BERLIN – In seeking his third term, Senator Jim Mathias is relying on his record of achievement and his ability to work in a bipartisan fashion in Annapolis and his active constituent service at home.
When long-time Senator Lowell Stoltzfus retired, then-Delegate Mathias, a Democrat, opted to relinquish his seat in the house after one term to become a member of the Senate. He was successful in narrow fashion in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
The former Ocean City mayor grew up in Baltimore, graduating from Calvert Hall College High School and then the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
In the Senate, Mathias serves on the Senate Finance Committee and is chair of the Eastern Shore Senate Delegation. He serves as chair of the Finance Committee’s Transportation Subcommittee as well as the Joint Committee on the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area Commission.
Closer to home, Mathias, business development officer for Royal Plus, Inc., serves on the Atlantic General Hospital Foundation Board of Directors, is a charter member of the Knights of Columbus #9053, Ocean City Elks Lodge #2645 and the Salisbury Moose and is a life member of the Ocean City Volunteer Fire Company.
In an interview this week, Mathias reflected on his two terms as a senator and why he wants to continue to serve.
Q: You are 10 for 10 in elections, going back to the House of Delegates and your days on the council and mayor of Ocean City. What do you attribute that success to? What about this campaign is different than the other elections?
Mathias: First, I attribute my good fortune to access. People reach out to me. I mean I’ve got thousands of phone numbers in my phone. I keep every one. It’s true. Many of those numbers came about with the gun bill from the session of 2013 that was approved in Maryland with major changes in ownership in response to Newtown, Conn. It was brutal. We had the gun bill, the death penalty, and the gas tax. I’m NRA endorsed. I’m Farm Bureau endorsed, and I’m League of Conservation Voters endorsed. That is a fabric that you’re not going to find. I’m a Democrat that’s NRA endorsed, as well as by the League of Conservation Voters, and Farm Bureau. You don’t just get these endorsements for nothing. I believe it’s because of my availability and access to the citizen. With that gun bill, I had over 20,000 emails, calls, contacts, about that gun bill. Twenty thousand, okay? People had my number to give it to somebody else to give it to somebody else. I wasn’t sleeping well that session, I’m telling you.
But the bottom line is I’d wake up at 2:30, 3 in the morning, and I’d pick up my phone. There would be some text messages on there about that gun bill, and protecting folks’ 2nd Amendment rights that were very profound, blunt. What am I saying? Access. Access. You ask me why have I been fortunate. It’s because I continue to work hard. I don’t turn by back on people. It’s not who I am. It’s not what I’m about.
Q: Is there anything about this campaign than is different than the other elections?
Mathias: The public atmosphere versus the private atmosphere. Publicly, you got all this strive for five. It’s been a campaign that’s been going on for two years. I kind of anticipated it, truthfully. Look, I get along fine with my opponent. I have no quarrel. We’re going through the motions right now, but they’re clearly not ugly. I can tell you that. If you look at that mailers and ads, the ugliest stuff they made me look like. Photoshopped my pictures, I look like a predator looking out the windows, calling my character into question and all that. Hey, you want to talk about bills or this or that, or policy, that’s fine. But I mean, really? I mean, that’s different. I mean, that’s different. That’s different. Now, I call it the bowels of caucuses. You look at the Republican caucus, and the Republican Senate caucus, the Democratic caucus, and the Democratic Senate caucus.
What’s different this time? It’s worse. The distortion is worse. The betrayal is worse. This is not about a difference. It’s more guttural. It’s more emotional. It’s in a time when the polarity is more enhanced.
Guess what else? I don’t take it for granted. Look, you think I like it after all the things we’ve done that I come home two years before the sick bill is introduced, and I explain in front of the whole business community and the media and the press and everybody in the room, that this bill’s going to pass. I asked them tell me what you can live with, what you can work with. They tell me 120 days and this and that. The bill comes out of the House this year. It was a House originated bill, HB-1, with 90 days. You can start earning after four hours instead of eight and all those kind of things. The right to action was harsh. There was no shift swapping for restaurants. That bill came over and I fought like the devil to get 120 days. I got 106 and then I got a 14-day doctor note because people were afraid that our employees may cash out.
