ANNAPOLIS — Del. Ron George is highlighting his experience as a longtime small business owner, two terms in Maryland's House of Delegates and a focus on sparking greater economic development in Baltimore to set him apart from other candidates seeking the GOP nomination for governor of Maryland.
He's basing his campaign platform primarily on economic issues.
"It's all about the economy right now," George said in a recent interview with The Associated Press in a restaurant on Main Street in Annapolis, a few doors down from the jewelry store he opened in 1991. "People are hurting."
George became a delegate representing Anne Arundel County in 2007 — the same year Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley came to Annapolis. From George's vantage point on the House Ways and Means Committee, he had a close look at the first wave of tax increases approved in a three-week special session that O'Malley called during his first year in office.
George worked against an outcome of that special session — an extension of the sales tax to computer services. Lawmakers repealed the extension just months later in the next regular session before it took effect, after an outcry from the industry.
Like other Republicans in the race, George is decrying tax increases from that first special session, which included a sales tax increase from 5 percent to 6 percent and a corporate sales tax increase. Other tax increases followed, along with hikes in tolls and fees.
It's not clear how that approach will play out for Republicans, though, in such a heavily Democratic state. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin. Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, who became Maryland's first Republican governor in 36 years when he was elected in 2002, campaigned on cutting the sales tax increase in his 2010 rematch with O'Malley. But Ehrlich lost the race by an even greater margin than in 2006.
George, however, thinks this election will be different. The reason: More tax increases followed in O'Malley's second term, including a gas tax hike indexed to adjust for inflation in future years and higher income taxes on people who make more than $100,000.
"There's a much larger number where it's hitting people in the pocketbook now," George said.
George wants a 10 percent income tax cut. He says he could make up the loss in state revenues by cutting waste in state government.
George also is campaigning to reduce the state's 8.25 percent corporate tax rate to 6.25 percent to create an incentive to draw businesses to Maryland. He argues that state revenues lost by the tax cut would be more than made up with added payroll taxes from businesses.
Other Maryland Republicans in the race also are calling for tax cuts. Harford County Executive David Craig and Charles County businessman Charles Lollar want to phase out the state's income tax. Larry Hogan, a former Ehrlich cabinet member, supports reducing income and corporate income taxes.
George is underscoring his experience as a small-business owner, one who understands obstacles from state regulations business owners complain about.
"I will trust the businesses," George said.
George ran well in his last race for a seat in the House of Delegates. In 2010, he received the most votes in a district where three people win seats. He even edged out Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch for the top spot in the district that includes Annapolis. But a statewide primary race is an entirely different political challenge, and George's campaign finance report in January was low, indicating he had about $15,500 cash in hand.
The primary is June 24.