Election Preview: Carozza: I Can Be A Stronger Voice For The Shore’

Election Preview: Carozza: I Can Be A Stronger Voice For The Shore’
After one term in the House of Delegates, Mary Beth Carozza is looking to move to the Senate representing District 38. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – Armed with the backing of the state’s popular Republican governor, Delegate Mary Beth Carozza is looking to move up in state political circles with a run at state senate.

Carozza will be giving up her District 38C seat in the House of Delegates to try and knock off two-term District 38 incumbent Democrat Jim Mathias in next Tuesday’s election.

Raised in Ocean City, Carozza graduated from Stephen Decatur High School and spent her summers working in her parents’ business, Beefy’s. She graduated from Catholic University in 1983.

Her professional career includes serving in the administration of President George W. Bush, the office of Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, the U.S. Senate Homeland Security Committee and senior positions with elected officials in the U.S. Congress.

When not in Annapolis or conducting constituent work, she is a Sunday School teacher at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church and is aunt to four nephews and three nieces.

During her term in the House of Delegates, Carozza was appointed to the House Appropriations Committee and is a member of the Maryland Women’s Caucus, Watermen’s Caucus and Veterans Caucus.

Carozza sat down for an interview with The Dispatch last week. The following is a transcription of that conversation.

Q: Last November you came out early announcing your Senate intentions. Why after just one term as a delegate are you running for senator?

Carozza: I believe I can be a stronger voice for the shore. Leading up to the announcement, I spent several months in a low-key way moving around Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties to meet with those who were encouraging me to run for the State Senate. I had meetings with all our constituencies to get a sense of what people wanted from their state senator and what I was hearing was they wanted a strong voice for the shore. They wanted somebody who would not only vote the right way but wouldn’t necessarily have to check those votes with the party leadership. Not just voting, but being involved in strategy and advocacy on the early end. That excited me.

Also during my listening tour, I wanted to make sure I was hearing the priorities and understood them and involving the locals in the strategy for how we would advance those priorities. I was then strengthened by the fact the shore priorities have been Gov. Hogan’s priorities. We could then make more progress together.

It’s been a strong grassroots campaign involving every age, and I can say I truly think I have support from all three counties.

Q: As you know, Jim Mathias has never lost a campaign. I believe that’s in large part to the fact he works incredibly hard campaigning. From an observation standpoint, it seems to me you are working just as hard. What makes you different than his previous unsuccessful challengers? How will you appeal to voters in all three counties?

Carozza: My interaction with the voters in all three counties actually goes back to my service as a deputy chief of staff for then-Gov. Ehrlich. I would work all week in Annapolis with him and then on the weekends when he would receive event invites around the community he would allow me to represent him and I really got to know these communities. So there was a base there to start building on.

Then in 2012 when I wrapped up my federal government service and made the decision I wanted to be at home and continue my public service on the shore, I was encouraged by Louise Gulyas to run at the county level. That’s when Ellen Sauerbrey said you may want to consider looking at the state level because of my experience with Gov. Ehrlich. Then when I did announce for delegate, I announced very early on, in May 2013. I started going to door to door at the very beginning. That really allowed me to hear first hand and understand the priorities of the shore.

I won that delegate election with close to 74% of the vote. From there I never stopped that aggressive interaction with my constituents through attending events, going door to door and talking to the voters every day in all three counties. I am strengthened by the strong support I have been receiving.

Q: Throughout your campaign, a talking point has been the incumbent’s relationship with the majority party and Senate President Mike Miller. You have maintained he’s not always voting with his district and that he’s first running it up the flagpole with his majority party. What’s wrong with having a good working relationship with the highest ranking member of the majority party?

Carozza: I believe there’s a difference between having a good working relationship and having to toe the party line. I would differentiate between that.

