What sort of Republican is Steve Schuh?

The Anne Arundel County executive is hard to pigeon-hole ideologically, much as he was when he was serving in the House of Delegates, where he got good marks from both business groups and environmentalists.

On the one hand, he is a tax-cutting Republican, even though Anne Arundel is near the very lowest of Maryland counties on both its property tax rate and its income tax rate; to which Schuh says the county is just at the low end of a high tax state.

On the other hand, Schuh favored increasing the term of county bonds to 30 years so the county could build more and smaller high schools, a move that would increase interest costs in the long term, but allow the county to spend $25 million more in the short term.

The Anne Arundel County Council, with a Republican majority, put a curb on the tax-cutting, but last month they went along with extending the term of the county bonds. Schuh had campaigned on these issues last year, though he didn’t talk about how he was going to pay for the smaller high schools. But now, he has more flexibility to build schools and other infrastructure.

Unexpected Move on Marijuana

Schuh also campaigned on the issue of reducing the alarming increase in heroin use and deaths from overdose that had Anne Arundel topping the state in heroin fatalities. Then last month, Schuh took the unexpected move of trying to block the county’s implementation of the state’s new law permitting the growing and selling of marijuana for medical use.

Schuh had voted against legalizing medical marijuana in the legislature and wanted to outlaw it in Anne Arundel County. He said the state law was an opening for sale of the drug by patients and would lead to the recreational use of marijuana, a gateway to other drug use.

Schuh got strong pushback both from the council and state officials. Sen. Bobby Zirkin, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, a champion of both medical marijuana and decriminalizing the possession of small of amounts of marijuana — a move Schuh also opposed as a delegate — called the executive’s position “disappointing and baffling,” as well as “ludicrous.” Zirkin said Schuh wanted to continue making criminals out of patients using the drug therapeutically.

Action by the county council on Schuh’s ban and an alternative bill setting rules for the location of a marijuana “pharmacy” in Anne Arundel may come too late for any operation to effectively set up a store in the county. There is a long, complicated process required to get a state license.

While the marijuana controversy continued to smolder, Schuh took off for a three-day economic development trip to Communist Cuba on the inaugural flight from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, which is “rapidly becoming the gateway to the world,” Schuh said.

“This trip will highlight one of our county’s largest employer’s growing international influence and allow us to begin to build a relationship with an emerging economic market in the Caribbean. I look forward to the exciting possibilities this new charter route will bring to Anne Arundel County and its business community.”

So, with tax cuts but more spending, no on heroin and marijuana, but “si” to trade with Havana, and a continuing emphasis on protecting the Chesapeake Bay, Schuh is not your typical Republican politician, and he is likely to continue to surprise the county’s citizens as other issues arise.

Casino Conference Center

Passenger numbers continue to grow at BWI Marshall and cybersecurity continues to fuel development and employment at Fort Meade, but the Maryland Live! casino also remains a growth area for the Anne Arundel economy. With Schuh’s backing, the council approved tax incremental financing (TIF) for a new conference center and hotel next to the casino.

TIFs allow bonds to be floated for projects that will increase tax revenues to pay off the debt. In exchange, the casino will allow the conference center to be used at no charge for public events, such as high school graduations.

“The planned conference center will be a game changer for our county,” said Schuh. “This project will provide a first-class graduation venue for a first-class school system.”

The project also ensures the casino can continue to generate a share of gambling revenue for the county in the form of local development council grants. These grants fund police, fire, community college, nonprofits and infrastructure projects near the casino.

In addition, the folks at Maryland Live! are trying to stay competitive as the new MGM National Harbor casino is due to open on the Potomac River near the Woodrow Wilson Bridge next year. Maryland Live! has already seen a drop on its bottom line due to last year’s opening of the Horseshoe Casino, in Baltimore. Maryland Live! revenues were down 9% in August.

Vitale on the Trail

Republican Del. Cathy Vitale won reelection to the House last year, and then got appointed by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley to the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. So she’s on the bench, but back on the campaign trail again.

Circuit Court judges have 15-year terms, but they must run for election after their appointment. Unlike other Maryland judges, they can be challenged for the seat.

Last month, Vitale introduced Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford at a fundraiser for Republican Sen. Ed Reilly, who ran with her on a ticket last year.

The incumbent judges and any challengers run in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. If the incumbents win in both primaries, they are assured of keeping their seats. So far, no challenger has filed for the two seats other than Vitale and the other sitting judge, Glenn Klavans, who was also appointed this year.

Challengers have been known to knock off incumbents. It happened just five years ago in Anne Arundel County when Alison Asti unseated Judge Ronald Jarashow. The period between appointment and election is the only time you see judges at political events. Once they get elected, they no longer are allowed to be active politically.

Legislation has been repeatedly introduced to take Circuit Court judges out of contested elections, and have them run in “retention” elections, as appellate judges do. In retention elections, voters get to say yes or no to retaining a judge (who is almost always retained).

In the past, an alliance of GOP and black legislators has been able to defeat this change in the state constitution, because they feel governors do not appoint as many Republicans and African-Americans as they should.