State Trooper Files to Run Against Cecil County Del. Smigiel in State Dist. 36 GOP Primary
A veteran Maryland State Police trooper, Joseph D. Uhler, has filed candidacy papers to run against incumbent state Del. Michael Smigiel in the District 36 Republican primary for the 2014 election.
Uhler, 47, a resident of Elkton, has been a state trooper since 1997, he told Cecil Times in an interview. He has served in road patrol and criminal investigations division work with the police agency. He was born in Baltimore, and served eight years of active duty in the US Army and has served in the National Guard.
“I’m in it to win it,” Uhler said of his campaign for the delegate seat. “I’ll be an active candidate,” he added. However, at the present time Uhler is being careful to separate his police duties from his political aspirations, and it took quite a few days for Cecil Times to schedule an interview on his off-duty hours so as to avoid any conflict with his police work.
At some point in the long haul toward the 2014 election, he will have to “make a decision” about his future, he added, such as a leave of absence or other options regarding his law enforcement career.
“I guess I’m an underdog,” Uhler said, in a GOP primary campaign against Smigiel, who has held the multi-county House of Delegates seat since 2002. But, Uhler added, “I’ve been watching what has been going on for the past several years and I don’t think the people of the 36th District are being well-represented.”
He cited Smigiel’s tendency to focus on political “distractions” rather than core issues that matter to district residents.
“We need to bring manufacturing jobs to the district, to employ people who have lost work in the past few years,” Uhler said. “It’s heartbreaking,” he said, to talk with the many district residents who have lost good jobs and have nothing to turn to for supporting their families. He advocates state “tax credits for small business” to encourage and promote small business expansion that could drive creation of new jobs in the largely rural district.
And while local residents have been losing jobs, the incumbent Smigiel has spent his time on political “distractions,” he said, such as his lawsuit against Cecil County Executive Tari Moore, and the county government, over Moore’s decision to change her political party registration from Republican to “unaffiliated.”
The lawsuit, which will cost Cecil County taxpayers substantial legal fees including a Towson private lawyer specializing in county law, is “a calculated distraction,” Uhler said. And “the people will have to pay a heavy price” for Smigiel’s political pique.
(Moore’s action to “unaffiliate” from the GOP a few days before being sworn in as County Executive effectively prevented the Smipkin political machine—controlled by Smigiel and State Sen. E.J. Pipkin—from deciding who would replace Moore on the County Council. The Smipkin organization controls the county’s Republican Central Committee and they would have decided who should fill the seat if Moore had still been a Republican at the time she was sworn in as County Executive.
But with the Council seat dubbed as an “unaffiliated” slot, it was up to the new County Council to pick a successor—but the Council deadlocked and was unable to decide. As a result, Moore was empowered to name Joyce Bowlsbey, a Republican and long-time community volunteer, as her replacement on the Council from District 2.)
Smigiel’s focus on political issues has prevented residents of the district—which includes Cecil County, Kent County, Queen Anne’s County and Caroline County—from having effective and timely representation in Annapolis on important matters that affect their daily lives, Uhler said.
He cited a recent Cecil Times report showing that Smigiel had missed multiple votes, on multiple dates, on key legislation affecting the district—including the gas tax increase that was strongly opposed by most district residents. [SEE previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/04/cecil-county-del-mike-smigiel-mia-on-key-annapolis-votes-on-gas-tax-licenses-for-illegals-cyberbullying/ ]
“I plan to listen to citizens and go to Annapolis to represent their interests,” Uhler said. And “I won’t sugar-coat any of the facts” to bring a hard-hitting voice for local concerns to the General Assembly, he added.
Uhler has had some controversy in his State Police career, although a Cecil Times review of court records and a video shows the controversy was not his doing. Two years ago, he and a marked State Police car with a uniformed officer stopped a motorcyclist on an exit ramp of I-95 for multiple traffic violations. Uhler was in an unmarked car and not in uniform at the time.
The motorcyclist was charged with multiple serious traffic violations—and a YouTube video purportedly captured by the motorcyclist’s helmet camcorder showed the motorcyclist weaving in and out of traffic at tagged high rates of speed over 80 mph. There were also subsequent charges filed by State Police headquarters’ officials of violations of the state’s anti-wiretapping law for helmet-cam video-recording of his traffic stop.
A judge subsequently dismissed the video-recording charges but the suspect entered into a plea deal to admit to one of multiple counts of traffic violations.
“That was not my doing,” Uhler said of the video/wiretapping law charges. But he declined to comment on the matter, or the underlying traffic charges against the suspect. “I really can’t comment,” he said, about legal cases stemming from his law enforcement duties.
Meanwhile, Uhler said he has been in contact with Caroline County voters and officials to discuss their concerns, recognizing that Caroline will be an increasingly important part of the Dist. 36 electorate due to re-districting for the 2014 election. (Cecil County accounts for a substantially lesser proportion than in the past for the multi-county district under the new map and a broader swathe of Caroline was added to the district.)
“I’ve had some recently-built ties” in Caroline County, Uhler said. And he is sensitive to that county’s residents’ concerns that their voices have not been heard in the past, since they do not have a designated, resident delegate in the district.
Uhler said he was also concerned about giving local counties’ volunteer fire companies a voice in public safety matters. He observed that Smigiel tried several years ago to push legislation to privatize the State Police-operated MEDEVAC helicopter service that provides medical evacuation for injured patients from rural areas to advanced hospital services. That proposed legislation would also have cut state aid to local volunteer fire companies’ basic ambulance services.
“I think they deserve a lot more than what they get,” Uhler said of local volunteer fire/ambulance services.