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Runway project, farm aid, UM campus keys to Myers' run for 2A delegate seat

June 02, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

LeRoy Myers Jr. has spent nearly 30 years building a construction business that has successfully completed multi-million-dollar projects. Now, says the 50-year-old Republican, it's time to contribute in some larger way to the community where he and his wife have raised four children and built a firm that employs 40.

"This is my game of golf. This is my way to give back," he said.

In January he filed for the newly configured District 2A delegate seat. To win it, he'll take on Republican Vikki Nelson in the primary and if he wins that, Democrat Peter Perini in the general election.

Myers said he considered a run for county commissioner five years ago and has been involved in politics behind the scenes. And then at the end of last year, Myers said a combination of things happened to make him believe it was time to run.

He talked with a number of people he respected, including current members of the delegation, including state Sen. Don Munson, who recommended that he look up Corey Stottlemyer, former administrator of the Washington County Economic Development Commission.

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Stottlemyer, who left the EDC in 2000 to purse a master's degree at Johns Hopkins University, is now campaign manager for Myers, whom I asked the following questions:

What do you see as the key issues facing the county delegation in the upcoming session?

Getting approval for the runway extension at Hagerstown Regional Airport is at the top of the list, Myers said.

The $62 million project would allow the airport to accommodate larger regional jets. It will be costly because the lengthened runway will have to bridge U.S. 11. It was left out of the state transportation plan released this past January, though Transportation Secretary John Porcari said that didn't mean it wasn't a high priority.

Myers said that those in business he's spoken to have said the extension is essential because people who want to do business in this area want an easier way to here.

Myers also said he'd like to work to get farmers a larger say in how the state formulates regulations for nutrient management, or how animal manure is used to fertilize fields.

"For the proper amount to go on the field, a proper balance is needed and farmers need a voice," Myers said.

This past March, the state senate killed a bill that would have delayed and streamlined those rules, though the legislature did pass a bill to have the state share farmers' costs for writing the management plans required by the law..

The proposed location of the University Systems of Maryland campus is also a concern said Myers, who said he'd prefer to see the campus on a site at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park off Interstate 70.

"There's been a question, 'Is downtown the proper place for the University of Maryland?' " Myers said.

"I don't know at this point if there's anything that can be done. If we're at a point where it's the wiser move to keep it there, then move forward," he said.

If you move the campus out of downtown Hagerstown, how would you help the city revitalize its central area?

Myers said the people he's spoken to would like to see the city redeveloped like Annapolis, where a variety of small shops draw tourists to the area.

"They'd like to see more of a replication of Annapolis, versus a college, where you'd have to tear a lot of buildings down," he said.

If you win this race, you'll be a Republican in a legislature controlled by Democrats who don't yield much to the GOP. How will you overcome that handicap?

"That's where you're going to see that I am the real deal when it comes to building coalitions. In business I had to be able to sell myself," Myers said, adding that he would see those skills as a plus in Annapolis for one reason.

Because Western Maryland is less populous than areas near the cities, he said, what this region gets is what the metro area wants to give.

Even the Democrats haven't brought home a great deal for Washington County, Myers said.

To succeed, a delegate has to look at the possibility of doing some trade-offs, Myers said, and agreeing to let the Democrats take the credit even if the idea or the legislation is his.

In the 2002 session, the legislature agreed to boost education funding with a tax on tobacco, with the understanding that more cash will be needed in two years. The solution proposed by U.S. Rep. Robert Ehrlich, who seeking the Maryland governor's office, would be to legalize slot machines at the state's horse tracks. How do you feel?

Myers said he feels the people who gamble are those who can least afford it, like the guy who always seems to be ahead of him in the convenience store who's buying a fist full of scratch-off tickets.

"And if the guy wins $20 or $30, he never leaves with it. He buys more tickets," he said.

Myers said using slot machines to fund education is "counter-productive," but said he might support Ehrlich's plan if he could be assured it wasn't just the first step toward gambling everywhere in the state.

It's hard to tell much in an hour-long interview, but as personable as Myers was, with an easy smile and an ability to laugh at himself, he seems determined to succeed and certain that he's got the ability to do so. The coming campaign will determine whether or not he's overconfident.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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