Forum Features Senate Candidates With Contrasting Styles, Outlooks

OCEAN CITY — With just a few weeks remaining before the Nov. 4 general election, the Ocean City chapter of the AARP on Wednesday hosted a spirited debate between Senator Jim Mathias and Delegate Mike McDermott, offering a clear dichotomy between the two candidates for the District 38 Senate seat.

Mathias pointed to his record of accomplishment on behalf of the district and his success in building relationships and partnerships with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. By contrast, McDermott painted himself as a maverick of sorts willing to stand up to what he believes are the failed policies of the state government and his opponent’s perceived rubber-stamping of the Democratic majority’s agenda.

“Go back eight years to the prior administration when Marylanders wanted to be Marylanders and didn’t want to leave,” McDermott said. “Now fast forward eight years. We went from 25th business friendly to 44th, we’re ranked the 46th worst in income tax and we have the 49th worst economy. We can’t go much further in the wrong direction. On top of that, and what’s important for you, we’re one of the worst states in which to retire. That’s problematic for us going forward.”

Despite the worst economic downturn in decades, Mathias countered the state has been able to move forward and create jobs and continue to invest, which has led to a rebound in the state’s economy.
“We’ve been able to meet the challenges and keep moving forward,” he said. “We’ve gone through the worst economic decline in decades, and we’ve been able to meet the challenges.”

When asked what they believed were their proudest accomplishments in the last four years, the two candidates took different paths. Mathias said he was proud of the ongoing investment in the Lower Shore despite the terrible economy, including two more phases of the Route 113 dualization, investments in Salisbury University, UMES, public schools, libraries and other capital investments.

Additionally, Mathias said, “I think my proudest accomplishment has been the ability to build alliances and reach consensus. When you pick up the phone and ask me to accomplish your needs in Annapolis, I’ve been able to get it done.”

McDermott painted himself as a delegate willing to stand up to the majority party and call them out on what he believes are failed policies.

“When you ask what my proudest accomplishment is, the easiest thing to say I’ve done is take a stand against recklessness,” he said. “Standing in that gap and bringing some sense of reasoning to these bills. The biggest thing is saving taxpayers’ money. I was able to bring casino money that was going to Prince George’s County and Baltimore back to Worcester where it belongs. That happened on my watch. I was also able to help save the state $100 million by not having state’s attorneys and public defenders at bail hearings. That happened because of my expertise in law enforcement.”

When asked what has to happen to bring meaningful year-round jobs to the Eastern Shore, the debate went back to the recurring issue of increased spending and investment or a tightening of the state’s fiscal belt.

“We have to continue to work toward rural prosperity, and we have to make certain we remain competitive with neighboring Delaware and Virginia,” said Mathias. “Offshore wind is a job creator. We have to take care of tourism. Right now, there are four hotels under construction in Ocean City. That’s jobs. The Performing Arts Center being built right behind us, that’s jobs. There’s a $40 million development project in Salisbury, that’s jobs. Just pick up the phone and call Jim Mathias and it will get done.”

McDermott said the key to creating meaningful jobs is to cut state government spending and reducing the restrictions on the private sector.

“I’ve seen the failed policies and I’ve seen the men and women in the Assembly sticking to the same course,” he said. “We are pitiful when it comes to our economy. What would I do? I’d cut spending. I voted to cut about $20 billion. I think offshore wind is a boondoggle. Who is going to pay for offshore wind? You are.”

One of the tenser moments of the forum oddly came during a question about the new regulations for Boardwalk games. Mathias pointed out his family has been in the amusement business for decades and he worked closely with state lawmakers to get the language changed in the bill.

“The National Federation of Business has endorsed me because they looked at a person who has been successfully in business for 30 years,” he said. “I didn’t get a public service paycheck. I created jobs and signed paychecks. I also have an endorsement from the Fraternal Order of Police and my opponent is a career law enforcement officer.”

McDermott took Mathias to task for suggesting he has been paid throughout his career on the taxpayers’ dime.

