South Anne Arundel County Republicans will have three choices in next month’s District 7 County Council primary election.
Republicans Shannon Leadbetter, a self-employed saleswoman, Cailey Locklair, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, and Dawn Pulliam, who works in the defense sector, all are hoping to replace Jessica Haire, an Edgewater Republican running for county executive.
The winner of the primary July 19 will face Democratic candidate Shawn Livingston in November.
In separate interviews with The Capital, Leadbetter, Locklair and Pullium laid out their visions for District 7 and Anne Arundel more broadly while raising concerns about what is being taught in schools, small businesses struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and how the county is falling short in supporting vulnerable populations.
The three Republicans were concerned with the way social issues were being taught in schools and said they’d like to see parents get more involved.
The key to getting parents and educators on the same page, Locklair said, is transparency, noting she would support policy to make school curriculum as easy as possible for parents to access.
“A parent should be able to see what is being taught to their children and have an ability to remove a child from a [bad] situation,” Locklair said. “A child’s identity begins at home. It’s not in public schools.”
Leadbetter proposed a county audit of the Board of Education to better understand the board’s spending. Based on her personal concerns as a parent and conversations with residents, Leadbetter said she’s interested to see how much money is spent on things like learning with laptops versus textbooks, teaching real-world skills like financial literacy and teaching cultural and philosophical beliefs versus math, science, reading and writing.
“Once we know what is historically spent we can ask questions about why and look for opportunities for improvement, give parents and community members the opportunity to ask questions,” Leadbetter said.
Pulliam said she’d host frequent town halls about education issues and invite speakers including leaders in other counties to discuss how to do things differently, encouraging attendees from church groups, home owners associations and the Boys and Girls Club.
Livingston, the Democrat hoping to flip the south county seat blue, said one solution to improving education in the county would be paying teachers more and hiring more school staff. In terms of helping those in need, he favors expanding childcare opportunities for working families and bolstering job training programs.
The Republicans also said they’d work to recruit and retain new officers on the police force, a task they fear has become especially difficult since calls for police reform increased after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Locklair and Leadbetter said they would take the council’s responsibility of confirming each member to the new, state-mandated police accountability board very seriously. Locklair added that who is on the board could be an important factor in enticing new officers to work in Anne Arundel.
“I will ensure that fair-minded individuals who understand the intricacies of law enforcement are placed on that board,” Leadbetter said.
Pulliam said she’d work on campaigns to recruit high school and college students in the county to be officers and, if funding for salaries in the department is going unused due to vacancies, divert those funds to recruitment.
“We have police officers around here that have retired; bring them back into the fold.” Pulliam said, suggesting retired officers could become school resource officers. “Some of them want to come back.”
The three candidates also said they would work to support local businesses struggling to recover financially from the pandemic. Locklair and Leadbetter, both of whom have business backgrounds, said the best thing local government could do for businesses would be to leave them alone. Mandates and regulations, even when well-intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 or be more environmentally friendly, hurt businesses and their profits, they said.
All three candidates support tax cuts for small businesses in order to help them stay afloat during this time.
The three did differ, however, on how to help those most in need of government services like homeless residents, veterans and those with mental health issues.
Locklair said she would use public-private partnerships to bring together organizations already helping populations in need along with government services.
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“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Locklair said. “There are really neat organizations that are out there that we can partner with. Sometimes that means an investment by government. Sometimes, government should be acting as the connector.”
Pulliam was more wary of creating new programs and said she’d first like to assess the county’s current initiatives to help those groups before coming up with new ones.
“The first thing politicians do is throw money at a problem and create new programs versus looking at what we’re currently doing,” Pulliam said. He proposed modernizing current programs and “seeing where the gaps are and where we need to strengthen.”
One group that needs some extra help and is getting overlooked, Leadbetter said, was the elderly, who are struggling to afford the rising cost of living in the county, especially coupled with inflation.
“We can work to create a different scale of property taxes for those who are retired, over 65 and under certain income levels so that our elderly can afford to live in Anne Arundel County,” Leadbetter said.
The winner of the Republican nomination for District 7 will face off against Livingston, a tech support specialist and part-time youth pastor, in the November general election.