District 5 General Assembly hopefuls discuss state, Carroll issues at candidate forum

From left: Emily Shank, a Democratic candidate for state delegate, Jamie O'Marr, a Democratic candidate for state senate, and incumbent Republican Sen. Justin Ready, who is seeking his second term representing Maryland's 5th Legislative District in the General Assembly.
From left: Emily Shank, a Democratic candidate for state delegate, Jamie O'Marr, a Democratic candidate for state senate, and incumbent Republican Sen. Justin Ready, who is seeking his second term representing Maryland's 5th Legislative District in the General Assembly. (Alex Mann / Carroll County Times)

Candidates hoping to represent Carroll County in the Maryland General Assembly talked schools, health care and wages on Wednesday, Oct. 10 at a forum hosted by the Community Media Center.

Democratic state delegate candidate Emily Shank, senate candidate Jaime O’Marr, a Carroll Democrat and incumbent Republican Sen. Justin Ready informed voters about their stances regarding pressing issues facing Maryland and Carroll County.


Shank’s incumbent Republican opposition for District 5 seats — Delegates Susan Krebs, Haven Shoemaker and April Rose — did not participate.

The candidates on Wednesday pointed to education, health care and wages when asked by moderator Wayne Carter, editor of the Carroll County Times, to identify what they perceived to be the most significant issues facing the state.


“I think there are actually two significant issues facing us right now, health care and education,” Shank said. “And we can address both.”

O’Marr pointed to Maryland’s minimum wage as its most pressing issue.

“Starting in 2019 the minimum wage for the State of Maryland is due to go up to only $11 an hour,” O’Marr said. “There’s very few places in the state where you can afford to live for $11 an hour.”

Ready echoed Shank’s education focus, highlighting legislative decisions about the Kirwan Commission — a panel dedicated to changing how Maryland funds its public schools — as a priority for lawmakers during the 2019 legislative session.


Shank and Ready both touched on the opioid crisis, as well.

Education funding and SROs

With its enrollment declining, it’s been a struggle for rural Carroll County to secure funds from Annapolis for its highly regarded schools. As such, candidates were asked what should be done to secure state dollars for county schools.

O’Marr, who described herself as being a progressive mind, suggested that Carroll may have more at-risk students than it’s credited for. The county will receive more funds as the Kirwan Commission makes recommendations, O’Marr said.

Ready, who served as a District 5 delegate for five years before being appointed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan to fill a Senate seat, touted Carroll County’s Republican delegation for securing more money than the county “deserved” over the last four years.

The Kirwan Commission’s formula prioritizes impoverished school zones, Ready said. “Right now the way the formulas work and the way that it seems like Kirwan’s projecting them to work, Carroll County does not, a lot of times, meet those baselines, so we would miss out on extra funding.”

As such, he said, it’s important to determine how to secure more support for the county within the current framework. The incumbent senator also explained that economic development could play a key role.

“Stimulating growth in our county so that we can get more families to move here, stay here, have kids, that would help us long term because then we’ll have more children in the school system,” Ready said.

Shank, a civil litigation lawyer by trade, took a different stance, pointing to revenues generated by casinos that “were supposed to be additional money for school funding, that never ended up being up secured in a lockbox, safe separate account,” she said. “It’s high past time that it be done.”

Recognizing Ready and other Carroll legislators’ efforts, Shank said the funds were insufficient.

At a combined District 3 and 4 commissioner candidate forum, Incumbent Republican Commissioner Dennis Frazier and his Democratic opponent Maria Warburton answered questions about issues in District 3 this week.

“Our teachers went seven years without a raise,” Shank said. “Seven years. These are already professionals who work incredibly long hours, who give emotionally, physically, who buy supplies with their own money and then are so underpaid that they end up going to Baltimore County or to Howard County. … That is unacceptable.”

The schools conversation started, like it usually does, with funding. But candidates were also asked to address school safety efforts and whether they were satisfied with current efforts — like the Safe to Learn Act, which requires all Maryland public schools to have School Resource Officers (SROs) or some form of a law enforcement presence.

Shank highlighted the SRO program, touting Carroll County Sheriff’s Office deputies and adding that studies show their presence yields fewer fights and less detention.

But it’s not enough as far as Shank’s concerned. She wants more thoughtfulness and less reactiveness as it relates to school safety. That could mean hiring more crisis counselors.

“There is no way that the amount of money that was allocated in the Safe Schools Act is going to harden every building, every school in the state,” she said. “Studies have also shown that what may make adults feel better — metal detectors — sometimes makes children feel less safe. And it doesn’t necessarily make them safer.”

O’Marr chose to highlight studies that she said revealed human behavior and kindness as the biggest threat to schools. Especially in a place like Carroll County, “we’re just friendly up here,” she said.

“Peoples’ friendliness and willingness to hold the door for the person behind them,” O’Marr said. “And I don’t think any amount of money thrown at this problem is going to solve that.”

