Friday, December 28, 2012

Field Test: Drake Waterfowl LST Down Vest with Magnattach

In a typical Maryland winter, hunters might set decoys in the morning to temperatures that are below freezing, yet expect to spend most of the day in temps that are above 40 degrees. Its the kind of weather pattern that finds a heavy down vest particularly useful, good at keeping your core warm and giving you the flexibility to do things like climb in and out of blinds and boats in the predawn darkness.

I bought the Drake Waterfowl Down Vest after feeling its dense weight and seemingly durable outer shell. Tough, warm, and with big pockets, including a magnetic chest pocket that snaps shut for protection of cell phones and goose calls, the vest looked like a good addition to my outdoor closet.  It also helped that in olive green, and not Mossy Oak Duck Blind, I could wear the vest with a pair of jeans, as well.

But in the year that I have owned the Drake Waterfowl Down Vest, I have only worn the thing a handful of times. The first sign that things were not right was when I got out of my truck and saw that my seat was covered in feathers. When I made it back into the house, I took the vest off and saw that it was hemorrhaging goose down, big and small feathers were poking out of the vest everywhere you looked, and I was trailing feathers around the house like a molting mallard.  Chasing aloft feathers with a broom is not a task I anticipated when I bought the Drake down vest.

Because of this unfortunate quality, I have had to use the vest only in the most utilitarian of chores, and even then it generally hangs in the closet as I opt for some other less messy option. Everything else about the vest is great, but the feather leakage is a deal breaker. At nearly $100.00, this should be a much better product.

The Drake Waterfowl LST Down Vest with Magnattach is NOT RECOMMENDED by Kline Online.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kline Online's Best Book of 2012

It's that time of year again, to name the winner of the world-famous, highly coveted, Best Book of 2012 award from the "staff" here at Kline Online (award only redeemable at participating locations and holds no cash value). Just to reiterate, in case you somehow missed last year's award, although I am not sure how that is possible, the Best Book of 2012 is simply my selection of the best book I read last year. It is more a book recommendation made from my own personal library than it is a thorough review of the American literary landscape over the past year.

I hemmed and I hawed before I wrote this blog, thinking to myself, surely I cannot award the Best Book of 2012 to the same author who won the award (albeit posthumously) in 2011! But alas, I can. And I have. Why should I kid myself and all of you wonderful folks who visit this corner of the information superhighway about what the Best Book of 2012 was because of some arbitrary feeling that I should share the wealth with another author? The fact of the matter is that the best book I read in 2012 was David Halberstam's The Fifties

Halberstam has long been a favorite of mine, and he should become a favorite of yours. When he died in a car accident in 2007 the world lost a phenomenal writer, whose brand of journalism, which was comprised of an almost evangelical commitment to truth-telling no matter how painful, has nearly disappeared from the planet, much to everyone's loss.

I stumbled upon a 1993 first edition of The Fifties at The Book Plate in Chestertown, and it sat on my bookshelf for a few years before I picked it up in the spring of 2012. Like everything else I have read from Halberstam, the quality of the prose and the flow of the story were both first rate. I immediately regretted settling for lesser fare while The Fifties sat unread on my shelf. 

In the minds of many Americans, the 1950s represent this time of tremendous innocence, when life was simple and the economy roared. Largely we think of Andy Griffith's Mayberry when we think of the 1950s. But in what is his trademark detail, Halberstam, himself a child of the 1950s, paints a picture of a decade of tremendous technological advance when America evolved from the unassuming and isolated society it had been prior to World War II into the modern society that we can largely still recognize today.

Ideas that saw their genesis in the Fifties, like the highway system and large suburban tract development have in the intervening six decades come to dominate not only the American landscape, but help to define our very society. Everything from the modern daily commute from the suburbs to the city, to the ease of airline travel is traceable to this fascinating decade in which America came to be, well, America. Perhaps the most important thing to come out of the 1950s was the creation of the American Middle Class as we would still recognize it today.

Halberstam covers a lot of territory in the 700 page tome, but the book never feels dense. The Fifties is as close to a page-turner as I think history can well get, as Halberstam tells the well-researched and detail oriented story of the decade that saw the beginnings of Holiday Inn, McDonald's, McCarthyism, the race to space, television, effective contraception, and much else besides.

Halberstam also reflects pointedly on the consumerism that was rampant during the 1950s, and how a system that was struggling to be modern was actually still fundamentally underpinned by some very old concepts that were beginning to fray at the seams. We see long-held beliefs related to sexuality, race, gender roles, and youth beginning to be questioned by thought leaders in the 1950s. Those same questions would be asked much more forcefully and by many more people in the decade that followed.

And like any good history, one can easily find tangents to their own time, when a sometimes crippling dependence on technology has us wondering where we end and where our devices begin. You can get a copy of David Halberstam's The Fifties for less than ten bucks on Amazon. Put down your e-reader and pick up a copy.

Honorable Mentions for Best Book of 2012: H.W. Brands: The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S. Grant in War and Peace and John Lewis Gaddis: George F. Kennan: An American Life   

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Where Have All the Moderates Gone?

Jim Saxton, Sherwood Boehlert, Mike Castle, Lincoln Chafee, Wayne Gilchrest, Nancy Johnson, Chris Shays, Rob Simmons, Clay Shaw, Tom Davis, Vernon Ehlers, Bob Inglis, Norm Coleman, Gordon Smith, Olympia Snowe, Jeb Bradley, Steven LaTourette, Charlie Bass, Jim Leach.

I realize that this list of names means very little to most Americans; most might not even recognize a single name. That's not a knock on anyone; these people aren't famous, at least not by an relevant popular culture standard. So far as I know none of them have ever appeared on a reality television series, produced a best-selling hop hop album, or made millions off of an accidentally-on-purpose sex tape.

They are Republican members of Congress that have retired, are retiring, or lost their bids for reelection. None of them were Speakers of the House or Majority Leader, and none made themselves famous on the Sunday talk show circuit. But in their collective prime, taken together, they formed a core of thoughtfulness in the GOP that could steer policy-making away from the rocky coasts of partisanship.

When I first came to Washington in 2003, all of these people were actively serving in Congress. 2013 will be my ten year anniversary as a lobbyist in this town, and as of January each of the names that started this blog post must be referred to as former members of Congress. This represents what I view as being the single most important and influential shift over the past decade, away from the political middle and towards the political extreme.

Many of these people, like Mike Castle, Wayne Gilchrest and Bob Inglis, to name but a few, were beaten in hotly contested GOP primaries by candidates who were much more conservative, much more "acceptable to the base," so to speak.

