Front and Center for Sgt. Owings
Calvert Delegate Sworn In as Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs
Maryland’s Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs George Owings III, of Calvert County
Maryland Senate President Mike Miller (D. Prince Georges, Calvert), left; George Owings, center, Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch (D. Anne Arundel) at right.
Winning the applause of both the Minority Whip, Del. Tony O’Donnell (R. Lusby) of Calvert County and Majority Leader Kumar Barve (D. Montgomery County). Right, O’Donnell and Owings have represented Calvert together for ten years.
By Kenneth C. Rossignol
THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY
(Originally published in 2004 in St. Mary’s Today. Owings served until 2007 as Secretary of Veterans Affairs when he was kept on for one year by Gov. Martin O’Malley and appointed once more to the post in 2015 by Governor Larry Hogan.)
ANNAPOLIS — It’s hard to describe Southern Maryland politicians without using the term “longest-serving.”
That term was used quite a bit on Tuesday when Calvert Delegate George Owings III (D. North Beach) was sworn as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich, who, at this point, is, or soon will be, the longest-serving Republican Governor since Theodore McKeldin in the 1950s due to Spiro Agnew’s time in the Statehouse being cut short upon his winning the post as Nixon’s Vice President.
As to George, he has been the longest-serving Majority Whip of the Maryland House of Delegates. He was sworn in as a member of the Governor’s Cabinet next to Senate President Mike Miller, the longest-serving President of the Maryland Senate.
Miller has been Owing’s legislative mentor as both are residents of Calvert County, which for forty years boasted as its favorite son, Louis L. Goldstein, Maryland’s and America’s longest-serving Comptroller.
The point in all this is once the local boys get a hold of those jobs in Annapolis, they just don’t give them up.
And in order to keep them, they do an excellent job, so voters will keep on sending them back.
That is precisely what George Owings did in 1988 after winning the appointment to the vacant seat left open by Governor William Donald Schaefer appointing Del. Thomas A. Rymer to the Circuit Court in Calvert.
Owings, who had been working as a successful mortgage broker, put his heart, soul, and all of his time into being the best delegate just about anyone could be, running from meeting to banquet to session, attending just about any function at which more than three people gathered. In the process, George soon earned a reputation as a “people’s delegate,” linked through a common heritage and belief structure with the people he served and rooted firmly in the principles of protecting the Bay, protecting tobacco growing, protecting veterans benefits from erosion and keeping a lid on taxes.
George was one of the last conservative Democrats, with most of the rest in the state having converted to Republican.
With a crowd of friends and fellow legislators filling half of the massive House chamber on Tuesday, Owings, characteristically blunt, told those gathered that he felt humbled and honored to be chosen as a member of the Governor’s Cabinet and promised fidelity to the new job assigned to him, as much as the one which he carried out in Viet Nam as a United States Marine Sergeant.
Noting that he was a bit overcome by the confidence that was bestowed on him by Governor Ehrlich, he confided that just like the day back in 1988 when he went in to be interviewed by Governor Schaefer for a possible appointment to the open Delegate post, his stomach on Tuesday was queasy.
Owings was the chief vote counter for Speaker Mike Busch, who attended George’s swearing-in, and at the same time was a close confidant and ally to Miller and the Governor in the gambling battle which has been raging in Annapolis, a fight which Owings has called the “perfect storm.”
Senate President Mike Miller pointed out that finding someone to take over for Owings would not be easy, perhaps an understatement due to the number of persons who have asked to be considered by the Calvert Democratic Central Committee.
Southern Maryland now has two of its residents in the key slots as cabinet secretaries, with Col. Tim Hutchins of La Plata, another former member of the House of Delegates, who is the Maryland State Police Superintendent.
With Owings selection by Governor Ehrlich, the zealous gathering of the spoils of war by the Maryland Republican Party has been slowed, if just for a day, as they reach out to Democratic voters begins anew with an eye on the next gubernatorial election.
Maryland’s Democrats have a good track record at splitting their tickets and voting for Republicans, while Republican voters would likely vote for Attila the Hun if he were on the GOP slate.
While Miller and other Calvert Democrats will battle over whether former Calvert Commissioners Barbara Stinnett and Hagner Mister come up with the most votes on the Central Committee, or whether the 32-year-old son-in-law of celebrity author and Calvert resident Tom Clancy can convince folks he is the right guy to hold the seat for the Democrats in the next election will be worth having a ringside seat.
Standing on the edge of the ring looking on will be the Minority Whip of the House, Calvert Delegate Anthony O’Donnell (R. Lusby).
O’Donnell, who was first elected to the House ten years ago, is likely now the longest-serving Republican in the House from Calvert since Calvin Coolidge was in the White House.
O’Donnell, like the rest of the Republicans, likes being the party in control of the Statehouse and wants to expand that grip to the General Assembly, a challenging task. Still, after the GOP ended the historical control of the U. S. House in 1994, anything is possible.
O’Donnell and the GOP feel pretty good about the prospect of having Calvert Commissioner President David Hale winning the seat in the House being vacated by Owings, with the GOP, by a narrow margin, becoming the majority party in Calvert County.
Hale has been a popular and effective commissioner, earning a reputation as a careful and prudent manager of county affairs and getting high marks for putting a cap on development by the folks that believe Calvert has grown enough.
While the politics brew in Calvert, Secretary Owings will this week be found in Normandy, accompanying the Governor and a host of Maryland veterans to commemorate D-Day’s landings, which marked the turn of events for freedom on June 6, 1944.
Brave Americans stormed the beaches against heavily fortified Nazi Germany positions, and thousands of American lives ended. Many others were wounded as the day was won and tide was turned leading eventually to Germany’s defeat.
As George Owings walks past the graves of Americans resting in France, Maryland veterans will soon know that when he returns to his duties in Annapolis, he will bring with him to his daily job a rededication to those who answer the call to duty in America, set aside their lives and serve the cause of freedom, sometimes never returning.
Owings replaces Hutchins as Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Hutchins was excellent for that job. But the choice of the Governor for his replacement was just as good as the first pick.
Secretary Owings, serving as a Democrat in a Republican Governor’s Cabinet, will soon show that he is not serving as a political partisan but will be serving Maryland’s veterans as a strong and effective advocate making sure that young veterans are treating fairly in hiring, older veterans have proper health care and that veteran’s cemeteries for those who have passed are correctly managed.
The best decisions made by Governor Ehrlich have been the ones he made to turn to the General Assembly for experienced legislators to run the state’s large bureaucracies.