The landscape of Garrett County politics is changing. Over the next two years, local elections will see historic participation from candidates from both major parties along with several women seeking office.
For the first time in at least 40 years, the 2022 General Election will feature both Democratic and Republican candidates for all three county commissioner races. For the first time, two of those candidates will be women. And next year, a woman is seeking to become the first female mayor of Grantsville.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we interviewed three of these candidates, including Judy Carbone, a Democratic candidate for County Commissioner in District 1; Erin-Ruth Oxford de Natividad, a Democratic candidate for County Commissioner in District 3; and Emily Newman Edwards, a Republican candidate for mayor of Grantsville in 2023.
We spoke with Carbone about politics and how hard it can be to rise above the fray in today’s political climate.
“Women make up the majority of the population, both nationally and here in Garrett County,” Carbone said via Zoom, sporting a Rosie the Riveter T-shirt. “If we’re talking about a representative government, it only makes sense that women would make up a larger percentage of our elected officials than they currently are. The first woman to run for Commissioner, Brenda Butscher, a Republican on the ballot in 1990, won on her first attempt. While there have been other women on the ballot since then, no other female has been elected for that position. This year, we have two women on the ballot for County Commissioner, hopefully, the start of many women in the future running for the highest offices representing our community.”
Carbone, until recently the Garrett County Democratic Central Committee Chair, ran unsuccessfully for the District 1 seat in 2018. When asked what she plans to do differently this time, she replied, “We raised a lot of money in 2018 and talked to a lot of voters at public events and by knocking on doors. That told us that there is support and great interest for something different and for women candidates. Still, we all know it’s a steep climb for any Democrat, male or female, running in Garrett County.” She says she plans to focus more on voter turnout and talk to voters about issues common to most Garrett Countians. This includes economic development, affordable housing, and representative local government that engages with citizens and is accountable and transparent.
“We need to focus less on party affiliation and more on finding creative and effective solutions for our shared concerns,” says Carbone. “Having more ideas and different perspectives brought to the County Commissioner’s table can only help with that goal. For example, we have not had a solid Economic Development Strategy Plan since 2011, and, at the moment, we don’t have one at all to address our economic issues. We need to focus less on building business parks and more on supporting small businesses and agricultural employers, advancing affordable Broadband for all to allow businesses to have remote workers in our community, and proactively recruiting green energy, agriculturally based, and technology industries. But to do that, we have to have workforce development and housing that supports the workers these businesses will need.”
A better economic vision for our community, she believes, is one we all support, and it only detracts from our ability to realize that vision when we are polarized by politics. “Healthy towns are often characterized by having a shared vision for the community and citizens who are engaged in the civic and cultural life of the community. They are characterized by an openness that values all residents, especially because of their differences. We don’t have that yet, but I believe we can get there…and be stronger for it!”
In the spirit of Women’s Month, celebrated throughout March, we spoke to Carbone about the challenges women face in local politics, which often go beyond the reality of being a Democrat in a heavily Republican area.
“Too big is not a reason to not try,” Carbone said, quoting a phrase from Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia representative and current candidate for governor who has led a massive voter registration effort in the historically Republican state. “She is amazing for her belief in what is right and what is possible,’’ says Carbone,. She definitely inspires me, along with so many other strong, assertive, effective women.”
Carbone offered another comment about the importance of women running locally for all positions. She told the story about how at a brunch for the Garrett County Women’s Hall of Fame in the year she first ran for office, she heard Caroline Blizzard, formerly of the Maryland Park Service and a major community advocate locally, who was being inducted that day, talk about being inspired to go into the natural resources field by meeting a woman in that field when she was younger. “How will little girls know that they can be political leaders in our community if they don’t see women in those positions? What a loss that would be.”
We spoke to Erin-Ruth Oxford de Natividad, a candidate for County Commissioner in District 3, via Zoom. Natividad is a Garrett County native and 2004 graduate of Southern High School.