In some cases, the Republican "base" doesn't represent the views of the electorate in the general election, which means their red meat candidate winds up at the butcher's come election day. These folks, who comprise a significant chunk of the GOP primary electorate, would rather lose on dogma than win on more practical considerations.  This was perhaps best illustrated in Delaware in 2010, where Mike Castle, long a respected figure in state politics was beaten by a wing nut in the GOP primary (that wing nut being Christine O'Donnell, who during the campaign found it necessary to deny that she was a witch). The wing nut had no chance in the statewide general election (which Castle would have won easily) and instead the win went to the upstart Chris Coons, a Democrat, who now serves as Delaware's junior Senator. As I have always said, when wing nuts dominate the primary elections, the primary elections can be counted on to produce wing nuts. 

But for whatever reason, all of these folks and a lot more, Republicans and Democrats alike, with a similarly middle temperament are gone, vanished nearly entirely from the American electoral landscape. Leaving behind them a wide gulf between the Right and the Left in Congress, which is now largely comprised of party-first groupthinkers who lack the ability or the desire to compromise on anything. And this despite the fact that every reliable poll of the last 25 years shows that more Americans self-identify as moderates and independents than as Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative.

It is strange but true that Congress doesn't actually look much like America politically, and I think there is more than a casual relationship between the reduction in the number of Congressional moderates and the reduction of Congress' approval rating; the slide in both has been concurrent and is almost assuredly related.

We see now with the Fiscal Cliff, which is only the most recent example, of two sides that seem unwilling to budge from what have become very deep lines in the sand. Every decision that Congress makes comes down to the last minute (the fact that the Fiscal Cliff was approaching was common knowledge in this town in the Spring of 2012, and yet still here we are), a redundant exercise in can-kicking. The fact that we have reached the Fiscal Cliff at all is because Congress has repeatedly punted on responsible revenue increases and spending decreases.

 In the days after the 2012 election, when Republicans lost the presidential contest by losing every swing state, and lost seats in the House, they started to assess just what went wrong and they decided that their candidates weren't ideologically pure enough, they were not sufficiently committed to the cause. And now, moving forward, the Republicans appear poised to double down on crazy.

Which brings to mind 1964, the year that Barry Goldwater, whose conservative purity no one can question, got rolled by Lyndon Johnson for the White House. That election has been viewed historically as a necessary bludgeoning, essential to returning the Republicans to the mainstream. In short, the Republicans had to get destroyed in a national election in which they put forward someone of unquestioned philosophical purity, so that the party could return to some level of intellectual normalcy. It has become clear, to me at least, that this type of election that serves to fundamentally reject scorched-earth conservative ideology, is necessary again. The future of the Republican Party, and perhaps the future of functional government might depend on it.


Monday, November 26, 2012

A Good Week of Hunting

I try hard as I can each year to get a week away from my Washington office over the Thanksgiving holiday to turn my attention to hunting. The first part of the week is usually spent on waterfowl, and the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been the traditional 'opening day' for chasing deer with a firearm in Maryland for as long as I can remember.

Lately, though, there hasn't been much in the way of waterfowl around these here parts during what we hunters refer to as 'the early split.' It just isn't cold enough in middle November to bring birds to our region; so mostly we sit around in shirtsleeves in duck blinds, looking out at an altogether too bright and too warm sun, set high in a bluebird sky.

The 2012 goose opener was much the same as we've come to expect, what few birds had arrived to the Chesapeake were content to hug the small creeks where they roost overnight, and left those friendly confines only to loaf around on the Chester River or other such larger bodies of water as they might find amenable. On days like these, 60 degree temps and not a cloud in the sky, hunters might see plenty of birds, but getting them into the decoys, or even getting them to feign interest in your hopeful spread, is a tall order.

Things looked up on Tuesday, when a slight front rolled through, making for a cloudy dawn. The birds left the creek and worked our field early, and before the three guys in the blind could run out of things to talk about we had a limit and fellow blogger Kirk Mantay from over at River Mud and myself were enjoying a hearty breakfast and more conversation at Higgy's, a Church Hill diner that specializes in the kind of stick-with-you-for-the-day grub that hunters prefer. It was the best day of goose hunting, something I do probably more frequently than all the other hobbies I have combined, I've had in fully two years.

Thursday morning the guests in my home slept as I put my turkey in its brine and threw my shotgun into my truck, I saw hundreds of starts twinkling down on me; a crystal clear night that promised more of the same during the day. Sure enough, the day broke blue and the sun shone brightly as we watched early birds cruise far over our heads. I was able to harvest a single before I had to leave the pit for some time in the kitchen.

On Saturday morning, I turned my camo hat in for a blaze orange model and waterfowl season for deer season. I headed out into a stiff 20 mile per hour wind, that thankfully for me was blowing out of the northwest, blowing my scent away from the field I was hunting. Early in the morning, before legal shooting time, I saw a dark figure working its way across the field and knew it was a deer. Wind and cold temperatures seem to become an afterthought when you can watch animals cruise around without any knowledge of your presence in a tree 15 feet above them.

I had no intention of harvesting any but the most mature deer, and knew instintively that any animal walking across a field that early in the morning, and alone besides, was anything but a mature animal. I watched the doe through my binoculars until she slipped through some cover at the edge of the field, and on to wherever she would hang out for the rest of the day.

There were other deer, a four-point buck that crossed in front of me broadside at what would have been archery range, and six does crowded the field right before the end of legal shooting time, any of which would have been harvested easily enough. But with the commitment to only harvest mature deer front and center in my mind, I was content to watch these deer through my Minox binoculars, getting a sense for what the deer were doing, and when they were doing it.

It was a great week afield, there were plenty of geese and deer around, and as always lots of good conversation in the goose pit and duck blind. Deer hunting is a solitary affair, almost entirely quiet and still, which is why I prefer the conviviality of the waterfowl hunt; but the time I spend in the stand gives me time to think, and for that alone it has tremendous value. Here's to a successful 2012-2013 season to all those folks who still rise early and find good fortunes up in the sky.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Kline Online's Annual Thanksgiving Post 2012

Ah yes, time for my annual Thanksgiving post. For me, Thanksgiving is a holiday, and November a time of year, steeped in meaning. I was born on Thanksgiving, married my wonderful wife in November of 2007, all meaningful hunting for me begins in November, and it is also when I enjoy the first fires in my woodstove. It is an altogether wholesome time of year, spent with family and friends in goose pits, duck blinds, and around the dinner table.  

