After election, finding friends in new Annapolis landscape

(Jan.9, 2015) One is a Democrat, one Republican. One is a newcomer in a new district used to working in the background; the other is a seasoned professional and used to the spotlight; one won in a landslide and the other squeaked out another close race.

With the coming of a new administration, it feels very much like both are starting at square one.

Mary Beth Carozza won the District 38C seat handily on election day. Raised in Ocean City, she attended local public schools and after getting her bachelor’s degree from the Catholic University and completing the Harvard Senior Managers in Government program, she worked as a staffer in various Republican administrations from President George W. Bush to Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

Jim Mathias has been involved with Ocean City politics since 1987 with an appointment to the Board of Zoning Appeals. In 1990, he was elected to the City Council where he stayed until 1996, when he was first elected mayor. After Bennett Bozman’s death in 2006, Mathias was tapped to fill his seat in the House of Delegates. He made the jump to the Senate in 2011.

Carozza describes her time since the election as a “whirlwind.” She said she travels to Annapolis twice weekly, and recently completed the freshman orientation for the incoming class of delegates.

“We’re the biggest class in recent history with 24 new Democrats and 24 new Republicans,” she said.

The split is important, she said, because “to get anything done it has to be bipartisan.”

Mathias said he was pleased to be able to return to the Senate in a politically challenging environment.

“Vision is important; achievement is more important,” he said.

Carozza uses the budget shortfall, most recently reported as $1.2 billion, as the lens to the other issues she sees as important. She said she would like to stem the “brain drain” of the Eastern Shore and provide opportunities for younger generations of Eastern Shore natives to find a place within the local economy.

“Economic development is tied to the shore through high-tech. We need partners and to take a limited approach,” she said, “I’m not going to be the type to propose a slew of bills. I’m going to focus on my committee assignment and remain sensitive to state spending to show stakes and outcomes.”

Carozza plans to work with locals to find the next step for the shore’s economy.

“Any time we’re talking about a new initiative we have to be honest about the $1.2 billion shortfall. I’d like to be both realistic and optimistic.”

Mathias said he is interested in creating what he calls “rural prosperity” for Eastern Shore families.

Mathias said the work he’s done in delaying the implementation of the Phosphorus Management Tool and delaying the start date of Maryland Schools demonstrates his commitment.

“I want to make certain Maryland is attractive to come and do business and attract investment capital,” he said.

A “staunch supporter” of the Wallops Island flight facility and the unmanned aircraft now being tested in Crisfield, Mathias said he also wanted to push the shore to the forefront of renewable energy.

“We waited until we got it right on offshore wind. We have to continue to encourage renewable energy and expand our portfolio, but not one penny should come out of Maryland pockets until the turbines start turning,” he said.

Looking to the county’s greying population, Mathias said he wanted to take a look at pension taxes to ensure the state structure is competitive with neighboring Delaware and competing Florida. He also said he was going to look into restoring highway user funds to the county.

Both politicians stressed their need to work collaboratively with members of the opposing party and even within other regions of the state to accomplish any of the goals they have set out. Carozza said she will do this through the network of familiar faces she’s encountered during her years in Washington D.C., while Mathias’ approach seems a bit more mercenary in that he wants to find friends on particular issues and work with them to achieve more targeted goals.

So while the 2014 elections changed the players, it didn’t affect the nature of the game in that the Eastern Shore will continue to have to find and build partnerships within the structures in Annapolis to achieve its goals.

Economic development, remaining competitive and supporting the tourism and agriculture industries seem to drive two elected officials who appear to have more similarities than differences.

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