“Don’t demean police officers,” he said. “I have never felt bad about drawing a paycheck as a police officer and I’ve never felt bad about drawing a paycheck while serving in the U.S. Army. As for the FOP endorsement, I’d trade you the endorsement of a statewide union for the endorsement of the men and women I’ve worked with on the streets for the last 34 years.”

When asked about the raiding of the Transportation Trust Fund and the future of highway projects in and around the resort area, including Route 90 and Route 50, for example, the two candidates differed again. Mathias pointed out monies borrowed from the Transportation Trust Fund had been largely paid back and have paved the way for continued investment in local highway projects.

“Twice in eight years we’ve made a significant investment in Route 113 including $50 million just this spring,” he said. “We’ve paved roads and made a lot of pedestrian improvements and a lot of that comes with working together. I’ve worked with the leadership in the House and Senate to get that money to come back to Worcester.”

However, McDermott pointed to the ongoing Route 113 project as an example of failure. He said improvements to Route 113 began in the early 1960s and there are still over seven miles to go to complete the dualization.

“It’s costing $16 million a mile on that road, but they bring it out in election years to show how they are making progress,” he said. “They want to take credit for that? That’s not an accomplishment, that’s an indictment.”

With the AARP hosting the forum, the candidates were asked what opportunities for senior citizens were missed during the last session and what opportunities await in the coming session. Mathias said he has gone to bat for local seniors on several issues. He pointed to advances in tele-medicine, investments in research hospitals and financial fraud protections, for example.

“I want to make sure your pensions are protected,” he said. I don’t want you leaving Maryland. My priorities for seniors include financial security, health and public safety.”

McDermott responded the current climate in Maryland is increasingly less conducive for senior citizens.

“You’re leaving our state in record numbers,” he said. “You’re not sheltering here. You’re moving. You can buy a second home in Florida for the same money paid in property tax in Maryland. You want to see your dreams come true in Maryland, but it’s not going to happen if we stay on the course we’re on. We’ve got to stop hoping things are going to get better and make things get better.”

McDermott pointed to a recent poll that suggested a large number of Marylanders would leave the state if they could because of increased taxes and regulations on the private sector. Mathias, however, pointed out the poll was somewhat skewed because it was largely conducted in the Washington, D.C. metro area where many of the respondents have federal jobs.

“We all hope to leave here tonight with some verifiable facts,” he said. “That number is distorted regarding who would leave Maryland. The majority that said they would leave here for federal jobs and when those jobs run out, they want to return to their families. A lot of stuff my opponent has said in this campaign simply aren’t true. Take that Fortune 500 list he likes to tout. We had five here in the Ehrlich administration and then there were seven. There were never 12 as he likes to point out.”

McDermott countered the current administration and the majority party, including Mathias, likes to point out job creation as a sign the economy is recovering.

“Do you not see thousands of jobs leaving Maryland?” he said. “That’s indefensible. All we hear about is jobs, jobs, jobs, but the economy is not growing. Your paychecks are shrinking and our kids are leaving. I want a Senator that stands up and leads, not follows. We’re full of politicians in Maryland, but we’re short on leaders. It’s the same people with the same policies and the same results. It’s lunacy.”

Mathias defended his leadership and pointed to McDermott’s lack of getting any meaningful legislation passed.

“Look at my opponent and look at how many of his bills have passed. Zero,” he said. “We’ve been hollered at tonight and this isn’t a constructive debate. That’s not how we do it in Annapolis and it’s not how we do it in this community. Both parties have to be effective in building relationships and partnerships. That’s how things get done. Vote for the person that best represents you, don’t vote for the ‘R’ or the ‘D’ or the ‘I’. Who would you want representing you in Annapolis?”

McDermott countered by pointing out Mathias’ perceived lack of leadership.

“When somebody is backed into a corner and can’t answer a question, they resort to name-calling. It’s arrogant. I bring you passionate representation. That’s what I do and I’m not afraid to stand up to the status quo and ask the tough questions. That’s what passionate leadership does. If we need anything, we need more passionate leaders.”