In 2012 there is much to be thankful for. Over the holiday season, a bad case of persistent bronchitis had Kim coughing so violently that she cracked a rib; the Emergency Room's attempt to administer powerful painkillers intravenously worked to dull the pain of the cracked rib, but a few days later the pain in Kim's arm proved symptomatic of a much bigger problem, a blood clot had formed in her arm, just upstream from where the IV had been placed. For the next month, Kim was thought by some of her doctors to be in a fair amount of danger; there was obvious concern that something tragic might occur if the clot were to break off. Kim was placed on Coumadin, a blood thinning drug that requires frequent blood tests. She had to giver herself nightly injections for a few weeks. There were more visits to the emergency room, and several ultrasounds, things were touch and go for longer than anyone hoped. Until finally a trip to a hematologist in Annapolis indicated that Kim's clot occurred in a redundant vein, that this type of thing wasn't particularly rare, and was nothing to be terribly worried about. He advised her to come off the Coumadin immediately, and "get back to your normal life." I remember at that appointment, we were so shocked by the good news that we kept rephrasing the same question in different ways, something along the lines of: "are you sure this isn't dangerous?"

The doctor replied, "you can keep asking me the same question, and I am going to keep giving you the same answer. I see two of these a month. Go home." 

Also in 2012, I had the good fortune to meet a few new hunting buddies, Tim Kizer, who hosted me on his farm in Arkansas for a memorable January duck hunt, and fellow blogger and co-conspirator on Chesapeake conservation issues Kirk Mantay, who I look forward to hunting and fishing with much more in the not-too-distant future. Good friends sharing a blind or a shoreline are hard to beat; glad I found these two.

Kim also found a great new job in 2012, at the Mid Atlantic Cat Hospital. Everyone who knows Kim knows how much she loves cats, and this new opportunity to work with Dr. R. and the team over at MACH has been great for Kim. I can see just how much more happy she is when she gets home from work each evening. A miserable job situation has a way of rubbing off on everyone, really coloring the home life and much else, besides, so I am thrilled for Kim that she was able to go to work at the Cat Hospital, it is a fantastic fit.

Here at Kline Online, it has been a great year, as well. Another record year for visits, and the blog now has sustained visitation coming from a variety of sources. People are searching for the blog more than ever before, and I hope that as long as I can think of something to say, people will continue to come back and check it out from time to time. I also made some time in 2012 for writing outside of what I do here for the blog, and wrote somewhat regularly for the Queen Anne's County Spy, and was published in several other places as well. It is my hope in 2013 that I can perhaps sell my first story to a major publishing outlet. 

Father's Day was great for me and my family in 2012, as well. My sister Jennifer and I bought my dad a John Deere tractor for his home in the mountains, and I think we surprised him and filled him with happiness. He loves his tractor. I also won Filson's Father's Day Writing Contest, with my story Made of Steel, which you can read again here.

Late last year Kim and I decided to bring home a long-haired orange tabby cat from Talbot Humane Society. We have cats at home, and Kim often fosters kittens, but this would be the first of our cats that we got together, a kitten that would be hanging around for awhile. I named him George, after all kinds of great Georges in American history, George Washington, George Meade, George Bird Grinnell, George Marshall. It's just a regal sounding name for a regal looking cat. He is a handsome handful, and the only of our cats that will actually kill mice and crickets.

For the first time since I was able to vote, I decided to sit out an election as an activist and a volunteer, although I wrote extensively about two Queen Anne's County ballot questions here at Kline Online. I supported Jon Huntsman in the early going of the presidential race, but he was out by the time Maryland voted, and never had more than a lame dark horse's chance of getting to the top. My vote on Election Day was cast, more or less at every level, for candidates who I felt no passion for; an epidemic that I fear has spread to the American electorate writ large. Throughout the campaign season, whenever I saw a car with an Obama or Romney sticker, I would always think to myself, how could you be that excited to vote for either of these guys?

Two weeks ago, this country was full of vitriol, and I fear that it has not waned. Fifty percent of the country thought, and likely still thinks, that their beliefs are the only ones worth believing, and that the other fifty percent is abjectly stupid. I wonder how we can move forward together when we are so divided.

But two big wins here in Queen Anne's County gave me enough to be thankful for on election night, and sufficient inspiration to continue to work on the most pressing issues in the place I call home.

Today I will start the day, as I do every year, hunting with my dad. I am thankful for every year we can still hunt and fish together. When we are done, I will come home to a house that is full of family: Kim, her grandparents, and of course my dad and step-mom. The woodstove will be cranking, music will be playing, and conversation will most assuredly be wide-ranging. I do all of the cooking on Thanksgiving, a stressful chore for some, but a task I enjoy immensely. Something about putting a wholesome meal on the table for the people you care about most is very satisfying to me, and I gather it is what the holiday is supposed to be all about.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Field Test: Black Diamond Storm headlamp

Lights have become something of a fetish among hunters, anglers, and other outdoor types. We can't seem to have enough. They accumulate in blind bags, they roll around on the floor of our trucks, they surprise us with their presence in fishing vests, unseen and forgotten since last season. When I was in Boy Scouts the Mag Lite was the thing to have; a heavy bruiser of a flashlight, more than a foot long that doubled as a side arm for police officers when teenage Boy Scouts weren't lugging it around. Lights have changed since then, getting ever-smaller. Of course, the smaller they are, the easier they get lost; I know of a few little camouflage models that were dropped from treestands into the leaves below, never to be seen again.

In my hometown there are a lot of flashlights hanging around in kitchen junk drawers or Chevrolet glove boxes that have company names like Bethlehem Steel and Western Electric etched into the side. They are durable things, heavier than they should be. Their scarred yellow tubes hold C batteries, and when you throw the switch you can imagine their strong beams hope to fall on a revival of the blue collar spirit that now seems lost in the dark. Many of these lights have outlasted the companies on their sides.   

These days though, small and bright are the measures of a flashlight. Brushed metal housings, a team of LED lights tucked into something not much bigger than a 3.5 inch shotgun shell.  You can spend a ridiculous sum on a flashlight, some of the brightest, tiniest, models stretch north of a hundred dollars. Where I come from, if a flashlight costs $150, you would be well advised to simply wait for the sun to rise or to take your chances in the dark.

But waterfowlers can't wait for the sun to rise. The best duck hunting is often found within a few minutes of dawn, and decoys need to be set in anticipation of sunrise. Setting decoys is most definitely a two-handed job, and as such, a flashlight just won't work. So in advance of the 2012-2013 hunting season, I was in the market for a new headlamp.

In the past I had relied on models that clipped on to my hat's brim. They were inexpensive, less than $15 dollars, tolerably bright, and served the purpose. But their cost was reflected in their flimsy construction and one model broke like a matchstick as I made a fairly normal adjustment to my hat's brim. It fell 20 feet to the ground from the tree I was in, and sent a cheerful beam of light off into the woods.

