Ten questions for…Addie Eckardt

Today I get a much shorter set of answers to my Ten Questions as I turn back to the Maryland General Assembly races. If you see a hot pink political sign in certain parts of the Eastern Shore, there’s a good chance the person supports District 37B incumbent Addie Eckardt. Addie’s been at it for a number of years now and judging from the little bit I read on her answers prior to starting this post, she’s leaning heavily on her experience to maintain the seat. As for the rest we’ll find out together as I start another chapter in this TQ saga.

Question #1:

Some of you participated in the recent special session to modify the large rate hikes that were to be enacted by Baltimore Gas & Electric. However, our electrical rates from the local Eastern Shore suppliers went unchanged.. With that in mind, would you be more in favor of a total repeal of the 1999 deregulation laws, or do you believe the concept is sound and only needs a few guardrails and rate safeguards?

I did participate in the special session and did not vote for the bill that was presented and ultimately passed. During my tenure as Delegate I have closely followed the deregulation process. My understanding of the issue is that since the market in which Maryland is a player is mostly deregulated and the cost of power was increasing, deregulation in Maryland would bring the cost to consumers down and offer choices in the market place. Some legislators were not in favor of deregulation from the beginning and put many roadblocks to the plan. One was to put caps in place so that constituents would be guaranteed a stable low rate and the caps would come off in a defined period of time in a phased-in process according to the geographic areas of the state. In the meantime, costs across the county continued to rise due to increased usage. Other influencing factors contributing to the consumption of global resources were 9/11, the War, Katrina, Rita, and China. Maryland’s rates have remained artificially low because of the cap and I do believe lawmakers never anticipated the situation to turn out the way it did given the multiple catastrophes in play. I did not support the caps because I was concerned that the longer we delayed implementation of deregulation, the greater the possibility of interference would delay competition in the market place. In other words, the Maryland legislature in 1999 gave the marketplace a double message- come to Maryland and do business but wait 6 years to do it. At the time companies were ready to do business but when legislators began to intervene, the interest waned. The new legislation has increased the cost of doing business in Maryland. The Governor and the industry were developing a phase-in of the rates which I believe could have worked. Since then I am very concerned because citizens have again a fixed rate which may help for now but the cost over time will be greater than if completion had been encouraged and choices given.

Question #2:

In the last two sessions of the General Assembly, the issue of health insurance and who pays for it has taken center stage. (Examples: the Fair Share Health Care Act and its proposed expansion with last year’s HB1510, which was sponsored by Delegate Hubbard and defeated in committee.) Recently the state of Massachusetts adopted legislation effective in 2007 mandating all residents secure coverage under some public or private health insurance plan or face a financial penalty. Do you see this concept as an idea Maryland should adopt?

Health Care for all citizens has always been an important issue and one that I have worked on while a legislator. Having been a participant in the discussion of health care reform for the last 20 years, I find ourselves in a similar situation to the utility one – that in spite of all the effort to make health insurance available, affordable and accessible, more citizens find it increasingly harder to get access and the costs increase. Last year I put in a bill that was a modification of the Massachusetts plan but it didn’t get much attention because the Health care Commission didn’t think smart cards would work and did not want to provide incentives to small businesses to offer the coverage to employees. The Massachusetts plan has some excellent possibilities, for example, a central clearinghouse for the plan, but I do not think mandatory insurance with penalties is the way to go. Most citizens could afford a catastrophic plan, coupled with a health savings account in the consumer driven model. Make the premiums tax deductible. There is another proposal on the table from last session (HB1412) and I will be working on the introduction of it for the 07 session. Yes we will have this discussion and I am sure bills will be introduced (HB1412) that model the Massachusetts plan.

Question #3:

Within our area, Somerset County traditionally has among the highest unemployment rates in the state of Maryland. In every election, well-paying jobs and how to secure them is an issue. If you are elected to the General Assembly, what policies would you favor commencing or retaining in an attempt to create or lure good-paying jobs for the Eastern Shore?

Economic Development and good paying jobs have been and are an important of my platform since my election in 1994. I have been pleased with the progress but it is slow because retention of jobs is also important. When businesses are not domiciled in Maryland or on the Shore it is easy for them to pull out and move to where the cost of doing business is less. At least 85% of business in Maryland is small business and working with citizens to build small businesses is in a continual focus of the Department of Business and Economic Development – Small Business Administration, the regional economic councils, local economic development offices, and Minority business offices. The recruitment of business also means that our educational system is responsive to the need of the community and workforce preparedness is in place. Right now the Eastern Shore faces a severe shortage of health care professionals – nurses, dental hygienists, pharmacists, radiology technicians and others. I have been working with the Administration to provide resources for nursing education as well as clinical sites and experiences for the health care providers. In addition, there are many projects for agricultural based/resource based job opportunities and many high-tech business proposals being discussed. For example, I serve on a board that is recruiting some very exciting potential business that uses feathers for product. Venture capital is necessary and a greater focus on research and development through our local universities will facilitate the business development.