The money should go to community education, teaching people good security measures, she concluded

Ready compared the school shooting crisis to 9/11.

“We saw a dramatic sea change in how we view airport security,” he said. The Maryland General Assembly has taken a similarly comprehensive approach to school safety, he said.

But, Ready added, he and the Carroll delegation had to fight for funds because the county had already been instituting some SROs. He also emphasized the importance of considering safer school designs.

Two candidate forums are scheduled for this week, at the Community Media Center’s in Westminster, one for commissioner candidates another for state legislative candidates. However, the incumbent delegates have, thus far, decided not to participate.

At various points during the forum the candidates, regardless of party affiliation, agreed somewhat on subjects like keeping children safe and independently redrawing Maryland’s gerrymandered legislative and congressional district maps.

But not when it came to certain subjects.

Health care for all?

Faced with the question of whether they believe health care to be a human right, all candidates answered “Yes”, resoundingly. But how they defined that health care that they believe every human is entitled to varied.

“In Maryland everyone has access to health care, no hospital can ever turn you away for care,” Ready said. “Health insurance may not be a human right. And some people say ‘what’s the difference?’ Well that’s part of the problem we have in our entire health care system.”

Ready described insurance companies as middle men, negotiating with the doctor on behalf of the patient. “You’re like out of the equation. That’s a problem,” he said.

And those problems, Ready said, can be tied to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — otherwise known as Obamacare. He wants to get rid of it, but explained that it’s more of a national discussion.


Ready praised, as he did many times Wednesday, Gov. Hogan’s and the General Assembly’s efforts to reduce insurance rates. “But the answer is not more government,” he concluded.


O’Marr and Shank, supporters of universal health care, saw it differently.

Shank highlighted that Maryland’s senior citizens are discovering that their prescription drug coverage was being moved from a state plan to a more costly federal one.

“If we had universal health care we would not have 30,000 Marylanders worrying if their prescription drug costs alone are going to go up $10,000 a year,” Shank said.

Shank acknowledged the ACA has flaws, but took aim at Ready’s account of everyone in Maryland having access to health care.

“To suggest that everyone has access to health care because you can walk into a hospital is frankly insulting to those who are really struggling financially,” she said. “You may be able to walk into that hospital, but how are you going to manage that $100,000 medical bill at the end of that?

“We have come up with a universal healthcare system.”

O’Marr agreed.

“I do think health care is a human right,” O’Marr said. “And I think we have the infrastructure in place in this state to start bringing single-payer health care to (Maryland). It’s going to take a while and it’s going to take some money. But I think it’ll change everything for the better if we do that.”

Defining a living wage

A living wage, according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, is “a wage sufficient to provide the necessities and comforts essential to an acceptable standard of living.”

Candidates were asked to define it themselves and explain what it means to them.

Shank, referencing a Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculator, said that a living wage varies depending on the number of working adults and dependents per household.

With two working adults and one child, the living wage is approximately $15 per hour in Carroll County, according to the MIT calculator. That figure fluctuates across the state.

“I think as we look at this balance … between labor and business, first we have to acknowledge that instituting one living wage across the state is probably not helpful or realistic,” she said. “But narrowing it more appropriately for the local jurisdictions and then bringing small business to the table so that we can find a way to implement that so that it’s not overburdensome.”

You do not want to have businesses that can’t hire or must fire employees because of this, said Shank, whose father is a small business owner. She suggested employing tax credits or “other forgiveness programs” to help the business.

O’Marr said she wanted a statewide living wage standard.

“I think it makes sense to raise the minimum wage to what is an average living wage in our state, which is about $15 an hour,” she said. “Minimum was always supposed to be a living wage, it just simply hasn’t risen with the times or the cost of living or the cost of housing.”

It won’t and doesn’t have to happen overnight, O’Marr said. “I just want to get the ball rolling.”

Ready disagreed with O’Marr’s characterization of minimum wage, and whether the government should involve itself with ensuring living wages.

“I don’t believe it’s the government’s role to ensure that people have a living wage,” he said. “I believe in having a social safety net for people who need help, but the idea that the government is going to be enforcing that you’re guaranteed a certain wage or certain level of income.

“Anytime the government has that much power, nothing good comes from it.”

The government's role, however, is to foster a business friendly environment, to boost economic development, he said. That would allow everybody to “reach their full potential.”

He concluded: “The idea of guaranteeing equality means that you guarantee mediocrity.”

From left: Emily Shank, a democratic candidate for state delegate, Jamie O'Marr, a democratic candidate for state senate, and incumbent Sen. Justin Ready, who is seeking his second term representing Maryland's 5th Legislative District in the General Assembly.
From left: Emily Shank, a democratic candidate for state delegate, Jamie O'Marr, a democratic candidate for state senate, and incumbent Sen. Justin Ready, who is seeking his second term representing Maryland's 5th Legislative District in the General Assembly. (Alex Mann / Carroll County Times)