I am proud of my strong working relationship with both sides of the aisle. I have a strong working relationship with my chairman, Maggie McIntosh from Baltimore City. She’s in the Democratic party leadership in the house, yet when it came to working on issues that affected the shore and I was able to make the case that some of the funding formulas were unfair for the shore she factors in the facts. In two cases, I made the point with our local senior centers the rural facilities were not receiving their fair share of the funding compared to across the bridge. She said I think this formula you are proposing is a fair one and we made the adjustment. I use that as an example of good working relationship with someone who is in a power position of the state’s Democratic party.

That is different from having to check on a key vote that will affect your district, like the paid sick leave bill. The incumbent is expected to vote for that bill and to override Gov. Hogan’s veto of it because at that point they need the votes on the other side. I differentiate again between a good working relationship, which I have had in the House of Delegates with my leadership and that I will have with the Senate, President Miller and the various committee chairs. I know I am well respected on both sides of the aisle because I prepare and I make my case on fairness. I have been effective in the House of Delegates. I believe I can be even more effective in the Senate because you’re one of 47 and have a larger platform to make your case for the shore.

Q: Regarding the paid sick leave bill, which will hurt many businesses here on the shore, you supported the governor’s veto of the bill, but it was overridden by the Democrats. What is your position and what was your involvement with this bill?

Carozza: First of all, when you talk about a paid sick leave bill policy, that’s something that is a benefit our employees should have. Then you look at what’s the best way for that benefit to be provided. I believe job creators, like our many family businesses here, are in the best position to determine what their policy should be to keep their employees and remain competitive. Knowing we were moving forward with a paid sick leave policy, I supported Gov. Hogan’s commonsense policy initiative, which I believe was a win-win for both the job creators and the employees.

When the Maryland General Assembly went in the opposite direction and made this much more onerous for our job creators, that’s when I three years in a row offered the 120-day seasonal exemption. It was clear for our job creators they needed a minimum of 120 days. I spent a lot of time in between sessions knowing this legislation would come back. My point with the incumbent is if you were going to vote for that legislation, which he did, then at the bare minimum he should have gotten the 120-day seasonal exemption. Not only did he not deliver, he voted against the pro-business amendments that were offered. In the end, we did not get the 120 days. I voted against the bill and Gov. Hogan vetoed that bill. I voted to sustain the veto and the incumbent voted to override it.

This was a key issue for our local community. That started again to show me what type of advocacy our local constituents expect out of their elected officials. It’s not only are you going to vote the right way but are you going to be involved in strategies on the early end to advance our shore priorities.

Q: It seems you and Hogan are clearly on the same page on most matters as evidenced by his endorsement of you. The only thing publicly that I can see you two don’t agree on is your support of President Trump. Has there ever been a time when you have had to go against the governor? If you were to have to go against the governor, how would you go about that?

Carozza: Sure. If you look at the past four years as a delegate, there have been votes where I have to put the shore’s interests first and Gov. Hogan represents the entire state. When it comes to issues where I believe the western shore has an unfair advantage or is receiving a disproportionate amount, I am going to vote against those initiatives. He may have to work through those issues as representative for the entire state. I am not held to that because I represent the shore. There will clearly be issues and there have been in the past four years when it comes to unfair funding levels for the shore that I will vote against something that he may be involved in. That’s one example.

Another example is a matter of approach. When I have some ideas on a matter of importance to the shore and I also know Gov. Hogan is working on it, I may take my ideas to the governor not in a public way but to say, ‘I understand you are working on the issue this way. I am working with you on this issue, but I’d like you to consider a different approach.’

A case in point would be there is an acute shortage of ECI corrections officers. That is a public safety issue. Gov. Hogan’s administration has been working on this issue with the locals to try and increase the number of correctional officers at ECI through job fairs, signing bonuses and hiring incentives and easing the testing process. I approached Gov. Hogan and his administration and asked them to consider incentives for the current correctional officers who are working incredible overtime hours through a forced drafting policy. Here we have stressed out employees who are talking about leaving because they are under so much stress. These are hard jobs to begin with. We cannot afford to lose our best and seasoned correctional officers. We need to give them incentives to stay and maybe even stay longer than when they could retire.

