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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Catastrophic Deal for Israel, America, and the World


    "No, it is not a good deal; it is not a bad deal. It is a catastrophic deal."

     Less than 36 hours before the announcement of a deal between Iran and the West, I attended an event at the B'nai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation in Towson, Maryland. The speaker was David Hazony, the senior editor of the Tower Magazine, and a senior member of The Israel Project. The speech is available in its entirety at David Hazony from The Israel Project: Israel and Iran, including a few closing words from their rabbi, Rabbi Hauer.
   Hazony gave a sobering speech on Israel's two-front war (the battlefield and the media), the threat concerning Iran's nuclear program, the new challenges facing Israel, and he was supposed to offer ways that the pro-Israel community can address those challenges.
    As I looked around the sanctuary, I noticed various levels of "orthodoxy" judging by the attire of those in attendance. I am sure that I wasn't the only gentile in attendance. One thing that everyone wore was a face set firm with deep concern. This was an attentive audience.
    He began by stating the obvious--politicians will spin information-- in order to explain what he does in his position at TIP. He said that he has the  difficult job of helping the public and those in the media understand when they are being played. He stated:
"I've always believed that all you have to do is say the truth in a deep enough and compelling way...and you'll win." [Bless his heart.] 
    He believes that beginning with Israel's war last summer with Hamas and the Palestinians, Israel is fighting on two fronts: the battlefield and the media. While Israel consistently wins on the battlefield, she loses in the media. His theory of why Hamas continued to fire on Israel even though the iron dome was blocking their missiles is that they wanted Israel to react so that they could take the battle to the media. They did and it was effective. This lead to the discussion about the Iranian negotiations because there has been an information war surrounding those as well.
    The negotiations were first presented to Israel and the American public as an alternative to warWar was the buzz word meant to neutralize those who were for increasing sanctions and against the negotiations. If you disagreed, you must be a war monger. You must want war. The original premise of the negotiations was the dismantling of Iran's nuclear program first, followed by the lifting of sanctions, with all options on the table in the absence of an agreement. After about a year an a half, the U.S. stopped using the word dismantle and took the use of military force off the table.
"The Americans and the West were progressively capitulating on very crucial elements of what a reasonable nuclear deal had to be...one after another, after another, of what they themselves declared to be red lines."
    Hazony predicted that the deal will be significantly worse than the one agreed upon in Switzerland, which in itself he thought was a very bad deal. They have had good information and have been proven right about what's been going on in the negotiations all along.  
    He began by defining three parts to the deal:
  1. What the Iranians must give up
  2. What the Iranians receive
  3. What does not change at all

What the Iranians Give Up

     The Iranians give us a commitment to not develop a nuclear program that is unverifiable, unenforceable, temporary, and dangerous. The negotiations began with an expectation of anywhere-anytime-access, which has been capitulated to something called managed access. If the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants access they have to ask the Iranians. There is no easy mechanism to reinstate the sanctions if they do not comply. Instead there is a political process where all of the countries involved in this deal come together to discuss and vote on it. Some of those votes are predictable. The U.S. vote will depend on who is in office.

What the Iranians Receive

    The Iranians receive money, the lifting of the arms embargo, they retain the infrastructure of their nuclear program, complete legitimization, and a success for this regime. It is estimated that their upfront signing bonus alone will be between $50B-$150B. If they receive only the $50B and spent only 20 percent ($10B) towards expansionism and terror that will double their current annual budget for their aggressive activities in the world (estimated now to be approximately $6B-$12B). Lifting the arms embargo will flood the most volatile region in the world with weapons. Retaining the infrastructure of their nuclear program will enable them to quickly restore and expand after 10 years or covertly without ceasing. Until now their nuclear program has been illegal. Now it will be legitimized and difficult if not impossible to get the UN Security Council to act against them. Hazony believes the most dangerous thing that we are giving the Iranians is a success for the current regime for them to tout to their people and to the world.

What Does Not Change at All

   What does not change at all are human rights abuses, support for terrorism in the world, their expansionism, and their open hatred of the West, the U.S., and Israel. 

"No, it is not a good deal; it is not a bad deal. It is a catastrophic deal."

 

Q&A

The answers are direct quotes from Hazony. 

1. How do we stop it?
The deck is stacked against stopping it through congressional action. They have 60 days to review the deal. If they vote against it, the president can and will veto it. Then it would take a 2/3 vote to overturn the veto. We can work really hard to make sure that Congress knows the facts and understands what's at stake. For public opinion and the media we have to make a lot of noise. There was a time when we would take it to the streets, but I understand that this has become old-fashioned. We need to show how much we care during that 60-day period.

2. What about the other countries? 
The Russians want the deal in order to shrink the power of the U.S. in the world. The Germans won't stand up to the Russians because of oil. The U.S. has already decided for it. The British and the French won't standup against the U.S. The U.S. initially lead the charge for the sanctions and has a large influence on global economies, so it is pretty much up to the U.S.

3. (a) Why does this administration and this so-called president want this deal?
I can give my personal theory. The president was elected to stop U.S. overreach in the world. The Middle East is chaotic and Iran at least appears orderly. I think that the president has made a decision to empower Iran.
    (b) How will they try to sell this deal? What will be the spin?
This will be sold as a "historic agreement" and a "defining moment" in history. The word "war" will be used a lot as if that is the only alternative and to try to scare people into accepting the deal.

 4. Do you think that Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan could collaborate regarding Iran? 
They already are behind the scenes and publically in small ways as never seen before. It is a little trickier for Saudi Arabia because of the Palestinian issue. That is a hurdle to overcome, but they are already showing signs of willingness.

5. What would make Kerry walk away from the negotiating table?
It is too late for him to walk away. He had warned, "We won't sit here forever". In the Middle East that is a very weak threat.

6. Would Hillary Clinton be any different than Obama?
Democratic candidates cannot stand up to a Democratic president. Later in the campaign they will have to somewhat in order to defeat the Republicans. [stuttering and stammering] I give people the benefit of the doubt. She has given me no reason to doubt her. 

