Q&A With Mary Beth Carozza: Delegate Preparing For Second Session in Annapolis

Q&A With Mary Beth Carozza: Delegate Preparing For Second Session in Annapolis

OCEAN CITY — Republican Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (District 38-C) has her bags packed and is ready to head toward the state capital next week as the 2016 legislative session kicks off in Annapolis.

It’s Carozza’s second session as a delegate and she’s looking to build momentum from a freshman session that saw her appointed to the House Appropriations Committee.

Carozza, who served in President George W. Bush administration as well as Gov. Bob Ehrlich’s in Maryland, sat down with The Dispatch to talk about her expectations and initiatives for the next 90 days and talked about her jump from political staffer to elected official.

Q: With all of your political background, was there anything in your first year as a delegate that really surprised you about the inner workings of Annapolis politics, especially now that your name was out front as a delegate?

A: What was interesting about the experience as a former staff member was to now apply some of the advice and guidance that I gave in the past to myself as the elected official. I try to take some of that and put it to work. For instance, whenever constituents come up from Ocean City or Worcester and Wicomico counties, I want to make sure that I meet with them. But I realized that the Appropriations Committee schedule is pretty demanding. It is a committee that meets virtually every day, sometimes twice a day when we are in session.

So, I found myself making the effort to do that because it was something that I had advised in the past for former elected officials whom I worked for, and I wanted to make sure I made the effort when I was the elected official to meet with the constituents. Plus, I find it very uplifting when they come up. I knew the schedule was going to be demanding, but I probably was a little bit surprised of the extreme work load on the appropriations committee but I’m very grateful that Speaker (Michael) Busch appointed me to it.

Q: How important do you think it is, or at the very least, can you try to quantify the importance of having a representative from the Eastern Shore on the all-important Appropriations Committee?

A: The Appropriations Committee is a unique position. It really allows you to be involved in every aspect of state government, and along with our constitutional responsibility to pass a balanced budget, there is also a very important oversight role. That role allows you to work with department agency heads and their staff year round. So for example, when an issue comes up like the dredging issues in the West Ocean City inlet, I know I can pull in the secretary of the department of natural resources and talk directly to him about our challenges. So the appointment to the appropriations committee allows you to have interaction with those agency department heads across state government so that when we do have those issues that affect the shore or our shore priorities, you already have the established relationships to move our priorities forward.

Q: You mentioned “shore” initiatives or priorities. What initiatives are you focused on in this upcoming session?

A: What I’m looking to do is make sure I understand the priorities of the key constituencies first. What I do with those meetings is to try and make sure I understand their priorities and find out if they can be worked through the budget process. Are they individual legislative initiatives, or is it something that they just want to make sure that the appropriate folks in Governor Hogan’s administration to know about. I look at that part of my job as partnerships. There’s a legislative focus to it, and the budget focus to it, but there’s also this oversight and working with the executive branch.

So as an example, Mayor Meehan and I were talking about protecting the tourism budget. So, that will continue to be a priority because that is such a great investment because as we know, for every dollar the state puts in, its, I believe, now a six-fold return for the state.

I’ve been very clear that the primary focus will be the budget. I expect Governor Hogan to introduce a very fiscally responsible budget, and of course we’ll have the give and take with the Maryland General Assembly. What I hope is that we will make some progress on looking at the mandated spending. I’m absolutely convinced that the only way we attack the structural deficit is to look at the mandated formulas. That’s difficult to do, but I think the leadership understands that we have to pursue that difficult task. So, as we look at the situation that we are in right now, which is a positive one, our revenues are above the expectation, so that gives us a little bit of leeway with the budget to perhaps tackle the structural deficit in the future. Those are going to be tough conversations about Medicaid, pension, education spending, but I think if we can just put that out there and honestly work through that, we can begin to make some progress.