So I got a 14 days doctor’s notice, working with the chair of judiciary, Bobby Zirkin. If an employer wants, and they think that on that 107th day that somebody’s going to cash out on them two, two and a half days, whatever it was that they earned. They can ask for a doctor’s note. Then if you’re suspicious of the intention of the employee, then they have to make the decision. Are they going to go to the doctor? Are they going to do this? Are they really sick or are they not sick? So de facto, we got the 120 days. We reduced the number of days that an employee could earn, capped them at five from seven. That was a savings there.
Yet I come home and I get harshly criticized for that, harshly. That’s what trust and compromise is. I did everything I could to get that 120 and I got the 106 with the doctor’s note, and I’m not done fighting. But the bill came over with none of it. None of it. This is what leadership is. This is how you accomplish it. This is about a partnership. This is about getting the job done. This is about us. What’s different this time is the distortion, distorting my record, but maligning my record, and calling my character into question.
Q: In your campaign literature, you refer to the last legislative session as your “best and busiest ever.” Why do you say that?
Mathias: I ended the session with a record-high number of bills passed under my primary sponsorship. I’m proud of that.
Some of the bills I will just talk about.
Senate Bill 271 hits close to home to me. It involves cancer care and family planning and it says healthcare providers may under certain conditions be required to provide coverage for certain fertility preservation procedures, allowing cancer survivors to have children. Maybe upwards of 10,000 Marylanders face this every year. I think that’s the right number, seven or 10,000, but thousands. They turn to their insurance wanting to get coverage to be able to freeze their eggs and their sperm, they couldn’t do that. So what are we talking about? We’re talking about people of child bearing age that have been diagnosed with a cancer, a malignancy, that needs treatment. It’s altering their life, and now possibly altering their future.
Another is the Maryland Nursing Home Resident Protection Act, which mandates the state launch an investigation of nursing home complaints within 24 hours in some harsh instances and within 10 days for lesser severities.
There was the special event traffic zone Ocean City wanted to try out to get a hold of some concerns with automobile events. We worked hard to get the state to provide funding for a study of the Inlet in regard to the shoaling problem. We worked with lawmakers to double the amounts of spirits Seacrets distillery could provide. It’s economic development there. We had the Sunday motorcycle prohibition on sales erased. It was antiquated.
Another important one is Senate Bill 50, which recognizes correctional officers as public safety officers and expands their disability access, helping ECI. For upwards of two years, I was appealing to the governor to intercede here as the staffing was going down and the risk was going up. Now, why? There’s a variety of reasons, which I’m not going to put you through today. But you want to know another reason why? The benefits. The benefits.
When a correction officer can get hurt on a job, they were not treated in their disability payments like a public safety officer, like police or a fire or paramedics. They were significantly less, significantly less. I put in their bill, brought them up to parity. Brought them up to parity with public safety officers, because that’s who they are. That’s what they are, and when they go in there every day, in addition to the other variables that were not right, that one I wanted to make sure. Because not only did it protect them, but on the job brochure, where they’re offering, they knew that they were an equivalent to a public safety officer. If something were to happen on the job, whatever that may be, a scuffle, a physical altercation, and they wound up disabled, that they were now going to be compensated equitably.
When those jails are in the community, you need to keep them safe, and the community safe. You need to have the caliber of personnel in there that feel good about their job, that feel safe about their job.
Perhaps the biggest thing in regard to Ocean City and really the entire shore was getting the state to go on the record against offshore drilling. Senate Bill 1128 protects Ocean City and our coast from reckless oil and gas drilling. We all know what can happen when these projects go wrong, respectfully. This bill has to do with liability. The bill calls offshore drilling ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous and therefore says anyone who causes an oil or gas spill while engaged in offshore drilling will be held strictly “liable” for property, damages, injuries or death. That’s a huge one for me. We can’t take that risk. you saw what happened down at the Gulf coast. We know what the literal drift is out here, with the waters.
Q: At the forum two weeks ago, you said, “I am not in the pocket of the majority party.” Can you cite some specific instances when you went against your party to prove the point that you’re not in the pocket of the majority?
