It was a crowded agenda and pair of banquet areas at Brew River last night. Over 100 people jammed in to hear District 38 Senate hopeful Michael James, House of Delegates District 37A challenger Dustin Mills, and the five candidates who are seeking to take over the Elmore seat in the House of Delegates (District 38A.)
There were a few items of local club business to take care of first, though, and chair Joe Collins bemoaned the loss of his former cohort Julie Brewington, saying “I lost my right arm.” (Brewington was present, though, as a candidate for Delegate in District 38A.) Missing was the usual PowerPoint presentation club members were treated to as Collins said, “learning time is over.” It was time to put what we’d learned in about a year into action.
Barry Oehl of the Worcester County AFP filled us in on a proposed television commercial, which would be produced for free – donations were being solicited to secure airtime locally. T-shirts were also available, with proceeds going toward the effort. (The Eastern Shore TEA Party Patriots also have shirts for sale.)
Dave Schwartz of the state AFP opined that early voting is “really going to be helpful for the conservative cause.” (I beg to differ, but…) He stated his case by asking how many of us would vote in the next hour if the option were there – most raised their hands, including me. Dave continued by pointing out that early voting allows conservatives to get the word out, frees up campaigns to reach out to other voters, and would reveal in rough numbers how turnout was going – for example, it would be big news if Republicans and Democrats had similar total turnout given the GOP’s 2:1 registration disadvantage.
Daryl Ann Dunigan introduced herself as a representative of Conservatives for Maryland and will be working with college students and other youth in the region.
While a large number of candidates were in attendance (for example, all four GOP candidates from House of Delegates District 38B and County Executive hopeful Joe Ollinger were there along with a sprinkling of other local hopefuls) the bulk of the time was spent listening to District 38 Senate candidate Michael James.
To James, the “race really is about experience,” but his experiences were different than his opponent’s. Key issues for him were to reduce our state’s debt, cut spending and taxes, and create jobs. He blasted the millionaire’s tax as “a complete failure” and suggested that “incumbents tend to be reactive.” As examples he used the fight to get Jessica’s Law passed and the lack of effort toward job creation in 2006 through 2009. Once this election year rolled around these and other items suddenly became priorities.
Since the meeting was billed as a “job interview” there were plenty of questions.
Michael took a question on deregulation of utilities and turned it into a treatise on overregulation itself, which he claimed “is trying to drive out jobs.”
But on a Second Amendment question, he stumbled slightly when he claimed he was for the right to carry with the proper license but the questioner followed with the point that any such restriction could be construed as an infringement. Michael conceded that was a valid point.
More palatable to the gathering was his answer on an immigration question – James does not support amnesty and believes Arizona Governor Jan Brewer “has done a great job” fighting for SB1070. “Maryland needs a similar…or tougher law,” said Michael.
Other questions dealt with bread and butter economic issues like taxation (“I will work my butt off to lower tax rates,”) free market principles, and government waste (there is “tons of room for consolidation” in the state budget.)
In short, he stated, “My campaign is about making Maryland more friendly to business (and we need to) elect people who have actually created jobs.” Under his leadership, the Carousel Hotel in Ocean City has gone from receivership and 8 employees to a thriving enterprise with over 300 workers.
A shorter session was held for Dustin Mills, who told those attending that “I’ve had enough…sick of being taken for granted.”
Among his key points was having a state government which was too laden with state employees; the large number of unfunded positions in the budget is a slush fund that’s “criminal” and “wrong.” Our sales tax was “killing” the Eastern Shore because of the large differential between Maryland and sales tax-free Delaware. And the state was taking too much from local government for their own needs – 95% of the gas tax which was supposed to revert to county government was instead confiscated by the state and a funding mechanism from fire insurance policies to local volunteer fire departments was almost all taken to help the balance the budget.
Since he currently works in the education field, Mills had sharp criticism for the school system – “what’s going on is outright criminal.” Mills would work to establish more local control and eliminate maintenance of effort requirements. Dustin also equated agriculture with small business, and questioned the amount of impact environmental regulations on Maryland farmers would have when just 15% of the Chesapeake watershed lay in Maryland.