Q: Let’s talk about the “strive for five” initiative where the Republican Party has targeted five seats held by Democrats in the Senate, including Mathias’, to overcome the current veto override the majority party has over Gov. Hogan. If the other districts do not go to the right, and my research shows it’s unlikely all five seats will go Republican, how will you effectively work with the majority party as a Republican in the Senate?

Carozza: I am going to break the question into two parts. First, I want to talk about the drive for five. What it comes down to is the people I represent in all three counties want more of a balance and a true two-party system. Right now, in the Maryland General Assembly, when you have a piece of legislation that may negatively affect the shore, not only does the other side have the votes to ramrod it through, they also have the votes when Gov. Hogan tries to stop it to override his veto. With the very makeup of the Maryland General Assembly as it is today, there’s no incentive to work out these tough issues on the front-end. The reason the drive for five is important and to have five Republican state senators, it’s not to take over the majority of the senate. I want to be clear on that because some people don’t understand. It’s to have a balance and it allows for Gov. Hogan’s veto to be sustained, which means that you will have to have policies worked out on the front-end and more of a consensus. That is so important when it comes to issues like redistricting. Right now, if you look at the current makeup of the congressional delegation for the state of Maryland, you have one Republican in an eight-member congressional district. That is not balanced.

And so again we’re not talking about having the majority taking that over and redistricting, we’re talking about a true two-party system in Maryland. That’s why my race not only is significant for the shore to have a stronger voice for the shore, but it’s significant at both the statewide and nationwide levels because you’re talking about at the federal level, redistricting that could put a better balance in the state of Maryland that really serves all Marylanders better. So that has been a very exciting part of this campaign to realize that you’re part of something bigger than yourself. I believe all Marylanders want more of a balance.

The second part of the question is, I have to focus on my own race. I think it’s great that we’re on track with the other four, and actually there are as many as seven or eight races in play even though we’ve been calling it drive for five.

If in the end I am elected, but we don’t match the entire five, I again will point back to how effective I’ve been in the House of Delegates when it’s an overwhelming number of Democrats with Republicans and how I’ve been effective working the shore priorities, not only in my own committee, but in other committees.

I’ll give you an example. Rob Schultheis was a community leader in Salisbury who was very active in the SU alumni and prominent, well-respected and he was killed by a drugged-driver. That was a very hard loss for our community. I did not know until after he was killed and they were going through how they could prosecute the driver, that there was a disparity in the penalty of drugged-driving and drunk-driving. Chris Mason was the attorney for the Schultheis family and Matt Maciarello was the state’s attorney before he became judge. Chris brought to my attention that there was an inequity in this penalty because apparently when Maciarello was the state’s attorney and basically told the family, “Well the best we can do is a three years for drugged-driving,” which wasn’t even at five years for drunk-driving. So Chris Mason and the family brought this inequity to my attention and said, ‘Would you be willing to introduce legislation to make it at the same level?’ Bring the three-year drugged-driving penalty up to the five years.

You have to understand, that is a heavy lift because our legislature and particularly the House of Delegates, they do not like to increase penalties at all. I looked at it from an issue of fairness.

I sought out Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith. She is a Democrat from Prince George’s County. She used to serve on the Judiciary Committee and she now was serving with me on the House Appropriations Committee. I knew she has all these years of experience on the Judiciary Committee and I went to her and I said, ‘This is an inequity. Clearly, it’s only fair to bring this penalty up to five years. How would you go about introducing this legislation?’ And I said to her, ‘Would you be willing to be the lead on it?’ I don’t need to be the lead on it. If I know we can get this done, I don’t need to take credit for that. And she said, ‘I am willing to be your lead sponsor on it Mary Beth, because you’re right, it’s only fair.’ and she said, ‘I would want you to be the lead Republican on it.’ We did that together. We had a sponsor on the Aenate side and we were able to pass that bill.