Mathias: Well, I didn’t go against it to prove the point. I went it against it to stand up for the people, that’s number one. I am portrayed as voting for all these tax increases. That’s a bunch of crap. Not true. Simply not true. Go down the list. You want to pick one? You want to pick the alcohol tax? The corporate tax? The sales tax? The gas tax? I voted against it all.
The repeal of the death penalty. With all due respect, I believe that people, when they go through their due process, and the immense judicial aspects, I got it. I voted no on the repeal, okay? All right, and now since, police officers are killed. Firefighters that were responding to a scene. Innocent children, like Sara Foxwell here. Hey, that’s heinous stuff. I am for the death penalty and most Democrats are not. I am not seeing that on their bashing mailers though.
So full spectrum, whether it’s the taxes, whether it’s the regulation that was pushing our agriculture and farming people out, whether it’s the whole, full plethora of things that we can go with. I can start in the beginning, the first special session, with that whole array of things, and the slot machines.
When the federal requirement was coming down with the minimum wage increase, I was hearing about the impact of some of our folks with disabilities. There’s certain things they can do and certain things they can’t do. They are putting the burden of a minimum wage on them. It was going to make it that much harder to provide those services for the disabled. You know what the vote was, 46 to 1? I voted against it. Because we need those services for those people, and when I voted that vote no in committee, my committee chair after the vote, he waited in the back, and said, ‘Hey, look, before I record this vote, are you sure you don’t want to change it?’ I said, ‘No, Mr. Chairman, I don’t want to change it.’
Those folks need to be able to have the job. They need the place to go. To them, whether it’s $7 or $8 an hour is kind of secondary to having the place, the feeling good, the being uplifted, and you are making this harder to comply with our federal government. Making it harder. On the day they voted on the floor, and they called the vote, and it was all green on the board, and there was one red.
Q: I want to talk about what I’ve been calling “the Hogan effect” on this race and others across the state. Despite the fact he has endorsed and is actively campaigning for your opponent, you say you have a great relationship with the governor. How so?
Mathias: We do have a good relationship. Let’s go back before he was the governor. He was the appointment secretary, and Governor Ehrlich was the governor when [former Delegate] Bennett [Bozman] passed away. My nomination went up and went through his hands. He could have gone in and shut the door with the governor. They don’t have to take that nomination. But we started a relationship then back in 2006.
Fast forward to his first year in office. I go over there that first month or so when I’m invited over, and I say, ‘governor, I’m not sure this is going to work out, this first flight on this Start After Labor Day’ school bill. I told him, ‘I believe that Governor Schaefer did this by executive order.’
He said, “[Deputy Chief of Staff] Jeannie [Haddaway-Riccio), come on over here a minute. Senator thinks Governor Schaefer did this by executive order. Can you take a look at that?” So I did the bill. They didn’t get a vote the first year. The chairman didn’t call it.
But the flyers, the strive for five, stuff’s been on the run, man, now for two years. Despite all that, I work very well with the governor. He tells me he loves me. I can walk down the streets, no kidding, in Annapolis, and the governor’s car comes by. The car stops and the window goes down, it’s the first lady. She says, “Oh, Hello Mr. Senator.” I’m telling you, because that’s real. Whether it was his battle with cancer, whether it’s the people of Maryland, that we both are elected and sworn to represent, that’s what’s different, but what remains the same is our purpose.
- Hold on, so it was your idea to do an executive order?
Mathias: Oh, yeah. Clearly. Sure it was, 100%.
You asked about our relationship, another example would be the third Bay Bridge crossing environmental assessment. I had the commitment from House Speaker Busch. I got it out of the Senate. Got it over to the House. Went on to dais with him twice in the last three days in the session. I had the commitment. It was a head-on collision legislatively in those last 48 hours and one of the casualties was that bill. But guess what happened? Within four months, Gov. Hogan called me up, and appropriated the money to start the NEPA. I stood up there with him at the Bay Bridge. That’s going to happen one day.
I hope it will connect southern Maryland with Crisfield. That’s a dream for me. I mean that is a diamond down there. So whatever it is, that’s going to happen one day, whether it’s mass transit, whether it’s tunnels going 120 mph whether it’s traditional bridges as we know it. But guess what? The governor called me up and said, ‘Hey, we’re going with this, because it’s ripe. It’s ripe for the infrastructure. It’s ripe for the safety. It’s ripe for the futurization of the shore.’ Other things along the way, like having him as an ally with the convention center. With all due respect, you don’t hear me talking about a lot of lies.