A Word from the Rabbi

   The rabbi encouraged everyone to call their representatives in Congress. He told them not to write letters (USPS) or email, but to call. He told them to speak calmly and try not to sound like a "nut case". He discouraged rallies and marches saying those were for a more broader and organized Jewish community and not for their local community.

We want to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and say that in a time of crisis like this for the Jewish people, we didn't just sit around waiting for the next news story. We did what we could do.

Great Speech but Short On Action

    It said on the flier for this event that Hazony "would offer ways for the pro-Israel community to address those [new] challenges". I was disappointed when he finished his speech without doing so. To me, the call to action should have been the most important part of his speech. If indeed this is a catastrophic deal, why talk for an hour without a desperate plea to act? He stated that the likelihood of the U.S. voting to reinstate sanctions should Iran not comply "depends on who is in office". This would have been a great time to make it clear that Progressive Democrats are turning their loyalties towards the Palestinians. He could have pointed out how many times our Democratic president has acted against the interests of Israel. This would have been the perfect time to tell them that elections count, and that they need to ask themselves why statistically the Jews voted for Obama and typically vote Democrat. He could have explained how the  Progressives have changed the Democratic Party. He didn't.
   He could not avoid it entirely because the first question during Q&A was how do we stop this deal? He accurately described the unlikelihood of Congress overturning Obama's certain veto, but he failed to say it is because the 2/3 vote needed would not happen because the Democrats will vote with Obama. He then went on to make rallies and marches seem unseemly. He did say that they need to make some noise to let Congress know that they care. I guess by noise he meant telephones ringing? In a word...lame. 
    He was asked directly during Q&A if he thought that Hillary would be any different than Obama? This was an open door to explain Progressivism. He stuttered and stammered so much trying to avoid the truth that Hillary is very likely not to be any different than Obama regarding Israel. How many Jewish people will vote straight Democrat in 2016? His failure to "explain to them how they are being played," as he described his job function, will not lead to a better outcome in 2016.
    The Rabbi also asked them to call their representatives in Congress. He told them not to write letters or emails, but to just call. He didn't encourage his congregation to unite with a broader more organized Jewish community for rallies and marches, etc.  
    I was heartsick when it ended without any solutions or ways to fight back. Everyone looked more pensive than at the start. I felt a heaviness in my chest, and I wanted to stand up and admonish them.  Let me make it as simple as I can: vote Conservative, call your representatives, email your representatives, FAX your representatives, snail mail your representatives, unite with other Jewish communities, rally, and march. Flood your social media with pro-Israel information. Write letters to the editors of your local newspapers. Be careful to whom you give your donations. Do not financially support politicians, groups, or schools who do not absolutely stand with Israel. Do your homework and be informed. If you are able but not willing to do these things, you might as well have stayed home and skipped the speech. Just saying.  

If there was ever a time to get involved, to get dramatic, to take to the streets, to make noise, to make waves....to act...it is now or never. If not now, when? If not you, who?
  

Friday, May 22, 2015

WHO IS WOODY SPONG?


WHO IS WOODY SPONG? 

 
This has been the question that everyone in Washington County has been asking since the announcement of his choice for appointment as county commissioner by the Washington County Republican Central Committee (WCRCC). This is the first and last time that I will write about a person. I am an activist and political commentator. I do not conduct interviews, and I do not write about people. I write about issues. A few people suggested that I ask for the interview. I did, and I got it. It didn’t turn out like I expected. This article is much longer than most of my other posts, and my opinion changed between the time that I conducted the interview and when I finished writing about it. I will start with a little history for those who have not been following the Washington County Republican appointment brouhaha.

 
HISTORY OF APPOINTMENT 

The appointment of Senator Christopher Shank by Governor Hogan as the new executive director of the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention on January 21, 2015, caused a domino effect of open seats in Washington County. The WCRCC was tasked by the Maryland State Constitution to submit names to the governor for the seats of senator, delegate (District 2A,) and county commissioner. The appointments for senator and delegate have been made, and Senator Andrew Serafini and Delegate William J. Wivell have been officially sworn in.  

The appointment for commissioner has also effectively been made except for a few formalities. This is because the Appointments Office had closed for the session before this appointment could be officially completed. I am told that the governor must accept the name submitted by the WCRCC, but that the Senate will vote to accept or deny it when the new session begins in January 2016, and that it is not likely that they will vote to deny. Vincent “Woody” Spong has been sworn in as the acting commissioner until it becomes official at that time.

All of the appointments have been reported to have caused at least some degree of discord between many of those in the Republican Party and the WCRCC, but none like the selection of Woody Spong. The Herald Mail published articles and there were a few articles written on-line that questioned if Commissioner Terry Baker influenced the appointment. There have been social media debates and disagreements, letters have been written to the WCRCC questioning the process, one email was written asking for the resignation of Chairman Showe, and it is rumored that five local Republicans with money and influence even called the governor’s office.  

I first interviewed the Chairman of the WCRCC for his perspective on the process, the outcome, and the public response regarding all of the appointments. That can be read by clicking on the link: Interview with Steven Showe. That article was received by many as informative and even restorative, while others felt that it presented either mistaken or intentional misinformation given either by Showe and/or myself. Clearly there continues to be mistrust and discord in the Party. As for myself, I will begin by repeating in part the disclaimer provided in the Showe article. 

DISCLAIMER

I had no prior connection to Vincent “Woody” Spong before this interview. I am a Conservative activist and blogger. I normally do not conduct interviews or write about people, preferring to write about issues. I have nothing personal to gain or to lose by this interview. Although I had been a loyal Republican for 30 years, I now identify strictly as a Conservative. I have no influence in the Washington County Republican Party or the Washington County Republican Central Committee, and I am not even a member of the Washington County Republican Club any longer. In fact, although I still own a home in Washington County, I have been "temporarily" living in Baltimore County for nearly two years. I have no personal friendships on the WCRCC. I do have three acquaintances out of the six who voted to fill these positions, having briefly served on one Board with one member and having occasionally attended the same political events as two others. Full disclosure: Even though it has no connection to the WCRCC appointment of Commissioner Spong, I am currently a contracted employee for Delegate William Wivell in a politically benign position as a social media consultant. I also compile data for him into document form, one day a week working from home. I will reserve stating my opinion on Mr. Spong’s appointment until the end of this article. 

