They would not have to comply with ANY of our local zoning laws. And they also would not pay us more than $100 for the “antenna” when the national average is $1500. It allows them to deploy these boxes with access “by right” and completely ignore our local zoning process. The bill doesn’t require them to service underserved areas, which is where the rural counties need it most. There are many other aspects of the bill that are detrimental to the counties and municipalities, but this should give you a sense of the problem.

By contrast, HB1020/SB713 Wireless Facilities – Permitting and Siting is the bill strongly supported by MACo. It is a community coalition bill that preserves local zoning codes. It establishes requirements for the permitting, installation, regulation and design standards of wireless telecommunications facilities in the State. It would apply only to poles owned by government, not to poles owned by utilities. It also creates a “Digital Inclusion Fund” to support deployment in underserved areas, which would be very important to Talbot County and other rural areas.

So why did I just give you this long explanation of 5G Small Cell technology? It’s not just because of the impact of this legislation, but to give you a broader perspective of what we need to be aware of. Sometimes it’s not the State passing spending mandates down to the counties or trying to usurp our local autonomy that creates problems. Sometimes it is an Industry that is overstepping its bounds, sponsoring legislation that makes a mockery of our permits and our local zoning, just because they don’t want the expense and hassle.

Laura Price is on the Executive Board of Directors of MACo, the legislative liaison and member of the Talbot County Council.

One Hundred Kindnesses by Angela Rieck

After enduring almost 40 years of New Jersey winters, I find myself hiding from the cold in Key West, Florida.  Surprisingly, there are a number of St Michaels and Oxford residents doing the same thing, more than 2 dozen who winter here or have moved here permanently.  I wonder what it is about this small island that attracts them? Perhaps it is the mornings.

This morning was a typical morning for me.  I awoke at 5 a.m. Always an early riser, sleep is a persistent foe so any time after 4 a.m. is a win.  I left my house around 6 a.m. and headed toward the White Street Pier for the sunrise. I would not be alone. Tourists and residents alike congregate along the long concrete pier to watch the sunrise, nature’s kaleidoscope of pinks, yellows, aquamarine, power blue, teal and azure as the sky and sea exchange colors in the delicate dance of dawn.

I walked past a homeless man scrubbing the granite tiles of the Aids Memorial, I stopped to thank him.  He showed me names of his friends etched on the shiny black granite, his conversation meandered and eventually I thanked him again and continued down the pier.  

A tanned, bright yellow shirted city worker who cleans the beach called out hello, “It is going to be a beautiful day”.  We smiled and returned greetings. I lost count of the number of people who wished me a good morning, it was at least 20.  I removed my dogs’ leashes and watched them scamper along the pier in the predawn light using their noses to pick up familiar scents while running for the sheer delight of exercise. Along the pier were a group of sunrise watchers with their dogs, chatting while staring at the ocean.  A woman called my name and came over. She hadn’t seen me in a while and wanted to make sure I was okay. My dog jumped up on a tourist, he smiled and pet him.

My destination is always the end of the pier, where my husband’s ashes have now settled into the sediment.  Other onlookers seemed to sense my need for space and respectfully moved away.

A dog ran up to play with my dog Gus, they were fellow inmates at the SPCA while awaiting adoption.  They remembered each other and celebrated their new lives.

As I walked down, I saw someone cleaning up some other dog’s poop.  She smiled and I handed her a bag, in case she needed another.

As I left the pier, more “good mornings.” Another homeless man waved to me, my dog ran to his familiar friend and they exchanged happy greetings.

A couple of tourists looked lost, someone saw them studying a map and asked them if they needed directions.  They were looking for a good place for breakfast, a crowd of helpful residents descended around the map offering suggestions.

Returning home, I crossed the street at a crosswalk, an angry driver in a large pickup almost ran me over, while shouting out an obscenity.

I stop. How will I describe this morning?  Will it be the hundreds of kindnesses I experienced or this moment of anger?

I get to choose.

Angela Rieck was born and raised on a farm in Caroline County. After receiving her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland, she worked as a scientist at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. Throughout her career, she held management jobs at AT&T, HP and Medco, finally retiring as a corporate executive for a large financial services company. Angela is also a wife, mother and an active volunteer serving on the Morris County School Board for 13 years and fostering and rehabilitating over 200 dogs. After the death of her husband, Dr. Rieck returned to the Eastern Shore to be with her siblings. With a daughter living and working in New York City, she and her dogs now split their time between Talbot County and Key West, FL.  

