GOP Legislators Just Can’t Follow The Script

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Watching the goings on in Annapolis, sometimes you have to wonder what’s going on inside people’s heads. For years, Annapolis Republicans drifted further and further to the right, periodically pausing to slaughter the few remaining moderate senators and delegates left in their caucus. As a result, GOPers became an endangered species in the House and the Senate, dropping to 36 delegates in 2006 and 12 (!) senators in 2010.

In 2014, riding a wave created by the election of Larry Hogan, the GOP surged to a modern high of 50 out of 141 delegates, picking up seven seats. Republicans also picked up two senate seats, bringing them to a total of 14.

In the House in particular, you’d think that Republicans would follow the lead of their new governor, which to my mind boils down to “sound moderate, be conservative, and fight like hell to make Democrats look bad.” While Hogan himself has been wildly successful with this strategy, achieving an over 70% approval rating across the state, there’s been a complete lack of coordination, both on message and strategy, between the governor and House Republicans, so much so that when Hogan suddenly turned on the 2015 budget at the end of session, his flummoxed GOP caucus literally had no idea what to do or say.

All of this is backdrop to Hogan’s latest gambit, an attempt to coopt the very popular issue of paid sick leave. Last year, a bill to provide a robust paid sick leave program passed the House but foundered in the Senate. This year, Hogan announced last month that he supported a sick leave bill, but not the bill that passed the House last year. Instead, his “common sense” (read: “watered down”) bill would only apply to employers with more than 50 employees (as compared to 15 in the 2016 House bill) and even worse, would preempt Montgomery County’s recent passage of a sick leave plan that applies in one form or another to all employers.

So what should have happened next? Republicans in the legislature, even those that find sick leave laws offensive, should have suddenly developed enthusiasm for the issue – but only the bill proposed by Larry Hogan. The goal would be to peel away moderate Democrats looking at the 2018 elections with some degree of apprehension, and to pass Hogan’s bill. Moderate Dems pass sick leave (even if watered down), Hogan is a hero for showing his ability to compromise and be reasonable, progressives get handed an embarrassing defeat, and Montgomery County gets the stick in the eye that always seems to be the culmination of every storyline in Annapolis for over 25 years now.

That was the plan, presumably. But here we are, less than a week into session, and already, House conservatives are wandering off the reservation, poking themselves in the eye with the stick that was intended for MoCo. How bad is it? Maryland Reporter, a right-leaning outlet, has a story featuring GOP grumbling – about Hogan’s sick leave bill.

As the very first piece of legislation, Democrat lawmakers have reintroduced the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, the paid sick leave bill, which passed the House in a party line vote last year but failed to move in the Senate.

This year’s House bill, HB01, will compete with a measure recently announced by Gov. Larry Hogan. But some Republican lawmakers are not enthusiastic about Hogan’s compromise, even though it is less burdensome to businesses than the House bill.

“I’m realistic,” House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke said in an interview. “I believe the House is going to pass a very onerous requirement on employers this year and this initiative by Governor Hogan does the best job we can do to protect those employers that are vulnerable to the unintended consequences” of the House bill.

“Maryland has layer after layer of regulations, extremely high taxes — and when you add all these things up Maryland becomes a very difficult place to do business,”

Kipke, R-Anne Arundel, said he personally knew of businesses that were avoiding Maryland and anchoring in Virginia and Delaware where the business climate is “more profitable.”

“These are not typical red states like Alabama — they’re just more business friendly,” he said. “The risk is lower in these states and the return on investment is higher.”

As bad as Kipke’s nonselling job was, minority whip and former Senate candidate Kathy Szeliga was even worse.

“I’d rather have no law at all,” said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga. “I believe that government gets in the way of creating jobs but I’m realistic and we know we are outnumbered. The Democrats have been bringing this issue up year after year and eventually they’re going to pass something. The governor’s bill is a reasonable compromise.”

She said recent enactment of a sick leave law in Montgomery County has put even more pressure on the Democrat majority to pass a bill of their own. Montgomery County’s paid sick leave law went into effect in October.

You don’t sell a bill by starting out saying “I’d rather have no law at all.” Only in the last sentence does she even mention the Hogan bill. Helluva sales job, Kathy. Here’s some steak knives.

But there’s even less helpful comments yet to come. What does GOP Senate leadership think?

Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings echoed the sentiments of Kipke and Szeliga and said he opposed the sick leave bill in prior years.

“But like anything you find in Annapolis, Democrats keep putting the bill in year after year and they slowly wear everybody down until it gets to the point where you have to come up with a compromise so the issue doesn’t go too far left.”

“I’m not saying I’m on board with the governor’s bill,” Jennings said. “But of the two bills his is the most palatable and the least constrictive to businesses.”

“Palatable.” Don’t get so excited, Senator. It’s just your governor’s plan to derail a good bill and substitute a shitty one, which is what you’d presumably prefer. Doesn’t anyone understand strategy and tactics on the other side of the aisle? Apparently not. 

And we conclude with a flourish from uber conservative Delegate Neil Parrott.

Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, agreed that Hogan’s bill is “far more business friendly” but he would not support it if there is a “requirement” that employers offer paid sick leave.

“I understand the governor’s effort to be bipartisan and reach out to Democrats but both bills put an undue burden on businesses so I won’t be able to support either one,” he said.

With legislative friends like these, it’s a wonder that Larry Hogan gets anything done at all.

Other GOP legislators who did not wish to be quoted agreed with Parrott and Kipke’s sentiments.

I can’t even begin to imagine what the rest of the comments sound like. Any Democrat who gets hoodwinked into backing a bill that even Hogan’s right wing allies can’t figure out they should be supporting doesn’t deserve to come back in 2018. Or to put it another way: “Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker.” Don’t be the sucker.

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