All of the information about Woody Spong was taken directly from a 2-hour, face-to-face interview with him. Any contradictions or errors in facts are his own. I began by asking general background information about family, education, and his work history.
 

BACKGROUND 

Family
    Woody Spong is 71-years old, and has been a lifelong citizen of Washington County. He lived in Williamsport for about 12 years, moving to Hagerstown at age 20 where he has remained.  He is married to Connie Spong. They have one daughter and one granddaughter who is the apple of his eye.     

Education and Work History/Career
    Spong’s first job out of high school was at the Washington County Hospital in the Housekeeping Department. He also worked at Pangborn as a clerk and at the Herald Mail in the Circulation Department before heading off to college at the University of Maryland. He paid for his room, but ran the kitchen at the fraternity house, washing dishes, preparing the menu, and ordering inventory to pay for his board (food, etc.). Tuition was $200, but after teaching for two years the state forgave the tuition. He graduated in 1967 with a degree in Education, and went on to get his Master’s Degree in School Administration at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College).

    Mr. Spong was a teacher for 10 years and a school principal for 22 years. His last assignment as principal was at Salem Avenue Elementary School for 16 years, which earned the National Blue Ribbon Award of Excellence in 1998. Spong retired from the school system in 1999. After retiring he was the executive director of Leadership Hagerstown for five years, and a hunting guide for the Woodmont Rod & Gun Club for five years.  

Passion
    Education has clearly been his passion and career choice, but when I asked him what is passion is he jokingly said that his real passion was “teasing the students.”  Besides education, he has been an avid observer of local politics and active “behind the scenes”. He said that he is well versed on all of the commissioners who have served over decades and the issues that they faced in there time in office.  After retiring he became very active pursuing his hobby in showing his beloved retriever dogs and often served as a field trial judge.  

Politics
    There was a lot of concern expressed over Spong having once been a Democrat, and also that he has never campaigned or held an elected office, so I wanted to spend a significant amount of time on this subject.

    Woody Spong first became involved in politics at stuffing envelopes and handing out literature door-to-door for the JFK campaign. He said, “I admired that man, and like most of the people in this country, I was really sad when he was killed. For young people…he was someone who could get you stirred up, and that’s what got me into politics.”

    Spong expressed some frustration that none of the recent articles mentioned that he was the treasurer for Herb McElwee’s unsuccessful campaign for Delegate of District 3A in 1974. He stated that McElwee was a Republican and his next door neighbor. McElwee was the president and owner of Superior Dairy. Spong said that he was  “twisted” on party principles, and that he and McElwee agreed on some things but not everything. He mainly agreed to act as treasurer because “he was a neighbor and he asked him”. However, I did my own research and found that McElwee was actually a Democrat. When I asked Mr. Spong about McElwee, he said that he honestly thought that he was a Republican, but that it didn’t matter to him. He said, “He was a friend. It was a favor.” I will mention this again and with further detail later in my opinion summary.

   Next he served as treasurer for John Salvatore’s campaign for Delegate. Salvatore was a Democrat and his brother-in-law. Salvatore asked him to help him on his campaign. Spong felt that Salvatore, having served as a state’s attorney, was a “law and order guy” and that was important to him at the time more than any other issue. He said, “I liked him, so I did it.”

   Spong voted Republican for years before changing his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 2006. He thinks that he first voted Republican in Ronald Reagan’s second campaign for president and then continued to vote straight Republican since that time. He feels that people are saying that he is “not Republican enough” because he has only officially been a Republican for 9 years. He isn’t quite sure how to defend that supposition. He feels that he gets a little more conservative every day. He said, “You know there is a saying that inside every young Democrat there is an old Republican. I see things a lot differently the older that I get.” When asked hypothetically if there was a Conservative scale, from 1 to 10 with 10 being most Conservative, where he would place himself fiscally, he said that he would be a 10. He said, “I believe that this county needs to pay back more than it borrows at this time. My ultimate goal would get us to be pay-as-you-go. That was Bill Wivell’s feeling too.”  When asked where he would rate himself on that scale socially he said, “Socially it would be between 5 and 10 depending on the issue. I try to be good to people.” 

    Many have repeatedly pointed out that he was the president of the teacher’s union for two years, which is typically a Liberal alliance. He pointed out that it was in his 5th & 6th year of his career at age 30. He said, “Apparently after 40 years I still must have the stench of being president.” I think that speaks to the hyperbole being used regarding this position that he held so long ago to try to discredit him as a Conservative.   

AVAILABILITY TO THE MEDIA 

Woody Spong denied that he refused anyone an interview. He does regret that he was not prepared to be interviewed the night of the swearing-in ceremony by WHAG TV. It was a special evening with family, friends, and some supporters. He was in the moment and it caught him off guard. He wished he had told the reporter that he would be happy to give them a full interview if they would call him the next day to set up a time. He said, “I couldn’t even remember what I said to the newspaper until I saw it the next day. I wasn’t bushwacked. She [WHAG] was sincerely asking a good question. She just asked me at the wrong time.”   

Spong said that there is only one person who he would not give an interview (an opinion writer with his own website), so I asked him why. He said, “I think he has an agenda. He wants to abuse me. Everybody I know strongly recommends staying away from him. ” This is based on a couple of articles written on his website and the antagonistic emails sent to Chairman Showe about his appointment. Spong read in one of these articles that he had supposedly refused to be interviewed by Jim Miller, the CEO of After Five Productions and the Executive Producer of Antietam Cable Channel 30’s The Flip Side, not once, but twice. Spong denied this stating, “Whether that guy has called or emailed me, I don’t know. I probably have over 200 emails on the office computer. I don’t get on the computer, and not very often I get on Facebook to see what my friends are doing. If it’s not right there I don’t scroll around to find out. Before I became commissioner I had 1300 emails [personal email account] that I hadn’t opened…that had accumulated over my lifetime at the computer.” He went on to say, “The point I am trying to make is that I am not really a social media guy. I try to take care of some of those emails every time that I get on.” I asked if he thought that the emails may be a problem for him.  He answered, “I’ve made up my mind. I’m going in there almost every day to try to take care of them.” I asked if he would go to his Facebook page more often? “Probably not. I don’t want to get hurt.” 

