For more than 27 years, Donald Elliott has represented Carroll County in the Maryland House of Delegates. But that all ended in June when he was defeated in the primary election.
Elliott isn't mad about the outcome of the primary. He isn't mad that he lost his seat after more than 27 years of service to Carroll County. And he isn't mad that he will no longer be the voice of Carroll's residents and communities in Annapolis.
More than anything, Elliott said, he is happy. Happy to have had the opportunity to serve Carroll and its people for as long as he did.
"I've had a good ride. I've had almost three decades of service to the people of Carroll County," the 82-year-old New Windsor resident said. "It's been an honor to have been placed in that position for all those years. I feel like I've accomplished a number of things for the county and that I've supported the political and social values of the citizens that I represented."
Del. Susan Krebs said she considers Elliott to be her mentor. Since she was elected to her seat in 2002, Krebs said she's learned so much from Elliott, who is often referred to as "Doc" for his years as a pharmacist.
"He's taught me to focus on the job, focus on the people," she said.
Krebs, who is running for re-election in the redrawn District 5 in November, said she's had a great opportunity to learn from him while serving on the House of Delegates' Health and Government Operations Committee with Elliott since 2009 and sharing an office with him for the past five years. Elliott has an unwavering dedication to his constituents and has remained a staunch voice for the people of Carroll, she said.
"This job was never about him. Some people in politics, the job is all about them and their power," she said. "Don is about the people and getting the work done, and he focuses on that like a laser. They don't make them like Don Elliott anymore."
Del. Justin Ready was elected and began serving on Carroll County's House delegation to the Maryland General Assembly in 2010. During that time, Ready, who is the youngest member of the delegation, said he's had the privilege of working side-by-side with one of the most respected delegates in the House.
"A couple words come to mind when you think about Don Elliott — honesty and integrity," said Ready, also running for re-election in District 5. "You could always count on him to be kind, honest and straightforward with people. In politics, that's not always easy to find."
Early political career
Elliott said he had always been interested in politics and enjoyed helping candidates get elected. But, Elliott said, he never considered politics as a path for himself until he had an encounter while campaigning for a candidate.
Elliott said he was supporting a particular candidate — he can't remember who all these years later — when someone decided to criticize his support for that candidate.
"They simply said to me, 'Don, I can't support that person you're advocating for, but if you run, I'd support you,' " Elliott said. "I laughed about it. Then I reflected on that and I ran."
In 1982, Elliott challenged incumbent V. Lanny Harchenhorn, a Republican attorney who had been serving since 1975, to represent District 4B in the House of Delegates. When all the votes were tallied, Elliott lost by 68 votes. It was a tough loss, Elliott said. So tough, that Elliott said he had to run for the House again in 1986.
That time Elliott was elected, and he began serving Carroll and Howard counties, which was the makeup of the district at the time. After that, Elliott won re-election six times.
Elliott said he is proud of a number of statewide bills that have been passed since 1987. The first big piece of legislation that he got passed, Elliott remembered, was under the Gov. William Donald Schaefer administration, 1987 to 1995. Elliott said he was approached by a constituent who was falsely accused of child abuse and was hoping the delegate could improve the court system's process so that other people were not falsely accused of the crime.
"We found out that there was no process," Elliott said. "If they were charged with child abuse, they were put on a central registry and that's where they stayed. Even if [the charge] was unsubstantiated, they stayed on that registry for life."
Many times, Elliott said, a relationship would end badly and one parent would accuse another parent of child abuse to get back at them. Elliott said he got legislation passed that created a due process for those accused of child abuse and placed on the registry.
Elliott said he is also proud of a piece of legislation that enables small businesses to pay their annual property tax payments in two payments instead of one lump sum. It wasn't fair, he said, that small business owners had to pay a large up-front sum while residents could pay their property tax in two incremental payments.
After several failed attempts, Elliott said he got the statewide legislation passed and it was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley in 2010.
Most recently, Elliott said he was happy to help secure a $2 million grant to go toward paying off New Windsor's wastewater treatment plant. Before the grant was awarded, town officials expected to have to significantly raise sewer rates to cover the cost of the upgrades.
In 2014, Elliott sponsored a bill that required the Maryland Department of the Environment to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of money between large and small wastewater treatment facilities. The legislation ensured that municipalities like New Windsor would be in the running with larger jurisdictions when applying to get financial assistance from the state when making costly improvements to their treatment facilities.
The legislation, which was passed earlier this year and signed into law by O'Malley, is a perfect example of how Elliott focused on real issues that affected the people of Carroll, Ready said.
"Don was a tireless worker to try and help the small municipalities get what they needed, particularly in the area of wastewater treatment," Ready said. "He was somebody that really believed that the rural areas needed to be treated fairly and worked very hard to make that happen."
Before he decided to enter politics, Elliott received a broad range of life experience that he would bring to his work in Annapolis.
Elliott studied at University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and St. John's University in New York for his career as a pharmacist. Elliott's expertise in health care, pharmaceuticals and medicine would get him a seat on a number of committees and subcommittees over the years.
He has served in the House's Health and Government Operations Committee since 2003. He also became the ranking member for several subcommittees on topics that included health facilities, health equipment, health insurance and long-term care.
Republicans, who have historically been in the minority in Maryland, really benefit from the committee process because they have the opportunity to affect legislation and policies before they head to the full House for votes, Elliott said.
When he was first elected, Elliott said, he was one of only 16 Republicans the House. Over time, that number has risen to 43 out of 141 delegates.
"The place where [Republicans] have the greatest influence is in the committees," Elliott said. "We can make adjustments to some rather outrageous, more liberal legislation in committee before it hits the floor."
In 2010, the Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Society decided to establish an award in honor of U.S. Sen. Charles McCurdy "Mac" Mathias. The award would be given out to a Democrat and Republican who best represented Mathias' ideals of working with both sides of the aisle.
Elliott was chosen as the first recipient of the award for his service on the Health and Government Operations Committee, where he worked with Democrats to fight for health-care rights for seniors and low-income individuals in Maryland. Elliott's longtime friend, Del. Jim Proctor, was the Democrat to receive the award.
The award is presented every four years.
"He is very well respected, very knowledgeable," Krebs said. "He's a conservative legislator, but he's not into partisan politics. He's a problem-solver that flies below the radar screen."
After his primary loss, Elliott took a nine-day vacation in Aruba with his family. On the eighth day, he came down with pancreatitis, a painful inflammation of the pancreas.
As a result, he spent six days in an Aruban hospital, then five more days at a hospital in Miami and then the University of Maryland Medical Center. Now, he is at his New Windsor home recovering.
"I'm still not out of the woods," Elliott said Wednesday. "The pancreas has still not cleared up. They want to operate."
The medical condition has left Elliott very weak, he said, and he's lost 30 pounds since coming down with it.
"If I can just retrieve this strength, that would be better," Elliott said.
Despite his medical condition, Elliott said he still wants to go out and mingle with his constituents.
Elliott said he hasn't thought much about plans for the future. He said he will always be interested in politics, so he will probably continue following issues he's interested in.
Ready and Krebs said they still plan to use Elliott's years of experience in pharmaceuticals, health care and Maryland government by asking for his advice in the future.
It is hard to replace 27 years of experience, Ready said
"Don will continue to be a valuable resource for all of us," Ready said. "He's not the kind of person who will take his ball and go home. Don is always willing to offer advice and help with issues."
Upon hearing his colleagues' plans to call him during future legislative sessions, Elliott said, "They can give me a call any time."
Reach staff writer Christian Alexandersen at 410-857-7873 or email@example.com.
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