Like the changing of leaves, it looks like forum season has arrived. One week after county candidates got into it at the FOP gathering, a more calm exchange was had last night at Wor-Wic Community College. Since there were fourteen hopefuls gathered last night, I’m going to split the posts and make one focused on District 37 candidates while the other covers District 38.
As with the FOP gathering, the sheer number of officeseekers included didn’t give a lot of opportunity for questions; however, the group asking was relatively diverse and included local businesswoman Dawn Tilghman, Terrence Lee of WMDT-TV, and Jennifer Cropper-Rines, president of the Coastal Association of Relators (CAR). Susan Parker of the Daily Times served as moderator. After an opening statement, candidates had to answer one question from each panel member and, with six to eight candidates on stage and two minutes allotted, there was really little need to get questions from the audience (hence my first post on the forum last night.)
Because of how the forum was set up, I’m going to evalute each question and answer in turn rather than summarize what each candidate said as a whole. I run the risk of writing this in a more dry fashion via this method but I think it would be more informative. This begins with the opening statements.
Richard Colburn put it simply – “I am a Shore Senator.” Delving back in history to when each county had a Senator and the Eastern Shore was a more powerful political force, he hammered on the Montgomery County delegation as a whipping boy for enacting onerous agribusiness and critical areas restrictions which harm the Shore. Colburn also claimed he “brought the two-party system to the Shore” by running and winning as a Republican in the early 1980’s.
Addie Eckardt cited her experience in the health care field and looked at her Delegate job as one of “educating folks on how to work the process.” This also involved the concept of building bridges and listening to different viewpoints. But her main focus was economic, telling the audience “whatever I can do to build the tax base is really important.” As examples, she pointed out the usage of enterprise zones and targeted investments.
Her opponent, Patrice Stanley, believed the district was “fairly stagnant” so she jumped into the race. A former official in the Clinton Administration who now works for a public policy firm, she called for more accountability in education because local districts are “lagging”, a renewed emphasis on vocational training, and modifying the tax base.
Dustin Mills “chose to make this home” after a childhood spent in a number of different locales as the child of a military family. The Salisbury University graduate, though, feels the main issue plaguing the district and state is that of job creation. “The stimulus money is not going to get it done,” said Mills, who believes it’s time to reduce the tax burden on businesses and would bring a fresh perspective and attitude to Annapolis.
Chris Robinson recounted how he served as a legislative assistant and chief of staff to former Congressman Roy Dyson. Of course, he believed “we can do a lot better on the Shore” and criticized his opponent for failing to make the Shore attractive. He could help improve our quality of life, Robinson claimed.
Before he was elected, his race was a victim of taxation without representation, or so Rudy Cane claimed. Citing his Eastern Shore background as the “connection” which makes him dedicated to his district, he opined that our region was an “imtegral part” of Maryland.
Dawn Tilghman asked a question on onerous inspection practices affecting small businesses.
As a small businessman himself (law firm), Chris Robinson found the experiences he had with bureaucrats “troubling…I don’t think the law is intended to be a hammer.”
Rich Colburn thought the responsibility of the inspector was to assist small business, not to be punitive and fine them. Legislation may be necessary on how fines are administered.
“It begins and ends with attuitude,” said Dustin Mills, who pointed out that there’s more fines because the state needs the revenue.
Addie Eckardt was reminded by Mills’ remark about the spending affordability debate, and that legislative leaders seem to think the state’s economic solution lies in more government jobs – like inspectors. It leads to an “unbearable” punitive attitude.
Patrice Stanley agreed, and added that more aggressive regulations seem to begat less cooperative businesses.
This was a “prime example” of Maryland’s poor rank in business friendliness, said Rich Colburn, and what we need is “an even-handed, fair approach.” Small business can create the jobs if we allow them to.
On the same subject, Terrence Lee asked about how to help businesses grow.