Question #4:

This year a state takeover of several failing Baltimore City Schools was thwarted by the General Assembly overriding an earlier veto of a bill Governor Ehrlich rejected. A few states, though, are attempting to remove themselves from the federal “No Child Left Behind” regulations for various reasons, even at the risk of losing federal dollars. Do you support the federal NCLB mandates or do you feel the state could and should go without the additional restrictions (and funding)?

With regard to” No Child Left Behind” there are some very good aspects, especially the focus on every child receiving a quality education and meeting reading and math standards. Yes, there are some parts that need modification and there has been much discussion with the federal government about this. I would not reject the opportunity to continue with the program. What is more important to me is that we have put over 1 billion dollars into education over the past five years and we put a plan in place to assist schools in the event that students and schools were not making progress. What will happen to those students in the Baltimore city schools who are not reading and doing math? Will they graduate? I think not. Will they be able to get jobs and find meaningful work without the skills necessary to succeed? Or will they not graduate and wind up unemployed, on the streets, or in jail? I have visited an elementary school (an Edison School) that is doing well – students are achieving. I favored the intervention from the State Board to help those failing schools.

Question #5:

In the 2006 General Assembly, the Blackwater development in Cambridge became a contentious issue which led to legislation that was eventually defeated. However, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has continued to apply pressure to legislators and encourage voters to speak out on what they perceive as a threat to bay water quality. On the other hand, the city of Cambridge sees Blackwater as a needed shot in the arm for its economy and tax base. Where do you see yourself on this issue and related development matters?

There was a bill in Annapolis that would interrupt the local planning process regarding land development. In regards to the Blackwater legislation, the bill was introduced by western shore legislators without any conversation with the local delegation, which is the customary way of bill introduction. I did not support the bill as it did not come through the local delegation and would usurp the local process prematurely. Dorchester County is often the last frontier for development and since the development of Sailwinds Park, the subsequent focus on the Hyatt, and downtown redevelopment, I believe the process put in place through smart growth and the critical areas needed to be honored. The entire community needed the conversation about growth and the impact on the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. As I have traveled across the country, I have been impressed with development that has been managed with sensitivity to the local culture as well as the environmental assets. I have always believed that growth will come to Dorchester and it is important that it be managed carefully with as many citizens involved in the discussion and subsequently the decisions. Cambridge cannot expand services for citizens without some growth. Most of the county is not available for development due to the tidal and nontidal wetlands and the amount of farmland necessary to maintain farming as one of the major businesses. I co-sponsored HB114, which makes several changes regarding local planning and requires local jurisdictions to plan for potential annexation and include in planning documents. It also requires cities and counties to work together. I believe this legislation will address the concerns raised by the Blackwater situation.

Question #6:

The last two sessions of the General Assembly have seen an inordinate amount of time spent dealing with personnel matters and political appointments. Some have claimed this as a usurpation of power properly belonging to the executive branch (governor’s office) but others see this as a proper extension of the duties of the General Assembly. In your opinion, has the General Assembly gone too far or does the Governor still wield too much power when it comes to personnel decisions?

I believe the General Assembly has gone too far to block the Governor’s prerogative that has been the practice for the past 40 or more years. In the previous administration the changes were frequent but I don’t remember anyone questioning the Governor at that time. Government can get pretty entrenched over the years and if agencies are not functioning well, the Governor is held responsible whether he was responsible for the problems or not. The Governor answers to the citizens and if there was one message that rang true during the 2004 campaign it was that government was growing too fast and was not as efficient as it could be. The current Governor put together a transition team to review state government and to recommend changes, which they did. Outcome performance measures were established and managing for results became the expected practice. I did learn this past session that the Legislature does wield a lot of power as well and action became overreaching as bills were introduced and passed that exceeded Constitutional authority.

Question #7:

For the Eastern Shore, transportation can sometimes be tricky because of Bay Bridge traffic and traveling to and from the beach on a summer weekend can be a real headache. Solutions advocated range from another Bay Bridge to a ferry service to a light rail system, and as always people want the existing highways improved. What transportation improvements do you feel are a priority for the Eastern Shore, and how would you pay for them?

Transportation is always an area of concern for the Shore as the numbers of cars on the roads increase each year. There was an opportunity to address the issue of traffic and the Bay Bridge this year and the results was simply “Yes we need a bridge but not in my back yard”, so actually not much happened. Now is the time to plan if in fact a bridge is necessary and it probably will be. A monorail has been suggested but determined to be cost prohibitive. I think one reasonable option that I have worked on is to expand small business from homes as an option and this is occurring. With the expansion of broadband and other technology, the possibilities are tremendous. If we are serious on the Shore about diversifying our economic bases we can offer more opportunity to stay on the Shore to work. The counties will have these decisions so that the Shore does not become just a bedroom community. In the meantime, I think that toll roads with certain access for local users are a possibility – at least we could cover the increasing cost of our roads and bridges. If we adopt a policy of all who use contribute and initiate a conversation on how to improve and maintain our highway system I think we can establish a plan.

