BERLIN — The first salvo in what will likely be a spirited campaign in Maryland Senate District 38 election was launched this week when Republican Delegate Mike McDermott called out Democratic Senator Jim Mathias for voting for the governor’s fiscal year 2015 budget.
The incumbent Mathias (D-38) last week joined his colleagues in the Senate in approving Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposed budget, drawing the ire of Delegate McDermott (R-38B), a staunch conservative who represents much of the Lower Shore including all of Worcester. Due to legislative redistricting, much of the old House District 38-B has been carved out to create a new House District 38-C, which will include much of the eastern and southern portions of Worcester.
As a result, McDermott has filed to challenge Mathias for the Senate District 38 seat this year. With only the two candidates filing for the seat, there will be no primary election in the district and Mathias and McDermott will square off in the general election in November.
This week, McDermott made it clear this contest will be one of the most heated campaigns on the Lower Shore, painting Mathias essentially with a broad brush as a liberal tax-and-spend Democrat.
“Voting for O’Malley’s reckless budgets is not conservative leadership,” he said. “This amounts to nothing more than surrendering to the tax-and-spend liberals that dominate the State Senate.”
McDermott’s release said the governor’s budget includes over $72 million in funding for Obamacare in Maryland, including the failed healthcare exchange. He also alleged the budget steals $400 million from the state employee pension system over the next two years to fund the governor’s out-of-control spending.
McDermott also asserted the budget continues to steal highway user revenue from county and municipal governments, which for decades was always a dedicated source of funding for local roads. He said robbing the higher user funds made it more difficult for Lower Shore counties and cities to even maintain their roads, let alone conduct paving projects.
McDermott said Mathias has a long history of voting for O’Malley’s budgets and has supported and voted for every budget proposed by the governor including over $10 billion in increased state spending since they both took office.
“Once again, Jim Mathias had a chance to stand up for taxpayers on the Eastern Shore against Martin O’Malley and the liberals who rule the General Assembly,” he said. “Instead, he chose to stay in his seat.”
For his part, Mathias was generally reluctant to take the bait and engage in campaign rhetoric while the General Assembly is in session. Instead, the incumbent said his focus is entirely on the work at hand in the assembly and would not engage in a pre-campaign debate over the state’s spending plan.
“I’m up here doing policy work,” he said. “I’m not up here campaigning. I’m up here working hard on behalf of my district.”
Mathias acknowledged he did not agree with the governor’s budget in its entirety, but said it provided a blue print for keeping the state moving in the right direction.
“There are a lot of good things in this budget, and there are things I didn’t agree with,” he said. “At the end of the day, there are things in this budget that allow us to go forward.”
Mathias said this year’s budget includes a nearly 6-percent increase in funding for public safety programs, as well over $6 billion in K-12 funding to ensure the state’s schools keep improving while paying teachers well-earned salaries. Mathias enumerated many of the local programs and organizations that have benefited from the governor’s budget this year and in the past including Diakonia, the Art League of Ocean City, Coastal Hospice, Salisbury University, UMES and the expanded presence at Wallops.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have the privilege of representing the people in our district,” he said. “We’ve worked hard on getting things that benefit our district and it isn’t always easy.”
Mathias provided as an example Senate Bill 521, which would allow cooperatives to collect poultry litter and convert it into energy, preventing nitrogen and phosphorous from entering the Chesapeake and its tributaries while creating an alternative energy source. The bill would increase to $1.2 million the funding for the Department of Agriculture’s manure transport program, which he called a valuable program for poultry farmers on the shore and all across Maryland.
The bill has six sponsors in the Senate including three Democrats and three Republicans. Along with Mathias, the bill’s sponsors include Eastern Shore Republican Senators Richard Colburn and Steve Hershey.
“We were very fortunate to get that poultry litter to energy bill out of committee, onto the floor of the Senate and over to the House,” he said. “This will allow cooperatives to take this poultry litter and give it an alternative use and it’s illustrative of working together. That can be 20,000 tons of poultry litter converted to clean energy. That’s working together. That’s what this is all about.”