This led me to ask the obvious question as to whether or not he plans to be more accessible to the public. Will you be going to more events, answering phone calls, answering letters and emails? He answered, “As best I can…Yes! Yes, I am going to answer them. I’m not trying to avoid anybody. Other than the WHAG reporter I have not told anyone that I needed more time.  I’ve told Lovelace [Herald Mail] anytime you want to talk to me you call me. I said I know it’s your job. I will do everything I can do to help you.” 

I asked him if he thought that the Herald Mail has been fair to him. He said, I was disappointed in the one [managing editor, Jake Womer] saying that me being a friend of Terry Baker’s means that I will vote for his programs. But on the other hand Terry Baker had the most votes of anybody ever in Washington County. I was disappointed in that because when I ran a school I was my own man and tried to make the school what I thought it could be.  After going to a workshop called Developing a Vision…that changed the way I looked at things. My vision was that Salem Avenue was going to be the best school in the county and we were.” He also was disappointed in Mr. Wormer’s remarks because he attended a Leadership Hagerstown class when Mr. Spong was involved and he said, “I thought he knew me better and thought better of me.”    

COMMISSIONER TERRY BAKER 

Most of the complaints about Mr. Spong’s appointment surround his relationship with Terry Baker. The implication by some was that Commissioner Baker wanted Spong to run so that he would have an ally on the Board [How is this worse than the brother-in-laws?], but the more serious accusation was that he may have influenced the appointment. I approached this in the Interview with Steven Showe, but I wanted to hear from Mr. Spong directly. Also, after I posted the interview with Showe, there was some blowback regarding this claim. One person called to “report” a meeting in a bar between Showe, Baker, and Spong as evidence of collusion. There was no evidence of this meeting, it was told to me off-the-record, and this person had a personal problem with Steve Showe, was personally disappointed with who was not appointed, and had political aspirations of their own. Therefore, I did not give it much credence. I asked Spong about it later in this interview.    

Woody Spong said that he has been friends with Terry Baker for 35 years, long before he served as treasurer for Baker’s campaign for commissioner in 2006. He became friends with Baker in 1980 when he met him while out jogging. They would talk while running, but Baker was a faster runner making it hard to continue a conversation. This led to meeting in Spong’s home for friendly political discussions. According to Mr. Spong, before this appointment they were not the type of friends always on the phone or frequenting one another’s homes. Spong has never been to Baker’s home. They didn’t vacation or spend holidays together. They did go fishing together a couple of times a year.  

Spong said that Baker often called him to let him know what is going on politically and also to ask his advice. Spong recounted when Baker was “really waffling around on Emerald Pointe”. He told Baker, “Terry, you vote no. Don’t you vote for that. The people don’t want it.” Terry was the only vote against it, and Spong said that it was the right vote. 

The following answers are direct quotes. 

Did Commissioner Baker ask you to apply for the position?
Yes. He said you need to run for commissioner. He said you will be the best commissioner there [laughing]. It often came up over the years that I should run for commissioner. 

Did he ask you to do so as an alliance?
No. Why wouldn’t I vote for his programs if he has 26,000 voting for him? For two elections in a row he has been the top vote getter. If I’m going to represent the people I’ve got to look at that. He is a solid Conservative and so am I. I tell you what, Bill Wivell would have voted the same as him also. Wivell and him were an alliance. I bet they would vote together every time. I am not a puppet. We do have like minds.  

Would you vote independently if you and he did not agree?
Sure. We’ve talked about that. We have had that discussion and we understand that will probably happen.  

Can you think of one issue that you might have voted differently than him?
Yes, the recycling fee at the dump. He voted for it.  I would have voted against it.  

Why didn’t you ever run for commissioner?
 I never had the time before I retired, and then after I retired my time was taken up with the dog trials.  

How is that different now?
My dogs aren’t competing anymore due to age and other factors, and I would not be getting a new dog to start over again.  

Did you think that Baker had the pull to get you appointed?
I never thought about that. He told me that he was confident that I would interview the best. 

This lead to a discussion about the reported bar incident: 
    I told Mr. Spong that someone is questioning Steve Showe’s claim that he didn’t know that Spong had any connection to Terry Baker until two days before the vote. They said that is untrue because they report seeing you, Baker, and Showe at the bar together after the March Republican Club meeting where he had stood up and announced that he had applied for the appointment. Spong immediately denied that he was at the bar with Showe, stating “They didn’t see Showe there. It was Jeff Cline and some guy that I don’t know. The seating at the bar was: the unknown guy, Terry, me, and then Jeff Cline.” Spong said he didn’t know who Showe was at the time, but now that he knows, he can state for sure that he was not sitting at the bar with them. I have since asked Showe about this claim and he said that he saw Terry and Jeff sitting at the bar and stopped to say hello as he passed them in the bar, but he did not sit with them. I asked if he and Terry Baker were sitting together at the meeting prior? He said no because Baker arrived late and sat in the back. Someone who is prone to gossip is spreading this “bar meeting” scenario via social media as if there were “many” claiming to have witnessed it. I had one person call me, and as I said early, this person had too much personally invested to be taken seriously when there was no evidence, no one to back it up, and they wanted their identity to be kept anonymous. Only a tabloid would run with that story.  

    Spong went on to say, “I would never question their [the committee’s] integrity. Jim Warner would not let anything like that happen and Steve Showe seems like a good chairperson. I’ve talked to him since and my sense is that he didn’t even vote for me.” His sense would be right. I was told by Showe off-the-record at the time of his interview that he did not vote for Spong. Since then, Showe has told others and it seems to be public knowledge, so I am glad to finally be able to say it. Steve Showe did not vote for Woody Spong. He is defending the decision of the group and taking the heat for the outcome that he did not choose. He didn’t want anyone to know because he wanted to keep the group united and the Party to heal and move on. The vote was 4-2 and Showe and one other person, unknown to me, did not vote for him. So this bar meeting scenario becomes a moot point.  

