Last night, the League of Women Voters for Howard County held a forum for the State Senate and House of Delegates. It was a chance to evaluate candidates based on extemporaneous responses to five questions about transportation, the economy, environment, and priorities for office. This is another tremendous asset provided by the League and, if you haven't already, I strongly recommend joining.
As with other forums, I plan to recap my comments rather than focus on the other people in the race. There were other, much more astute, observers in the audience and I am sure their analyses are forthcoming.
Top Two Priorities
The first question we were asked was to name our top two priorities for office (phrased optimistically as "accomplishments"). I responded that my early focus will be on 1) Creating a long term plan to address flooding in Ellicott City, and 2) Moving Maryland's energy infrastructure into the 21st Century.
The former is self-explanatory and has been reviewed in great depth here.. The latter is multi-faceted. We not only need to continue our focus on expanding our renewable portfolio, but also evaluate our energy infrastructure to make sure it is positioned to received new energy sources. While we all may talk about solar and wind, the fact of the matter is that they produce energy in much different ways than burning fossil fuels. When you need more energy from fossil fuels, you burn more coal/natural gas/etc. When you need more energy from renewables, you can't turn up the sun or speed up the wind. That's why we need to create opportunities for decentralization and local energy production, which has proven critical to the use of renewables in Germany. Obviously, I didn't have a chance to review all of this in the one minute provided, but I tried to get close.
We were next asked about our plan for addressing transportation in central Maryland, which has unfortunately transformed into a binary issue of mass tran or no mass tran. I think any reasonable observer would say that additional use of mass transit, whether it be train, rail, or dedicated bus lane, would benefit Howard County and Ellicott City in particular. There are two key obstacles to that goal - lack of use and expense (a very bad combination indeed).
Overall, we need to be more creative in how we address our state's traffic problems. Road capacity is filled within 3 years and while many of the candidates who spoke last night advocated for "Pave, baby, pave", that just isn't a real solution. We need to offer, and encourage, additional telework opportunities for state workers, flexible work schedules, and reliable bus transportation to our major urban centers. To entice people out of single-occupancy-commuting, we need dedicated bus and HOV lanes. If we can create a culture of mass transit, we can (and should) evaluate the feasibility of rail.
Effect of Sequester
In what I found to be one of the more interesting questions of the night, we were asked to provide our response to the predicted pain of further federal cut-backs. I pointed to the leadership we already have seen in promoting private sector growth in the face of public sector retraction. 3D Maryland is a great example of how government can provide a catalyst for private collaboration and entrepreneurship. I could see the visceral response from the Republican 9A candidates when I said this, but those working in high levels of engineering and design, such as Kevin Plank, agree that these programs work. We're going to have to fill the gap with a strong private sector, but do so without pulling the rug out from government services that provide for our education system and social safety net.
Is Maryland a Business Friendly State?
While some candidates couldn't raise their green card fast enough to smirk and say "no", I responded that we need to be much more sophisticated in how we evaluate whether this state is business friendly. As a state, we have top-tier assets in education, technology, and health that draw businesses, families, and workers from across the country. Unfortunately, our tax code is indiscriminate on certain commercial taxes, which fall hardest on small businesses, sole proprietors, and start-ups. That's not the formula for success. Is Maryland a Business Friendly State? It depends on the business and their accountant.
We had 30 seconds to close. I had remarks prepared, but immediately before I was to speak, I heard my primary opponent say he was in this race "because in a democracy there should be choices." In that instant, I thought of this:
When it was my turn to speak, I said I was in this race for Ellicott City. It is a unique place with unique needs and we can't expect to take on those challenges simply by showing up.
I also encouraged voters to evaluate the candidates for this race based on how we campaign. Are we looking to build or are we looking to tear things down? I plan to build.
Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!