Estimated read time: 6 minutes
Four years ago, Jay L. Newcomb lost his seat on the County Council to Dan B. Satterfield. The real question I should be asking is "Did anyone notice much less care?"
Ok, I'm being facetious. Maybe the County Council doesn't have much to brag about because we have a failed technology park outside of the Bucktown Airport and a medical plaza being built to attract less-than-living-wage national chains. To add salt to the wounds, rumors are the national chains won't hire locals for the positions of responsibility (read higher pay) because local talent is unreliable (read some city folk want to move to the country.)
Despite the failures and rumors, we are still tasked with electing new commissioners. If the talk among long time county residents holds any truth, we have to decide who should join the Old Boys Club called the County Council, a club designed to fatten the members' private bank accounts and not much else.
One long time member to the Old Boys Club, Jay L. Newcomb, wants back in after being ousted four years ago. Arguably, it doesn't matter who occupies the seats on the County Council. The Council's history of intransigence will relegate Dorchester to a time warp corridor sandwiched between the more successful Talbot and Wicomico counties. But let Jay L. Newcomb be the council's seat warmer, Dorchester might become a time warp corridor to Little Mexico.
Faced with a worker shortage made of their own doing and sexist thinking coupled with desire to fatten their own bank accounts, crab house owners scrambled to find a solution to their labor shortage back in 1991. Newcomb cried, "But Mexicans are cheaper...." Ok, the words weren't his, but his arguments screamed as much. Newcomb was the first seafood house manager to bring cheap labor from Mexico to the Eastern Shore.
After Newcomb's success with the cheap, imported labor, the other seafood houses followed suit. Boxed with the Old Boys Club are many of the local business leaders who practice a monkey-see-monkey-do approach to building the success of their businesses. Blinded by sexist views of the seafood industry and greed to get something for nothing, seafood house managers replaced the American wives of the watermen with cheaper Mexican labor of the senoritas. Yes, in the sexist world of the seafood industry, men do the fishing and crabbing; women do the cleaning and picking.
Newcomb's decision in 1991 to hire Mexican workers is somewhat understandable. Dire reports from the EPA concerning the health of the Bay that led to Maryland's Critical Bay Habitat legislation, oysters decimated by a foreign disease, rockfish all but disappearing, and blue crab populations showing their first signs of stress as watermen tried to make up their loss revenue in the other fisheries by harvesting more crabs painted a bleak picture of the future of the Maryland seafood industry.
Caption that picture with two decades of a stagnant economy where the average American worker saw no real wage growth. The average family needed both husband and wife working full time to make ends meet. Seasonal jobs didn't help the family. It's not hard to see the desperate need for guest workers from Mexico back in 1991 as wives of the watermen entered the full time job market outside of the watermen communities.
Problem is, what should've been a temporary solution became a permanent solution. The political and business leaders of the day dare not peek outside of their comfort box to offer more permanent solutions that would create new jobs and keep our watermen comfortably above the poverty level instead of near poverty level as many are today.
As recently as five years ago, when Newcomb kept a County Council's seat warm, a state representative on the other side of the Bay proposed a "branding" law. In short, the law mandated that any crab or oyster product labeled "Maryland" or "Chesapeake" had to be harvested in Maryland or the Bay. It reinforced my idea, The Branding of the Bay, I shared before hearing about the law.
Sadly, the law died in committee. This law, had it passed, could have been the first step in raising our watermen's income and would've raised the status of the Maryland crab and oyster to a delicacy far superior to the crabs we now get from as far away as Peru or Indonesia or oysters farmed in Illinois, yet all still labeled as "Maryland" or "Chesapeake."
|Dorchester County Council hard at work|
The most telling evidence of Newcomb's lack of concern for the watermen and the residents of the county is how he handled the Mexican labor crisis this year. He whined to Representative Harris that due to the caps on the guest workers program, his crab house has been closed because he didn't get the cheap labor from Mexico.
Why wasn't he in his crab house shelling crabs? Afraid to get his hands dirty? Where was his family, friends, and neighbors to help him? Afraid to get their hands dirty? Why didn't he offer higher pay to attract local workers? He's cheap?
Point is a businessperson will do what is necessary to stay open and make money. Locking the doors and begging the government for cheap labor is not an option.
It's probably safe to say that Newcomb most likely did not close his crab house doors. By most measures, Newcomb is a successful businessman and one doesn't become successful by sitting on one's hands in times of a crisis. Unfortunately, Five Drunk Rednecks lack the resources to conduct an in depth, investigative report. You, the reader can draw the conclusions you want. Perhaps some day Newcomb will be forthcoming and explain how he weathered the labor shortage. For now, we'll have to accept Newcomb's explanation that he closed his doors and whined to our representative in Congress, who responded by backing an ad campaign promoting Maryland seafood. (Sounds kind of like his answer to my letter asking why he encouraged others not to do their job - fluff with no substance.)
Who do the Five Drunk Rednecks endorse?
Well, that's a funny joke.
Answer is anyone except Newcomb.
The candidates don't understand the voters work full time while raising families. They don't have hours to spend in front of a computer screen digging for clues as to where their candidates stand. I did a lot of research for this article and then did a ten minute search looking for any council candidate's website outlining his/her vision for Dorchester County. I found nothing. I know more about the Talbot County Council candidates than I do about my own county's candidates.
I have a feeling no matter who is elected, we're in for another four years of the Old Boys Club shooting the breeze over a couple of beers during Happy Hour and not much more. If anyone knows where to find a candidate's position and vision for the future, please share it with us. If you are a council candidate, step outside that safe box and share your vision.
And if we elect Newcomb, we may as well start learning Spanish as he keeps bringing in the cheap labor to fatten his bank account. Pretty soon, he might start training the cheap labor how to fish the Bay for half the cost our watermen currently fish it. Bet the price of crabs won't go down, though....
Vote anyone for Dorchester County Council except Newcomb.
Posted by A Drunk Redneck