ISSUES 

“I bet besides Bill McKinnley no one knows more about local politics and issues than I do. I am a government geek. I have been since I read Woodward and Bernstein’s book about Nixon’s impeachment. That really hooked me. I pay attention to local politics. I’ve been following the Board of Commissioners and recognize almost everyone of them from 1970 to my time. I’ve been very interested in what they have done, what they have said, and what’s been reported.” 

People have complained that they don't know where Mr. Spong stands on local issues. I know that the Central Committee asked for an essay for his top three priorities. He said that they were education, volunteer fire & emergency medical services (EMS), and economic development. I asked if he had a copy of his essay and he said that he did not. I asked if I could request a copy from the committee and he said that he would have no problem with me getting a copy. However, once the committee forwarded a copy of his essay to him, he refused to let me see it. I asked for it because I thought it may actually help him because his is answers regarding issues were not very comprehensive. He told me that he had given me an interview and that was all that I was going to get. I was stunned by the change in his attitude. “There is too much going on and I don’t want anything else getting out there.” So this is it: 

The following answers are Spong’s direct quotes. 

Education 

You were in the education field for many years. Do you see a difference in the challenges facing educators today?
The pressure is much greater on the people [teachers and principals] today than during my time. There is a great deal of pressure not only to perform but to do clerical duties. They have to enter grades on the computer. There is a lot more record keeping and paperwork for teachers. They don’t take anything away. They just pile on. Those people work hard.  

Where do you stand on the BOE having the ability to independently borrow $10M?
I am opposed to it, but it doesn’t matter. Serafini [Annapolis] is the one who will decide. The county commissioners have no power except to voice opposition. We can’t vote on it, but I oppose it.  

Why do you oppose it?
Because paying back that loan: we are going to give them money every year and then they have to find the money out of the money given to them by the county commissioners to pay back the interest on the loan. I think they said it would be less than one percent, but I don’t want any money that is given to the school system by the county commissioners to be used to pay back a debt.  

How about money for the downtown Academic Hub?
They [BOE] have taken $4M out of their reserve fund and allocated that, it hasn’t been used, but it’s earmarked to go downtown to the education hub. They asked the City for $1.5M. My understanding is they’ve asked the County for another $4M, plus a bond for $6M. I can’t seem to find out the expected total cost, but that’s $15M. What is a boutique school anyway? I would like to help the City. I would like to help the BOE. But I can’t. They are like piranhas right now grabbing for dollars.  

Do you oppose the Academic Hub strictly based on finances, or are you concerned that resources meant for “regular” public schools are being given to schools like BISFA and perhaps other specialty schools?
That is a true statement. I feel that’s the way it is going to be. But for the most part it is the money issue. Plus just before I was sworn in, they [BOE] asked to transfer $750,000 at the end of this year, and I don’t know from what account, to the reserve fund. So eventually that will go to the downtown hub. It is just too much too fast. I have no idea what a boutique school is or what they are going to do because they haven’t said [anything definite]. 

The commissioners are paying $4M for the retirement fund at the state of Maryland. That started a year or two ago. We took on that burden, $4M this year and I think it’s supposed to be $5M next year. They kind of forget that when they come and ask for money. It’s like we haven’t given them anything, but I think education has been pretty well taken care of. They do get the largest part of the budget. 

Economic Growth: Do you have a plan for attracting and maintaining businesses and good paying jobs to the county?
I did provide a plan. I think it was a question on the Internet. I had to name top three priorities and what I would do to improve it. My top three priorities were education, volunteer fire & EMS, and economic development. I don’t think I have a copy. My daughter might have a copy because she did the typing. I had ideas. A plan is more complex.  

I would make some changes. Do you ever actually see or hear what is being done in Washington County? I know that they always say that they can’t say but they have a big company coming or something. Do you know why we lost Campbell Soup, or whatever it was, over in West Virginia? They needed 370 contiguous acres and they were told that we didn’t have it. I think we could have came up with it if someone had approached neighboring farmers [and landowners]. I think they should have had someone to do the work to accommodate them. It bothers me that people who are hired to find prospective locations for these big businesses can pick up the Herald Mail and we look like the murder capital of the world. It’s always on the front page. I’m sure they look at the newspaper. I’m sure they look at the workforce. I am sure they look at education. We certainly get a star in education right now. I think we can put things together to train a workforce. I believe if we needed some kind of machinists to qualify that the community college could set one up real quick. We are not going to get scientific companies to come to the county until we get a four-year college. If I was a scientific company I wouldn’t settle in downtown Hagerstown. I’d settle near University Maryland. I would be willing to pay the economic director a percentage of the value of the businesses that they bring in. [There were a few additional ideas offered off-the-record.]  

Do you have any ideas about improving how the county conducts business like bidding for contracts, etc.? Many are concerned that people may be able to profit from decisions made by the Board, such as Board members or friends and/or relatives and/or business associates of Board members.  
I can’t answer that at all. I haven’t been involved yet to know. I will say this, that the short time that I have been involved they have really good people working for them. I haven’t really thought about bids and purchases. I believe there are ethics rules in place. I think in Frederick County a sitting county commissioner cannot get a bid for county projects. I do believe in that.  

Would you support funding a new stadium in Hagerstown?
No, absolutely not. If we had given them money we certainly wouldn’t have had any money to give to the school board.  

How much would you agree should be spent by the county for the current Hagerstown redevelopment plan?
I like that they are doing something and they are doing something different. You know, there is such a thing as in-kind services. This may be off the wall, but why couldn’t our roads department do something for them to help put in the trails? We’d pay salaries and they would pay for materials. We could loan them in-kind services. I’m not interested in giving money, but I would look at something like that.  

Transportation
I-81 is a big bad bear and isn’t moving very fast. The county doesn’t have the money to get involved in I-81 except maybe to lobby. I don’t have any other thoughts about transportation at this time.          

