I recently sat down with Jim Ireton, former Mayor of Salisbury, who is running against Andy Harris (R-MD) the current Congressperson in Maryland's 1st Congressional District. The District encompasses Carolina, Cecil, Dorchester, Kent, Queen Anne's, Somerset, Talbot, Wicomico and Worcester counties. Additionally, the district includes parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties and is considered a Republican stronghold.
Friends who live in the 1st District suggested Ireton's battle against Harris as an allegorical David vs Goliath fight. Poor kid who got an education and tried to make the world a better place by helping his neighbor's vs. Koch Brothers, Club for Growth and Pharmaceutical Companies. Ireton, a Democrat, recently received support from three prominent Somerset County elected officials including Crisfield Mayor Kim Lawson, former Mayor Percy "P.J." Purnell and Princess Anne Town Commissioner Garland Hayward. Purnell, who served as mayor of Crisfield during Hurricane Sandy, said "Harris never once called to offer support after the superstorm that devastated the city and other waterfront areas of Somerset County. He later came to Crisfield along with then-Gov. Martin O'Malley to view the storm damage, but Purnell said it was only a photo opportunity. He came that day for pictures."
Ireton was born in 1970 in Salisbury; grew up in tough conditions relying on family and hard work to succeed. He has three older sisters and was brought up by a single mother. He moved to Pocomoke while in high school and was elected Senior Class President, class of 1988; his career as an activist had begun. He attended Salisbury University earning a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. He began his teaching career at St. Francis Catholic School; was first elected to the Salisbury City Council in 1998; earned a Masters of Arts in Education degree from Notre Dame of Maryland University in 2003 and worked for Wicomico County public schools since 2006. In 2009 he was elected Mayor of Salisbury.
Ireton has always been involved in community work. He was the first Wicomico County Neighborhood Congress Chairman and the Johnson's Lake Neighborhood Association Treasurer. In April of 2010, Ireton was named a Public Policy Conflict Resolution Fellow by the University of Maryland's School of Law. As Mayor, Ireton served as 2nd Vice President of the Maryland Mayor's Association; on the Legislative Committee for the Maryland State Education Association; on the Board of Directors for the Wicomico Education Association and on the Wicomico County/University of Maryland Extension Service Advisory Board.
He is proud of his success as Mayor of Salisbury. He named the first woman police chief, and women to positions as Public Works director and Code Enforcement director, all firsts in the city's history. He worked with DNR to remove abandoned barges from the North Prong of the Wicomico River. He is able to claim success revitalizing downtown with more people living, working and shopping in downtown Salisbury than in the last 30 years. He also claims credit for lowering Salisbury's violent crime rates to levels not seen since the early 1990's.
When I asked how he sees his role as a congressperson he said "I am running to serve the people of the District and will work every day 24/7 to help make life better for them and their families." Ireton understands a big part of the role is working with leaders at the state and local government level to move forward projects people want and need. He told me he supports Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver's proposal to have the county provide free tuition to Wor-Wic Community College for graduates of Wicomico County's high schools. He emphasized he is committed to being "A strong voice for Ocean City and beach reclamation working with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) to support the Water Resources Development Act, the legislation that funds the Army Corps of Engineers."
When I asked him about the environmental issues facing the Eastern Shore he responded "I am an environmentalist and am committed to working with the farmers of the Eastern Shore. I understand the issues of the family farm and am committed to 'ending the debates' pitting Eastern Shore farmers against environmentalists." He added "I propose we work with farmers to create closed-loop systems that make the family farm sustainable - with litter creating fuel and electricity. I have seen first-hand these technologies that create fuel and energy - and that is solely where the state focus should be. I am committed to inviting Congressional colleagues to visit farms in Maryland's 1st District on the cutting edge of dealing with animal waste such as the Murphy Farm in Rhodesdale - Using BHSL technology to create electricity and fuel from chicken manure; and the Kilby Farms in Rising Sun - Using anerobic digestion to create fuel from cow manure. The District can no longer afford Harris who voted against help for farmers two years ago when voting against the $950 billion farm bill due to 'ideological concerns'."
Ireton is passionate about the issue of healthcare saying "Andy Harris wants to take away healthcare from 60,000 Marylanders on the Eastern Shore by repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) even though Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts has told him twice (Ireton's words) 'to shut up about it'." He added "I support the ACA and changes needed to reduce premiums and high deductibles. I will work to reduce the high cost of prescription drugs. But we can no longer afford Andy Harris who has voted more than four dozen times against the ACA without offering any other options. Currently tens of thousands of people on the Eastern Shore have health insurance and access to healthcare they didn't have before the ACA was passed. The District's young people can stay on their parents' insurance until they are twenty-six; you can no longer be discriminated against because of a pre-existing condition; and women are no longer paying higher insurance premiums simply because they are women; all things Andy Harris has voted to end."
On the issue of civil and human rights Ireton believes there is more work to be done. "Even with laws being passed increasing the civil and human rights of women, the LGBT community and African Americans our culture hasn't caught up with the law. Women still don't earn equal pay for equal work and we find ourselves fighting racism and homophobia. We can't rest until every person has the right to live with equality, safety in their homes and communities, and achieve their God-given potential."
Ireton made it clear he understands this will not be an easy contest but trusts the judgment of the people of the 1st District saying, "I will win because people know me and my commitment to them. To working every day to better their lives in a much more effective way than our current Congressperson."