Checking in on the Democratic congressional campaign trail

Dave Harden, a Democrat running for Maryland’s 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, makes a campaign appearance at the Chestertown Farmers Market last month.

EASTON — Dave Harden is running an aggressive campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st., in a district that includes encompasses the Eastern Shore and areas near Baltimore. The Democratic candidate is also passionate about modernizing the Eastern Shore and tackling the rural community’s most serious woes, pitching himself as the one to finally unify the district and push it into the future.

Harden has big plans to address climate change and clean up the Chesapeake Bay. He also wants to invest in broadband infrastructure, clean energy and the economy.

But Harden’s main goal is to beat out Harris, a conservative supportive of former President Donald Trump, and unite the Shore — which he insists has been abandoned for more than a decade — under the common purpose of modernization and economic progress.

“The first district has been left behind. Four counties on the Eastern Shore have seen population decline in the last ten years. When populations decline, property values go down, and access to health care, education, and social services go down,” he said. “A lot of people are less connected to economic opportunity. America can’t just be defined by its urban core — rural counties have to know there is a future.”

Harden criticized Harris, who has represented the Shore since 2011.

“Andy Harris is not a leader. He is not the head of any committees, nor any subcommittees. He’s not a big thinker, and he does not sponsor, think (about) and draft any legislation,” Harden said.”He basically is disconnected from delivering economic opportunity to our people.”

The first-time congressional candidate is a Maryland native. Harden is from Carroll County, but he spent much of his childhood on the Shore, where his great-grandparents had a farm in Rock Hall.

Harden went to Marshall College in Pennsylvania, and studied law. He had a knack for technology and business, and became an entrepreneur who founded the economic solutions firm Georgetown Strategy Group.

Harden has volunteered for the Peace Corps., worked as a minister counselor for the Senior Foreign Service, and served as the assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance.

Harden said he can bring fresh ideas to issues like the lack of broadband infrastructure, which has long plagued the Eastern Shore and other rural communities in the nation, who struggle to get internet access, and faster speeds.

The candidate said investing in broadband would be a priority, and if he can’t move fast enough on building out the infrastructure, other solutions like low-orbit satellites should also be looked at.

Harden believes that persistent issues like broadband can be tackled by economic investment, suggesting the Shore should have a “proactive, future looking approach to changes in technology and capital markets so we get our slice of prosperity.”

“I think what we are trending toward are micro economies, like heritage wheat, with higher concentration of farm-to-table points of sale,” he said, including “creating not only agricultural products, but also an experience that drives people there. We are ripe for experiential micro economies.”

At the same time, pushing into clean energy investment, like building up offshore wind turbines, could create more jobs while fighting climate change, he explained. That’s in line with proposals by President Joe Biden.

Harden is also proposing larger solutions to clean up the Chesapeake Bay by tapping into research centers and experts from major universities in the area, such as the University of Maryland and Naval Academy; implementing drone technology to help farmers reduce pesticides and water use; and merging public and private investment in restoration efforts.

Along similar lines, another surprising goal for Harden is to reverse course on how oysters are managed in the Bay. Oysters have become a political resource after a major reduction in their population, but Harden believes the state needs to work more with watermen to find a solution.

”We spent an enormous amount of money trying to clean up the Bay without success. The fundamental thing — what I have learned working overseas for so long — is a top-down approach. We (can’t) forget to include local people. Watermen are most interested in a successful Bay. They have the strongest interest in making sure the Bay is clean and sustainable for generations to come.”

Harden said watermen should be driving policies related to oysters, with a system in place to penalize them if restoration work goes awry. The candidate has secured the endorsement of Rob Newberry, the chairman of Delmarva Fisheries, for his backing of the watermen and his political stance on oysters.

Still, his position goes somewhat against the grain. Other Democratic candidates, including Peter Franchot, the comptroller of Maryland who is running for governor, have talked about phasing out the wild fishery for oystermen as a solution to restoring the shellfish population.

Harden has doubled down, saying he believes oyster restoration will “never be successful” without letting the watermen take charge. He said the Bay has been excessively polluted in the modern age of development, which has damaged ecosystems and hindered oyster growth, and it’s unfair to punish watermen for that.

He can tie nearly every issue on the Shore to economic challenges and insecurity — including the racially charged Talbot Boys statue on the Talbot County Courthouse lawn.

”It doesn’t matter if you are black, brown or white — rural communities are left behind. He also commented on the Talbot Boys statue, adding that it pushes away tourists, and thus revenue, because its attracted national attention saying it needs to go. “It blunts not only economic viability, but the value of the town itself.”

Harden will have to win the primary race for the 2022 midterm election, where he’s up against other Democrats including Heather Mizeur, a former House of Delegates member who has the backing of U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. and former Eastern Shore congressman Wayne Gilchrest.

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