Volunteer Fire & EMS
I am all for the volunteers. My heart goes out to those people. I don’t know if the Fairplay station should be given back. I didn’t pay too much attention to that at that time. I don’t know the particulars. It’s in courts now and whatever they decide is what we’ll do. But I want to prop the volunteers up. [He offered no details on how he would prop them up.] They are the biggest asset that Washington County has. If they stopped their runs and we didn’t have volunteers…you talk about taxes. They do have a recruiter now. They need some office power like a secretary to follow up with prospective volunteers. I don’t think the county needs more control over the administration of these fire stations. They have enough control. Anymore would be meddling. I don’t know if we should relinquish any control. I am willing to talk about it.          

Do you have any ideas on agriculture?
I don’t have any ideas and I wish I did for the farmers. There is another group of people that my heart goes out to. They are hard workers. I don’t know if they’ve ever asked for anything.
 
What do you think about Plan Maryland?
I am not familiar with that.  

Thoughts on county taxes?
I am really amazed that the county has been able to hold the line on their taxes for 16 years. I don’t want to be on the Board when they raise them. I fear the time will come when it may be necessary. I will never say never, but my intention going in here is not to raise taxes…and fees are taxes. If I see where we are falling behind on infrastructure, or schools, or fire and police then I may consider a raise in taxes.  

Bond Issuance
Selling bonds is debt. I imagine that is how we finance the debt. I’d be very cautious about voting for new bonds. Seven percent of the budget goes to paying back debt. Supposedly we can go to 10 percent and still be in very good shape. 
 

IN HIS OWN WORDS 

I ended the interview by asking Mr. Spong if there was anything that he would like people to know about himself, the process, or about how he will serve. I asked, “Is there anything that you want to say?” He said: 

“I’m not Terry Baker’s lackey, but if I vote with him it doesn’t mean that he is controlling me. I believe we will be of like mind, and I’m filling Bill Wivell’s shoes who would have voted with him. I’m certain they would have voted as a bloc. So don’t look at me that I’m controlled by anybody. Terry would never do that. He is not like that. He is one of the nicest people you will ever meet. Kind, very kind person. He would never tell me what to do. I know that he wouldn’t. He respects me.” 

Spong said that he thinks that the process was legit and fair. He did everything that they asked him to do including an application, an essay, and a cover letter. I asked if Baker helped him to prepare any of those things and he said that he did not. He finished by saying, “I don’t think there is any reason to question the integrity of that group. I was amazed actually with the strength of the people [on the Central Committee]. That comes from the job that I had before. I picked my own teachers and I interviewed people. My sense immediately was the strength in that room. My point being that any observation of them being led or twisted…I don’t think Terry has any power to twist any of those arms.” 

IN CONCLUSION: MY OPINION 

Appointment Process
   The process is determined by the state constitution. The members of the committee are elected unless filling a vacant seat between elections. The members fill that vacancy. The committee is tasked to fill the vacancies of senator, delegate, and commissioner by providing the governor with the name of the person that they have chosen. They are required to give one name, but may give more than one. There is no process spelled out for the committee to follow in order to make that choice. If the citizenry do not like the process they are free to do the work to pass an amendment to the constitution.  

WCRCC
    I maintain that the committee performed their duties as required by the state constitution using all available information and with complete integrity. Mr. Showe clearly did not strong arm anyone to vote for Spong, having himself voted against him. There was another member who did not vote for Spong. I did not interview the other four members who voted for Spong, but there has been nothing or no one to implicate them. 

Appointment of Woody Spong 
    This is the part that I dread. I don’t want to give my opinion about a person, especially one who has not voted or offended my politics in any way because he simply hasn’t even had a chance to do. If he had voted to spend millions of dollars on a new stadium I would be all over him. He hasn’t done a thing to merit criticism, but if he had campaigned for this position he certainly would have been under intense scrutiny by the public, the media, and bloggers like myself. That said, I think the public deserved this interview. They deserve to know where he stands on issues. They deserve to know the person who is representing them. So here goes: 

I personally would not have voted for Woody Spong for this position.
 
    By all appearances he is a good man, a family man, and he has worked hard all of his life and was an asset to the education of the children of our community. He has lived amongst us (meaning the community, not myself as I am a “transplant”) all of our lives. He is one of us. He knows the people. He knows the history. He knows the culture, and he knows the politics. He is pure Washington County. 

    Regarding his political “journey”, I am not convinced that his involvement politically was inspired by a deep allegiance to the principles of either Party. It appears that his hands-on experience serving as treasurer on at least three campaigns for candidates of both parties was inspired mostly by being a good friend or relative of a candidate. McElwee was a neighbor, Salvatore was his brother-in-law, and Terry Baker was his friend. As he said about McElwee when I pointed out that he was wrong about to which Party he belonged, “It didn’t matter. He was a friend and it was a favor.”  I do believe, however, that at this time he is a conservative man. He may not be able to recite the Republican Party platform, but he truly espouses Conservative principles. I am personally comfortable that he will be a Conservative vote that would be close to how William Wivell would have voted, which is who he is replacing, so in my opinion it is fitting. I think it is time to stop looking for the hidden Democrat tattoo or devil horns and accept that the man is a Conservative.  

    I don’t think that Spong is avoiding the media. I think that he is uncomfortable with the media. He is not accustomed to having their interest. He is not used to people writing and reporting about his every word. He is inexperienced. In addition, he has been maligned by baseless implications. He is not used to having to defend himself in public at an instance notice. Only experienced politicians can handle that circus. He is not an experienced politician. He is just getting started. I do not believe he has anything to hide or any guile towards the media. He just needs some time to get used to the water in the deep end.  

    On the issues, I gave you his answers. I don’t think he has any deeper of a grasp on the facts than the average reader of the Herald Mail. I would have preferred more. That may be all that is needed. I’m all for average Joe-citizen serving their community. I think that anyone can see by those answers that he espouses Conservative principles. I was disappointed that he reneged on his promise to let me see his essay. I think it would have been helpful. 

