Opinion: Op-Eds

Charismatic black GOPer sets sights on Maryland governorship

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This week Charles Lollar, an African-American businessman, former U.S. Marine, and former Charles County Republican Party chairman, announces his candidacy for governor of Maryland in a statewide bus tour.

Lollar told me Monday at the Kensington Labor Day Parade, “I am running to build an economy that creates jobs by removing obstacles of opportunity.”

Lollar is smart, savvy, and charismatic. If any Republican can win in Maryland, it’s Lollar.

Under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, elected in 2006 and re-elected in 2010, Marylanders have seen more than 50 separate tax increases, including a “rain tax” in which owners are charged for any non-absorbent surface on their land, such as driveways or terraces.

Tax hikes have driven away Marylanders, and they have not done much to reduce Maryland’s $9 billion structural deficit. Maryland has seen taxpayers leave for neighboring Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation ranks Maryland 41st in its 2013 State Business Tax Climate Index, compared with 27th for Virginia, 23rd for West Virginia, 19th for Pennsylvania, and 14th for Delaware.

Based on IRS records, the Tax Foundation estimates that between 2000 and 2010 Maryland lost $5.5 billion in adjusted gross income, with $3 billion going to its four neighboring states.

When the economic recovery began in June 2009, Maryland’s unemployment rate was 7.6 percent and Virginia’s was 7.1 percent. In July 2013, Maryland’s unemployment rate was 7.1 percent and Virginia’s was 5.7 percent. Virginia recovered, Maryland didn’t.

Since 2006, Maryland has shed multinationals, including Coventry Health Care, Black & Decker, and Constellation Energy. Volkswagen, Hilton Hotels, and Northrop Grumman chose Virginia when they relocated to D.C.

Into this mess steps Lollar, who unlike the leadership of both parties, sees no need to focus on social issues. “I’m running to be your governor, not your priest,” he said. Lollar is focusing on taxation, fiscal responsibility, regulation, energy, education, and transportation.

Taxes. Lollar would institute a Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, so that government spending and taxes would not exceed the inflation rate. He would amend the state constitution to require a referendum in order to increase taxes at a faster rate than inflation.

Energy. Maryland’s total energy prices, at $25.22 per million btu, are in the nation’s 10 most expensive. To reduce them, Lollar wants to remove subsidies and allow all forms of energy to compete on their merits without subsidies, including fracking in Maryland’s small portion of the Marcellus shale so that natural gas can lower the state’s energy costs.

Education. Lollar would pave the way for school choice by allowing tax dollars to follow the child, and do more to ensure that taxpayer dollars are aimed at teachers rather than administrators.

Transportation. Lollar is opposed to the Purple Line, a $2.2 billion 16-mile rail project for which not even the richest Maryland residents are prepared to pay.

It can only be built with substantial federal and state subsidies, as yet unappropriated: $900 million from Uncle Sam, $400 million from Maryland, and the rest from who knows where. Lollar favors small buses, which have high per-person pick-up rates.

In order to earn the governorship, Lollar first has to win next June’s primary against two Republican rivals, Harford County Executive David Craig and state Delegate Ron George.

If he wins, he will likely face either Maryland’s Democratic Attorney General Doug Gansler or Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown in the general election in November 2014. Both have more name recognition than Lollar.

It’s an uphill battle, especially for someone who has never held state office. But Maryland might just be ready for a charismatic former Marine with 17 years of business experience to fix its economic woes.

DIANA FURCHTGOTT-ROTH, a Washington Examiner columnist (dfr@manhattan-institute.org) and former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
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Diana Furchtgott-Roth

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The Washington Examiner