"I will hurt you..." - Quote from Acting DNR Secretary Joe Gill
By Delegate Mike McDermottIt is tough being a Waterman these days. In fact, their numbers have dwindled to less than half of what they were just a few decades ago, and the actual number of folks making their living full time on the water is even fewer. There are many reasons for the decline, and our Watermen know them all too well.
One area of significant impact has been the regulatory environment which is primarily under the purview of the Department of Natural Resources in Maryland. While this can often be described as a “love-hate” relationship, our watermen and their families continue to fight a retreating battle with the State in order to simply survive.
In recent years, the DNR has taken it upon themselves to change certain regulations by simply providing public notice, thus avoiding the need to bring these changes before the General Assembly (or the AELR Committee when the legislature is not in session). The Attorney General recently told the DNR that they do not have the authority to bypass the legislative branch.
In an effort to cover their tracks, DNR’s Acting Secretary Joe Gill and the DNR put SB-145 forward this year which, if passed, would give the department the authority to do what has been their practice, although outside the scope of law, for years. It is not in the best interest of any Marylander to grant any state agency broad autonomy to decide what regulations should be created, changed, or enforced at their own discretion, thus negating established checks and balances established by the Constitution.
To no one’s surprise, the Watermen and their allies came out in droves last week to object to this usurping of process and grab for power by the DNR Secretary. During the hearings, a disturbing exchange was reported to have occurred between Acting Secretary Gill and the President of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, Robert T. Brown.
According to witnesses, Secretary Gill approached President Brown outside of the Environmental Committee Room and stated, “If you don’t support this bill [SB-145], I am going to be very conservative and cut your quotas, and I will hurt you. Do you hear me? I will hurt you.”
There is no reason to doubt the veracity of those present who heard these words. They were shocked. Secretary Gill has not denied making the statement, although the administration has indicated that the statement may have been taken “out of context.” It appears quite clear that the unfortunate exchange occurred as reported.
As a result of this confrontation, Senator Richard Colburn had Secretary Gill’s nomination for Secretary of DNR delayed until February 14th. This was a wise move as the nominee is now held in contempt by all of the watermen.
Tempers can get away from folks, and we have all experienced it from time to time, but those seeking confirmation to the highest posts of service in State government must be held to a higher standard. The outburst from the acting Secretary is a deal breaker for those who need confidence that the regulatory environment is not managed by a tyrant.
This entire ordeal, and the manifestation by A/Secretary Gill, is a significant tell of the progressive-liberal way in Maryland where regulations are utilized to move agendas. It has been rightly stated, “The power to tax is the power to destroy.” The power to regulate carries a very similar hammer.
Maryland business owners, including watermen and farmers, are being regulated to death. One can only imagine what the damage would be if entrenched state bureaucrats could simply change regulations whenever they deemed it appropriate. No vetting, no hearings, and no outside input would carry the day in Maryland. When it comes to the livelihood of our people, this must not be allowed. More and more, we see the regulatory environment being used to crush certain segments of our economy, while regulations and taxes are being cited by every business fleeing our state.
When one of our governor’s cabinet Secretaries tell our farmers that a potentially devastating regulation is “going to happen this year” no matter what an impact study states, and when another tells our watermen to get in line or “I will hurt you” - then we no longer see public servants, but rather those behaving as kings.
In Maryland, as in our country, the people are the sovereign. Those who choose to work on behalf of the people are public servants. The failure to apprehend this relationship places the government above the people. This was never the intent of the Founders.May the American people awaken to the scepter that is in their hand, and as President George Washington said in his first inaugural speech, “Use power to help people.”