Gubernatorial hopeful George brings campaign to Dundalk
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 14:09

Ron George

GOP candidate pays visit to Eagle office

by Ben Boehl

Ron George has a lot of catching up to do. While his rivals for the Republican nomination for governor have been devoting the better part of the last three months to campaigning, the Anne Arundel County Republican, who visited the Eagle offices last week with his running mate Shelley Aloi, has only recently been able to ramp up his bid to become the next governor of Maryland.
    A member of the House of Delegates from Anne Arundel County, George noted that his duties in Annapolis, along with the fact that legislators are not allowed to raise funds during the General Assembly session, limited his ability to actively campaign.
    Meanwhile, other gubernatorial candidates — Harford County Executive David Craig, former state cabinet member Larry Hogan and Charles Lollar on the GOP side, and Democrats Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Douglas Gansler — had varying degrees of freedom to raise funds and could maintain a more campaign-oriented schedule.
    “[The other candidates] are higher in the polls because they have name recognition,” George noted. “Now that I can campaign, I can change that.
    A Feb. 15 Baltimore Sun poll  showed him in third place with six percent, ahead of Lollar but trailing Hogan and Craig. A Feb. 18 Washington Post poll showed George in last place with four percent.
    George argued that those polls focused on registered voters and said that his internal polling yielded better numbers when looking at likely voters.
    He also noted that people have become more receptive to him once they found out about his business background.
    “They say Larry Hogan is a businessman, Charles Lollar is a businessman, but it’s Delegate Ron  George ... part of the government,” George noted. 
    “I’m a businessman too. I have a life and a family. If I don’t win, I’ll still have a life.”
Economic focus
     George is the owner of Ron George Jewelers in Anne Arundel County. He said that his background running a national manufacturing design business gives him an understanding of manufacturing issues and that he understands how the Dundalk area has been hit hard by the loss of manufacturing jobs.
    “I have seen what has happened to manufacturing and how it has been hurt by this state,” George noted.
    Thus, he says, the focus of the election should be on encouraging economic development in the state — and manufacturing jobs in particular.
    “I want to bring manufacturing back,” he said. “We don’t gain anything by moving people out and building nice condos they can’t afford.”
    Toward that end, he pointed to his 10-point policy plan focused on economic issues.
    George’s plan includes lowering the corporate income tax rate, cutting income taxes by 10 percent  and trying to regrow the tax base in Baltimore.
    He echoed the claim made by other Republican candidates  that taxes made Maryland unfriendly to business. “We’ve lost manufacturing [because of them],” he said.
    George criticized the tax on new business equipment in particular and said the “rain tax” [the stormwater remediation fee] “was most egregious.” 
    George said he wants to focus on job development in the Baltimore region and is optimistic that the Port of Baltimore expansion will attract import and export businesses which will facilitate growth.
    “If I can build the tax base in Baltimore City, that’s good for everyone,” he said. “Too much money from Annapolis is spent keeping the city afloat. I want to plug that drain.”
    As an incentive for business growth, George said he favors a 20 percent sales tax reduction on products produced in Maryland.
    He said the increase in the minimum wage passed in this year’s General Assembly session would backfire.
    “The loss of jobs [resulting in the increase] will offset any gain in spending power by low wage workers,” he argued.
    “Dundalk has a great workforce,” George said. And he noted the entrepreneurial spirit of the “squeegee guys” [windshield washers at stop lights] in Baltimore City as evidence of a positive work ethic. “Those guys will work if given a chance.”    
    George said that most candidates, particularly in the GOP, have shied away from policies focused on Baltimore City, but he thinks the health of Baltimore is essential to helping the rest of the state.
    He called current economic and educational circumstances in the city “an incubator for crime,” and said that changing those circumstanced would reduce many of the problems plaguing the city as well as reduce the amount of state funding the city would need.
    “I want to regrow the tax base in Baltimore,”  George said. “There are no mid-level jobs; there is no hope for them. We need mid- to-entry-level jobs.”
    According to George, one way to get those jobs is better training of students in Maryland schools. George pointed out that he was one of eight children and his father could not afford to send him to college.
    Instead, he went to a trade school for jewelers. George told The Eagle that he sees a need for education and training programs geared toward those who do not want to go to college.
    [After beginning his career, George did eventually get a college degree.]
    “We used to have shop in high school,” he noted, “and there are programs in other places that use that to not only help young people prepare for careers in general, but if there is a local industry, they can train kids locally,” George said. “Why do we look down on a person that doesn’t want to go to college?”
    He favors “childrens zones” in Baltimore — like the ones in Harlem, N.Y. — that concentrate educational resources for disadvantaged children, and that he wants to give teachers more planning time, as well as work to reduce state and federal requirements that he feels interfere with teaching.
    George also discussed his plan to ease the burden on the state’s public school system by establishing what he called a “scholarship” system that would apparently be the functional equivalent of school vouchers.
    Under George’s scholarship system, any student who is admitted to a non-public school would receive a set amount of funds to attend that school.
    As George explained, the state currently spends an average of $13,900 per student to educate Maryland schoolchildren each year.
    Giving some of that money to families who want to send their children to non-public schools, George argued, would benefit public schools by saving money, reducing class sizes and providing more pay and planning time for teachers.
    According to George, the plan would also benefit families who would like the choice to send their child to a non-public school.
    “Those choices have to be there,” he argued. 
The environment
    “The bay is a tremendous resource,” George said, reminiscing about good times he had on the water as a boy. But he is against the stormwater remediation fees, which were implemented to reduce pollutants entering the bay.  He considers the EPA limits on storm water runoff another example of an “unfunded mandate” that hurts businesses and homeowners. [In 2012, the General Assembly passed a law requiring counties and municipalities to comply with the limits.]
    George instead favors what he called a “regional effort” with states within the Susquehana River watershed to reduce the contaminants that build up behind the Conowingo Dam.
    He also supports a wind energy project at the mouth of the Severn River, but said that renewable energy resources will never replace carbon-based energy. 
    As governor, George said he would ensure that revenue generated from the “flush tax” would be used as intended — on environmental remediation and cleanup projects — and not diverted to other uses.
    While he acknowledged the need to change his party’s widespread resistance to the findings of climate scientists, George said he has no specific long-term plans for dealing with rising sea levels due to climate change.    
    “I do want to base [climate policy] on scientific fact. I’m waiting on the facts,” he said, and claimed that the EPA was using “unscientific data” to to support findings on global warming.
Steering clear
    George largely side-stepped questions about social issues like same-sex marriage and marijuana laws that have arisen in the state over recent years, saying he wanted the focus of his campaign to be on business growth and job creation.
    “I’m going to focus on economic issues, and not be distracted,” he said. “Is it as juicy for people in the [Republican] base who want to focus on other issues? Probably not.
    “The best social program is a family and a job.”
    Running mate Shelley Aloi reiterated the campaign’s desire to stress economic policy over divisive social issues.
    “Ron George does not go to his party’s platform. He goes out to the people,” Aloi said.

• Dundalk Eagle staffers John G. Bailey, Nicole Rodman and Steve Matrazzo also contributed to this report.