ANNAPOLIS — The Eastern Shore Delegation has grown.
That was apparent at the first Eastern Shore Delegation meeting of the 2015 legislative session on Friday, Jan. 16, when the delegation’s lawmakers initially had to find extra chairs to fit around a meeting table that was once — as early as last year — meant for fewer people.
Joining the Eastern Shore Delegation, which previously consisted of legislators from parts of Cecil County south to Worcester and Somerset counties, are Senate District 35 and House Districts 35A — the other part of Cecil County — and 35B — part of Harford County.
There are three new delegates and one new senator added to the Shore delegation mix.
Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore, said with the new boost to the delegation’s membership they all must work together as a team.
“In the past, we’ve seen different counties submit legislation under their delegation, and we’ve done it somewhat under certain smaller bills,” Hershey said. “There might be a great opportunity to introduce Eastern Shore Delegation bills where we have the input from all of our members. We have the ability for all of us to go and advocate for these bills, and we have strength in numbers.”
The extra numbers will serve the Shore delegation well this legislative session, said Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37-Mid-Shore.
Republican Larry Hogan will be sworn in as Maryland’s governor on Wednesday, Jan. 21, with his budget proposal coming shortly thereafter.
Eckardt said there are a number of initiatives Shore lawmakers could move forward on, working with the new Hogan administration.
Though she recommended the delegation wait until after Hogan submits his budget to develop legislative priorities, she and others specifically mentioned a few issues, including the Phosphorus Management Tool and highway user revenues.
“We have all worked very hard here — hard for agriculture and hard to stop, slow down, impede the reckless forward motion of the Phosphorus Management Tool,” said Sen. Jim Mathias, D-38-Lower Shore.
“We need our continued alliance to go forward, and I just ask that all of us in the room that have interest here continue to reach out to the governor-elect so we know where we are going and we don’t wind up getting somewhere we don’t want to be with legislation moving forward,” he said.
Mathias said the Shore delegation has been successful in the past in meeting with Gov. Martin O’Malley on challenges specific to the Shore. Although the Shore delegation hasn’t gotten everything it wants, “we have made great strides,” Mathias said.
The first Eastern Shore Delegation meeting of the 2015 legislative session also saw the election of a new chairman, vice chairman and treasurer.
Eckardt was the previous chairman, but has since moved to the Senate following her win in District 37 in the 2014 election. The Eastern Shore Delegation was initially just a House delegation, so a House chairman is appropriate, she said.
The new chairman for the delegation is Del. Charles Otto, a Republican from District 38A who represents Wicomico and Somerset counties. Del. Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s, was elected the delegation’s vice chairman. The delegation also elected Del. Sheree Sample-Hughes as treasurer. Sample-Hughes is a Democrat who took over for Del. Rudy Cane following his retirement, then won election to the District 37A seat representing parts of Dorchester and Wicomico counties.
Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance also attended the Eastern Shore Delegation meeting on Friday, but not for business purposes.
Instead, Hance was there to give thanks.
“There’s been some challenges in the last eight years, and your delegation has always been so supportive of agriculture,” Hance said. “Agriculture dominates the rural areas, and we don’t have the voice that we should have sometimes. But I just wanted to say that you all have done an outstanding job of representing agriculture.”
Hance will be succeeded as state agriculture secretary by Joe Bartenfelder, a former 12-year member of the House of Delegates and Baltimore County councilman appointed by Hogan.