Category Archives: Politics

An Electoral College floor challenge four years ago, and the Maryland angle

On Jan. 6, when Congress meets to count electoral votes, some members may object from the floor on whether or not to accept each state’s electoral college submission, and if there is such an objection from at least one member of each House, the members will go on record on whether to approve. The result appears to be a foregone conclusion; in practice neither House will agree to overturn a certified state outcome (Democrats will organize the House, while in the Republican Senate only a minority of Trump ultras at most will contest Joe Biden’s victory.)

Whatever you think of this, much of it is not new; a version of it happened four years ago. Even though Donald Trump had obviously won a lawful victory in the 2016 electoral college, a few left-wing Democrats insisted on mounting a floor challenge. What followed is choice enough to quote, from a 2017 account in Slate:

Senate President Joe Biden oversaw the proceedings. On the Democratic side of the aisle, a half-dozen or so members, including Reps. Maxine Waters, Sheila Jackson Lee, Raúl Grijalva and freshman Reps. Pramila Jayapal and Jamie Raskin, switched seats to take turns raising objections. The objections varied from state to state. In North Carolina the objections hinged on the state’s effective disenfranchisement of black voters. But most objections referenced Russia’s interference in the election.”

Biden was having little of it, and banged the gavel loudly, because none of the members were able to find a senatorial co-signator, thus voiding their objections. The much more populated Republican side of the aisle booed or called out “order!” following each denied objection. When Rep. Jayapal gave her objection, Biden finally said, “It is over.” Republicans gave him a standing ovation.

I am pained to record that lefty Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), one of the loopy few that day, represents my own community in the House of Representatives. If circus-like proceedings do unfold this coming Jan. 6, Raskin will be one of the few Democratic members not in a good position to complain.

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“Never Trump, Now More Than Ever”

[My opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Sept. 9, 2020]

Never Trump, Now More Than Ever


Mr. Trump erodes public trust and embarrasses his office. Join me in not voting for him.


By Walter Olson

*

Four years ago I was a “Never Trump” voter. Now, I’m more set than ever in that view: No Trump, doubled. That’s even though I far prefer his economic policies to those of the Democrats. I’ve written many times to defend his administration’s policies against unfair attacks from the left, and I’ve applauded his judicial appointments. But I won’t vote for him, for reasons of Constitution and character.

No modern president has shown so little care for or grasp of how government works—for instance, what powers the president does and doesn’t have. None have found it as hard to put the nation’s well-being above his own, on matters as basic as setting aside the interests of his family business.

Especially vital is that a president set aside personal interest in relations with foreign powers. He should present a united front with his domestic political rivals against foreign meddling in U.S. politics, and he should refrain from using U.S. leverage over weaker countries to seek personal electoral advantage. In the Russia and Ukraine affairs, it’s true that some of his opponents went beyond the available evidence in charging him with misconduct. But even shorn of exaggeration, his conduct fell short of what Americans should expect.

At the start I was happy to allow the man a honeymoon, thinking the shock of great responsibility might lead him to put away childish things, that he might mature as did Shakespeare’s Hal (in Henry IV) and banish his internal Falstaff. Mr. Trump didn’t change. He won’t change now.

I’m no foreign-policy interventionist, but it is wrong to envy the methods of overseas strongmen. Friends who plan to vote for him don’t deny the lack of impulse control, the vindictive meanness of spirit, the Niagara of lies. Don’t fuss so much about the man himself, they say. Follow the policies.

But the presidency—unlike the Senate, where self-absorbed talkers can sail by for years without notice—has executive responsibility. It is charged with delicate relations with rival foreign powers, and with responding to crises.

When the crisis came as a pandemic, a different president, conscious of his limitations, might have stepped back to let Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx do the talking. But Mr. Trump has bluffed his way through life claiming to know more than the experts. He needs to be the groom at every wedding and the infant at every christening.

Stories abound of how zany ideas are quietly tamped down, or ignored entirely, by appointees around the agencies. But that’s not a stable situation. In time he will insert more personal loyalists into agency jobs.

Remember the “character counts” conservatives? The classicists who went back beyond the Federalist Papers to the Greeks and Romans to ground conservatism in civitas and virtue? Who thought deeply about the dangers to the republic from a man on horseback, a demagogic flatterer of the people, who preaches “I alone can fix it”?

“But he fights.” He is a litigious man who has openly boasted of using losing lawsuits to harm his critics. Yes, a president needs some combative spirit, but it should be discerning—especially when aimed at fellow Americans—and give way in due season to a spirit of reconciliation.

We don’t know when the next crisis will come. It might be a close election in which Mr. Trump needs to accept the decision of the judiciary. We might need national unity. Instead, this man’s tweets are the ground glass in the national milkshake.

A high degree of social trust is needed both for a dynamic economy and for the rule of law. But as legal scholar Orin Kerr puts it, “the president’s signature move is to attack the legitimacy of everyone and every institution who is not in lockstep with him.”