We need to retain the jobs we have, said Rich Colburn, citing the implicit war against the poultry industry that Maryland is waging. Maryland farmers need to be kept competitive for this area to thrive.
Patrice Stanley agreed, and added we need to address state and county tax rates. She promised to work closely with the counties, and added that we should emphasize vocational training more.
Education and incentives along with a streamlined government were key ingredients, said Addie Eckardt, but she also stressed there are existing tax incentives in place and there are success stories out there, particularly in niche farming. It’s all in “how we put the package together,” she noted.
Rolling back the 2007 Special Session tax increases was a necessary part of helping business growth, argued Dustin Mills. Increases in the corporate tax and having a sales tax that puts us at a disadvantage to Delaware need to be addressed.
Rudy Cane pointed out the broadband system we enjoy could be used as an economic development tool.
A focus on education and safety while avoiding sprawl were items on the agenda of Chris Robinson.
With the increase in foreclosures, Jennifer Cropper-Rines wanted to know if lenders were intentionally avoiding transfer taxes by keeping homes in the original owner’s name, among other things.
When times were good, “Maryland was part of the problem,” said Rudy Cane. Thus, the state has to be part of the solution.
Home ownership is a proud milepost in the lives of young people, said Dustin Mills, but state hurdles like “smart growth” are “onerous and overbearing.” We need to promote home ownership by working with banks, developers, and homeowners.
Legislation hasn’t gone far enough in this area, said Addie Eckardt.
Patrice Stanley thought we should work with federal policy to help benefit the state. The modifications in place now were “too restrictive.”
A halt in foreclosures would “mess up the housing market,” said Rich Colburn, arguing that the market needs to find its balance point.
Chris Robinson actually answered the question directly to Cropper-Rines, arguing that saving a few hundred dollars in recordation tax was the least of lenders’ worries when they were staring at a market that features $300,000 houses going for half that price. This will be a “long lesson” for the parties involved as there is a wariness about buying right now.
Rudy Cane told the crowd that he wasn’t in the General Assembly “just for a job” but because he had a love for the legislature.
There’s “so much anger…(it’s) so adversarial” in the public discourse right now, said Chris Robinson. We need to build bridges and work together to get things accomplished and that would be his attitude in Annapolis.
“I’m going up there to represent my people,” said Dustin Mills, who would mix criticism with solutions if elected.
Patrice Stanley cited her leadership and “forward thinking” as reasons she should be elected. Part of that was working with both parties in the best interests of the district.
Addie Eckardt countered that she’d been forward thinking for sixteen years and noted that at this “critical time…I have the relationships established” in the General Assembly. There’s no need to offer solutions where problems don’t exist.
Finally, Rich Colburn called the economy “the most important issue” and recalled his philosophy of fewer regulations and smaller government has earned him the endorsement of various business groups. He also cited his support of the numerous volunteer fire companies and municipalities in the district and called the 2007 sales tax increase “a severe blow” to the Eastern Shore.
Overall, this was the more tame of the two district forums. I know Cane and Mills have been more contentious on other occasions.
When you look at opening statements, they can be rather bland because most choose to spend time recounting their background. Generally, incumbents embellish what they’ve done and their opponents say the incumbents haven’t done enough. Overall, I liked the little history lesson Colburn gave and had to shake my head a bit at Cane’s “taxation without representation” statement. You have to wonder if he could win in any other district based simply on political philosophy.
Perhaps the thing which jumped out at me in answering the questions and in the closing arguments is that suddenly the Democrats want to work together with the Republicans and be more bipartisan. However, I think the attitude Rich Colburn condemned from the Montgomery County delegation is the one that the Democrats who come from the Shore would eventually adopt. They would sooner cross the street than talk to Republicans about solutions, simply because Democrats have unchecked power at the state level and have had it for much of the last 100 years. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it – Democrats talk conservative in the district but vote liberal in Annapolis.
As you’ll see in the District 38 debate, I have some who agree with me.