“My faith lies in you” and not government, Dustin concluded.
I had the first question out of the chute, asking Dustin what issues were resonating with the large minority community in his district. He cited education and taxation as the two key issues, as minority-owned small businesses are also affected by the poor business climate. Also, Dustin is a “strong supporter” of the Second Amendment with “limited licensure.”
But the best question came from a constituent who asked how he’d be better than incumbent Delegate Rudy Cane? Mills cited his bad voting record and no dialogue with the voters in the district as areas Dustin would improve upon.
The five candidates from District 38A took the spotlight next. But since the hour was growing late, the format was limited to an opening statement and one question on how the candidates would work with being part of a minority. (Most likely, this wouldn’t apply to Mike McCready, but he is portraying himself as a conservative Democrat so would presumably vote often with Republicans.)
Julie Brewington got into the race at the last minute because, “what I saw wasn’t anything I could vote for.” As the former AFP co-chair, she called the group “my inspiration” and played up her outsider status by noting the House of Delegates was, “supposed to be for the common working person.” We could “take back our government,” said Brewington, and there are “too many ‘go along to get along’ people” in Annapolis. As for working in the minority, Julie believed “in my heart we are sitting on an abyss of change” and asked citizens to “work with me.”
Touting his experience, John Cannon was concerned “this (Eastern Shore) livelihood will be threatened” and called Annapolis leadership “cavalier” as they continued “ripping the guts out of local government.” To him, we were dealing with an issue of “taxation without compensation.” Among his attributes, he called himself conservative, pragmatic, and results-oriented – “I am a representative.”
Answering the question about working with the majority, Cannon suggested he had “no problem working across party lines” but wouldn’t compromise on principles. He would think out of the box and take initiatives where needed, and model his approach on the successes of the Eastern Shore delegation already there.
A born-again Christian and NRA member, Mike McCready also spoke about his experience in agriculture as a member of Delmarva Poultry Industry and operator of eight chicken houses. He’s also served two terms on the Somerset County Commission and touted that body’s financial success – in eight years the property tax rate had declined from $1.01 per $100 to 88.3 cents. “That is fiscal responsibility,” said Mike. Part of the belt-tightening was instituting a hiring freeze; on the other hand, they didn’t need a maintenance of effort waiver for county schools.
But he didn’t forget from where he came, stating “farmers are the backbone of the Eastern Shore,” and that “we cannot afford to put the watermen out of business.” McCready thought the best way to work with his fellow Democrats on certain issues was to “have a proposal in your own mind, too” and seek out allies to a rural point of view.
Charles Otto is also a farmer; in fact he has served as the president of the Somerset and Wicomico Farm Bureaus. That experience working on the outside of the political process to “create things we can live with” fueled his desire to get on the inside and become an advocate for land use issues and respecting private property rights. Otto answered the question about being in the minority by citing the need for finding allies in the General Assembly which hail from rural areas. But “the biggest issue we’ll face is monetary,” concluded Otto.
John Phoebus is “very happy AFP is playing a role in politics.” He “never imagined” he’d run for the House of Delegates but the loss of Delegate Page Elmore “left a huge void.”
Yet John also said he was “fed up” with what he saw coming from Annapolis, describing it as a “wholesale assault on Eastern Shore values.” The General Assembly is “out of touch,” Phoebus said, and 2010 was a “great opportunity to make a change.” Referring to the 2005 Fair Share bill that affected Walmart and may have cost Somerset County a distribution center, that “red-headed Eskimo” measure was proof we “need people who believe government isn’t the answer” in the General Assembly. Since it’s “not likely the GOP will take over” in the General Assembly, we need to work with like-minded members from other rural areas. (Otto cited Phoebus’s previous answer in his own, as the panelists answered in reverse alphabetical order.)
Michael James and Dustin Mills were also allowed to answer the question posed to District 38A hopefuls, with James stating the need to be proactive and “intelligently bring people to our side,” while Mills echoed Brewington’s earlier statement to not “go along to get along.” Instead, he would be a vocal advocate even if it means being a minority of one.
Needless to say, it was a lengthy meeting, taking over two hours to wrap. But those who stayed became much more informed about their alternatives in this election.