 

Reflections on 24 Hours in the Life of a Presidency by Stephen Parks

When do we start the clock on this momentous day on separate fronts at opposite ends of the globe? About 6:30 p.m., Vietnam time, President Trump shook hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to a cacophony of clicking digital cameras before their long-shot denuclearization summit meeting. That’s 6:30 a.m. Washington time. Hours earlier, Michael Cohen and his attorneys put final touches on the opening statement he’d make to the House Oversight Committee. Cohen’s remarks characterizing his former boss as “a racist, conman and a cheat” were delivered about 10:30 a.m. in Washington, 10:30 p.m. in Hanoi as Trump wrapped up his first day of the summit. Trump tweeted in response: “Michael Cohen was one of many lawyers who represented me (unfortunately). . . . He was just disbarred . . . for lying & fraud. . . . He is lying in order to reduce his prison time. Using Crooked’s lawyer!” (“Crooked” refers to Hillary Clinton and her lawyer, now one of Cohen’s, Lanny Davis.)

It’s useless to argue about Cohen’s credibility. Trump supporters and detractors occupy different planets. I can tell, and so could you, by watching commentary on cable news networks of opposing political views. In Fox world, Cohen, once convicted of lying, is ineligible as a witness. (Tell that to any cop investigating a crime or prosecutor trying a defendant. May as well abandon jurisprudence.) On MSNBC, Trump is all but impeached or indicted—though a Justice Department memo says presidents are non indictable. The live feed of the hearings was more illuminative. Only one Republican bothered to ask a substantive question. Rep. Justin Amash asked Cohen if Trump ordered him to lie about contacts with Russia. Cohen responded that Trump never directed him to lie. But he got the message “in code.”

Other Republicans, notably Jim Jordan, ranking committee Republican—he’d be chairman if Democrats hadn’t won control of the House in the midterms—and Mark Meadows, concentrated on theatrical stunts such as “proving” Trump couldn’t be racist because he hired Lynne Patton to a Department of Housing and Urban Development post. With no chance to speak for herself—the majority would block her as a witness—Patton was trotted out as a “prop,” as newly elected Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib protested in her turn at questioning. Meadows cried foul as he presumed being labeled a racist. Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings intervened, avoiding a crisis that might have crashed the hearing. Both sides made nice. Jordan’s contribution was to post an optic declaiming Cohen as “Liar Liar Pants on Fire” hereafter disqualified from human discourse. Very mature.

Democrats also were guilty of speechifying political points in their “questions,” although rookie Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez kept on investigative point by asking if Trump had committed bank and insurance frauds and where the committee could find supporting evidence and witnesses.

Baltimorean Cummings, reminding me of a passionate disciple of the affable Sen. Sam Ervin of Watergate fame, closed the hearing with an emotional appeal on behalf of democracy: “We are better than this!”

Hopefully, we are.

On the other side of the world, the president walked away from negotiations with Kim, who reportedly demanded a full pullback on sanctions while offering to decommission one nuclear site. Listening to his intelligence experts for a change, Trump confronted Kim with evidence of more North Korean nuke sites. Bad deal rightly rejected.

In a weird twist, North Koreans called a press conference (they have no domestic press) 24 hours into Trump’s long strange day, claiming they only sought partial relief from sanctions. But Trump stepped on his rare display of presidential behavior. He, not Kim, banned American reporters from the summit dinner because an AP reporter asked a question about Cohen. Then, in his closing press conference, Trump gave murderous dictator Kim dispensation on the death of American student Otto Warmbier. Arrested for pilfering a poster, Warmbier was imprisoned and much later released, comatose and near inevitable death.

Trump claims he believes Kim’s assurance that he knew nothing of this atrocity. Just like he accepted Vladimir Putin’s word on Russian interference in the 2016 election and Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman’s claim of innocence in the savage murder of a Washington Post journalist.

One step forward, two steps back, Mr. President. For Trump, that’s 24-hour “progress.”

