The next installment of The Dagger’s Q & A with candidates in the 2014 Gubernatorial Primary Election features the Democratic candidates running for the Maryland State Senate District 34 seat, representing southern Harford County.
With Sen. Nancy Jacobs’ decision not to seek re-election, the race to fill her District 34 seat pits former state senator Arthur Helton, Jr. of Aberdeen against Del. Mary-Dulany James of Havre de Grace in the Democratic Primary Election. The winner will advance to face the lone Republican candidate, former county councilman Bob Cassilly of Bel Air, in the General Election. Their answers to The Dagger’s three questions appear below.
Dagger: State senators often make decisions in areas where they may not have expertise, such as decriminalizing marijuana, legalizing same-sex marriage, or approving a stormwater runoff fee. Briefly describe the experience/skills you would bring to the State Senate and how you make decisions in areas outside your expertise.
Helton: I have a wide ranging set of experiences that make for a very unique fit in my ability to serve as Senator representing Harford County citizens. Having successfully served as a member of the Harford County Council and the Maryland Senate have given me a broad prospective on public service and representation. With over 40 years of ownership in several business and serving on Boards of Directors of national and regional companies have given me thorough exposure and experience in the private sector. I have also continued to serve my community as a volunteer and supporter of many charitable and civic organizations. I have learned to rely on advice that I have sought in all of these endeavors from experts and citizens knowledgeable in a wide range of experiences. I go to Annapolis as Senator without obligation or loyalty to any special interest group or lobbyists.
James: When I became a lawyer at 26, I honed skills that came to me naturally; intense and thorough researching, sorting through often conflicting information and data, considering multiple perspectives, and understanding peoples’ interests and differences. I have also had the great opportunity to work for two of the finest federal judges and learn what is necessary to develop what is often called a “judicial temperament,” being fair and balanced, a master of law and facts, and the ability to judge people’s veracity, all while being restrained and respectful even when faced with disagreement. I loathe the proverbial “bull in a china shop” approach to anything, including politics – which at its best is “the art of possible” – not permission to be bombastic and abusive.
Now for the past 16 years I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve Harford County in the House of Delegates, which requires considerable collaboration. Despite being the only Democrat elected to represent Harford County for the majority of my career, I learned at the knee of my father that you do not get to choose with whom you will work. Despite dealing with some occasionally combative colleagues, over time they mostly settled down and I try to find areas of consensus, while at the same time going it alone to protect and help the people of our great County through the only bill we must pass each year – the State Budget – which is where ALL State funding for public schools, community colleges, hospitals, four year institutions, transportation, land preservation, the Chesapeake Bay, and more; comes from.
No one in Harford County running in any race at the State level has as much experience or has met with as much success as I have and it would be wise of your readers to research the archives of the Aegis and Baltimore Sun from 1974 to 1982 to get the real facts on the dismal tenure of my primary opponent. Self-serving revisionist history should be revealed by that simple exercise.
For me, I listen to all sides of an issue, including not only experts in the relevant field, but also the people whose interests I represent. I don’t pretend to know it all. I do, however, have the skills and intellectual curiosity, along with a keen sense of obligation to my constituents, to learn all that I can and use my best judgment when voting.
Dagger: Please cite a previous decision by the Harford County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly with which you either strongly agree or disagree, and why.
Helton: I have a very serious disagreement with our current delegation in Annapolis due to their lack of team work directed at putting forth a united and aggressive approach to representing our citizens. Generally speaking, they have NO CREDIBILITYas a group. They have been widely criticized for their lack of unity and ability to work together. They are viewed as the worst county delegation in Annapolis.
James: A majority (but certainly not all) of the Senators and Delegates have missed many opportunities to work better together and deliver better results for Harford County. Some have been far too focused on partisan infighting and an inexplicable need to listen to the most rabid elements of the extremists in the Republican party, instead of finding common ground. An example was the local hotel tax. Despite overwhelming local support, including support from most of the hotels and motels, I introduced several versions of a hotel tax bill that the balance of the Delegation, presumably because the bill had a tax in its name, would not come together to support it. The good news is that Sen. Barry Glassman and I finally worked in a bipartisan fashion to insert enabling language in the omnibus Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2014 to allow Harford County to establish a hotel tax, which by the way is a surcharge not on our own residents, but on our visitors. Now, finally Harford County citizens will stop being the only people, not only in Maryland, but in the Northeast, that pay a hotel tax wherever they travel outside the County, but do not receive the same contribution from visitors to the County. The tax is used to support the tourism industry in Harford County. Given the services visitors use when coming to Harford County; it is only fair a fee is assessed and our people don’t pay twice.
No one in politics has the right to hold a grudge and as I have seen more and more cooperation this past year within the House and Senate Delegations, I remain optimistic that with time and experience many of the Delegation members are realizing that good government is good politics.
Dagger: The Maryland General Assembly is charged with certain responsibilities. Among them are: Enacting legislation, proposing amendments to the state Constitution, reviewing redistricting plans, and levying taxes. Looking ahead, what issues within the delegation’s purview are of specific interest or concern to you and why? Please cite two issues.
Helton: The most critical issue is to establish credibility as a Senator and a delegation. The State budget is made up of many items serving our citizens. Many formulas are in the budget that represent distribution of our tax money back to Harford County in the way of services, i.e. Education, Highway, Road and Infrastructure, Police and Library Funding. As a credible Senator, I know that I can have an impact on how Harford County is dealt with in receiving a FAIR SHARE of our State taxes.
James: Despite vague, unsubstantiated charges to the contrary (which are not backed by any facts – as none exist), during my 16 years as a Delegate, Harford County has received more education funding from the State than ever before in its history (far more that my opponent ever did, including his votes against our public schools, community colleges, and 4 year institutions around the State); funding for classrooms, new schools, and renovations to improve the facilities and quality of education our children receive. These are undisputable facts and you can see the full list of all State aid I have brought back to Harford County by visiting my website. I have also supported education in Harford County by making it possible for our children to receive a 4 year college degree right on the campus of Harford Community College (“HCC”). Through a partnership between Towson University and the community college, students will be able to receive a degree from Towson while taking classes at a new state-of-the-art building located on HCC’s campus. As I expect to be on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, it will be entirely in my purview to ensure that our County continues to receive its fair share, as it is time to revisit the landmark education funding formula (Thornton) in the next term.
Likewise, with my 16 years on the House Budget Committee and the strongest record of any legislator (past or present and even including my wonderful father) of working with the military and veterans to create homegrown made in America (made in Harford County in fact) jobs, this past session, I wrote the law creating the Northeastern Maryland Additive Manufacturing Innovation Authority (“NMAMIA”), which according to the President of the United States, the Department of Defense, and our own Aberdeen Proving Ground (“APG”) leaders, has the potential to create thousands of new jobs in Harford County and the State. The NMAMIA is meeting on July 8 of this year to announce its first two public/private partnerships with local businesses, unlocking the $70 million of assets and infrastructure located at the Edgewood Chemical and Biological Center (“ECBC”) on APG and making them available to the private sector. Our goal is to expand to $1.3 billion and this will be one of my highest priorities over the next four years as Harford County District 34’s new Senator.
Maintaining and increasing State support for education and job creation, both in my purview, will be two of my highest priorities for the next four years. I have a proven track record of accomplishing both, and the know-how and respect of the House and Senate to guarantee both will continue in my next four years as your Senator.