    I would have voted for a candidate who is more computer savvy. This is a common skill that is becoming crucial if you want to serve as an elected official. You have to be willing and able to at least easily answer an email. Social media may not be as crucial but it is quickly becoming the primary way for politicians to communicate with their constituents.  

    I do not think that Terry Baker had anything to do with his appointment or that he will be an extension of Baker. He is his own man. He is more of a friend and a good guy than a politician, but I believe his vote will belong to him.  

    I do think that Woody Spong is going to have to grow some thicker skin. As any commissioner could probably relate, not everyone is going to agree with his choices. People may question him and they can sometimes do so in a most public and obnoxious manner. You have to be able to take it. You have to be able to respond in a dignified and insightful manner. When I pointed out that he was wrong about the Party that McElwee represented he was downright spooked. The man who had taken the time to let me interview him in his home and invited me to call back with questions, was now skittish and defensive and couldn’t get me off of the phone fast enough. He refused to give me the essay, as if I was going to use it in someway against him, when I was only trying to enhance his presentation on the issues. If he was intimidated by that minor misunderstanding and request…he is in for a huge helping of some very strong coffee.  

    He is a good man. He deserves to be treated with respect. He is not the man that I would have chosen. He was chosen, so I’m over it. I choose my battles, and I’m pretty sure this one is over and everyone has gone home. I will be watching to see how he votes on issues. After all that is what it is all about…issues, issues, issues.

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Interview with Steven Showe, Chairman of the Washington County [MD] Republican Central Committee

 
    Transparency regarding the appointment process for all of the recent Washington County Republican Central Committee (WCRCC) appointments has been a major concern and sometimes heated topic of discussion on social media. So in the spirit of transparency, let me begin by stating:
I wanted to interview Steven Showe, Chairman of the WCRCC, for no other reason than to attempt to clear up the suspicion regarding the integrity of this committee that has been sown into the community via social media and the local newspaper, IMO for either personal attention or to further a political agenda.  I write this as a Conservative political activist and blogger that has nothing personal to gain or to lose by this interview. Although I had been a loyal Republican for 30 years, I now identify strictly as a Conservative. I have no influence in the Washington County Republican Party or the Washington County Republican Central Committee, and I am not even a member of the Washington County Republican Club any longer. In fact, although I still own a  home in Washington County, due to a personal family situation,  I have been "temporarily" living in Baltimore County for nearly two years. I have no personal friendships on the WCRCC. I do have three acquaintances out of the six who voted to fill these positions, having briefly served on one Board with one member and having occasionally attended the same political events as two others. I had no prior connection to Steven Showe. Full disclosure: Even though it has no connection to the WCRCC appointment of Commissioner Spong, which is the appointment that has created the most stir,  I am currently a contracted employee for Delegate William Wivell in a politically benign position as a social media consultant. I also compile data into document form, one day a week working from home.
    I met with Mr. Showe the night of the Republican Club meeting where the Washington County delegation gave their annual legislative update. He was willing to give me all of the time that  I needed and willing to discuss any topic. I found him to be very open and forthright, and his demeanor when asked about his leadership was somewhat humble yet firm.  He answered every question, although some were "off the record." Those particular answers were sometimes disarmingly honest, and in most cases would be to his benefit to share. I simply asked him the questions that many have asked, repeatedly, regarding the process. When not in quotes, his answers have been paraphrased.

1. How transparent is the committee legally obligated to be regarding the appointment process? "Legally, there is nothing written. Transparency is a term that might have multiple meanings. We viewed the process as if we were interviewing somebody for a job. We ran background checks and they were guarded as private." Sometimes privacy trumps transparency.

2. Did the background checks disqualify anyone? "I can't answer that."  Showe went on to say, "We didn't record minutes at our meetings because they weren't regularly-scheduled meetings and because they would have become public, and we had to protect mainly the privacy of the individuals, but also ourselves."

3. Did the committee research and abide strictly to the state constitution? "Definitely. We did not bend to the Appointments Office, we strictly read the Constitution [and sought the advice of lawyers]. We were advised that we may send more than one name, but with the recent concern for how the U.S. Constitution is being ignored and attacked, we decided to strictly follow the state constitution. The Appointments Office in Annapolis requested that we submit more than one name, and so did the Maryland State [Republican] Party.

4. The requests for three names for the Delegate and Commissioner appointments were reported to have come straight from Governor Hogan. Is that true? "I don't think it came from Hogan. It came from the Appointments Office and I don't think that Larry Hogan knew anything about it."

5. Not all applicants were interviewed for Commissioner. Were all applicants for the other positions interviewed? "Yes."

6. What were the criteria for deciding who would be interviewed? "We developed the process for each position as a committee. The process was different for each position. Completely different."
  • "As for the position for Senator, we decided to keep it within the delegation and interviewed everyone except Brett Wilson. He declined an interview because he felt that he was elected to represent Hagerstown."
  • "For the position of Delegate we decided to interview every applicant."
  • "For the commissioner position we thoroughly read every resume, cover letter, form, and essay (Top Three Priorities) submitted by every applicant to decide who we would interview. We interviewed every elected official."
Mr. Spong was not an elected official yet he was interviewed? The rest were interviewed based on their background checks and paperwork.

7. A second interview for one applicant who had applied for the delegate position and then also applied later for the commissioner position was deemed unnecessary. Why? "We had very recently interviewed this person, but if the individual comes to me I will give him more details." [Privacy]

8. Do you think that the committee could have been more considerate towards the applicants, especially in keeping them informed throughout the process? "We notified people as their applications came in. If they sent them by email there could have been those who slipped through the cracks because at first people were sending them directly to me, some to other members of the committee, until we did get a Google number that went to all of us. The applicants could have called to follow up to see if their applications were received. Those who where going to be interviewed were called, and everyone was notified the night that the interview process was over."

So, those who were not going to be interviewed were not told until the interview process was over? "Yes. Large companies [typically] do not call people to tell them that they are not going to be interviewed. That's the way we worked it. Will a company even read your resume? No, [often] they may read the cover letter and you may be disqualified or you may have the job [by the cover letter alone]. We thoroughly read everything that each applicant submitted, but we were not going to inform them that they would not be interviewed until the end of the process."