Stephen Parks, now living in Easton, is a retired journalist who worked for Newsday on Long Island and The Sun in Baltimore among other newspapers.

The Scientific Case for Eliminating the Electoral College by Angela Rieck

There have been five United States presidential elections where the “elected” President did not win the popular vote but was chosen by our electoral college system.

In my lifetime, this has occurred twice: the 2000 election of George W Bush and the recent 2016 election.  The former resulted in an expensive and ill-advised war that cost trillions of dollars, destabilized a significant part of the world and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries on both sides.  The 2016 election has resulted in our current contentious environment.

The other instances have not been much better. The very first presidential election was “awarded” to John Quincy Adams by the House of Representatives, despite only winning 32% of the popular vote. (Andrew Jackson won 42% of the vote, but not enough for a majority and he lacked the connections of John Quincy Adams.)

The 1876 election had disastrous consequences.  Although the Democrat candidate, Tilden, won 52% of the vote, there were 4 states where the winner was contested.  Congress worked out a compromise that awarded the election to the Republican, Hayes, under the condition that he not run for re-election and remove the federal troops from the South.  The removal of these troops resulted in African-American voter suppression and the commencement of systematic repression of the Southern black population.

In 1988 the electoral college prevented Grover Cleveland from being reelected to a second term.  Aided by Tammany Hall in NYC, Harrison was able to win the electoral college despite having 92,000 votes fewer than Cleveland.

The election of 2000 was decided by a Supreme Court which ruled that while the constitution guarantees us the right to vote, it does not guarantee the right to have our vote counted. In 2016, despite winning by 3 million votes, Clinton did not win the electoral college.

Unfortunately, this quirk in our election process results in, at best, a contentious term of office.

But more importantly, there are two statistical axioms that show that the electoral college system flies against scientific knowledge. The first statistical property is the law of large numbers.  This law means that the larger the number of (in this case) votes, the more accurate the data. By not allowing all Americans’ votes to be counted, it becomes a poor assessment of the “will of the people.”

But even more important is the statistical phenomenon known as the “wisdom of the crowd.”  Sir Francis Galton, one of the early pioneers of statistics, identified this phenomenon after gathering estimates of an ox’s weight at a county fair.  While the guesses varied widely and few were accurate, he found that the average of all guesses was within 1% of the actual weight. The larger the sample, the more likely that the average answer is correct. He called this the “wisdom of the crowd.”  We have found that this phenomenon is pretty rigorous in large samples. For example, if you have a bowl of marbles and ask a large number of people to estimate how many marbles are in the bowl, the average estimate will be within 1-2% of the actual number.

So let’s apply these statistical principles to our popular election.  In the electoral college system, we reduce the number of actual votes from 137.5 million (in 2016) to 538 (called restriction in range).  With these 538 votes, we have effectively eliminated the votes for the losing candidate in that state (and in some cases electors are allowed to vote their conscience).  This small sample (538) ignores the importance of the law of large numbers and eliminates “the wisdom of the crowd” by significantly reducing the sample size.

Winston Churchill’s famous quote: “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter,” individually may be true, but our statistical laws demonstrate that he is wrong when it is applied to the entire population. If we leave the election up to an unbiased crowd, its wisdom will prevail.

Angela Rieck was born and raised on a farm in Caroline County. After receiving her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland, she worked as a scientist at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. Throughout her career, she held management jobs at AT&T, HP and Medco, finally retiring as a corporate executive for a large financial services company. Angela is also a wife, mother and an active volunteer serving on the Morris County School Board for 13 years and fostering and rehabilitating over 200 dogs. After the death of her husband, Dr. Rieck returned to the Eastern Shore to be with her siblings. With a daughter living and working in New York City, she and her dogs now split their time between Talbot County and Key West, FL.  

 

Op-Ed: Trump Leaves the Stove On before Going to Vietnam by Steve Parks

As President Donald Trump heads to Vietnam for denuclearization talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, he leaves a few loose ends on the table back home.

Never mind Wednesday’s public congressional hearing featuring Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, or special counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on possible conspiracy involving Russia, Trump’s 2016 campaign and his post-inaugural administration. Forget a virtual life sentence for his campaign manager Paul Manafort, or The Donald’s political sidekick Roger Stone’s struggle to comply with a new gag order while awaiting trial on charges of linking Wikileaks to Trump’s campaign. Put aside, for now, even federal court rulings on the president’s declaration of a national emergency because Congress declined to fund a border wall that he promised Mexico would pay for.