So I was prepared to spend some more cash this time around and was familiar enough with the Black Diamond brand from some of my rock climbing and camping-oriented friends. I knew they made a quality light, and after perusing the Pro Guide Direct website I decided that the Black Diamond Storm headlamp was the one for me.

Pro Guide Direct appears only to carry the Storm in its most flashy outfit, a bright green (one might say neon) head strap and a white housing for the light. It also comes in a matte black finish, and a mango finish. The matte black might be the presumptive choice for hunting applications, but color doesn't much matter when the light's main use occurs before the sun comes up.

It takes four AAA batteries, but the light avoids being uncomfortably weighty and doesn't slip down while being worn. The head strap is a wide and strong elastic, easily adjusted to stretch over a hat, knit beanie, or your bare dome. The light itself can be tilted, and even with a hat brim in the way, the light illuminates the gear I am working with.

Most hunting applications will require the two white light settings, one of which is a triple power LED light that appears to have the intensity of a luxury car headlight and the other comprises two single power LED lights and is best used for close-in operations (unwrapping decoy weights, fishing for the granola bar you know you put into your blind bag). There is also a strobe light for emergency situations and surprise party applications, and a pair of red LEDs for maintaining your night vision once you turn the light off.

One particularly good attribute of the the Black Diamond Storm is that the triple power LED light can be dimmed on the fly, to save battery power and to custom tailor the brightness of the light for your needs. You don't always need to illuminate a wheat field, and sometimes when working around others, your light can be too bright. By holding in the power button on top of your Storm light while in triple power LED mode, the light will dim, simply let go of the button when the lighting is sufficient.

This is a great light that wears comfortably and gives you incredible brilliance while keeping your hands completely free. Whether bringing in firewood from the woodpile, finding your treestand, or wading through a flooded corn impoundment, the Black Diamond Storm comes highly recommended from Kline Online.

Item: Black Diamond Storm Headlamp in Ultra White
Price: $49.95
Purchased from Pro Guide Direct
Score: Highly Recommended  

**Review Update: I took my hat off after I got up into my tree stand on December 2, and the Black Diamond Storm Headlamp slid off and fell about 20 feet to the ground with a thud. However, after I got out of my stand around lunch time and inspected the light, the Storm still looked brand new, and worked fine. The small screw on the battery cover kept the batteries from scattering, which was very helpful.  


Monday, November 12, 2012

The Thrill of the Early Season

It's that first morning alarm of the 2012 waterfowl season, a 5 AM interjection of country music that on most mornings, when another day of work is all we have to look forward to, is most unwelcome. But on days that promise decoys and sunrises, cackling geese lifting off the river in a dance of wing beats, and camaraderie, the alarm clock doesn't seem quite as daunting a foe.

This won't be a morning that requires base layers, under layers, middle layers and outer layers. It's early in the season yet, and those mornings are becoming rare here on the Chesapeake Bay anyway. I tuck a fleece into my waders, and with my companion we trudge off to the flooded corn and the smallish a-frame blind therein. The curly-coated retriever that will hunt with us today serves as a better literal illustration of our own excitement, she paces far ahead of those of us held back from walking too quickly by gun cases, blind bags, and the fit of our waders. It is these early season hunts, where little is expected except warm weather, that don't require much preparation. We toss less than a dozen cork decoys out kicking up a group of Canada geese in the process. Watching them lift off noisily in the light of the pre-dawn moon is the reason many of us do this; after they leave the only noise to be heard is the splash! of the decoys hitting the water.

On many mornings this season the task of setting decoys will be much more challenging, and take much longer. As the season gets longer, and the birds get wiser, decoy spreads grow and grow; and likewise the conditions under which they multiply are often colder, wetter, windier; all medicine for the soul of waterfowl hunters, whose sanity is not terribly well established. But today the stars give way to a pink morning, with not a cloud in sight. The forecasted temperatures for the day are north of 60, but I find myself regretting dressing for later in the day when the morning still hovers in the mid-30s.

The whistle of Mallard wings floats by overhead before legal shooting time, and magically the chill of the early morning evaporates with anticipation. You could do this a thousand times, and those first birds that buzz the blind always get the heart rate moving. When that stops happening, I guess its time to stay in bed.

Loading three Federal waterfowl loads into my shotgun, Jordy, the curly-coated retriever comes over to my side of the blind, sniffs the shells as if to wish them good luck. Knowing that her fulfillment on this day is dependent upon our shooting.

In a utilitarian sense, Jordy was unfulfilled. As were her duck hunters. A few Mallards gave us a look, but we waited for a third turn by the blind that never came. Such is life as a waterfowl hunter. We wait on a cold blast of air to our north that might push birds southward, and know that when that happens, we are in a spot as likely as any other. And if like last year, that cold blast never comes, we know that the company is good, the view is beautiful, and that it isn't the pull of the trigger that brings us out here.


Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Post Mortem for Questions A and B

On Tuesday, the voters of Queen Anne's County wisely rejected two ballot questions that would have opened the county to a level of development that we can now clearly say is not supported by the vast majority of those who live in our county.

Since 2010, all I have heard about was how the commissioners had a mandate for growth, since pro-growth commissioners had won a majority of the seats on the Board. It is difficult in an election, particularly at the local level, to discern precisely why people make the selections they do for county leadership, but seeing as how the county also elected "keep it rural" champions like David Dunmyer and Robert Simmons, it never jibed for me that the county was too gung-ho for growth; rather, they were gung-ho for Republicans and did not really use the 2010 General Election as a barometer for their feelings on local growth.

But Questions A and B were clearly questions about growth, which is why both sides of this debate took these questions so seriously. The result of these questions would have serious impacts on how this set of commissioners move forward for the second half of their term, and of course on the long-term outlook of our community. The results on both questions illustrate that the people of our county realize what we stand to lose by adopting growth policies that in some instances are even more aggressive than those counties that surround us.

By drawing comparisons to Easton and Middletown in relation to Question B, Business Queen Anne's did more to help the cause of opposition than perhaps they will ever realize. BQA's advertisements presented Easton in a "look what we are missing!" light, and the results of the election prove that the citizens of our county don't think that is the kind of thing they are missing. People know that they don't want the place they call home to look like those places; that is not why they moved here or stay here, and no amount of so-called convenience would get them to vote for a question that might put Queen Anne's County on the fast-track to Easton style development.

I take even greater comfort in the wide margin of Question A. By a 60-40% tally, voters declined to buy the argument that more houses in Queen Anne's County will solve any problem. They declined to believe that by crowding the schools and putting more cars on the road, by accepting a lower standard of service in education and transportation, that the county would benefit.

