Monday, December 8, 2014

Lasting Power of Maryland GOP

This weekend Howard County was host to the Maryland Republican Party's State Convention at Turf Valley.  Based on coverage by Erin Cox in The Baltimore Sun the theme, plastered on five boot banners and the convention programs, was "We're Back!"  Said otherwise, Republicans were dancing in the end zone.

And they had every right to dance.  2014 represents the high water mark for GOP success in Maryland and many (inside the Republican party) see it as a platform for future success.  Howard County GOP Central Committee member Dave Myers was quoted shortly after the election by Amanda Yeager on this subject:

"I think looking back 10, maybe 15 years from now, we're going to see this election as the beginning of a two-party system in Maryland, and maybe even in Howard County," he said. "I think it really shows that the Republican party in Howard County is relevant, it's relevant in Maryland, and they can't be written off."

Notably, Republicans are taking every opportunity to remind the world of Senate President Mike Miller's (D) 2006 quote promising to "bury the Republicans six feet deep, faces up, so they won't come out for 20 years."  Mike was about 12 years off.

But future Republican success is based on the same principle of politics that Democrats have been consoling themselves with for the past month - voter sentiment is cyclical.  As Professor Rust Cohle would say "Time is a flat circle."  I think it bears examining what issues may determine whether our state breaks further purple or deeper blue over the next four years.

1. The Economy - I recently read a long piece about Mitch McConnell called The Cynic and in it the author observed that the most important skill any politician can have is a sense of timing.  It is more important than oratory skill, policy depth, or money.  Success and political advancement occur for the right person at the right time and no amount of effort can change it.

Larry Hogan's election seemed to be based almost entirely on timing.  He was the right candidate at the right time for the right electorate.  Whether Governor-elect Hogan receives four years or eight will depend on how things look four years from now, particularly with regard to the state economy.  Not so much in terms of unemployment rate, but rather state revenue. Maryland taxes went up because Maryland leaders wanted to pretend there was no recession when it came to state spending.  Presumably, Larry Hogan does not subscribe to that concern.  If Marylanders are made to feel the recession in reduced services or user fees, you can expect there to be some resulting frustration.

2. Social Issues - Another element of Larry Hogan's timing was the clear absence of any pressing social issues.  Marriage equality was settled.  Death penalty repealed.  Reproduction rights relevant only insofar as they provided a historical background for candidates, but nothing that was of concern for the next four years (at least according to most voters).

I predict that over the next four years the most pressing social issues will relate to the war on drugs and mass incarceration.  Maryland is well-poised to have this discussion.  I think Republicans have political wiggle room to break from their "tough on crime" planks from years past and Governor Ehrlich was particularly strong with regard to the concerns of the incarcerated when he was in office.  But if Hogan holds firm or loses touch with a social wave (as I expect here), his party could do everything else right and still get knocked out of office by a social justice movement paired with a sound economy.

Oh, and he'll have to do everything else right when it comes to social issues.  Gun rights, women's rights, and LGTB rights are all very important to Maryland voters and will have to be played with a deftness that I have not seen from Larry Hogan.

3. Environment - The Washington Post recently did a story about the here and now effects of Climate Change on the Eastern Shore, which likely is only a small hint of what may be the biggest challenge facing our state government - how to mitigate the effects of increased storms, rising sea level, and extreme weather.  The "I'm not a scientist" bit may work for Republicans out west, but we're going to need someone who understands Climate Change and, at the very least, will make the investments necessary to protect our infrastructure from its effects.  

I am not particularly hopeful on the renewable energy front.  Without monetizing externalities, like carbon and methane, green energy can't compete.  I think Maryland will likely be left behind as Maryland cuts subsidies and other states try to capture this new frontier of economic growth.  But the electorate is moving, slowly, on this issue and if Marylanders don't find Republicans competent to address a clear and present threat to our coastal state, they'll vote back in leaders who are.

How do these things affect County Executive Kittleman?  I don't think they do.  I think Allan is mostly insulated from state politics and has identified the trouble spots well in advance of his party.  I'll probably put together a more substantive post on this issue later, but I think the bigger challenge for him is the inclusivity of his term.  

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!