Full-time farmer and Sen. Jason Gallion sees himself as “kind of a throwback to days long ago.”
From early January to early April, he carries out his duties as a legislator. The rest of the time, he’s tending to his land and his herd of cattle.
The annual 90-day Maryland General Assembly session was initially scheduled as such so legislators could get back from Annapolis in time for spring planting, according to Gallion.
“The timing works out well, actually,” Gallion said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m here in the winter, and you’re back home in time for the planting season.”
Gallion, 42, is in his second year as the senator for Legislative District 35, which covers northern and central Harford County, starting in the Jarrettsville area, and northern Cecil County all the way to Fair Hill.
The Level resident, a Republican, was elected to his first term in 2018, succeeding late Republican Sen. H. Wayne Norman Jr., who died suddenly in March of 2018. Farming is Gallion’s primary occupation — he manages a beef herd of about 50 cows and grows hay, much of it on leased acreage. Many of Gallion’s hay customers raise horses.
Maryland’s 47 senators and 141 delegates, who are part-time legislators, also have multiple full-time occupations. Gallion is the rare legislator who is a full-time farmer. His Harford County colleague, District 7 Republican J.B. Jennings, said he also works in agriculture “on a very part-time basis,” boarding horses and raising beef cattle.
Gallion also mentioned Democratic Sen. Arthur Ellis, of Charles County, whom Gallion said is a beekeeper and “avid gardener.”
“It’s supposed to be a citizen legislature, where you have folks from all different walks of life come and serve,” Gallion said. “I think that’s a good thing, to have a group with different specialties and experiences.”
2020 session begins
Gallion spoke with The Aegis Wednesday afternoon in Annapolis following the Senate’s first session of 2020. The General Assembly opened its 441st session Wednesday, with multiple spectators filling the galleries in the State House to watch the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates conduct business.
Gallion is one of three senators who represent Harford County, all Republicans. Jennings represents western Harford and eastern Baltimore County, plus he is the GOP’s minority leader in the Senate; Sen. Robert Cassilly serves central and southern Harford County — the Bel Air, Abingdon, Edgewood, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace areas — in District 34.
All three were present for the opening Senate session, which began at noon Wednesday. The session consisted of ceremonial duties such as selecting the chamber’s leaders, establishing Senate rules and welcoming senators’ families and guests. Harford County executive Barry Glassman, a former state senator, was among the Central Maryland county executives on the floor as guests.
Ferguson, a former teacher, addressed Kirwan in his remarks to his colleagues, stressing the need to provide a first-class education to all children in Maryland, regardless of socioeconomic status.
The Kirwan Commission’s recommendations, released last year, include significant funding increases by the state and local governments, up to $4 billion over 10 years. Gov. Larry Hogan has expressed strong opposition to such large increases in funding and dubbed the body the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission,” although the commission has not proposed increasing taxes.
Ferguson acknowledged that “it’s going to be very, very hard work” moving forward. “This is what we do, this is why each and every one of us had that spark . . . when you decided tomorrow can be better [than] today, and I want to be part of making it so,” Ferguson said.
Glassman has expressed apprehension about the Kirwan Commission’s impact on Harford County taxpayers, concerns Gallion shares.
“They have a lot of good ideas, but how do you pay for it?" Gallion said. “That’s the main question.”
He noted it will be very challenging for local governments to pay for their share, especially counties with smaller budgets. Gallion noted the first few years of Kirwan have been funded, but “the real fights” will come “pretty soon, when they’re trying to figure out how to pay for all this stuff.”
Ferguson said he visited each of his colleagues in their districts before the session, and he stressed that, during each visit “we didn’t talk politics, we talked solutions.”
Gallion said Ferguson spent about 90 minutes with him last fall at the Harford County Agricultural Center in Street and that they “had a really good meeting.”
“So far he’s been very willing to listen, and so far, so good,” he said of Ferguson. “I hope he continues to do that.”