What concerns me right now are, other than giveaways Trump might surrender to Kim in quest of a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, are three startling issues the president has chosen to ignore or dismiss as he flies to Hanoi:

1). After Coast Guard Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson of Silver Spring was arrested for stockpiling weapons and drugs while displaying threats on his workplace computer to assassinate Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, four Democratic presidential candidates and journalists for MSNBC and CNN notably critical of Trump, the president’s near silence has been thunderous and entirely predictable.

But what about Republican congressional leaders? Where’s the collegial support Democrats showed GOP Rep. Steve Scalise when he was shot by a liberal-leaning gunman during softball practice? Can you imagine the Trump tweet storm had the native-born Coast Guard officer been an illegal Muslim or Latino immigrant? Or even a legal one? Trump has next to nothing to say about this arrest, not even a shout-out to law-enforcement officers who thwarted a potential domestic assault on democracy. Yet he’s found time to tweet about actor Jussie Smollett’s truly fake hate-crime accusation.

2). Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote “victory” over Trump, of course, was pyrrhic: The Electoral College rules. But it annoyed Trump enough that he claimed with no evidence that three to five million illegal aliens from south of the border voted for Hillary. He even appointed a commission to investigate widespread voter fraud, which fizzled because states refused to cooperate in what they deemed a charade. Now we have proof, not of voter fraud but election fraud, so patently illegal that North Carolina ordered a do-over in the Ninth Congressional District.

This hasn’t happened in four decades. Mishandling of absentee ballots exclusively on behalf of the Republican candidate was too blatant to survive scrutiny. The “winner” of the now-discredited November election likely won’t run for “re-election.” But Trump is tweet-less regarding Republican fraud. If you think he’d spare a Democratic cheater, then you’d believe Vladimir Putin’s assurance that North Korea has no missiles that could reach the U.S.

3). When Alex Acosta was nominated for Secretary of Labor his role in the sweetheart deal that let serial child-rapist/sex-trafficker Jeffrey Epstein get away with a sentence of 13 months in Palm Beach County jail was a matter of public record. Mostly Epstein just slept behind bars with his days spent in work release—maybe at bars. Cursory vetting would’ve revealed this travesty of justice. But #metoo and Miami Herald reporter Julie Brown (fake news, Mr. President?) caught up with the billionaire financier’s obscene perfidy. Epstein directed girls he’d raped to recruit other girls for his abuse and that of well-heeled rapist buddies. Epstein was caught in Palm Beach, but his sex-traffic map extended to New York, New Mexico, his private Virgin Islands isle and Europe. Why then-U.S. attorney Acosta apparently violated the law by not informing victims of his Epstein deal is one question.

But another is why Trump gave Acosta a pass and remains aloof regarding the rich sex trafficker his cabinet enabler protected. Or why the president is thumb-silent about longtime supporter Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, charged with solicitation in a sex-trafficking ring that imprisoned Chinese girls in a south Florida massage parlor. If sex-trafficking is such a national emergency, why not wall off Florida instead of the Rio Grande? Let’s guess Trump’s tweet: “Wall stops crime and sin but would block my view @Palm Beach.”

Meanwhile, good luck in Vietnam, Mr. President. You’ll need it. So will we. Does anybody take notes?

Steve Parks is a retired journalist living in Easton

Report from Annapolis by Laura Price

Wow, what an avalanche of bills that have been dropped in Annapolis!  MACo has been working on overdrive to analyze all those bills and determine which ones the committee will review each week.  Having just completed our fourth week, we have discussed nearly 100 so far and the next few weeks show no signs of slowing down.

As I wrote last week about subtraction modification bills which reduce our local income tax revenues, our second largest revenue source for the county, an additional 6 have been introduced, now totaling 12.  MACo has formalized the letter to submit for each of these and it states:

“Counties are eager and committed partners in promoting economic growth and creating opportunity – we prefer local autonomy in determining the best way locally. MACo opposes state-mandated reductions in local revenue sources, but welcomes tools to grant counties options and flexibility to pursue their own parallel tax incentives, or to develop others to suit their local needs… Legislation that reduces county income tax revenues would make it substantially more difficult for counties to manage their budgets to provide needed services.”

