Power Back On Faster In Virginia Than In Maryland: Political Incentives At Work?

I wish all OpenMarket readers a Happy Fourth of July. Things are finally returning to normal here in most of the Washington, D.C., region, where many people have endured days of broiling heat without electricity or air conditioning, due to a violent storm that killed 22 people, and knocked out power to 3 million.

Initially, the huge storm hit the Virginia suburbs harder than the Maryland suburbs or Washington, D.C. But the vast majority of people who lost power in Virginia have now had it restored (by Dominion Virginia Power). But in Maryland, many of those who lost power still don’t have power and are suffering through enormous heat. As Gregg Easterbrook, who is not a conservative, notes in The Atlantic, liberal “Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley . . . can’t even deal with a dismal power utility in his home state. . . . Montgomery County, Maryland, is one of the nation’s bluest and wealthiest counties; its perennially awful power service raises the question of whether liberals can make the trains run on time.” Right after the storm, most of the people without power in the region were in Virginia. Now, most of the people without power seem to be in Maryland.

Why? Maybe politics. There is a bigger political incentive to get the power back on in Virginia, versus a bigger incentive to make political donations to entrenched incumbents and political machines in Maryland. Virginia has a competitive, two-party political system. Maryland is effectively a one-party state. (Maryland recently raised taxes to pay for ever-increasing state spending.)

In Maryland, incompetence isn’t punished. The unions and the Left control everything, and no longer worry about losing that control. The power company for much of D.C.’s Maryland suburbs, Pepco, has donated to the ruling liberal politicians, who publicly feign anger over its slow restoration of power after every major storm, but secretly don’t care, since they have a political monopoly, and can raise taxes and spend it on left-wing causes at will. (Getting Pepco to spend money on green energy boondoggles is a much higher priority for Maryland’s government than getting power back on, perhaps leaving it with fewer resources to spend on speedy power restoration after a storm.)

The unions have a complete lock on power in Montgomery County, Maryland’s most populous county, and they are dominant in the only election that matters, the Democratic primary. (Duchy Trachtenburg, a Montgomery County Council member who was liberal on everything but her desire to rein in skyrocketing public-employee pension and disability payments — she was the head of the local NOW chapter, for example — was bounced out of office in the Democratic primary solely due to union opposition, even though she was endorsed by all the newspapers, which perceived her as looking out for county taxpayers, unlike her colleagues.) Since what matters for a Maryland government official’s tenure is whether she is pro-union, not whether she delivers for taxpayers, it is not surprising that government services, and the quality of services provided by government-regulated public utilities, have deteriorated.

In Virginia, by contrast, incompetence is sometimes punished at the polls. It’s a competitive “purple state.” The state leans slightly Democratic in U.S. Senate races, but slightly Republican at the local level. Lawmakers of both parties are afraid of being defeated, and will reply to your emails to pretend like they care about your concerns (sometimes, they actually do care). The Virginia power company probably knows there would be adverse consequences for it, if it left people without power for a week, which is common in Maryland after a storm.

It’s expected to be hot in the region on the Fourth of July — so much so that my neighborhood canceled its traditional outdoor neighborhood Fourth of July celebration this year due to the anticipated high temperature. I live in Arlington, Virginia, so at least I have air conditioning. But many Maryland residents may not be so lucky, and may have to do without power or air conditioning on Independence Day.