Some offer the “Flight 93 election” theory, in which every four years we face a last-chance, bet-the-country abyss. I don’t buy it. Our country has a system of rotation in office. The other party gets its turn, and the country survives. It will survive Donald Trump, too. But the country should not have to face four more years of him.

*

Mr. Olson‘s books include “The Litigation Explosion.”

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District 4, we have a problem

As mentioned last week, I’ll be having more to say about the lawsuit filed by Delegate Dan Cox (R-4th), together with Dels. Neil Parrott and Warren Miller and plaintiffs that included business owners and clerics, challenging Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s actions in response to the “alleged on-going Catastrophic Health pandemic.” (Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has now filed a motion to dismiss in the suit.) In the mean time, however, Delegate Cox has been making quite a stir with his Twitter feed:

This tweet is spectacularly irresponsible; it’s just shocking. I wasn’t the only one who thought so, either. WTOP picks it up (“Maryland Del. Cox appears to promote Bill Gates coronavirus conspiracy theory”), linking to me and to Republican strategist Frank Luntz (“If you want to be a respected leader, you must lead intelligently. This Maryland state legislator is doing the exact opposite of that.”)

This is only one of a series of dubious pronouncements from Del. Cox in recent weeks. On April 21 he asserted that “Studies show up to 70-86% of the public already have or had coronavirus so of course increased testing will increase cases.”

Up to 70-86%? Really? As you can see above, Cox was immediately challenged by reporter Evan Lambert of Fox5 DC, and the following exchange resulted:

The most charitable interpretation of that exchange is that Del. Cox very badly misunderstood the point of the Science magazine article referenced. Serological studies had already begun to come out then, and have continued to arrive since, indicating that public exposure to the virus is far below 70-86%, and likely in single digits.

On May 4 Del. Cox appeared on WFMD’s Bob Miller show in Frederick, where he said (at 2:00): “we do know that the vast majority, ninety-nine percent of the population, is not in danger with this virus. And that’s the science, it’s not, you know, politics speaking, that’s the science.”

That “99 percent” not in danger wasn’t a slip of the tongue, I think, since Del. Cox repeats it at 17:00 in the interview. And saying that 99 percent of the population is not in danger with this virus — that is, that only one percent of the population does have anything to fear — is again false and, as health advice, horrendously bad.

Delegate Cox’s Twitter response to me is here.

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“It’s supposed to be a rainbow, not a strip of litmus paper.”

My letter to the editor (with Steve Pippin) in the June 27 Frederick News Post responds to a local resident’s letter advising that people shouldn’t attend Frederick Pride

…if you vote for the wrong sorts of candidates, if you keep your views to yourself rather than being outspoken about LGBT issues, or if you fall short of his standards of correct belief on gender politics, “classism,” and many other issues.

Here’s another point of view. Pride is for everyone of goodwill. It’s OK to come to see friends, or be entertained, or meet new neighbors, or just listen and learn. It’s OK to dress as you like, not in some obligatory uniform. It’s OK to march to the beat of a different drummer, whether or not it puts you in the majority. You should feel welcome whether or not you agree with this or that political party, movement, or candidate. You’ll see Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, Greens, and others at Frederick Pride. They’re all welcome, and so are you, if you bring goodwill.

It’s supposed to be a rainbow, not a strip of litmus paper.

Steven Pippin and Walter Olson

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Party official: Second Amendment protesters “homegrown terrorists,” “time to dox” them

“Really, don’t worry about the Red Flag law. The only way police are going to show up at your door to seize your guns is if someone reports you as being a danger.”

“What kind of danger?”

“Oh, I don’t know, a terrorist or something.”

* * *

Separately, Merriam-Webster defines dox as “to publicly identify or publish private information about (someone) especially as a form of punishment or revenge.” Even if calling adversaries terrorists has somehow been normalized, calling for them to be doxxed still hasn’t, right?

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Frederick County: April Miller best choice for school board vacancy

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner will have the chance to fill a vacancy on the eight-member Frederick County Board of Education with Ken Kerr’s advancement to the House of Delegates. Those interested in serving have been invited to submit their names.

I myself am hoping that Gardner sees fit, despite party differences, to appoint incumbent April Miller to renewed service on the board, should Miller apply. The most obvious reason is at the ballot box: Miller ran fifth of eight for the four posts available, with 35,489 votes (unofficial), fewer than 2,000 votes short of what proved the cutoff. By comparison, Camden Raynor, the 20-year-old (as of September) college student who made a bid for a seat and is said to be a prospect for the vacancy appointment, received 27,701, even with the powerful endorsement of the teachers’ union (“Apple Ballot”).

The strongest reasons to support Miller, however, are substantive. To begin with, she has done a fine job on the board over her two terms, winning praise for constructive engagement even from board members with different priorities. Like colleague Elizabeth Barrett, sometimes seen as her opposite number on the board, Miller is known for thinking for herself and asking uncomfortable questions.