9. Would you do anything differently regarding the interviewing process? "My main goals were to keep the committee intact and not split like Carroll County, and to protect the privacy of the applicants...so no."

Regarding Mr. Spong's appointment as Commissioner:

10. Was it unanimous? What did the numbers have to be? "No. It only had to be a majority."

11. Was there a 2nd choice? "Yes." Showe stated that it had been narrowed down to four choices, and there was one with the next highest amount of votes. He did not want those names to be published. He believes that the privacy regarding the vote is necessary to keep the committee united. "United we stand. Divided we fall."

12. Why do you think Spong's appointment created more of an outcry for transparency than the other appointments? "That, I don't have a clue because during the public comment phase he was the most strongly supported applicant."

13. How does Spong compare to Wivell (the voters' choice)? Was that important? "Mr. Spong is pretty intelligent and so is Mr. Wivell. Wivell has the financial skills. There was not another Wivell there, except for maybe one." He was referring to the individual with the second highest votes for the appointment.

14. Spong has no record on issues, and has never campaigned or held an office. How do you know he will represent the voters on important local issues, and also be as conservative as Wivell who the voters elected? "At his interview he gave good solid Conservative answers."

15. Do you know where Spong stands on:
  • Improving economic conditions? His opening statement showed knowledge of what has already been attempted and what we still need to do. "He was very well-versed."
  • Attracting businesses and jobs to the area? "All of them said that there have been a lot of bad decisions made over the years. He said, Hey let's learn by our mistakes."
  • Education? "He said there is room to cut the budget for education in the department itself. He would not approve anything to increase the education budget whatsoever unless it was absolutely needed. [I think] that is one budget that is not very transparent. I'd rather not quote [Spong] regarding the BOE. You should ask him directly."
  • Possible funding for a new stadium for Hagerstown? "This was a question to all of those who were interviewed. He said no funding. He thought it was better to be located outside of the community and not funded by the county. He said that if they want to have baseball let the fans pay for it."
Mr. Showe stated: "It has been several weeks now since his interview, and I don't have his paperwork in front of me. I think you should interview Mr. Spong on where he stands on the issues. I will give you his number."  I was introduced to Mr. Spong at the meeting that evening, and he agreed to give me an interview, but only if I could meet him in-person. He said that he wanted me "to be able to look him in the eye."

16. Did Spong have an issue that he was most passionate about? "He was well-rounded on every issue. My question to him was: Do you support code rule, home rule, or a commissioner-style of government? He said commissioner-style was best and most efficient. I asked, efficient in what way? He said that it doesn't cost as much. To me that was spot on."

17. Does Spong have something that qualifies him to serve?  For example, Wivell is a CPA and MBA that is passionate about budget issues. Mr. Spong's area of expertise is in education. He was a principal at a local school for 16 years.

18. Should his past affiliation as a Democrat be a concern, especially since he has no public record on issues? Why or why not? "I didn't let it influence my judgment. Ronald Reagan was a Democrat. I can't speak for the other members."

19. Did his connection to Terry Baker influence his appointment? "No, because I didn't even know until two days before [the vote] that he had anything to do with Terry Baker." Showe said that he couldn't speak for the other committee members, but said that he did not see or hear anything that would indicate influence.

20. Is there any truth to the rumor that the "Good Ol' Boys" were pushing for McKinley? "No comment. I will say that he got the most negative comments during the public comment phase."
Mr. Showe let me know that he himself had recently been called a Good Ol’ Boy by someone from the TEA Party.
21. Ryan Miner has said publicly on social media that he has called for your resignation? "Yes."
  • Was he the only one? "Yes."
  • Did you consider resigning? "No, not for s second." 
  • Did any of the other committee members get any personal blowback? Maybe one, but I'm not aware of any specifics.
22. Did you deny Ryan Miner, Ken Buckler [WashCo Chronicle],  the Herald Mail, or any other request for an interview? "No. Ryan Miner did not ask me for an interview. I have never heard of Ken Buckler. I was interviewed by the Herald Mail by telephone about 6 or 7 times...whenever they asked for one. Sometimes I had to tell them that I would get back to them when I knew something. Sometimes they held information from my interviews until they had more information. I only declined to do a video interview with the Herald Mail."
   
    In summary, I normally write opinion pieces, so many would be shocked if I didn't end this post with my own thoughts about the process, the integrity of the committee, the leadership of Mr. Showe, and the appointment of Mr. Spong.  
    Before the interview, I had nothing that would lead me to question the integrity of the committee that was elected by the voters to fulfill this duty or the process that they employed, even when my first choice for delegate was not chosen. I read a lot on social media from some that seemed to want to cast doubt and suspicion on this committee. I approached it with the innocent-until-proven-guilty perspective. After the interview, I remain convinced that the committee fulfilled their duty to the voters with integrity using all available knowledge and a fair process. I do believe that in the future voters will give  more consideration to their votes for this committee having had this experience.
   I believe that as chairman of the committee, Mr. Showe's leadership was strong and honest, with an understanding of the weight of these appointments, but also for the importance of keeping the committee and the party united.
    As for the appointment of Mr. Spong, I think that remains to be seen. I still don't know where he stands on issues. I could and may interview him, but we all know that what is said in an interview is not always a clear picture of how a person will vote. Sometimes the voting official doesn't even know for sure how they will vote until they are sitting in that seat and asked to push that button or raise that hand. I have no reason to believe that he won't serve honorably. I will not speculate that he is a RINO or a Democrat posing as a Republican. I will not speculate that he presented himself as something that he is not.  I just don't know. Nobody can predict or pre-judge. All we can do at this point is wait and see. If there was one single thing that I could do or ask others to do to guarantee that he is a Conservative Republican and will vote accordingly, I think most people know that I would do it. I choose my battles. Just because I can't affect a different outcome at this point does not mean that I will resort to sowing suspicion and strife into the community. But I will be watching...