On Wednesday, Feb. 3, George Owings III, a candidate for the upcoming gubernatorial Democratic primary, visited the College. After a lunch with a small number of professors and students, Owings spoke to students in the 300-level political science course Maryland State and Community Politics, fielding questions about Maryland politics and the Maryland budget.
Owings previously served for 17 years in the Maryland House of Delegates representing Southern Maryland, eventually becoming the majority Whip, and he later served under Governors Robert Ehrlich (R) and Martin O’Malley (D) as Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs from 2004-2007. Before his work in state government, he served in the Marine Corps from 1964-1968, and fought in Vietnam from 1965-1968, receiving multiple awards for valor. He was also a mortgage banker, and is currently a member of the Calvert County Democratic Club.
Owings began his talk by pressing the importance of the right to vote.
“I take that right very seriously,” he said, and came prepared with voter registration forms for any student in the class not yet registered to vote.
Owings spoke about the power that the Maryland governor has over the state budget. The Maryland budget is often called the “gubernatorial budget” because the only way in which the legislature can influence the budget is to cut the funds that the governor has allotted. Owings called the power to decide the budget “the single most powerful thing” that a governor could do, excepting redistricting and reapportionment of districts.
After a quick budget overview, Owings then took questions from the class. When asked about why he wanted to become governor, Owings said that while he liked Governor O’Malley on a personal level, he was worried about some of the policies that O’Malley had enacted. Owings was especially worried about Maryland jobs, and criticized O’Malley for looking to bring in workers from outside the state. He also proposed the consolidation of government agencies and criticized the governor for taking “already inflated salaries…and increas[ing] them by some $6,000.” He positioned himself as a more conservative option within the Democratic party, and his Web site advocates fiscal responsibility and a return to center-right positions.
Still, Owings said, “I am a Democrat.”
“The Democratic tent is so big, all are welcome underneath,” he said. He distinguished himself from Republicans by adding, “The Republican party was always for big business. I still represent the working people.”
Owings also provided his positions on a variety of issues when asked by the students.
For example, Owings said that he is a supporter of oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay, but he disliked the way in which the restoration would be implemented under the current administration. He said, “Before you do it, shouldn’t you let the watermen know?…They read it in the paper.”
When it came to Owings’ economic solutions for the state of Maryland, he said that raising taxes and cutting spending were not either-or propositions.
“You cannot just cut a budget and make things work,” Owings said. “You have to have a combination of both…You have to raise taxes.” Maryland law requires that the state balance its budget every year; Owings said that as a lawmaker, “you might not like it, but if [the budget]’s balanced, you vote for it.”
Owings also said that he has “always been a supporter of slots,” and saw firsthand the revenue that they could generate when he lived in North Beach in Calvert County. He also said that while he supported slots, common sense had to be used in their placement. Slots in the inner harbor in Baltimore would be a “terrible idea,” but in areas like Laurel, and Pimlico with its racetrack, slots could bring in revenue and also help the horse-racing industry.
When asked about social issues, Owings expressed conservative points of view. Regarding same-sex marriage, he said, “A marriage is between a man and a woman. That is the law in this state,” however, he is a supporter of domestic partnerships, both for people like his brother, who needs medical help that domestic partnerships can allow a healthy partner to provide, but also for loving same-sex couples looking for the closest alternative to marriage.
On abortion, Owings said that he has “come down on the pro-life side” on budget issues regarding abortion funding. Although he supports Roe v. Wade as law, he said, “Personally, I’m a pro-life believer.”
On education, Owings said that “you are entitled in this state and in this country to a free education,” referring to levels K-12, and pointed to the “historic levels” of K-12 funding by the state of Maryland under Governors Glendening and Ehrlich. He said that he “supported charter schools under Glendening, under Ehrlich.” He also supports community colleges, having attended Prince George Community College. In addition, he believes that the No Child Left Behind Act has failed, saying that “When you teach to a test, you’re not teaching basics.”
Political science professor and Director of Public Policy Studies Todd Eberly, who teaches the Maryland State and Community Politics Class, was pleased with the way the talk went.
“He was enthusiastic and engaged and willing to take any question,” Eberly said. “And he was willing to express his opinions, not gloss over them like many who seek public office.”
Eberly added that the fact that Owings is a “Blue Dog Democrat” added to the experience for students.
“Conservative Democrats were crucial to the Democratic party becoming the majority party during the New Deal up through the Johnson administration,” Eberly said. “If the Democratic party wants to maintain its control of Congress, the White House, and the majority of our State Houses, it needs to find a way to balance the demands of liberal, moderate, and even conservative voices within its coalition.”
Eberly added that Governor Martin O’Malley was also invited to speak at the College, but his office declined the invitation but will be sending Maryland Secretary of State John McDonough in O’Malley’s place later in the semester.
Chris Rodkey, a senior in the class, described Owings as “a fiery candidate who definitely has the potential to stir things up in the Democratic primary.”
“He energized me to follow the upcoming campaign and make an informed decision when I vote,” he added.
The Maryland Democratic gubernatorial primary will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010. More information about George Owings III can be found on his Web site, http://www.owingsforgovernor.org/index.php .