Throughout the lead up to this election, it struck me that none of the interest groups or people who supported Question A were being very honest in their potrayal of what the question would actually do. In their email supporting a "For" vote on Question A, the Queen Anne's County Central Committee stated that the question would "revise the APFO to previous levels." Seems harmless right? And in their ads, Business Queen Anne's never once mentioned the actual impact of the Question, but rather just recommended a "For" vote, and on their Facebook page said that Question A would "help farmers sell their land." I suppose that they found it helpful for their purposes to steer away from what Question A actually would have done, crowd schools and roads, and increase the need for costly government services.

And now that the election is over, and the development interests were soundly defeated, those same interests are left to define their loss, which largely means they are seeking ways to downplay its importance, and/or to place blame. They immediately started to complain that the voters somehow did not understand the questions, did not understand just what was at stake. Of course, coming to that conclusion requires one to assume that voters are uninformed, and intellectually ill-equipped to understand important ballot questions. The leaders of BQA are constitutionally incapable of realizing that when they pretend as though we need to crowd the schools to fix them, or when they contend that, despite what the Department of Education says, the schools aren't really at capacity, they make it remarkably easy for people to understand the issues, and subsequently to reject these asinine arguments.

It was a good night in Queen Anne's County, as I sat in the Board of Elections building in Centreville as the precincts reported, and saw just how favorable the totals looked as they came in. I don't assume this will be the last fight we have with this Board of Commissioners, three of whom appear unlikely to let something like clearly illustrated public will stand in the way of their agenda. But its nice to savor a win on two battlefields, even while the war is sure to continue.

Friday, November 02, 2012

High Responsibility

Voting has been made incredibly convenient, something you can do on your way to the grocery store, or to pick up a pair of pants you are having hemmed. In this way we have made voting almost an afterthought, an errand, something that takes only a few minutes to be done with for another two years.

Unfortunately, the act of voting is something that should take us much longer, and I don't mean the time we spend staring at the touch screen.

Every election it seems that the partisan rancor gets a little harsher, the shouting a little louder, the self-righteousness a little more shrill. We boil incredibly complex problems down to simple talking points, which means that nothing will ever change.

Some suggest term limits, but like the Founders, I agree that the best term limit is a well informed electorate. We should hold our politicians more accountable for the things they say or don't say, the things they do or don't do. As voters we often bemoan that politicians run to the right or left during a primary campaign, and then pivot to the middle during the general, but as voters we are guilty for letting them do it, guilty of rewarding such intellectual dishonesty.

As voters we are guilty, too, of letting politicians tell us what we want to hear, and cheering them on for saying it, but then we look the other way when the message changes in front of a different audience, or when the vagaries of campaign season compel it. The latest version of this was Mitt Romney's Hurricane Sandy-induced about-face on the issue of FEMA funding; several months ago FEMA was on Governor Romney's list of federal agencies he would privatize, but in a statement he said that as President FEMA would get the funding it required. It happens on both sides, and voters from both sides let their man (or woman) get away with it, while seeking to eviscerate the other side's man for doing the same thing.

The only way we will get more out of our elected leaders is by expecting more from them. By not wearing partisan blinders voters can hold politicians accountable, but when we dismiss even the most egregiously inconsistent message from politicians as "politics as usual", we are bound to get more politics as usual, it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reasonable voters can't let the screamers and the shouters determine who runs our country. When this happens, as it generally does, reasonable voters head to the polls with the now-cliched feeling of voting for the best of two evils. Issues become defined by black and white soundbites proclaiming something to be great or evil.

We struggle to find the real facts, to find the real numbers, to understand the legislative language. It is unfortunate that there is not one trusted source for all of us to at least begin our political soul searching on the same solid ground of information. The press used to perform that role, but because we have self-selected our media based on the fact that some stations and outlets tell us what we want to hear, we have largely lost a press that questions or investigates in any but the most partisan of tones.

It is too late for this election, another in which it seems many of the nation's moderate thinkers go to the polls with no enthusiasm. But for future elections, it is imperative that voters know more about the issues so as to avoid being used only as a means to an end by hopeful candidates. The voters are the boss, the elected officials are supposed to be the representatives. But as the popular saying goes around the office, when the cat is away, the mice will play. And for too long now, the voters have been away. Our national debate has suffered for it, and it's time to start paying attention.   

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

18 Reasons to Vote AGAINST Question B on the QAC Ballot

This document was researched and developed by Bob Fox and Nick Stoer of Queen Anne's County, and is not original content from Steve Kline. It is being shared with permission from the creators.

In 2011, at the request of a commercial real estate developer, three of the Queen Anne's County (QAC) commissioners voted to eliminate the county's 65,000 sq. ft. cap on building size in county areas zoned “suburban commercial.” The size cap is also known as the anti-big box store restriction.  This action was taken despite the fact that the restriction is part of the county's Comprehensive Plan - the official county roadmap to guide development and preserve the open space and small town character of QAC. This small town character is one of the key reasons county homeowners consider when deciding to live here.

Many citizens were irate about the potential for encroachment by Big Boxes.  The commissioners’ decision clearly opened the door for stores of “unlimited” size to locate here. To demonstrate their opposition thousands of county voters signed a petition to have the Maryland Election Commission put this issue on the November 2012 ballot allowing citizens to have their voices heard.  That petition drive was successful and froze the commissioners’ action. 
The November 6 election is the final act on this matter. To  keep “unlimited” size Big Box stores out of the county citizens must vote AGAINST on Question B.  Winning this will return us to the previous and reasonable 65,000 sq. ft. limit.  

18 Reasons to Vote AGAINST Question B on the ballot (i.e. to oppose Big Box stores in QAC):
    Proponents of Big Box stores provided no compelling economic rationale to the commissioners during the push to open up our countryside to large stores other than fleeting references to job and tax revenue needs.  Contrary to the “more jobs” misinformation from Business Queen Anne’s, studies show that Big Box stores often result in a net loss of local jobs due to fewer employees per sq. ft. of retail space among other reasons.

    About as many jobs are lost as are gained when a Big Box store comes to town.  Small stores cannot compete and they close.  The shift is to lower paying jobs at the Big Box. This is common   knowledge easily researched and verified on the internet. Direct and indirect income subsidies are at times then required by workers under low pay conditions for basic transportation, health and housing aid—burdens thrown onto the local community.  

