Since I’ve now covered the county and District 37 races, it’s time to focus on the last political subdivision involved, District 38. The turnout for this one was disappointing because they failed to get the two Senate candidates, nor did they cover District 38C (although Democrat contender Judy Davis was in the audience.) On the other hand, District 38A received part of the billing despite the fact the district no longer covers Wicomico County.
So there were just four candidates to deal with: Delegate Charles Otto and former Crisfield mayor P.J. Purnell in District 38A and Delegate Norm Conway and Delmar, Maryland mayor Carl Anderton, Jr. in District 38B. I’ll start with the race that pits Otto, who was elected in 2010 after surviving a four-way Republican primary and rolling up 62% of the general election vote, against Purnell, who served as Crisfield’s mayor for the last eight years before not seeking re-election this year.
Their initial question concerned the wind turbine farm slated for Somerset County, but placed in jeopardy for a time due to objections from the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, who was concerned about effects on their radar equipment from the spinning blades. Otto said he had committed to the developers about being neutral toward the project although he objected to the renewable energy portfolio. He believed, though, the project was sited in an “appropriate place” to alleviate health concerns, and would rather see wind turbines than solar panels that directly affect the environment.
Purnell spoke about his experience with wind turbines in Crisfield, where he secured a $4 million “green grant” to build a 750 kilowatt turbine to service the town’s sewage treatment plant. “If it doesn’t work it will be Purnell’s Folly,” he said. But he felt the electricity savings would benefit the city by allowing other items to be funded.
It led into a question on unemployment, and Purnell stated the obvious: “Unemployment is tough.” But he looked for anything he could to create jobs, including grants. “Economic development is a tough process,” said Purnell, who added that we needed to be prepared.
Otto used the aborted Walmart distribution center to point out how the state’s business climate affects job creation – on the very day Somerset County was to reopen discussions with Walmart about the site, the state passed its minimum wage law. Minimum wage and tax structure were the cause of many of our job creation problems, although the toll increase which makes it $1 per mile from the Bay Bridge to Salisbury for a truck doesn’t help either.
In terms of helping the realty industry, Otto blasted the Septic Bill he opposed as part of the “war on rural Maryland.” He vowed, “I’ll continue to defend property rights” in Annapolis.
On the other hand, Purnell believed “sustainability is the root of all our problems on the Eastern Shore.” He predicted we won’t be able to build in five to ten years.
In his closing statement, Purnell pointed out he’d cut Crisfield’s workforce, and made the case he believed smaller government was the answer. Otto talked about the state’s increasing spending and told the gathering, “I was taught to pay for it when I bought it.”
Again, this was a case where the Democrat in the race tried to convince the audience he was just as conservative as the Republican. It wasn’t so much the case in the District 38B race, which places a Delegate who has represented the area in Annapolis since 1986 (and was a Salisbury City Council member for a dozen years before that) against a mayor elected in 2011, who spent six years before that as a member of their town commission.
I noted the other day in my initial report that Anderton apologized for a mailing which depicted Conway as a masked criminal. But Carl was critical when he was asked the question about what he would do differently than Norm.
“Communication is key,” said Carl, who gave the crowd his cell phone number as a way of promoting access. He also noted that “I haven’t seen my Delegate in my town hall” during his entire tenure in Delmar government, reinforcing his belief that “we’re such an underdog in representation.”
Unlike the other participants, Norm had a different question regarding highway user revenues. Conway said that the Transportation Trust Fund had been repaid, but as for the lost highway user revenues it was his claim that the approach was the preference of MACO (the advocacy group for Maryland’s counties.) But “no one knew” the depth of the recession or the extent of the cuts needed, argued Conway.
Norm was asked then about tuition costs, noting they’d maintained a 3% level of increase while other states had done far worse. But he also bemoaned the fact that many students take much longer than four years to graduate, accumulating more debt along the way.
Anderton was asked about how to bring job opportunities here, but pointed out that Wor-Wic Community College, the site of the debate, won’t have its funding restored to previous levels until 2023. “The things that go on in Annapolis have to change,” said Carl. “We have to be fundamentally different (and) we have to do better.”
Something Carl wanted to address for the realtors was the tax differential, although he also spoke helping to create the success of the Heron Ponds development. Conway agreed the differential needed a review or discussion, but felt that eventually Sussex County, Delaware, with its extremely low assessed rates, “will have to face reality.” Norm also praised those moving into downtown Salisbury, calling it “a real plus.”
In his closing statement, Norm talked about how he had always set goals for himself. But Anderton stressed a different approach: “it’s all about teamwork.”
This was an interesting part of the forum because the two candidates answered mostly different questions, which made it difficult to compare and contrast. Obviously Carl wouldn’t have the same voting record as Norm has, but one thing which stuck out at me was that both of Norm’s questions touched on appropriations – how much money it would take to hold tuition costs at 3% increases or how best to cut to fit a budget. Some of that was out of his hands, but I would have really loved to have Norm answer how he could create jobs when things have gone steadily south during his last couple terms. There are reasons Sussex County is so appealing at the moment and advantageous assessments is just one.
As I think I said in a previous rendition, I think this forum would have been far better spread out over a couple nights. It was also disappointing we didn’t get to hear the exchanges between Jim Mathias and Mike McDermott for the District 38 Senate seat or Judy Davis and Mary Beth Carozza for District 38C – which, ironically, is the district Wor-Wic lies in. It went on for over 2 1/2 hours, but with 15 participants there was only time for three questions apiece, plus the opening and closing statements.
Overall, I don’t think anyone crippled their chances for victory so we’ll have to hang on for another couple weeks to see how it goes.