The Budget and Tax subcommittee that I chair has been especially busy.  In addition to bills that would reduce our income tax revenues, we were especially troubled by HB264 – Homestead Property Tax Credit.  This would open up and require that any first-time homebuyer in the State of Maryland be transferred the existing tax savings of the previous owner.  This might seem like a good incentive to make property taxes more affordable, but totally ignores and undermines the purpose of existing law. This tax credit was created so that as a home appreciates in value, as long as the homeowner lives in the home, the homeowner will not be priced out of retaining that home because of an increased assessment, which ensures stability in their future tax bills.

Per MACo’s testimony, “This is county revenue sorely needed to fund public safety, schools, infrastructure, and other essential services. Counties could be forced to eliminate their expansions of the Homestead Property Tax Credit altogether where feasible – or, potentially, cut budgets for crucial public services… using data from fiscal 2017, it projected statewide local property tax revenue losses of $85 million by fiscal 2023”

Let me give you an example and you can look at your own property tax bill to follow along.  Let’s assume you purchased your home for the price of $250,000. That is a big investment and one that we all hope will appreciate in value so that we can build equity.  As your home is reassessed every few years, you will see a new, hopefully higher value and a higher taxable amount. But the next line below will show your tax credit. So, if your home is now worth, say $300,000, you will see a “discount” of $50,000 and your bill stays basically the same.  Every county is a bit different (most around a 5% annual increase), but in Talbot County our rate of increase is Zero Percent. Couple that with our current revenue cap, and this could severely restrict our property tax revenues.

There have been a couple more bills to pay attention to regarding Election Law.  SB363 – Voting Systems for Voters with Disabilities. All polling places are already required to have at least one ballot device for use by voters with disabilities.  This bill would mandate every voting machine to be equipped with this device. This would result in all machines being replaced at a cost of $4000 per machine. Since the access is already available, making it a requirement on every single device is just an enormous fiscal blow to the counties.  SB411 – Polling Places at Continuing Care Communities would require that local Boards of Elections establish a polling place at every continuing care retirement community of 200 or more persons on the premises. For those retired persons, or someone with a disability who truly cannot get out to vote at the polling place, absentee ballots are an easy way to make sure your voice is heard and vote is counted.  To dictate opening all these new centers, is truly a mandate we cannot afford.

Finally, there are several bills that MACo has supported that would hopefully deal with our mental health and addictions issues.  SB506 Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services – Needs Assessment Study. This would require the Maryland Department of Health to conduct a study to determine the existing capacity and estimated unmet needs for mental health and substance use disorder services by region of the State. This would help answer the questions of what is our need and what is the shortfall?  While this does not put implementation into place, this would provide the roadmap. MACo’s proposed amendment is to make sure this is put out to bid as an RFP to get the best price and not just be a flat requirement of $5 million in spending.

HB306/SB402 Mental Health-Inmates in Correctional Facilities.  This would require the state to reimburse our local detention center if the inmate has been identified that they should be in a state mental health facility.  Upon notification by a medical doctor or nurse within 12 hours, per diem reimbursement must begin. In Talbot County, with at least 85% of our inmates having either a drug/alcohol addiction or a mental health issue or a combination, this would be significant to our local jails.  Currently there is no reimbursement at all. Our detention center calls the state and says an inmate needs admission to a mental health facility. In many cases, due to lack of space in mental health facilities, the inmate winds up staying in our local jail, even after all requirements have been met to commit them to the appropriate facility.

So, the bills aren’t all bad news for the counties, but we will keep analyzing them for their impact at the county level.  Good, bad or indifferent. Support, Oppose, or no position. The staff, at the direction of we, the elected officials in the room, offers an explanation to the legislature and MACo has the credibility to make change.  

Laura Price is on the Executive Board of Directors of MACo, the legislative liaison and member of the Talbot County Council.

×
We're glad you're enjoying The Talbot Spy.

Sign up for the the free email blast to see what's new in the Spy. It's delivered right to your inbox at 3PM sharp.

Sign up here.