    Our county job situation is sound.  The 2010 census shows that 85 percent of county workers travel to high-paying jobs in Annapolis, Washington/Baltimore suburbs, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Andrews AFB, Ft. Meade and aviation jobs at BWI Airport, etc.   In August 2012 our unemployment rate was 6.3 percent, well below Maryland (6.9 percent) and national (7.8 percent) numbers.  We have the lowest unemployment rate on the Eastern Shore. 
     Business Queen Anne’s, the real estate proponents of Big Box stores, boast about the $140,000 in taxes that Talbot County collects from Target, Lowe’s, and Wal-Mart together in Easton.  That is a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of millions that QAC collects annually in income tax and property tax from our relatively affluent population.  The taxes from retired people alone who come here for our tranquil setting would dwarf those collected from a Big Box in QAC.  Satisfying that retired group, incidentally, is doubly important from a tax revenue/expenditure viewpoint.  Their kids have finished high school and are long gone.  Yet, retirees still pay property taxes while making no demands on our school budget.   

      It was revealed last month that the county enjoyed a budget surplus of over $7.2 million  in fiscal year 2012 owing to revenues $5.4 million above and expenditures $1.2 million below budget.  A break-even situation had been anticipated.  The county is currently in excellent fiscal shape.  So much for the “fiscal crisis” that fuels Big Box advocate reasoning. 

     Big Box stores do not generate additional sales, real estate or income tax revenue at the county or state level. The relatively fixed amount of money in circulation is simply shifted around.

    Big Box stores concentrate traffic and precipitate traffic lights, additional traffic lanes and gridlock.  Infrastructure costs go up and taxpayers, not the developers, get stuck with the bill.  Our county roads are not designed to handle Big Box stores either on Kent Island or up-county at the intersection of Routes 213 and 544.  Witness the traffic congestion on route Route 2 in Severna Park/Glen Burnie and on 301 in Waldorf/Bowie. 

     Many county citizens with either solid Western Shore management positions or substantial retirement incomes moved here to escape the hustle and bustle of the Western Shore. 

      When they are built, Big Box stores often overpower existing small businesses.  State studies document the negative consequences of Big Box stores in Maryland towns like Cambridge and Reisterstown.  We don't want boarded up store fronts. 
      Given our population, QAC already has a surplus of commercial and retail space.  The former Safeway store in Kent Towne shopping center sat vacant for more than two years after Safeway opened its new site in April 2010.  Heaven only knows what will happen to the ACME building once it closes its door.  A Big Box store will add to the number of shuttered store fronts in QAC.

      A 180,000 sq. ft. Big Box (Safeway on Kent Island is at 65,000) with its vast sales capacity creates its own growth momentum.  The push then is for more population and housing, then more Big Boxes and so on.  Commercial expansion at moderate levels would be a thing of the past.  Once the gates open the leap frog effect will obliterate our rural, small town setting in no time.  Witness the overnight change to Middletown, Delaware.
    People often ask “What makes Queen Anne’s County special?”   One person captured the answer by summarizing that in addition to modest traffic, a great shoreline and beautiful vistas “It’s not what we have that makes the region so special, it’s what we don’t have”.

     Small neighborhood businesses are locally owned  and we know each other- customers get personal attention and better service compared to shopping in large, impersonal Big Box stores.       
     People shop near where they work, less so near where they live and, again, 85% of the QAC labor force works outside the county.  Out-of-county shopping patterns and habits have long been established.  The horse is out of the barn.  That is the reality.
      The Big Box stores in Easton are often cited by proponents of unrestrained growth as a model to replicate.   Since the construction of the shopping center containing Target, however, town leaders are now changing course and maintaining a 65,000 sq. ft. cap.  No plans are afoot for additional Big Boxes  in Talbot County.
       Big Box stores immediately send receipts out of state to home offices. They are not partners in local economies.   In contrast, small local businesses support local banks and industry and re-circulate store earnings in the community

     We in Queen Anne’s county have a responsibility to continue to provide an island of tranquility, varied water and wildlife recreational activities and that intangible Eastern shore “difference” to stressed out visitors from the Western shore who travel only a short distance to get here.  A good part of our economy and culture has evolved to satisfy that experience for both visitors and residents alike.  Support what the Bay, the inlets and land have made available to us for centuries, not jarring and needless change.

     Who would largely profit in the end at a local level from Big Boxes?  A few developers.  Do we really want to give them the power to radically alter our special place?  Vote “against” on Question B.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

On the eve of the 2012 Election

Soon, the commercials will be off the television, and hopefully some of the self-righteousness of those most assured of the rightness of their opinions will dissipate, as well. This has been an election almost singularly focused on jobs, on the economy. Boiled down to its core, this has been an election about money, which seems to be all many care much about these days. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to convey this, how to push back on this notion that the only job of government is to enhance personal wealth, and as I was rereading Mark Kurlansky's great work, 1968: The Year that Rocked the World, I stumbled once again upon one of my favorite passages related to this topic. I hope that you might enjoy this as much as I do, it is perhaps especially relevant as we head to the polls in 2012.   

"We will find neither national purpose nor personal satisfaction in a mere continuation of economic progress, in an endless amassing of worldly goods. We cannot measure national spirit by the Dow Jones Average, nor national achievement by the Gross National Product. For the Gross National Product includes air pollution, and ambulances to clear our highways from carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. The Gross National Product includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm and missiles and nuclear warheads. It includes the broadcasting of television programs which glorify violence to sell goods to our children. 

And if the Gross National Product includes all this, there is much that it does not comprehend. It does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. The Gross National Product measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom or our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile, and it can tell us everything about America, except whether we are proud to be Americans."

Robert F. Kennedy 1968 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Great Talbot Tax Myth

Talbot County, Maryland. "The Hamptons of the Chesapeake Bay." Home to St. Michael's, Oxford, several scenic rivers and creeks, and many waterfront farmsteads that predate the failed British attempt to extinguish the rebellion in her American colonies. And the patriotic cause of 1776 is relevant in this conversation, fought as it was, in part, over the implications surrounding taxation.

To the delight of many of those waterfront farm owners (and God bless them!), Talbot County has the lowest property tax rate in the state. And it's not just that it's lower than every other county, but just how much lower; compared to some counties, the Talbot rate is fully 50% lower or more.

Much has been made recently by some folks in Queen Anne's County about why that Talbot County tax rate is so low. Those people, who represent interest groups singularly dedicated to increasing development in our county, have taken full-page advertisements out in local papers focusing almost entirely on Talbot County's tax rates. Why would a Queen Anne's County-based interest group spend money on an advertisement that talks so much about Talbot County?

It's a good question. Turns out, the developers in Queen Anne's County really want, no, they NEED you to believe that the reason why Talbot County's taxes are so low is because Talbot County has Big Box retail stores. The ad in question, even goes so far as to ask: "Why are Queen Anne's County taxes so high? Because we don't have Walmart, Staples, [etc]." And why on earth do they need you to believe that a few stores are responsible for Talbot County's ridiculously low tax rates? Because they want you to vote on election day to bring Big Box retail to Queen Anne's County.