Miller nominated Ferguson as Senate president, a nomination Jennings, the minority leader, seconded.
“I think we made the right choice,” said Jennings, who noted he considers Ferguson a friend who is willing to reach out and work with Senate Republicans.
Jennings also addressed his colleagues, saying the GOP caucus is willing to talk with Senate Democrats on funding for Kirwan and other matters, but he stressed his party will maintain its ethos of low taxes and smaller government.
He noted crime is the “number-one issue” he hears about in his district and around the state. Jennings also emphasized that Democrats and Republicans work on a bipartisan basis in Annapolis, unlike the hyper-partisan divisions between the parties in the U.S. Congress.
Jennings said he is looking forward to the next 90 days in the General Assembly.
“It’s going to be fun, it’s going to be interesting, it’s going to be tough, but that’s why we’re here,” he said.
Gallion said the new Senate president, as well as other senators, have come to him with questions on agriculture, which he said is the largest industry in Maryland.
“I feel like one of my strengths is, I can really advocate for the ag community,” he said.
Gallion grew up helping his father, whose primary occupation was with the State Highway Administration, raise beef cattle at home. He also worked as a teen on the dairy farms owned by his uncle, Nolan Gallion Sr., and the Hopkins family.
Gallion, a 1995 graduate of Havre de Grace High School, began working on his own dairy operation with about 60 cows in 1999 after he graduated from Harford Community College.
“The cows have to be milked at least twice a day, every day, 365 days a year,” he said. “You’re up really early and have some long days, but it definitely teaches you a good work ethic and how to be responsible.”
Gallion owned a dairy farm for about five years and has since shifted to beef cattle and hay. In addition to his own farm, he works to support other members of the local agricultural community.
He has worked since 2016 as a part-time agricultural specialist for the Harford County government. His office administers the agricultural grant program for the county, supports farmers’ markets in Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace and promotes the “buy local” program to encourage people to support local growers.
Gallion also serves on the county’s Economic Development Agricultural Advisory Board and is the liaison from the county’s executive’s office to the Harford County Farm Bureau and the annual Farm Fair. Plus he supports the 4-H youth program in Cecil and Harford through initiatives such as the annual livestock sales at both county fairs.
He supported a number of bills related to agriculture, some of which were passed by the legislature and signed by the governor, during his freshman year in 2019.
Those bills included expanding the radius in which operators of farm vehicles bearing a Class K tag can drive on the roads from their farms to 25 miles. Gallion also got a bill passed allowing Harford farmers to use rifles as well as shotguns to rid their properties of animals which damage crops, he secured state bond funding to help Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding purchase a horse farm in Street, and he was able to get an agriculture education component into the Blueprint school funding bill.
He also helped lead the effort to get “truth in labeling” bill passed for milk last year. Maryland is working with other states in a push to get the FDA to support the federal definition of milk, in that a substance that comes from “a hooved mammal” is classified as milk, Gallion said.
He noted the dairy industry is struggling, both in Maryland and the rest of the country. This law, and ones like it passed in other states, would help milk providers compete with those who sell products derived from almonds or other plants and label them as milk.
“Anything we can do to help support the dairy farmers I think is worthwhile,” Gallion said.
Gallion said he is able to balance his work in Annapolis, plus farming and his commitment to the Level Volunteer Fire Company — he is an active life member and past fire chief and board president — with support from his legislative staff, neighbor Ron Kearns, who helps with the farm when he is in Annapolis, and his “awesome” wife, Sonya.
Gallion and his wife have four daughters, ages 1, 3, 5, and 6. Photos of his family are on the shelves and walls of his office.
“She’s really the backbone of all of this,” he said of his wife. “I could not do any of this without her.”
Gallion has a three-person staff, including chief of staff Jordan Glassman — son of the Harford County executive — deputy chief of staff Mike Kalinski, who spends much of his time working in the district, especially with Cecil County constituents, and legislative aide Chelsea Sniegowski.