My point is, of course, I want to win all of those five states and more and be as strong as we can because I think that’s how we can have a true two-party system in the state of Maryland. But if that does not occur, then I know that I can be effective because of the way that I have worked in a bipartisan way, not only in the House of Delegates the past four years, but keep in mind, I worked for Governor Ehrlich for four years. I’ve learned from the best and I have taken those examples of working for others in public service to my service in the House of Delegates and will take that when I go to the state senate.

Q: Mathias has pointed to several measures like the Labor Day school mandate as examples of him having a solid and productive working relationship with the governor, who supports you. How do you respond to that?

Carozza: The point that I want to make is that the issues that the incumbent has pointed out of having a good relationship with Gov. Hogan, number one, I’ve worked on those very same issues. Number two, I want to point out that we achieved success because of Gov. Hogan’s leadership on those issues.

Another example would be the Phosphorous Management Tool. That’s an issue where Senator Mathias worked on that issue. I worked on that issue before I was even elected. I, when I was running in 2013, went out and sat down with Lee Richardson who’s in a leadership position in the Wicomico Farm Bureau. I met with local farmers in Worcester County. I first wanted to understand how egregious this tool would be on their livelihood.

My point is, I understood this issue that, as proposed that phosphorous management tool would have been a disaster for our local farmers and therefore that it affects our whole farming and poultry community here on the shore. If you look at what happened, after Governor Hogan was elected and after he was sworn in, his very first executive order that he signed was to reverse that and committed to working with the farm community on a phosphorous management tool with the farmers at the table.

My point is, we have been successful on some of these issues where the incumbent has pointed out that he’s worked with the governor, we’ve been able to be successful in those issues because of Governor Hogan’s leadership and I have worked on those issues as well.

Another example would be Start School. The incumbent has worked on it as a priority as well, but it did not get done until Larry Hogan used his leadership role, working with the comptroller to sign an executive order that would allow us to start school after Labor Day.

Q: Changing gears to offshore wind, until the forum a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t aware that you and your opponent differ on this subject. Could you explain your concerns with the offshore wind project?

Carozza: I was not a member of the Maryland General Assembly when this legislation passed to allow for the offshore wind project.

After spending a lot of time with a lot of these constituencies, both here in the district, but also in Annapolis, it became very clear to me that we do not have local consensus for a major project that will affect not only the shore, but will affect us state-wide.

Number one is the visibility issue. When we have our major job creators in Ocean City pointing out that the visibility issue can negatively impact not only Ocean City, but the shore, but the whole state of Maryland because we know that tourism and the hospitality industry is a major economic driver for the entire state. I cannot support a project that might put at risk one of our major economic drivers for our local economy as well as the state of Maryland.

The second major issue is the negative impact on the commercial fishing industry. This is an industry with its back up against the wall when it comes to both the state and federal regulations. You have your commercial fishing industry coming to us saying that they have very deep and serious concerns with examples of how an offshore wind project could negatively affect their livelihood. Their questions and their concerns have not been resolved.

Number three, I truly want to understand the true cost to the ratepayers and the taxpayers. I do not believe that we know the true cost at this point. I believe the public has a right to know and again, there is not political consensus on that issue either.

Here you have three major areas of concern on a project that will have significant impact on our local economy as well as the whole state of Maryland, that you need that consensus in order to move forward with the project. And that is a clear difference between the two of us.

Q: Is there anything from a legislative standpoint that you feel can be done at this point to stop both these projects?

Carozza: This is a complex project because it has impact at both the state and the federal level. What I have done is go back to the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, to the town of Ocean City, to our hotel operators, to also check with the Hogan administration, to talk to congressman Andy Harris who has the same concerns that I have raised, since he’s at the federal level and on the Appropriations Committee, to continue to sit down during this interim before we go back into session, to know what possible options there may be to number one, either work through some of those issues or to continue to delay moving forward until these issues can be worked through. I think that’s a very reasonable approach and that’s one that I know across the board that my constituents expect me to take that approach with this issue.

Q: I have here a folder here of dozens of political mailers for and against you. Is there one negative mailer from the Democratic party that you would like to address head-on with our readers?