Seeing this ad got me thinking about why Talbot's tax rates were so low, so I started to dig around. And what did I find? Well, not surprisingly, having a few Big Box establishments is hardly the reason Talbot's taxes are low; here's the real story:

For years and years, Talbot County has been a 'tax capped' county, which means that in no single year can the county raise property taxes more than 2%. But in each of the last three years, Talbot County has in fact raised their taxes to the limit of the tax cap. In 2012, due to the county's inability to meet its Board of Education funding requirements, the County Commissioners even overrode the county's tax cap to levy an additional tax to make up for the school budget shortfall. These tax increases come even as Talbot County has cut $20 million from its county budget over the past five years.

The real reason Talbot's taxes are so low is because Talbot committed itself, years ago, to keeping its government small, no matter how painful that decision might turn out to be. Discovering just what that means in application is important as we attempt to compare Talbot's apples to Queen Anne's oranges.

In Talbot County, citizens can expect a much longer response time from their emergency services (fire, police and EMS) than we can in Queen Anne's County, where emergency response times are very quick for a rural county and a point of pride for Department of Emergency Services leadership. But call for an ambulance in Trappe, and you might find yourself waiting longer than you might like, indeed longer than you can well afford. Talbot County also pays their sheriff deputies some of the lowest salaries in the state, and of course requires each deputy to cover more ground, with less effect, and all for less money. 

Whether it's EMS, fire, or police, Talbot County spends almost half what Queen Anne's County spends to keep their citizens safe. When I sat on the Queen Anne's County Budget Task Force, no one from the public, and I mean no one, ever so much as breathed a word about cutting the budgets for fire, EMS, or police. 

Also in 2012, Talbot County spent 60% less on their county detention facility than Queen Anne's County did; I wonder if the warden of the Queen Anne's County jail in Centreville could afford a 60% reduction in manpower?

Queen Anne's County spends ten million dollars a year more on education than Talbot does, proof positive that more kids in school equals bigger government budgets and higher taxes. But fewer kids isn't the only reason for the lower cost of education, because while Talbot offers new teachers comparatively high salaries, as teachers gain experience and tenure, they find that their salaries do not keep up with other counties across the state. This means that the longer a teacher works in Talbot County, the less he/she will make comparatively over time. 

In 2012, Queen Anne's County had more than twice the budget for roads maintenance as Talbot County, and any of the five Queen Anne's Commissioners would tell you that is still a woefully inadequate sum. In fact, Queen Anne's County has stopped removing roadkill from the side of the roads, so insufficient is our budget.  Sticking with public works, Talbot spent only 25% of the Queen Anne's County budget for solid waste; and yet people have complained to no end that our county transfer stations are not open frequently enough, imagine if they were closed 75% more of the time than they already are! People would wind up dumping their trash on the roads, but there would be no road maintenance to clean it up.

So as you can see, the case for Talbot's low taxes is quite clear, and it has virtually nothing to do with Big Box retail, or even revenue of any kind. As a very well placed contact in Talbot County told me during the research for this piece, "the impact of Big Box retail on Talbot County's budget and taxes is marginal." To imply that Queen Anne's County, by attempting to attract Big Box development, could somehow replicate Talbot County's tax rates is a baldfaced lie. It is a bastardization of the truth that deserves ridicule, because it seeks to misinform the public for the benefit of a few very interested stakeholders.

What the story of Talbot County actually tells us, is that if we want to have the lowest tax rate in the state, we should kick 10,000 people out, and reduce by nearly half the level of all our government services.

The math just doesn't add up; join me in voting NO on Question B in Queen Anne's County.

Notes on sources:
-Even with a tax increase in 2012, Queen Anne's County still has the fifth lowest tax rate of any county in the state of Maryland. You can see data for all counties here.      

-People like to talk about the lack of good paying jobs in Queen Anne's County, but as it turns out, Talbot County pays its county employees less across the board, and often much less, than does Queen Anne's. You can see salary data compiled by MACO here.

-You can see the Talbot County budget here.

-and the Queen Anne's County budget here.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Growth Deconstructed

Sophism - noun - an argument apparently correct in form but actually invalid; especially : such an argument used to deceive

Sophism is today's word of the day. Interestingly enough, the Greek philosopher Plato is responsible for the modern interpretation of the word: Plato viewed these teachers who took cash payments as greedy, using rhetorical sleight-of-hand and ambiguities of language in order to deceive, or to support fallacious reasoning. That comes from Wikipedia, that high bastion of online academic research. Put in plainer terms, sophists are folks who are willing to say whatever comes to mind in support of an argument they really want to win.

In even plainer terms, sophism is a polite way of saying bull!#$@.

One of the key tenants of sophistry, and of modern politics, is that if you repeat something enough times, people will come to believe it. Here in Queen Anne's County, we have a population of interest groups that actively chant 'growth,' at every possible opportunity. These groups will call for more 'growth' whenever any argument comes up: Have a bad case of arthritis? The county needs more growth! Crops didn't fare too well in the drought? The county needs more growth! The roads are crumbling! We need more growth!

The last one should pluck a particularly humorous chord. Who would ever dream of fixing a problem by making it worse?! Balderdash!

But of those three questions, the third one is the one we should take most seriously, because these interest groups do indeed believe that if the roads are crumbling (and they are), the only reasonable solution is to put more cars on them. Keep that in mind as you head to the polls in the coming weeks.

And this argument applies to more than just roads. The development interests in this county want you to believe that crowded schools just need more students; an over-extended law enforcement agency simply needs more territory to cover. A polluted river just needs more pressure from lawn fertilizer and stormwater runoff.

Perhaps all of this seems overly-simplistic, to be so breezily dismissive of an argument that is made so earnestly by people with enough money and enough skin in the game to buy ads promoting growth as a cure-all for anything and everything that ails the county and her citizens.

The simple fact of the matter is that continuing to repeat that growth, and any kind of growth, is good for the county, is sophistry in its purest form. The success of their argument, in getting you to vote the way they want you to vote, hinges on your believing several things.

1. That the county isn't growing. This is simply false. Since 1980, the population of Queen Anne's County has essentially doubled. The size of the county budget is (despite recent exceptions) on a very upward trend. County revenue is growing. Our emergency services capacity is growing, our schools are growing. In short, look around you. Anyone who has been here any length of time can see very clearly that the County is not stagnating, and is certainly not shrinking. But it is essential that developers make you believe (against all obvious evidence) that the County isn't growing.