Q: Okay then, do you support Governor Hogan for his re-election? Are you going to vote for him?
Mathias: Yeah, I support him. I’ve been working well with the governor. I look forward to the governor serving another term. I mean, quite frankly, how I cast my vote when I go into the booth, it’s still a privilege. It’s sacred.
Now, number one. But as we’ve gone through my four years of Gov. Hogan, as we’ve gone through this almost maybe two hours, an hour and a half here. I have a record of success. Why would I change that? Why would I change that? I have a record of success. If the governor wants to call me after he reads the paper on Friday, and thanks me again for the several times of talking honest and favor about him, he says, ‘You know what? I’m going to bet both horses in this race.’ I know the conversations we’ve had privately, but if he calls me up and says he wants to bet both horses in this race, I’m ready to tell you who I’m voting for.
But, in the meantime, let’s just say I’m a business man. Let’s just say that my relationship with the governor has been exceedingly beneficial and well, not for me, but for the people that I represent from Maryland. Now, I’m a business man. I think you can figure it out.
Q: Of course, everyone knows Hogan endorsed Mary Beth Carozza in this race. But your signs, we see, say, “Endorsed by the People of the Eastern Shore.” What do you mean by that?
Mathias: It’s the people who elected me. Those are the people that I’ve been privileged to earn their respect and their trust. Modestly, with their support, I am the senator. I’m the senator by majority vote. Is that by unanimous consent? Okay, but I can tell you it’s three for three for me in the Maryland General Assembly.
It’s by the industrial base and the educational base, whether it’s pre-K through 12, schools endorsed by higher education, endorsed by teachers, endorsed by farmers. The people that make up the fabric, small business people, people that make up the fabric. So that’s what that means.
The intent is, look, I would love to sit here and say that I’ve been endorsed by the governor and this one and that one, as modest and proud as I am to tell of these other endorsements. But I work for the people of the Eastern Shore. This is where it is. This is what I’m talking about, and a good number of the times, the governor and I agree, and sometimes we don’t, but it’s not because of party affiliation. It’s principle. What I’m saying is I know who my bosses are. My bosses aren’t leadership and they’re respectfully not the governor. My bosses are the people of the Eastern Shore and their future, protecting their legacy, providing their future. That’s what I mean by being endorsed by the people of the Eastern Shore.
I’m asking for their continued endorsement and their vote, so I can continue to work for them and with them, with the governor, with leadership, but with my colleagues.
Q: We have to talk about the mailers especially the one from April and more recently where you are labeled as making heroin easier to get than ice cream. Why did you sponsor that bill and respond to what you’ve been getting in your mailbox?
Mathias: This is why (pointing to a story in The Baltimore Sun dated Oct. 12 and headlined “Opioid overdoses in Maryland increased 14.8 percent in first six months of 2018. Let’s say it like this. I’ve had addiction very close to me, and I understand the impact on families. I understand the impact on the person. If we think it’s tough on us, when that car doesn’t come home at night, or we struggle and pray for those who are around us or close to us, that they are able to find recovery. How do you think it feels in the heart and soul of the person who’s battling it? The depression and everything that comes with it.
The General Assembly is the workbench for Maryland. Yeah, every bill that comes doesn’t come out the other end. It doesn’t. So why, when we’re living this, and we’re seeing this tripling, and we’re seeing this tragedy, and we’re seeing the costs associated with it. I was speaking recently with Dr. Memo Diriker of BEACON at SU. You know what he told me? As positive as the economic impact is of poultry on the Eastern Shore of the nine counties, the cost of heroin addiction here and the loss of lives overshadows that liability. So now, when I know these things and I learn these things, we need solutions and I work at the workbench of Maryland. We need to seek solutions of an epidemic that’s been deemed a crisis.
