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Steve Arentz, Queen Anne’s Co. Commissioner, Wins Majority GOP Panel Support for Dist. 36 Delegate; Past Campaign $ Issues Resolved

October 25, 2013
By Nancy Schwerzler

Steve Arentz, president of the Queen Anne’s County Board of Commissioners, has won the endorsement of Republican party committees in three of the four counties of the 36th District to fill a vacant state Delegate seat. As a result, his appointment is all but assured under the state Constitution, even before Cecil County Republicans discuss the matter next week.

And issues raised about Arentz’ past campaign finance reports have been resolved with amended reports filed in the past few months with approval of state elections officials, to correct problems created by a former campaign treasurer, Arentz and independent sources said.

The vacancy in the House of Delegates seat was created when Del. Steve Hershey (R-Queen Anne’s County) was appointed to fill a vacant state Senate seat to replace E.J. Pipkin, who resigned several months ago to move to Texas.

The appointment process to fill the Senate seat was full of rancor, as Cecil County Del. Michael Smigiel (R) railed against local GOP panels and claimed that “outside forces” were out to get him and deprive him of the Senate appointment. Republican Central Committees in the four counties of the district—Cecil, Kent, Caroline and Queen Anne’s—deadlocked, 2-2, between Hershey and Smigiel so Governor Martin O’Malley was empowered by the state Constitution to break the tie, and he picked Hershey.

The latest process to replace Hershey in the House of Delegates was more subdued, and limited, under state laws governing multi-county legislative districts. The Hershey seat could only be filled by a resident of his home-base in Queen Anne’s County or Caroline County—which is the only county in the state that currently has no resident delegate in the General Assembly.

Caroline County’s favorite son candidate—county Commissioner Jeff Ghrist—was forced to pull out of the appointment process because he lives in a newly expanded 36th District that will apply in the 2014 election but his home is not on the current map of the district that is now in force for appointment to the vacant seat. This week, Ghrist formally filed his candidacy in the 2014 Republican primary for the Delegate seat that he could not apply for on an appointed basis. [SEE previous Cecil Times report on Ghrist and election map murk here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/10/open-dist-36-state-delegate-seat-up-for-grabs-as-caroline-county-candidate-falls-victim-to-map-murk/ ]

Meanwhile, during the appointment review process, critics of Arentz circulated an emailed copy of a 2012 complaint regarding his past campaign finances. Arentz explained the issues, both to the satisfaction of state Elections Board officials and members of the local GOP panels, sources said. He has filed six amendments to his previous campaign finance reports in the past few months, according to state elections records.

In an interview with Cecil Times on Friday, Arentz explained that his former campaign committee treasurer, David Metrinko, had improperly handled campaign committee finances. State elections records show that Metrinko was removed as Arentz’s campaign treasurer on 3/2/11. Under the amended campaign finance reports, Metrinko was listed as providing a total of $15,597 in “contributions” to Arentz’ campaign funds in five installments in 2011—money that Arentz said was not actually personal contributions but reimbursements to cover previous problematic financial issues while Metrinko was his campaign treasurer.

State elections laws ban all but token cash contributions and limit the total amount of donations to individual candidates at $4,000 and set a ceiling of $10,000 for donations by an individual to all candidates in a four-year statewide election cycle.

“As soon as I realized there were problems,” Arentz said, he contacted state officials to report them and seek guidance on how to resolve them. He said he followed state election officials’ guidance, and with the help of a new campaign treasurer, “pieced together” the financial issues and how to properly account for reimbursements to compensate for past problems.

Partial information about the campaign finance issues was circulated in an email to members of the local Republican Central Committees during the recent appointee review process, sources said. But some members of the local county panels said they felt that Arentz had fully answered questions and that the problems were not his responsibility and that he had addressed the questions fully, both with state elections officials and with the local GOP panels.

Meanwhile, the Cecil County Republican Central Committee is scheduled to meet on Monday evening, 10/28/13, to consider a candidate to fill the vacant District 36 Delegate seat, sources said, even though in reality the question is really moot—since Arentz already has majority support of the other three counties’ GOP panels.

While Arentz is the likely appointee to the vacant Delegate seat, he must defend it in the 2014 election. That contest should be a free-for-all, with candidates from four counties competing for just three Delegate seats.

Under re-districting, Caroline County will hold a much increased proportion of the electorate in the four-county district and most local residents are determined to get a local resident to represent them for the first time in nearly 20 years. Caroline County is now the only county in the state without a resident delegate to represent local residents in Annapolis.

Consequently, local sources say, Caroline County residents will be encouraged to “single shoot”—or vote for only one local Delegate although there will be four counties represented on the ballot—so as to increase the possibility of a Caroline County victor on election day. Candidates run in all counties of the district, and voters will have the chance to vote for three Delegates regardless of where they live.

Queen Anne’s County holds the voting majority in the 36th District, but Arentz has some formidable foes in his home county—anti-growth activists backed by big bucks financiers.

Arentz told Cecil Times that he is “a very serious person” who has schooled himself in issues, such as the state Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) mandates that could bankrupt the smaller Eastern Shore counties under state mandates to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. He said the state must review such issues in light of the local economic issues faced by rural areas such as the Upper Shore.

He said he supports the “Clean Chesapeake Coalition” of several counties that oppose costly state environmental cleanup mandates. The coalition is demanding multi-state action to clean up sediments backed up behind the Conowingo Dam in Cecil County that are released en masse into the Bay during storms. However, a majority of the Queen Anne’s county commissioners has not yet agreed to join that coalition, he said.

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One Response to Steve Arentz, Queen Anne’s Co. Commissioner, Wins Majority GOP Panel Support for Dist. 36 Delegate; Past Campaign $ Issues Resolved

  1. Joe C on October 25, 2013 at 9:09 pm

    It is obvious to me that the process needs to be changed so that all committees met as a whole body, interview the candidates and make a joint decision. Instead of the current fractured process that now exists. Additionally, just for the record, both the candidate and the treasurer must sign all financial reports filed with the state board of elections.

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