Carozza: I actually want to address the issue more in general.

I need to draw a contrast between myself and the incumbent. I have to show the differences on how we’ve approached certain issues and certain votes. Some people define drawing contrasts as negative. If you look at how I have defined the contrasts, whether you look on my Facebook or if you look at my mailings, I have based it on facts. There are clear differences between us on key issues and I point those out because they’re factual and that it’s my responsibility, and I believe the voter’s responsibility before they vote is to know the differences between us on these key issues.

There are at least three areas where we have had key differences. One would be just our general approach to tax relief and budget and fiscal responsibility in general. That’s why it’s fair to bring out the fact that Jim Mathias voted for all eight O’Malley budgets. And that he has voted for tax increases and we cite those votes on the mailings. I’ve made very clear that tax relief is a top priority. I’ve made clear that serving on the Appropriations Committee, that fiscal responsibility has been a top priority. I have worked with Governor Hogan, I’ve taken a very strong leadership role partnering with him in those areas of tax relief and budgets and fiscal responsibility.

As a matter of fact, I have co-sponsored tax relief bills all four years. I have specifically worked with him on military retiree tax relief, which we’ve been successful in the past. I will work with him on his initiatives and I plan to be a major sponsor of tax relief for all retirees. The reason I will take a leadership role on this is because when I’m going door-to-door and I am told that the two top issues that I’m hearing going door-to-door, sharing this with Gov. Hogan’s administration as well, is tax relief for retirees and healthcare.

The second area that I really want to focus on because there’s been some questions about it, is our approach to the opioid epidemic. I am very proud that I have participated actively in our local opioid intervention team meetings all four years to really try to understand what they think will work at the local level.

Again, one clear contrast is, I strongly oppose a taxpayer-funded heroin injection site in our community. That is a clear difference between us. He sponsored the bill that would have moved that forward. If you were attending the local meetings that I’ve attended, that issue never came up as a priority to support. And once that bill was introduced, there was a backlash and there was a negative reaction to it, not only on the shore, but across the state. I mean this is a bill that even The Baltimore Sun calls radical. He withdrew that bill, but he even made the comment that, “The shore might not be ready for it yet.” That implies that you’re still open to that approach, and I can tell you that maybe it works in Amsterdam, maybe it works in New York City, but it does not on the shore and Gov. Hogan has also said that it does not work in the state of Maryland. So that is a clear, defining contrast.

Then the question is, “So what do you support?” And I can tell you again what I support comes right from the locals. Two examples with this heroin opioid epidemic. One is that the peer recovery specialist was the recommendation that came out of the Worcester County opioid intervention team. They go onsite to the emergency room at Atlantic General Hospital thinking that is the best opportunity where someone might be most open to getting help and that you would have the support there with a peer recovery specialist, right there. Who will not only be with you that night or when you come in, but will see you through the process. That initiative came from the local level. I then strongly supported and advocated for using our state money for that local approach.

Another example, Wicomico County, I have been engaged in supporting an approach, a comprehensive approach to use Poplar Hill, which used to be the detention facility in Wicomico County, to using that campus to have detox, treatment, recovery and then some type of job transitional. So that we are not just treating someone and then they’re released and the go back to the environment that they’re just going to relapse if nothing changed in their environment. So again, supporting a comprehensive approach which Governor Hogan has taken from the very start, but again, supporting it at the local level.

The third area of contrast are the veto overrides. I voted to sustain every veto of Gov. Hogan’s. My opponent has not. That’s a clear contrast. There are at least seven vetoes that he has voted to override, at least seven. But the two that I want to talk about that have an impact on us locally, most significantly locally, would be number one, we talked about the paid sick leave bill. So not only did he vote for a bill that did not serve our job creators well, but when Gov. Hogan tried to stop it, he voted to override Gov. Hogan’s veto.