The previous governor, when he went out, the deaths were 888. It’s in this. Last year, it was almost triple, 2,500. What have we done in the meantime? Prescription drug monitoring programs. The hope bill, funding counselors, hotlines, let’s start talking. Good Samaritans and NARCAN training, all those kinds of things. But what about the $50 million that I supported for Governor Hogan over five years at taxpayers expense to fight this crisis.
But guess what else this legislation had? An opt in or an opt out. This was under the auspice of the State Health Department as it was drafted, and we never got the full discussion of the bill, which we’ll talk about in a moment. If the local health department doesn’t want to be in it, Worcester can be out.
I understand all that stuff. I’m a guy on the street, man. Why wouldn’t we have that conversation? I don’t know where Worcester Warriors or the addicts’ moms are on policy like this, but I know where they are in grief. I know where they are in hope. I know where they are when that child is gone. I know where they are on a day when this came right forward, and they went to the bathroom at a fast food franchise, and somebody was laying there dead. I know where they are when hopefully you can get that call out to 911 and get them there with a NARCAN shot. Now, that’s why I went on the bill. That’s why I can stand here today and say to you that it made sense to have the discussion because that’s what we do. There’s people that vote against bills that they’re on, because of what the discussion reveals throughout the process. Sometimes you’re able to get their name off and they get it off. But what starts out here in legislation, and what winds up here at the end, is not always the same thing. This is a crisis. This is a crisis. It’s taking our future. A crisis that’s dimming the economic benefits of our state and manpower and underemployment.
Clearly, let me say, if it comes back again, the opt out provision is going to be there. I hear my opponent saying, “This isn’t right for the Eastern Shore.” Okay, well, I won’t argue with that. This was not a mandate, and we never knew what it was in the end, because it never got there. You want to know why it didn’t get there? You want to know that answer? Because the night after we voted it in committee, it came to me the next day that this was going to be used against us in the election. Oh, yeah, really. This is in the winter. The inside of the strategy hit team on the strive for five and all that, they were going to hit us with it.
Now, guess what? Now, we’ll go back to this again (article). Between then and now, look what happened, 15% increase? Now they’re putting the Fentanyl in cocaine. I’m thankful for what we did as a legislature. I’m thankful for what leadership my committee took. I’m thankful for the bipartisan support of Gov. Hogan with the $50 million. Hey, look, all that is illustrative of we are working to find a solution, so why wouldn’t you work on something that’s coherent at the workbench of Maryland, to find additional tools for the solution. That’s why I did it. These mailers are unfair, distorted. It’s maligned. It’s political.
Q: You touched on the change in the way school construction will be decided from the three-member Board of Public Works to a larger committee. Your opponent does not like this change and neither does the governor or comptroller. Why did you support it?
Mathias: The governor was one out of three on the Board of Public Works. The governor now has five appointments out of nine. We raised the floor on school construction money to $400 million. We need schools for now. We don’t need our superintendents to feel intimidated when they come. That’s how they feel. Now, with all that being said, this was not about anything other than better schools, better access, retaining accountability, and by the way, guess what? All the hearings now are online.
They say that I reduced accountability by voting for this. That’s a bunch of malarkey. Again, it’s not true. The transparency went from zero to 100. There’s a 1,000-mile visibility on this bill, man, and accountability. That’s what it’s about. I’m fighting as one of the 33, and one of the eight, for more than my fair share. For more than my fair school construction. Hey, if somebody’s got an argument, it should be Worcester County, because they’re the second lowest state appropriated school operation monies from the state.
It’s not about weakening the governor, or taking something away from the comptroller. It’s about strengthening our hand of accountability and transparency.
Q: You support the offshore wind farms as planned, contrary to the Ocean City Mayor and Council as well as your opponent. Can you explain your position?
Mathias: Well, first of all, I have a very solid of record of renewable energy. When the bill came, I saw it. The bill was 2011, ’12, and ’13, the bill was presented. A number of things happened. I don’t want to say that the Mayor and Council were in full approval of the bill, but everything they asked, I was able to accomplish. Number two, to the extent of the interstate commerce law, I put language in the bill that required that the economic impact and the investment and all, is maximum it could be within the interstate commerce law. It happened right here in Maryland. It happened here on the Eastern Shore. We put language in the bill with the Public Service Commission, that they had to deem through a quasi-judicial public hearing, which they had, that it had to be a net positive benefit for the rate payer of Maryland. We capped it at $1.50 for 1,000 kilowatt hours, and I think a one and a half percent. I can’t remember exactly, to the commercial user. So all the things that were out there, that were of question, and the public hearing that had to pass.