2. That growth pays for itself. Every day you wake up in Queen Anne's County, you are participating in a longitudinal study that is virtually proving that growth doesn't pay for itself! That is why the county had to raise taxes in fiscal 2012. The population we have now is insufficient to pay for the services that population currently demands; the idea that more population would somehow nudge us over the tipping point, and somehow create a revenue utopia where each additional person pays taxes but demands no services is ridiculous. Let me say that again, for emphasis: it's ridiculous. Suggesting that we need more growth to pay for the growth we already have, but that the new growth won't have costs of its own is suggesting that we are hamsters on a wheel; hamsters that better never stop running.

3. That somehow more growth in the past would have insulated us from The Great Recession. This is perhaps most frustrating, because there are countless examples of how untrue this statement really is. All around Queen Anne's County, particularly to the west of us, are counties that are chock-full of office complexes, retail strip malls and redundant Big Box establishments. Every single one of those counties felt the impact of The Great Recession as did Queen Anne's County, and most felt it even more acutely. Most of them had deeper unemployment and larger budget deficits than ever faced Queen Anne's County, and have been much slower to recover than Queen Anne's, a process which of course is still ongoing.What's more is that no other economic sector has recovered more quickly, and more robustly, than the rural economy. Agriculture is leading the way towards a national economic recovery, and it just happens to be the county's number one industry. 

4. The future health of the county depends on growth. It is likely that making every possible concession to developers would increase the county budget; you will get no debate from this writer on that point. But with every increase in revenue comes a required increase in expenditures that will often outstrip the revenue, leaving you in the same type of mess you are in now, only deeper. The current population (both commerical and residential) of Queen Anne's County requires a budget of X dollars. The added population will require a budget of X + dollars, but won't contribute all the + necessary to even the ledger; and alas, the pressure for more growth will continue apace, using the same tired arguments.

What the future demands is to find sustainability in budgets, from both a revenue and expenditure standpoint. If we predetermine that any growth is good growth, we will certainly assure that future county budgets will expand at a clip far beyond revenues ability to keep up. If we continue to peg our budgets to assuming that housing values will always increase, and retail sales receipts will always get bigger, then we are doomed to repeat not only the mistakes of the past, but the mistakes we are making even as I write this.


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Big Box Inconvenience

The following Letter to the Editor was published in the Queen Anne's Spy:

In Mureen Waterman’s Letter to the Editor of October 11 (What “Little Guys” are Protected by QAC Big Box Referendum?) the title question is embarrassingly simple: all of them. Here in Centreville, we’ve got a small menswear shop, a local pharmacy, an appliance dealership, a picture framing studio, an eyewear store, a hardware store, and a lumber company. Does Mr. Watermen really think that these businesses, all of which likely exist on the slimmest of profit margins already, would not be impacted in any way by the building of a Big Box store in Queen Anne’s County?

Mr. Waterman also regrettably uses the examples of Rite Aid, Walgreens, and Safeway as the national chains that would be most susceptible to the influence of a Big Box neighbor. What he forgets, or blissfully ignores, is that those very stores are the ones who already helped to wipe small local grocers, pharmacies, and general stores from the Kent Island landscape. The establishment of a Big Box store would help to finish the job in Queen Anne’s County, threatening the very existence of our local plant nurseries, bicycle shops, lumber yards, hardware stores and countless other small businesses across the county. The people who own these businesses keep their dollars local, send their kids to county schools, involve themselves in the local political process and do not deserve to have their risk rewarded with Mr. Waterman’s idea of “growth.”

To define the very future well-being of our community on opening the county to Big Box businesses and to imply that somehow, the presence of these stores would have insulated Queen Anne’s County from the recession is absurd. The recession has been national in scope, and has hit those counties with Big Box development even harder than it hit counties like ours, as Americans drastically changed their spending habits. What’s more, these very stores that Mr. Waterman hopes to attract to our county are largely responsible for the outsourcing of millions of American manufacturing jobs, jobs that pay, or paid, much better than anything that can be found under the bright lights of a Big Box store.

Let’s not confuse building Big Box stores with the economic growth Queen Anne’s County needs. I encourage all voters to vote NO on Question B, and keep Queen Anne’s County small business friendly for the future.

Steven Kline
Queen Anne’s County

You can see Mr. Waterman's original letter to the editor here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Best Reason to Vote NO on APFO

Campaign consulting, the kind that tells candidates to get a different haircut, or work certain buzzwords into their debate responses, is a booming business. Candidates and interests groups alike pay thousands, sometimes millions, for so-called seasoned campaign hands to give them the recipe for surefire success. Much of a campaign’s success can be attributed to finding that perfect can’t-miss message; most campaigns end without ever finding it.

In last week’s copy of The Shore Update, cleverly disguised as an ad for two pro-development amendments, was the best argument against making changes to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that a campaign could ever hope for.    

Changing the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) means that developers, like those who write the checks for advertisements in The Update, can crowd the county’s schools with new students and the county’s roads with more cars, and then pass the higher tax burden on to you, the taxpayer. The changes that are being sought to the APFO on the November ballot give developers a free pass, and help them avoid paying their fair share for their impacts on the county. Written another way, changes to the APFO are little more than a subsidy for sprawl that comes at your expense.  

We are fortunate here in Queen Anne’s County to have very good schools. We consistently score great marks on a variety of metrics, and our teacher’s deserve our appreciation. Not only do they do a fantastic job in the classroom, but they also do it economically; county schools spend less per pupil than many jurisdictions in the state, and get a much better end result. The schools are a good investment, both from the standpoint of the student and the taxpayers. 

But what happens when class sizes swell and teachers are asked to do even more with even less? Well, as it turns out, the Business Queen Anne’s advertisement in The Shore Update has an important lesson for us, as we head to the polls in just a few weeks.

The advertisement, which is only half a page of text, has seven, yes, SEVEN, grammatical errors. Out of a mere 18 lines of text, all of which are printed in large, 20+ point font, five have at least one grammatical error of some sort or another. There are errors of possession, plural and punctuation (it is an alliterative adventure in miswritten English!). We’ve got random capitalization, missing punctuation, wrong punctuation, and even some confusion about to and too thrown in just for good measure. It’s enough to make an English teacher blush!

So ignore the photo on the top of the page, which might be the most soul-dead image of the inside of a retail establishment that one could hope to find. Ignore the ridiculously laughable assertion that not having Big Box keeps our taxes high. Finally, ignore the asinine implication that not having Big Box development somehow keeps everyone commuting to work (will your commute change if we get a Walmart?). All of that is just so much sophistry. 

Focus instead on what the future will look like if we let our schools get over-crowded; the proof is staring us all right in the face, right there on the bottom half of page three.