Commentary by Ron Miller
As you're reading this, the first round of votes since the historic 2008 election have been cast, victories are being claimed, concession speeches given and opinions being offered about the outcomes and what they mean for the future.
Maryland is now less than a year away from its elections in 2010 and, while yesterday's results could influence the decisions of candidates in our state or region on whether or not to run for office, there are plenty of questions yet to be answered. November 2nd of 2010 could potentially tell us a lot more about the direction of our region, state and nation than we know today. Let's examine a couple of these questions.
Will the voters make O'Malley and the Democrats pay for their fiscal mismanagement? There's no denying the state is in trouble. The current state budget enacted during the last session of the General Assembly had to be further reduced by almost $1 billion because they overestimated tax revenues.
When they reconvene in Annapolis next January, they'll be staring at a projected $2 billion deficit, exceeded only by the following year's projected deficit of $2.7 billion.
These deficits are occurring despite $3.3 billion in federal stimulus funds and a $1.5 billion tax increase, the largest in Maryland history, levied on the people and businesses of Maryland in 2007. As taxes went up, so did spending, even though they knew we were in a recession. Spending last year was $1.1 billion higher than the previous year.
Maryland's reputation as a tax-and-spend, redistributionist, union-appeasing, anti-business state is a liability when our neighbor across the Potomac, Virginia, is cited by many observers as a haven for businesses with its low taxes, right to work laws and reasonable regulation. Jobs that could come to our state are headed across the river instead. Maryland's unemployment rate is the highest it's been in 26 years, and government programs won't replace lost jobs.
Will voters attribute these problems to the one-party monopoly in Annapolis or will they be persuaded that the global recession made them unavoidable?
I contend that the record tax increase, in one fell swoop, made Maryland one of the highest-taxed states in the nation, and one of the worst for business taxes and the costs of doing business in general. According to the Tax Foundation, Maryland went from 25th to 45th overnight in business tax climate when it enacted its monster tax package.
The ill-advised "millionaire's tax" has fallen far short of projections as it has in other states that have passed similar levies. The governor of New York concluded it was a bad idea to punish his most productive citizens with their own dedicated tax bracket and is now resisting further increases, declaring "the problem even doing that is that it drives the job creators out of the state and then the jobs go with them."
Such wisdom has yet to penetrate the skulls of our elected officials in Annapolis, who think you can tax the producers, innovators and entrepreneurs without repercussions. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money." Perhaps more accurately, other people's money goes elsewhere where it can grow and expand the tax base.
Ultimately, the answer to this question depends on how long the voters' memories are, and how badly the general session goes in early 2010. Painful budget cuts or significant tax increases are inevitable - I predict the former rather than the latter - and the pain may stir an anti-incumbent revolt at the polls. We'll see.
Does the "Tea Party" movement have legs? One of the extraordinary political movements of recent years has been the "Tea Party" coalition, unique in its origins, composition and autonomy from established political structures. It sprung up during the early spring of this year as a grass-roots citizen revolt against the record-breaking expenditures of the Bush and Obama administrations.
The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) passed by President Bush in the fall of 2008 was the catalyst for the movement, a truth few Democrats are willing to acknowledge for fear of giving those to whom they crudely refer as "tea-baggers" the imprimatur of nonpartisanship. Senator McCain's publicity stunt of suspending his campaign to go to Washington and attend to the crisis, followed by his vote in favor of TARP, probably cost him the election as more 4 million declared conservatives stayed home..
These frustrated citizens lacked a platform from which to express themselves, however, and the movement lacked form and function. That changed on February 19, 2009.
On that day, Rick Santelli, an on-air editor for CNBC Business News, criticized the Obama Administration's plan for bailing out overextended homeowners as "promoting bad behavior" while taking from those Americans who were prudent in their financial decisions. His call on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange for a "Chicago Tea Party" brought cheers from the floor of the exchange and gave the movement its name and symbology.
Several "tea parties" sprung up around the country; Maryland's first was held on March 22nd in Solomons, Maryland, and was attended by approximately 540 people. Subsequent nationwide Tea Party protests on April 15th and July 4th culminated in a march on Washington, DC on September 12th which drew nearly 2 million Americans to the steps of the Capitol. It was the largest gathering of conservative Americans ever.
The open question about the Tea Party movement is whether or not it has the reach and staying power to influence the 2010 elections.
Democrats despise it because of its conservative nature, and Republicans fear it because they can't control it. It is comprised of the "silent majority" which up until now has never actively engaged in protests against the government. It has no central leaders, no funding source or formal organization, and it doesn't appear to want either.
It is a true bottom-up phenomenon which sets it apart from other political movements of the day, but which also makes it unpredictable. If it remains active in Maryland through 2010, a reasonable bet given the state's proximity to Washington DC, incumbents should be concerned, as should those challengers who aren't for low taxes, limited government, fiscal responsibility and term limits.
Does President Obama have coattails? We may learn the answer to this question later tonight. The White House is taking pains to distance itself from today's results, but that won't stop the pundits from weighing in with their opinions should Republicans regain the governorships of Virginia or New Jersey or the congressional seat in New York's 23rd Congressional District.
Given Maryland's proximity to Washington, I expect we'll get a good dose of Obama, especially in the liberal enclaves of Prince George's and Montgomery counties and the city of Baltimore. O'Malley's firm embrace of Obama's policies in recent weeks is no accident. The former Hillary Clinton supporter and state chairman for her failed presidential campaign has a lot of ring-kissing to do to get back into Obama's good graces.
In Prince George's County, the Democratic Party primary is usually the election that matters since there is usually no local Republican opposition. Can Obama wake up those voters who couldn't care less about the general election to come out for O'Malley? Does he dare go out to the 1st Congressional District to campaign for Democratic incumbent Frank Kratovil, potentially facing a tough reelection challenge from state Senator Andy Harris, when the character of the region is decidedly conservative?
In these troubled times, there are many more questions yet to be answered as the 2010 campaign begins. These are just a few that I came up with - as you can probably imagine, there are a few others I'm personally interested in as a candidate. I'm not just an observer, I'm in the arena. Let the games begin!
Ron Miller, of Huntingtown, is a conservative blogger and activist, former and future candidate for the Maryland Senate, and communications director for the Calvert County Republican Party. Ron is a regular contributor to
ProLifeUnity.com. You can also follow Ron
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