OCEAN CITY – Resort business leaders this week got a formal introduction to their newest representative in the House of Delegates, and if they didn’t know recently elected Mike McDermott before, they certainly got an appreciation of what he is all about.
The Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC) held its annual legislative breakfast. With Senator-elect Jim Mathias on a pre-session hiatus and Delegate Norman Conway and Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Dennis Rasmussen absent, Delegate-elect McDermott had the committee’s ear almost exclusively.
McDermott, like many others elected in November, will be a relative newcomer to Annapolis when the session opens next week and he appears to be embracing the role. He was decidedly self-deprecating at times during his introduction to the EDC on Wednesday although he made it known in no uncertain terms he would be no shrinking violet.
“I’m still waiting to find out where my office is going to be,” he said. “They’re probably going to put me in a hallway somewhere, but that’s okay.”
The freshmen Republican from Pocomoke will be part of a large new contingent of recently elected Delegates participating in their first session and said on Wednesday he expects change to come slowly in Annapolis.
“They keep talking about transitions, but they’ve been slow on the uptake in Annapolis,” he said. “There will be 30 new Delegates in Annapolis this year, and that’s a considerable amount of change, but there doesn’t seem to be the will to change.”
McDermott did not resist the opportunity to take a friendly jab at Governor Martin O’Malley, who was in the resort area the day before for the grand opening of the Casino at Ocean Downs.
“He told everyone how he felt relief when he came across the bridge, like a burden had been lifted,” he said. “That burden is higher taxes and stringent business regulations. I told him we’re tired of carrying that pack and asked him to please take it back with him.”
On a more serious note, McDermott said increased regulations, fees and taxes on business in Maryland was causing many to take their business elsewhere.
“There’s a real breakdown in Annapolis,” he said. “They keep piling more and more regulations on businesses and farming and they’re driving business out of the state. They’re driving millionaires out of the state.”
McDermott told resort business leaders to be alert for increased taxes and regulations during the upcoming session.
“The governor says there are no new taxes in his budget, but he’s going to force the General Assembly to look like the bad guys,” he said. “They’re talking about a gas tax to replace the money stolen from the Transportation Trust Fund and an alcohol tax to pay for health issues. We need to be vigilant about these.”
McDermott said the state’s habit of taking dedicated funds from one source to pay for shortcomings in another would not fly at the county or municipal level.
“When you raid one fund to pay another, we’re not allowed to do that on the local level,” he said. “They tell us over and over it’s not a raid, it’s a transfer.”
In not so many words, McDermott likened the raiding of the TTF and other “transfers” to fiscal piracy, using an analogy residents in maritime areas such as Worcester and Ocean City could understand.
“When you board my boat with a parrot on your shoulder, a patch over your eye and a sword in your hand, that’s called a raid on the Lower Shore,” he said.
With just nine Eastern Shore delegates and three Senators, McDermott said it would likely be difficult to overcome the numbers game, particularly in the 141-member House of Delegates.
“We need relief,” he said. “There are nine Delegates on the Eastern Shore and just three Senators and we’re going to have to fight the dragon that is the 141 number. I’m hopeful and optimistic going into it.”
McDermott said bringing his fellow Delegates around to his rural, conservative values on some issues could be difficult.
“Many of my colleagues in the House are myopic and have very urban perspectives,” he said. “For many of them, the Eastern Shore is drive-through country on their way to the beach and vacation.”
He related a recent story of a tour of the various departments in the state capital for freshmen delegates including the Department of Natural Resources, when some of the incoming legislators were asked if they were bird watchers. McDermott said he spoke up when no one else did.
“I told them, ‘yes, I am,’” he said. “I like to watch birds and identify them right before I shoot them. You can see how I will likely have my office in a hallway.”
McDermott promised EDC officials he would work hard on their behalf, even in his own self-deprecating way.
“I look forward to working on your behalf,” he said. “My office, or my hallway, is always open to you. I will not be shy or bashful about standing up for what we value most on the shore.”