The wider question is whether it is a healthy development, in a county where conservatives make up around half the electorate, to wind up with a school board with no conservatives on it at all. The alternative is one consisting pretty much exclusively of present or past Apple Ballot endorsees. (The union declined to endorse Barrett this time around; she won anyway.) On many issues, absent Miller, there will be no voice raised in dissent, no one to ask certain types of questions or frame objections. In short, there will be a shortage along a very relevant dimension of ideological diversity.

Though nominally non-partisan the school board is all but partisan in practice, so this means asking CE Gardner, a Democrat, to overlook party lines and appoint a known Republican. On the other hand, that’s the sort of thing successful managers do: Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed Democrats to many high posts, part of the centrist appeal that has enabled him to win over Democratic moderates. At a moment where eager Democrats are no doubt applying for the spot, it might take a magnificent gesture on Gardner’s part. But it’s one we could use right about now.

More: Tom Neumark letter to the editor in the FNP.

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In miniature, November 10

Midterm campaign edition:

  • An issue in some races: “Critique of Maryland Congestion-Relief Plan Rests on Very Bad Logic [Austill Stuart] So much for the “Lexus Lanes” epithet: “Congestion pricing is not just slanted toward the elite” [Tyler Cowen]
  • Brian Frosh is part of a state-AG task force that subpoenas and investigates private groups and individuals for having promoted erroneous opinions on environmental questions. Which should have been more controversial during the campaign [Mark Uncapher]
  • Republican mailers assailed Dems on this issue, yet “supervised injection facilities save lives” [Jacob Sullum, Reason]
  • Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick), at 12:55: stop saying we raised taxes 46 times, I counted and we only raised them 15 times [FNP podcast debate with Craig Giangrande]
  • In Maryland as elsewhere, “single payer in one state” is more of a political stunt than a practical program [Todd Eberly]
  • Poor showings at Tuesday’s polls for many lawmakers rated highly by Maryland Business for Responsive Government could spell trouble ahead on business issues [MBRG]

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Frederick County: Union shouldn’t control school board

Tom Neumark says many of the things I had been thinking about the county school board races. We really shouldn’t want a board entirely consisting of members raised to office through the political clout of the teachers’ union with its Apple Ballot. Yet that’s what we may soon find ourselves with.

Two incumbents were denied the union’s endorsement this year, namely April Miller and Elizabeth Barrett. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two — though differing from each other in many ways — are both known for thinking for themselves, asking hard questions, and standing up for parents and families not always represented otherwise.

It raises all sorts of conflict of interest for the education unions to place their members, retirees, and close associates in public offices regularly called on to resist union demands. Yet Frederick County is already much of the way down that road. Let’s not proceed further.

Related: two school board hopefuls aren’t FCPS employees, but still have a less direct stake in compensation decisions, per this LTE from Stephanie Covati of Middletown.

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Frederick County: NO on Question D

My letter to the editor in the Frederick News-Post opposing Question D, on mandatory binding arbitration and collective bargaining for career firefighters:

Please vote NO on Question D, a charter amendment promoted by the firefighters union at the intended expense of taxpayers and the general public. The provisions of D expanding collective bargaining are bad enough, but even worse are those subjecting the county to mandatory binding arbitration whose outcome — get this — must be funded in the county budget, no matter what the people’s elected representatives may think of it.

Mandatory binding arbitration in the public workplace takes fiscal decisions away from those who are accountable to voters. It gives unions an artificial incentive to arrive at a bargaining impasse so as to call in an arbitrator who will always give them at least as much as management’s offer. It is also unfair to other employees who don’t get such privileges. In states like Connecticut and California, this system has done much damage to the finances and flexibility of local government, resulting in high property tax levels, cuts to other services, or both.

News-Post reporter Samantha Hogan writes that, ‘At a forum for nearly all the county council candidates at the Brunswick Fire Department, each one said they didn’t support Question D, given the binding arbitration aspect.’ They’re right to oppose a measure that is D for damaging, destructive and defective.”

Walter Olson
New Market

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Frederick County’s June 26 Republican primary

I had been planning to write up the precinct results of the Republican primary vote for Frederick County Executive (data) but this map by Jordan Tessler tells the story in a picture. Councilman Kirby Delauter ran competitively in in-town Frederick and Brunswick as well as winning the county’s northernmost towns, which he has represented on the Council. That left him 10 points behind Del. Kathy Afzali, who swept suburban developments from Ballenger Creek to growth-vexed southeastern areas like Monrovia and Kemptown, as well as easily carrying Jefferson and her home of Middletown. Regina Williams showed localized strength, carrying five or six precincts east of Frederick around Libertytown and New Market. The overall lesson: the suburbanized areas are now where the Republican primary is won or lost in the county.

In the 3rd District Senate primary, in which Delauter’s frequent ally Billy Shreve was far outdistanced (77-23) by businessman Craig Giangrande, it was once again the suburban and newer-home vote that had its way. Giangrande ran best in outlying parts of the district such as Jefferson, Oakdale, and Worman’s Mill, while Shreve tended to fare best in in-town districts.

The four-way primary contesting two at-large seats, won by Phil Dacey and Danny Farrar, did not draw a strongly regionalized vote.

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