Q: Let’s talk politics, specifically working across party lines. Talk about your relationship with Democratic state senator Jim Mathias, and more broadly, about the fact that you are a Republican delegate and you are working alongside a majority of Democrats. How do you do it here on the shore, and how do you do it in Annapolis?

A: In order to be successful in representing this area, you work in a bi-partisan fashion. I’m very proud of my relationships, not only here on the shore in the shore delegation but also with my colleagues on the house appropriations committee and the other committees. I’ve believe that I’ve demonstrated that not only am I a team player but that I’m willing to do the heavy lifting and have earned some respect from the Democrats working the same issue.

If you spend the time to build the bi-partisan coalition and I intend to take that same work ethic and apply it to my initiatives in this session.

Q: You have that classic story of a local girl who grew up here and went on to do big things. You worked closely in Washington with the most powerful people in the world, and then in Annapolis with the former governor. Now you’ve come full circle and now you are the local girl that’s come home and is doing good in the community that she was raised in. Talk about that feeling of being able to make an impact in the community you grew up in?

A: So, here you have this wonderful experience growing up here, and an appreciation for the fact that its tourism that drives the economy and the respect and the admiration for the rural part of the shore: the farming community and the watermen. I’ll put the shore up against any other place not just in the state of Maryland but around the country. There’s a lot of pride here and from being raised in the area. Then, having the opportunities in public service at the federal level to work on good initiatives really helped me. The highlight was working at the Department of Defense for Secretary Rumsfeld under President George W. Bush’s administration during what I didn’t realize then, was a historic time in our nation’s history. I was at the Pentagon on September 11th, and I realize that the experience really cemented my passion for public service.

Q: Was that experience on 9/11 one of the driving reason why you wanted to make the jump from a political staffer to an elected official?

A: It really evolved, Bryan. The experience at the Pentagon really underscored that our very way of life was under attack and that we truly were at war against terrorism. I think what stuck with me most from that experience was a few days after the attack, President Bush came over to the Pentagon in a very low key way and met with some of the senior military and civilians. Somehow I wrangled myself into the meeting, but what he said was this: ‘On the heels of a terrorist attack, we should expect to have the support of the American people and Congress. But our challenge will be how do we maintain our vigilance for the long haul against an enemy who is very patient and determined to destroy our very way of life?’

Then you fast forward and you look at the Boston Marathon, the beheadings of journalists, what happened in Paris and even domestically and you realize how prophetic President Bush’s words were then spoken just a few days after September 11th. I realized then public service was my life. I probably would have stayed with President Bush’s administration his whole eight years had Governor Bob Ehrlich not been elected and asked me to come home and work for his administration.  He also allowed me on the weekends to return home to the shore to represent him and that really started the first shift from my public service level from the federal level to the state level and then back home to the local level.

Q: Where is the most important work done in your purview: the federal, the state or the local level?

A: It’s the partnership, particularly between state and local. I believe that it’s my responsibility given that you are only going to be successful if the partners at every level are working together and the partners across state government. So, I can use my experience from working at the federal level in both the legislative and executive branches of government. Working at the state level now, I believe I have an obligation to take that experience and to build the partnerships so we can be solution oriented.

About The Author: Bryan Russo

Bryan Russo returned to The Dispatch in 2015 to serve as News Editor after working as a staff writer from 2007-2010 covering the Ocean City news beat. In between, Russo worked as the Coastal Reporter for NPR-member station WAMU 88.5FM in Washington DC and WRAU 88.3 FM on the Delmarva Peninsula. He was the host of a weekly multi-award winning public affairs show “Coastal Connection.” During his five years in public radio, Russo’s work won 19 Associated Press Awards and 2 Edward R. Murrow Awards and was heard on various national programs like NPR’s All Things Considered, Morning Edition, APM’s Marketplace and the BBC. Russo also worked for the Associated Press (Philadelphia Bureau) covering the NHL and the NBA and is a critically acclaimed singer/songwriter and composer.