Number two, this public school accountability veto. This is the one where on the face of it, this bill looked good. It was one of the no votes that they attacked me on, but then you go back and do the research, I’m actually proud of the no vote. I have a strong opposition to something that my committee chairman did. They inserted this provision that took away Governor Hogan, the comptroller’s and the treasurer’s authority to have oversight of the public school construction program, which is I believe the highest amount of our state dollars go to public school construction. It was a backroom deal, and put it in and you’re looking at this bill and you’re like, ‘Where did this come from?’

Gov. Hogan vetoed that bill and I voted to sustain veto and the incumbent voted to override it. I’m proud of that vote and when he cast it and tried to use that vote as a no vote against education, I wanted to point out, I’m proud of that no vote because I am always going to hold oversight accountability as one of our top priorities when it comes to spending our public education dollars or any state dollars. So that’s another clear contrast.

Q: We’ve touched on a number of issues. Is there anything else you want our readers to know about you or your campaign?

Carozza: One issue we did not talk about in detail, but I just want to make sure that you know my commitment is healthcare. Just yesterday when I was on my door-to-door, I talked to a young man, 34 years old, has a job, but can’t afford his healthcare insurance because his employer doesn’t provide it and he’s kind of caught that if he were not working at all, he would be eligible for Medicaid here he’s working. We have to make our healthcare insurance affordable and we have to have incentives, so the employers have incentives to provide healthcare insurance to their employees. You have to think of it from both the job creators, because they want to cover their employees and then you have to think about the affordability. Healthcare is a very complex issue. It’s why I take the time and I meet on a regular basis with AGH, with PRMC, with our doctors, with our nurses, with our specialists, with our other healthcare providers, with mental health providers because they all need to be at the table as we not only move forward on how we ensure that we have affordable healthcare services, affordable prescription drugs.

But there’s one other issue that we’re not talking about enough when it comes to healthcare and that’s the opportunity. And when I say opportunity, we have an acute shortage of doctors and nurses and other specialists here on the Shore. We also have a disproportionate higher senior and elderly population in this area compared to the whole region and other states. I look at that as an opportunity because what that means is that the pressure will continue to beyond because we have to serve this population and make sure they have affordable healthcare services, affordable prescription drugs, but I see that opportunity, that if we have this shortage with doctors and nurses and specialists and other providers, the drug counselors, the recovery specialists, that the opportunity is that we can train our young people to stay here on the shore to take those positions.

Healthcare then actually becomes even more of an economic driver than it already is on the shore and we also then keep our young people here on the shore instead of looking not only across the bridge, but going to Delaware, Virginia and to other states. Healthcare will continue to be one of my top priorities. It was my top priority, the past four years when I served on the Health and Human Services sub-committee. I can tell you from my door-to-door that it is the top priority of my shore constituents and that as we move forward, we look at affordability of services, of prescription drugs, practical solutions that are not a burden on our job creators, but then we also look at this as an opportunity that healthcare becomes a major economic driver for us.

Number two that my approach will always be to listen to understand the priorities of my constituents. To fight on the front end for our shore priorities. I also believe that all of my personal family life experiences and public service experiences have led up to this point. I’ve been very blessed that I learned my faith and my work ethic from my parents who had the first fast food drive-through restaurant in Ocean City called Beefy’s. I learned my work ethic by working full-time in the summers, starting in sixth grade, from my parents.

I also believe that all of my prior public service is beneficial to now stepping up to state senate. My positions working for members of Congress, where I learned quality constituent service from the best, working at the Pentagon, being there on Sept. 11, working for Secretary Rumsfeld, working in President George W. Bush’s administration. Learning that public safety is job number one. Going to Gov. Ehrlich’s administration and being a Deputy Chief of Staff.

And then my last four years as a delegate. Knowing now what I know about the legislative process as an elected delegate. Knowing I can take that to the state senate. I may be the only elected official in the Maryland General Assembly that has both executive and legislative experience at both the federal and state level.

Finally, I have to thank everybody that has been involved with this grassroots campaign from the very beginning because it truly has been grassroots in every county. I personally want my volunteers, team members, people coming on board to know that I’m so grateful for their support.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.