Question #8:

Drugs and gangs are a growing problem on the Eastern Shore. The local authorities do their best but we’re a long way from fighting the problem successfully. In what ways do you think the General Assembly can best address this crime issue, and what tools do you see working best?

Much crime is driven by substance use, and that has been an ongoing concern of mine. About 80-85 % of the jail population is fatherless and has substance abuse issues. Treatment is necessary and can work. Maryland has some of the finest diagnostic tools available in the country for determining who can benefit from treatment and who cannot. The issue has been how to implement the programs and how to pay for them. I have been an advocate of employment in recovery models so that individual cannot only benefit from treatment but also from job training. Many who get out of jail have no aftercare and no ongoing support to continue the behavior change over time. The Governor initiated two programs: one for those in jail and who are returning to the community and another for those as an alternate to incarceration. I also have been an advocate of drug courts and while I have been in office we have gone from one or two to almost one in every jurisdiction. What has been necessary is the research to support what interventions work and what doesn’t and we now have that information.

Question #9:

This year, you will be the first in the history of the General Assembly to be nominated and elected through the use of early voting. Proponents have stated that early voting is beneficial for turnout, but others claim the new regulations will encourage fraud and have petitioned to place the issue on the ballot as a referendum. In addition, these same laws have made absentee ballots available upon request with no reason needed. With that in mind, are you in favor of repealing the early voting laws, and why?

I did not support the early voting legislation and I would support legislation to repeal the laws. The Constitution clearly sets out how voting is to be handled and I do not believe the early times will address the issue of access. Those who want to vote and consider it an important right will take the time or make the time to exercise that right. We have a mechanism for early voting and that is by absentee ballot. I think citizens have many reasons for not voting and if we wanted to seriously address the issue we might convene some focus groups at the local level and gather information about the reasons individuals don’t vote. Responsibility is a significant factor.

Question #10:

It is almost a certainty at this early date that either Governor Ehrlich will be reelected or Baltimore mayor Martin O’Malley will take over the governor’s chair early next year. If you are elected to the General Assembly and the representative of the opposite party (i.e. a Democrat would be working with Governor Ehrlich, a Republican would be working with Mayor O’Malley) wins election, with what issues do you see being able to find common ground with the governor?

I have had the opportunity to work with Governors from both parties and have been able to work on issues of common ground. For example, Initiatives involving economic development- the Hyatt development and Eastern Shore Hospital Center relocation; the One Maryland program and tax incentives that resulted in the regional councils; Historic tax credits; Cultural Heritage Tourism Areas; Arts and Entertainment Districts; the Children’s Health care program; Senior prescription programs; Small group health insurance reform; Education investments; child care and children coming to school ready to learn; environmental issues- clean air, water and lead paint remediation to name a few


I don’t know what happened to the period at the end of the last sentence (maybe the prior TQ answerer stole it to sustain all of her commas) but I thought Addie put up some excellent answers and more importantly gave good examples. But I suppose it’s the advantage of incumbency there.

As of this moment I have vacancies on both Friday and Saturday for my Ten Questions. I’ve resent out a couple for the General Assembly so I harbor hope that someone will come through on Saturday, meanwhile I’m hopeful that Jim Corwin gets back to me for Friday. Time’s growing short before the primary.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll revise the questions and/or resend them to the primary survivors. It may happen on the Congressional side since only one person assured of being on the November ballot (Green Party candidate Kevin Zeese) has answered the questions – the presumptive frontrunners (Steele, Cardin, Mfume) have not. Now if Allan Lichtman or Dennis Rasmussen can convince enough people to vote for them then I’ll have the Democrat nominee as well. But right now the poll numbers of TQ responders aren’t too good on the U.S. Senate side. Now, on the Maryland General Assembly side it obviously depends on who wins the 4 sets of primaries that carry through to November (House of Delegates District 37A will be decided in September because no Republican filed and Senate District 38 belongs to unopposed State Senator Lowell Stoltzfus.)

But with fewer candidates to deal with, this won’t need to be such a chore; in fact, I can probably get away with doing TQ part 2 in a total of six “debate-style” posts tailored to the U.S. Congress and Senate races and each district. I’ve sort of hit a backlog of opinions I have to share here and the next several days will be busy (hey, it’s the Shorebirds’ last homestand!) so it will give me an opportunity to get back to that once the primary passes. Any reposting of TQ after the primaries won’t be until mid-October at the earliest.

Hopefully this isn’t it until the “debates” occur in early September but if it is be looking for them.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

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