And by the way, when the governorships changed, the governor appoints the members of the Public Service Commission, by the time that we had the public hearing, there are five members of the Public Service Commission. And one was vacant, four set. Three of them were appointed by Gov. Hogan. The fourth was still there from the previous governor. There was a thought that Gov. Hogan’s renewable policies, that he was opposed to it. We talked publicly about renewable energy and all that kind of stuff. They said they would give it a complete, fair, and objective hearing, and guess what happened? It was a unanimous vote. It was a unanimous vote. It met the test, net benefit. Went through all the concerns, they came here, they had public hearings, they did everything. So it met every test.
Now, subsequently, there’s been concern about the height now is different. The height to be able to capture the wind, to be able to do the meg output, and to do all that kind of stuff. The first time I ever saw any pictures that had been portrayed, that looked like the way they look, was at that public hearing or town hall meeting here, I think at Stephen Decatur Middle.
All of a sudden, that was something we had not heard of before. Now, I’m not a meteorologist. I’m not going to sit here and say what the humidity is on what day, and what time, and the clarity, you know. I’m not going to take an issue with that. I’m going to sit here and say to you that I know how to fly, but I was in that biplane. I know people that do and been in small planes where you approach an airport, and small community airports, they don’t have people there at night. You can turn those lights on, those approach lights, with your microphone on a frequency.
I’m told that there’s technology now that can activate the very lights people are concerned about at night, as well as the visibility. At this point, it’s still over at BOM, Bureau of Ocean Management, the final leg of this hasn’t been written yet. But the point is the diligence and I’m not going to trade the cow for the beans. At no point ever, including now, including a conversation I had with the mayor shortly after the Public Service Commission rendered their finding, I walked with the mayor. I have continued to urge a working compromise, to sit down and find the common ground.
But at the same point in time, when ideas were brought forward, and they can be coordinated and due diligence is done, I am going to have to look forward. Of all the things that I’ve been fortunate to have accomplished by the hand of the support of the people here, all of the things, all the help the constituency serves, the capital, grants, the policies of Maryland, the needs of the shore, the one thing that’s most important for me is to have provided inspiration for the next person that hears the call to public service.
I’m not going to exacerbate it by creating a problem. Do I hope that we can continue to find a renewable energy portfolio in Maryland that protects us, and protects our water and our winds, our people, and we become more and more self-sufficient? I do as much as I put the effort and energy on this offshore oil liability. The remaining diligence that’s to be done here is over in the federal jurisdiction.
I don’t know for a fact, but I’ve been led to believe that some of the folks that feel that this is going to be a problem, maybe have representation now, over in Washington, whether they’re lobbyists or whatever. But I’m not going to allow anything to happen to Ocean City, to Worcester County, to Somerset or Wicomico, the Eastern Shore in any spectrum, respectfully, on my watch.
Q: Is there anyting else you want voters to know before next week’s election?
Mathias: I am asking for their continued support. That’s what I believe in. I’m asking people for their support. The measure, the motive, is because they know who I am. I protect their pocketbook. I protect their legacy. I protect their children. I protect their family, and their 2nd Amendment rights, and our Eastern Shore values.
I’m asking them for the opportunity to continue to work for them, to work with them, and continue to protect them and us, and grow us forward, so that on Sunday afternoon, our next generation is not Facetiming in from brain-drain down in Florida or Illinois. That they’re right here because of the opportunity we’ve been able to bring forward, whether it’s protecting our farming legacy or creating vocational opportunities here in the trade. That they’re right here at the table at 4 on the Sunday afternoon, like I was in my family and my mom. The strength of the Eastern Shore is our families. That’s why I’m asking the people to allow me to continue to protect and grow.
Of all this stuff that you can find about me, that I’ve been fortunate to hand to the people, to be able to serve, bills, grants, programs, creative revenue ideas, the one thing that I want to make sure that my career speaks to at the end of public service I’ve been afforded is to inspire the next generation.