Third in a series of profiles of candidates for governor.
In 1991, Ron George opened a jewelry store on Main Street in Annapolis within sight of the State House dome, placing his name in oversized gold lettering on the 19th-century storefront.
It turned out to be a convenient location for the conservative Republican state legislator now running for governor.
For George, Main Street is not merely an address, it's a persona. Hardly a campaign appearance goes by without a reference to his connection to "Main Street" roots and values. The moniker is shorthand for his advocacy on behalf of small and midsize businesses, which he believes are overtaxed, and for his claim that his proposals are better grounded than those of his three GOP opponents.
George, 60, says his decision to surrender his seat in the House of Delegates and make a long-shot bid for governor hinged on his belief that rising state taxes under Gov. Martin O'Malley have made the state inhospitable for businesses.
"We've got to stop the bleeding," says George, who proposes gradually lowering the 8.25 percent corporate tax rate, cutting income taxes across the board by 10 percent and repealing the state's gas tax increase.
He says he saw a need. "The other guys were running for four years. I wasn't planning to, and then I just didn't see anyone else working on these answers," he said.
The two-term delegate is trailing in the June 24 GOP primary contest, according to a poll of likely Republican primary voters published Sunday in The Baltimore Sun. Activist and businessman Larry Hogan led the field with 27 percent, followed by Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar, both with 12 percent, and George with 6 percent.
George says he continues to believe his campaign will catch on because it is "solution-oriented."
He has a distinctive resume that includes a master's degree in clinical psychology, a certificate in jewelry design and a role on the long-running NBC soap opera "The Doctors." He also had a bit part in the 1989 romantic comedy "Chances Are" starring Robert Downey Jr.
The psychology degree, he said, helped him as a counselor and Boys Club manager years ago. He says he assisted his wife, Becky, in home-schooling their six children. "It's nothing against the classroom," George said. "A couple of them had a different way of processing information. One-on-one [teaching] works."
And the acting? George said he learned to communicate more effectively in public.
He said his life's mission is tied more closely to his stores in Annapolis and Severna Park and to his large family than to his political career. George's wedding ring contains seven princess-cut diamonds — one for each of the couple's children. One died of an illness as an infant.
"His identity is not as a delegate," said Jamie Falcon, an adjunct professor of economics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and an adviser to George. With George's blessing, he is campaigning for George's House seat.
"He's in his second term, and he was going to go up or out," Falcon said.
A largely biographical television ad produced by George's campaign informs viewers that "he did not aspire to be in government" and depicts him tinkering in his store and poring over the state budget. He still finds time to design jewelry ("It relaxes me," he says) and showed up for a gubernatorial debate June 2 with two rings on his left hand. One was his own gold wedding band. The other was a ring his brother unexpectedly handed him to work on, and he had no time to drop it off at the store.
George seeks to distinguish himself by demonstrating that he not only opposed O'Malley administration tax increase proposals, but fought them as a member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
George's tax plans differ from those of his Republican opponents. Craig and Lollar have both released proposals to gradually eliminate the personal income tax, the state's single largest revenue source. Hogan has said he would propose specific cuts to state spending, starting with those recommended by auditors, before pushing tax cuts.
George says he would lower the personal income tax by 10 percent and make the cut retroactive to 2014.
His campaign website calls for lowering the corporate tax rate by 2 percentage points in 2015. But he says that might not be practical. "We're going to have a bigger deficit in this state, and I can't hit it all at once," he said.
While some Democrats in Annapolis say George can be strident, he said his positions "have always been constructive."
He likes to highlight two legislative battles. In 2013, he successfully sponsored a measure to cap the excise tax for boat sales at $15,000. The legislation was aimed at persuading yacht owners to keep their boats in Maryland.
In 2008, George sponsored legislation that repealed an unpopular sales tax on computer services.
"He opposed the 'tech tax,' and we appreciate that," said Brian Levine of the Tech Council of Maryland, a Rockville-based trade association that does not endorse candidates.
On social policy, George said the death penalty should be restored as a tool for prosecutors. He voted for a bill — it has since become law — creating a program to grow and distribute marijuana for medicinal use. But he opposes legalization of the drug beyond that.
The winner of the GOP primary will face the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 4 election. Maryland's next governor will earn $165,000 in the first year of office, with annual raises bringing the salary to $180,000 in the fourth year.
George said he raised about $70,000 since the legislative session that ended April 7 and reported having just $41,000 on hand in a disclosure filed last month.
Nonetheless, George says he has enough money for a second television ad, plus radio spots.
He said his Main Street experience with budgeting has allowed him to run an effective campaign on a tight budget.
"I can make the money go a lot further," he said. "You know me. I hate waste."
Tomorrow: Charles Lollar
Maryland Policy & Politics
Job: state delegate, jewelry store owner
Experience: clinical psychologist; film and television actor
Education: B.A., Syracuse University; M.S., Institute for Psychological Sciences; master goldsmith certificate
Family: Married, six children
Running mate: Shelley Aloi