Mark Plaster has a big, black, 38-foot RV with his name plastered all over it. You may have seen it in Annapolis or Bowie or Olney or Burtonsville or Silver Spring or Towson or Columbia or Baltimore.
In other words, you may have seen the RV all over the odd-shaped 3rd congressional district, the second most-gerrymandered district in the country.
“That’s why we bought the bus,” said Plaster. “We want to have a presence throughout the district.”
Republican Plaster is running (or should that be riding?) for Congress, hoping to unseat Democrat John Sarbanes.
“Most of the people in the district still think they’re voting for his father,” Paul Sarbanes, the five-term U.S. senator, said Plaster.
That may or may not be true. In his fifth term, Sarbanes regularly robocalls residents to participate in town halls by telephone, and he sends out the usual congressional mailers at taxpayer expense.
Sarbanes and most of the other Democrats in the congressional delegation are the kind of career politicians that Plaster thinks are what is wrong with the political system. This election, he believes, “People are going to look outside the box. They’re going to look for people who don’t have political careers,” said Plaster. “I’ve had two successful careers. I don’t need a third.”
Plaster, 63, has two homes in the Annapolis area, including waterfront property in Harwood. He has been an emergency room physician and the head of a publishing house that grew out of his medical practice. His publications include Emergency Physician Monthly, which goes to 30,000 physicians; Emergency Physicians International; and a newer venture, called Telemedicine Magazine.
Served in Iraq
In 2001, with his son Logan at the Naval Academy, Plaster moved to Maryland from Delaware, and at the age of 50, volunteered for the U.S. Naval Reserve. He was eventually deployed to Iraq as the head of a Shock Trauma Platoon for the 1st Marine Division, and went back again in 2008 with the 2nd Marine Division.
When he came home from the last tour of duty, he was not happy with the way the country was heading under President Obama. This year, “the thing that really got me off the bench was Larry Hogan’s message,” and his election as governor. Hogan won the 3rd Congressional District by 24,000 votes, and that showed Plaster he has a shot.
He’s given up practicing medicine. Running for Congress “is pretty much a full-time job,” he said.
“I think voters are ready for those people with practical skills,” said Plaster, and that’s what his experience as an emergency physician has given him.
“We have a complete partisan divide, largely because we have professional politicians,” said Plaster. “They don’t want to work their way out of a job,” so they resort to “dishonesty and distraction,” preferring not to solve problems.
“There are good ideas on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “Partisanship, even within a party, prevents people from analyzing problems on their own merits.”
Understandably, Plaster has a strong focus on health care. “We need to keep parts of the Affordable Care Act,” such as making sure all insurers cover pre-existing conditions. On the other hand, “People are being forced to buy a very expensive policy that doesn’t cover very much,” Plaster said. “It’s only going to get worse.”
Soon to kick in is a 40% excise tax on so-called “Cadillac” health insurance, high benefit plans provided by large employers and under some union contracts.
“It will crush a lot of people,” but the $87 billion it is expected to generate is “what makes Obamacare work. It doesn’t have a sound financial model without it.”
Plaster wants to stick with the private health insurance market, and there are a lot of options already on the table to improve coverage, he said. “Just throwing more insurance at people” without increasing the supply of health care providers doesn’t work. We have to do what’s sustainable.”
So far, Plaster has raised $107,000 for his campaign, $50,000 of that from his own pocket. As of Sept. 30, he had $33,000 in cash on hand, since he has already been paying staff and campaign consultants.
Sarbanes raised $348,000 this year, has spent $224,000, but still has $872,000 in cash on hand, which is representative of the usual mismatch between incumbents in Congress and their potential challengers.
The Anne Arundel County executive and the county’s teachers union are at odds again over school funding. That sentence could apply to most years of the past decade, and to the decade before that as well.
The new wrinkle is that County Executive Steve Schuh got a bit snippy when high school students wrote to him, taking the teachers side in the funding dispute.
Schuh and the county council did not give the county school board as much money as it requested to fund a contract with the teachers union. Responding to a student, as reported by The Capital, Schuh said, “With all due respect, you don’t know what you’re talking about. … Don’t believe everything you hear. You should have learned that by now as a senior in high school.
“And don’t be another dumb kid who contacts elected officials and parrots something some adult told you to say.”
Even “dumb kids” don’t like to be called dumb, and high schoolers who write to the county’s top elected official are likely not that dumb anyway. Even if they were, it was probably not a smart move for Schuh to take his anger out on a high school senior.
The teachers say they were not asking their students to write to Schuh. The students figured out the connection on their own when the teachers began “working to rule” in protest of the funding. The teachers stopped staying after school and writing up college recommendations. The students figured out pretty quickly what was going on.
The problem is how education is funded in Maryland. It has driven county executives crazy for decades.
The state now provides substantial funding for students — $4,466 per student in Anne Arundel County. But the bulk of the budget for school systems comes from the county government. In most counties, school funding constitutes about half their budgets. Yet, county executives have little say on how the money is spent and no seat at the table when teacher contracts are negotiated.
In other states, most with smaller school districts, the local school board has taxing authority, usually a portion of the property tax. Maryland policy is that giving schools a share of all county revenues is a fairer way to do business.
The problem is somewhat worse in Anne Arundel County, because its voters are stingy, and they don’t like taxes. Both its property tax rate and its piggyback income tax rate are lower than Howard County’s, as well as those of other neighboring jurisdictions.
Schuh has already cut taxes, and promised to cut more.