CAMBRIDGE — The three candidates running for state senator in District 37-Mid-Shore, including incumbent Sen. Richard Colburn, R-37-Mid-Shore, and Del. Addie Eckardt, R-37B-Dorchester, talked about local issues Thursday, June 12, in a debate in Cambridge.
Joining the Republican hopefuls was Democratic candidate Christopher Robinson of Cambridge who is running unopposed in the primary election, which began Thursday with early voting. The three candidates answered 12 questions on a variety of topics, including business, health care, education and government services.
In her opening statement, Eckardt said her 30 years of work experience in psychology mental health and in inpatient settings gives her experience needed with the state during health care reform.
“To me, it is really important to have health qualified professionals in the legislative area,” she said. “I believe my role as a health care provider and understanding a lot of the delivery systems, this would be an important opportunity for me to go to the Senate.
“I think it is important that we have leaders that can be respected and are good role models for whatever opportunities in legislation there are. I’ve worked a lot with a number of mental health delivery systems at the policy level.”
In his opening statement, Robinson said one person can make a difference, and he was committed to long-term policies that would improve the lives of those of the Eastern Shore and in Maryland. He said he believes his experience working on Capitol Hill for Maryland’s First District will be beneficial.
“During that time, I helped draft the legislation to begin the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay. I helped obtain the funds for the restoration for the beach in Ocean City. I helped obtain funds for research into diseases that were killing the oysters here in the Chesapeake Bay. So I know how to get things done for the people on the Eastern Shore.”
In his opening, Colburn said the Eastern Shore remains in a recession and a drop in the state’s sales tax to 5 percent would help Eastern Shore business.
“The most important asset any legislator can bring to his or her constituents is constituent service,” he said. “For 20 years, I’ve done that. I worked relentlessly resolve their issues, to help preserve the Eastern Shore way of life. You deserve a senator with a proven track record of drafting, sponsoring legislation and follows through to get that legislation passed.”
The first question asked was about how the candidates could help the problems small businesses face.
Robinson said providing a quality education is the best help a small business can get.
“You absolutely need a well-educated, strong workforce,” he said. “A well-educated citizen is money in the bank for our community. It supports our future and that is the most important aspect any small businessman factors in what they need to do. I’ll make sure every small business has the opportunity for that.”
Colburn said he has sponsored legislation to reduce the state’s corporate income tax to make it comparable to Virginia.
“We are not a business-friendly state,” he said. “Virginia dances circles around us. Agriculture and seafood industries are the most important industries on the Eastern Shore. They provide the jobs. We don’t just need to attract jobs, we need to retain the jobs we already have. The agriculture and seafood industries are under constant overregulation by the Department of Natural Resources.”
Eckardt said having a well-prepared workforce through education helps with job retention and job creation.
“I do believe we can take back the corporate income tax,” she said. “We need streamline regulatory processing, in particular with the permitting process. That seems to be the most burdensome.”
The candidates were asked about consolidating or cutting programs at the state level.
Eckardt said the integration of behavioral health would better deliver the services needed for those with mental health concerns.
“I think we can be more efficient with our use of tax dollars to deliver service to addiction and mental health population,” she said.
Robinson said it would be difficult to take back what the government is already giving but he would look at cutting spending before lowering taxes.
Colburn said he would combine Department of Natural Resources and Maryland Department of the Environment.
“Right now, that would save millions of dollars,” he said. “We don’t need two agencies.”
Each candidate was asked about the EPA’s Clean Power Plan to lower greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 30 percent by 2030.
Colburn said the result for the Eastern Shore would be higher electric bills. He said a USA Today article said the EPA standards would not reduce emissions.
“The EPA I think has extraordinary powers, which need to be checked by Congress,” he said.
Eckardt said Dorchester County has valuable resources in a wire belt company that produces anti-pollution devices.
“I think there are alternate ways of fuel,” she said. “We could also do clean coal. I think it is important that we do look at that. I’m not convinced the EPA is on the right track.”
Robinson agreed with the EPA and believes its plan is a reasonable and appropriate response. He said the plan looks at things regionally rather than by one state to come up with the best objective for everyone in the region.
The candidates were then asked about protecting the seafood and agriculture industries while preserving the Chesapeake Bay.
“It is important that we work together to make sure we are guarding the Bay,” Eckardt said. It is a blend of how we bring those groups together and develop strategies that are important. I think some of our environmental groups have some good ideas, but it also has to be tempered with the economic impact.”
Robinson said a long-term outlook is the best approach.
“If we are going to be serious about cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay ... we need to give Mother Nature a little chance. You have to build oyster reefs, which over time will develop into bigger reefs. The reefs help create more habitat for crabs. The oysters are the best filter for the Chesapeake Bay.”
Colburn said it does not take much more than a tropical storm to overflow the Conowingo Dam and bury preserved oyster beds.
“A recent storm killed every oyster north of the Chesapeake Bay,” he said. “I would argue with Mr. Robinson that dredging has resulted in good spats, some good oyster production in the Chesapeake Bay. If the oysters don’t get moved, they silt over and die, they smother.
“We need to restore the oyster population,” he said. “You need a healthy population in the Chesapeake Bay if we are truly serious about cleaning out the Chesapeake Bay.”
Each candidate believes the state needs to do a better job with the mental health system.
On the education front, each candidate was asked about Common Core and pre-kindergarten.
Eckardt said the big problem with Common Core is that no local input was used for the implementation standards. She said the local infrastructure lacks the technology needed for the Common Core system. She said pre-kindergarten is important.
Robinson said Common Core was a good thing and it just needs more time for it to benefit the community.
Colburn said he does not agree with Common Core, but believes in reading, writing and arithmetic.
“I certainly favor a stronger pre-K program because I think the pre-K programs form the bases for our children for their education for the rest of their lives,” he said. “I don’t believe in Common Core. I don’t believe an educational policy should be dictated from Washington, D.C. You see what they are doing when they are dictating health care. They can’t take care of veterans in the hospitals.
“Why do we have kids that graduate who can’t write a check,” he said. “They can’t add. They can’t subtract. They can’t count money because we do not go back to the basics. We need to go back to the basics. Teachers that I’ve talked to do not like Common Core structure.”
As for private schools, Colburn and Eckardt each said they believe in the government helping private schools with textbooks funding while Robinson said he would rather have more money go into public schools.
Follow Caroline/Dorchester Dustin Holt on Twitter @Dustin_StarDem.