They didn’t know where Al Redmer Jr. was.
A who’s who of the Maryland Republican Party–Gov. Larry Hogan, Congressman Andy Harris, U.S. Senate candidate Tony Campbell and attorney general candidate Craig Wolf, among others–was getting ready to pose for a group photo with supporters and campaign workers yesterday outside an early voting place in Perry Hall, and the candidate for Baltimore County executive was the only one missing.
He was off to the side doing a TV interview, they soon learned. Hogan saw an opportunity to rib his buddy.
“Your friends are taking a picture, and you want to be on TV,” he joked as Redmer rushed in to be part of the shot.
In many ways, their close relationship is a key part of the race, with signs dotting the county all noting at the top that Redmer is “Governor HOGAN Endorsed,” and the result will be a good indicator of the strength of the popular governor’s coattails.
As Maryland’s insurance commissioner, a position he also held under former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, Redmer recently worked with Hogan to lock in lower insurance rates in the state health care exchange using money from a tax placed on health care providers that is then pooled to cover the most expensive claims. The tax had previously been used to fund the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, but Congress last year gave insurers a one-year reprieve, increasing the possibility of soaring premiums.
A lifelong Baltimore County resident, Redmer has experience in both the public and private sectors. In addition to launching two insurance businesses, he previously represented District 8 in the Maryland House of Delegates.
During the campaign, Redmer has pushed for a culture change across county government, a strengthening of the police force and greater investment in and oversight of the education system–including the possibility of having developers build new schools and then lease them back to the county. If elected, he would be the first Republican Baltimore County executive since Roger B. Hayden, who held the office from 1990 to 1994.
I caught up with Redmer for a brief chat in between other media interviews and voter meet-and-greets to discuss his vision for the county, his plans to fund school construction, his opposition to the HOME Act–a settlement between the county and the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would subsidize the construction of more affordable housing and ban the discrimination of federal Section 8 housing vouchers–and more.
Baltimore Fishbowl: There hasn’t been a Republican in this seat for a long time. What makes you think the people of Baltimore County are ready for that?
Al Redmer Jr.: You know, there’s a lot of frustration out there. Employees, not only are they ready for change, they’re desperate for change. And if you check with county employees, they’ll tell you that the county for years has been run through cronyism and fear, intimidation and retribution, and they’re ready for a change in culture.
If you talk to taxpayers, they’re concerned about the $3 billion that we have in debt. They’re concerned about Moody’s putting Baltimore County on a watch list, and what effect losing our AAA bond rating would have on them as taxpayers.
Folks are frustrated about the increasing incidents of violent crime. They’re concerned about the lack of discipline in schools and the deterioration in general of public schools in Baltimore County.
And then you’ve got local issues all around the county. Every community is different, every community has different needs. But I can tell you there’s pent-up frustration just about in every neighborhood in Baltimore County.
BFB: There was an incident earlier this year where there was a racist flyer circulating around about MTA bus service, highlighting an increasing tension between the city and the county. What do you think the overall relationship between the city and the county should be?
AR: I think there needs to be more coordination and more collaboration between the city and the county. You know, I was with a couple of Baltimore County homicide detectives a couple of weeks ago. They spend 80 percent of their time in Baltimore City, because it seems that 80 percent of the time, either the victim or the suspect or the witness is from Baltimore City. So there needs to be more coordination along with that.
But there also needs to be more coordination regarding transportation, quality of life issues, et cetera.
BFB: And you’ve said in your campaign how you want to increase spending for police and emergency personnel here in the county. What would that entail and how much?
Well if you look at just by headcount in Baltimore County, we were over 100 police officers short. So we need to do a more robust job of recruiting highly qualified, talented police officers in Baltimore County.
BFB: A recurring issue this year has been age and conditions of Baltimore County schools, including Dulaney, Towson and Lansdowne high schools. How do you plan to plan finance construction for new facilities?
AR: We’re going to do it in a couple of ways. Number one, the state has a couple hundred million dollars of forward-funded money that they owe us.
Secondly, I’m hopeful that–you know Governor Hogan loves Baltimore County, spends a lot of time here. He’s been very kind to Baltimore County, and I think that having a county executive that’s been a personal friend for 25 years, a county executive that’s worked on his cabinet for three and a half years, I’m hoping that we’re going to get additional love and support that we otherwise wouldn’t get.
We need to prioritize our spending better. And also I think we need to seek other creative solutions, at least evaluate them, to see if it makes sense.
BFB: You’ve said you don’t support the HOME Act. Given the long legal history of this, what are your problems with the deal and what do you hope to come out of it?
AR: So I’ve got a variety of problems. Number one, I don’t believe that Baltimore County should be mandating every landlord in the county to accept Section 8, whether they want to do business with the federal government or not. I don’t believe any business owner should be required to do business with the federal government if they choose not to.
Secondly, I’m concerned that the legal settlement that the county executive [Kevin Kamenetz] agreed to was done behind closed doors. There was no open, transparent debate, and it was a unilateral decision. He didn’t seek nor get the the approval of the Baltimore County Council. I believe that that’s inappropriate.
And then lastly, I believe that the settlement itself is discriminatory because it directs folks to live in specific areas, whether they choose to live there or not.
BFB: If you were to go back in negotiations with the federal government, what would you propose?
AR: I don’t know yet. We’ll seek feedback from the different communities in Baltimore County, which is what the county executive should have done to begin with.
BFB: Counties throughout the region have grappled with the opioid crisis. What would you do if you’re elected?
AR: The first thing we need to do is we need to have a more coordinated effort. Baltimore County does not do a very good job of communicating internally to different departments, and it also doesn’t do a good job of coordinating or communicating externally. So one of the things we need to do is coordinate among the different departments in Baltimore County and have more of a strategy in dealing with it.
So as an example, what happens all too often is somebody seeks and receives treatment. It’s a successful treatment. They leave treatment and then they end up on the exact same street corner, with the exact same old set of friends that they had before. That’s not a strategy for long-term success. So we need to identify what other services, what other support mechanisms these folks may need, whether it’s housing, transportation, workforce development, what have you.
That doesn’t mean the county has to do all of that, because there’s plenty of nonprofits and so on that will help. But we need to do a better job of coordinating all of the activities for a lot of targeted needs.
This is the first of two interviews with the candidates for Baltimore County executive. Our interview with John Olszewski Jr., can be found here.