She is a member of the Garrett County Democratic Central Committee, serves as the Garrett County Democratic Club president, and is Secretary on the Garrett County Commission for Women.
When asked why she wanted to run for office, Natividad, replied, “I was voted class president of my graduating class, and my classmates chose me as most likely to be elected president. So, I’ve always been involved in the issues. I’ve always stood up for the little guy. I’m very much someone who can be coachable when need be, but am easily ready to step up and take a leadership role, especially when I see a problem.”
When asked about her party affiliation she stated, “I think people are too focused on Democrat and Republican as labels, when it’s really more about us all as citizens. Sure, there’s traditionally more Republican support in Garrett County, but people need to investigate initiatives, community concerns and issues on their own. We can’t wait for someone to inform us.”
Speaking more to the background of both local Democrats and Republicans, Natividad had a unique perspective on that divide.
“I was raised by a Republican father and a Democratic mother. I was able to see both sides of a lot of issues. All of my siblings are really social workers at heart, because my mom did so much to show us organizations and people from all walks of life. Living here most of my life, I see that sometimes the middle class needs the most help because they don’t make enough to be financially secure, but they make too much to qualify for government support.”
Like the rest of the candidates, Natividad has a vision for Garrett County moving forward. “It’s pivotal to create a more diverse and inclusive community if we want the county to thrive and grow,” she said. “I would like to see people be kind to each other. We all have differences and that’s ok. We have to be nice to each other. We need to support local businesses. In a world where Amazon exists, we should be more aware of supporting their neighbor instead of lining the pockets of Jeff Bezos. I don’t know about you but I’d rather give my money to a locally owned store if possible.” She elaborated: “If we don’t have it (a product or service), that means we need it, and that’s got to come from within our community. Most people move away because they feel the area is lacking or not enough. There are openings to make opportunities for themselves in Garrett County.. Make it happen here.”
We also spoke to Emily Edwards, who is running for Mayor of Grantsville as a Republican in 2023.
Edwards, a local restaurateur and member of the Grantsville Town Council, is hoping to win the seat when current mayor Mark Diehl’s term ends in 2023. The council recently amended its bylaws to extend mayoral terms from two to four years.
She would be the first woman mayor in the town’s history.
When asked why she is running Edwards said,“I absolutely love economic development. I am passionate about making Grantsville a great town to live in now and 50 years from now. A lot of the work we’re doing today is not for today. Everyone here loves the community. We work well together. We are all like-minded people.”
Edwards emphasized the perks of the Appalachian lifestyle and how connected county residents are.
“My favorite thing about Grantsville is that everyone who lives here loves the community, so it’s really easy to bring ideas into that environment,” she said. “There’s not a lot of dissension because of how close everyone is. The reality is that everyone’s idea of a good life is about the same. We have a lot in common.”
Edwards, a mother of four who manages the Savage River Lodge and Cornucopia Cafe full-time, spoke to the concept of juggling being a mother and her professional life. “ Nora Ephron said something about which balls are worth dropping and which are worth holding onto. I’m paraphrasing but it’s important to keep the delicate glass balls up in the air and let the plastic balls drop. It’s a lot of coffee and a lot of late nights and early mornings.”
She noted former Maryland U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski and Madeleine Albright, the first female secretary of state in U.S. history in the Clinton administration, as two women who inspire her.
Mikulski “did a lot for the local area as I was growing up and Madeleine Albright was an inspiration to me personally,” she said.
Edwards said she hopes Grantsville, which had a population of under 1,000, according to the 2020 U.S. census, will continue to grow.
“My hope for Grantsville is to grow the community, to grow the town and the population. The real estate market is already growing, and I want to nurture that. People from outside Garrett County are noticing.”
If you are interested in running for office now or in the future, reach out to the Garrett County Republican or Democratic Central Committees. The deadline to file is March 22, 2022. Go to elections.maryland.gov/candidacy/
Written By Michael R. Fratz, Collen DuBose