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Leadership and law: Hundreds hear from a full dais at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce 2017 Congressional Delegation Dinner

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(March 6, 2017 — Greenbelt, Md.) — In an unusually tense federal political climate with a new administration, policy predictions are hard to come by, and public service tends to sound like a punchline. So it’s nice when a few senators and congressmen come over to talk about issues, and everyone honors a man dedicated to helping others succeed.

Since this is Maryland, crabcakes also help.

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce 2017 Congressional Delegation Dinner and Public Service Award gathered 200 business leaders, along with those legislators, at Martin’s Crosswinds in Greenbelt on Monday.

Recently retired Stevenson University President Kevin J. Manning, Ph.D., received the Chamber’s award, presented by Chamber Board Chairwoman Sheela Murthy.

“We sometimes don’t see it, but leading an independent institution of higher education is a public service,” Murthy said. “Education, and opportunities to advance it, are at the heart of what helps individuals succeed and contribute to society in meaningful and often more connected ways.”

With the creation of the hugely popular Baltimore Speakers Series, his years of service to the United Way of Central Maryland, his visionary influence on the Chamber itself, and the leadership that transformed Villa Julie College into the three-campus, career-focused Stevenson University, Manning embodied the Chamber’s criteria for the award.

In addition to the award, Rep. John Sarbanes (D–3rd District) presented Manning with a congressional certificate of appreciation.

Sarbanes was one of eight congressional delegates on the dais for the evening, in a Q&A aimed at helping Maryland business leaders better understand the forecast for the 115th Congress. The discussion covered issues like health care coverage, infrastructure priorities to ease commerce, student visas and workforce development, trade, taxes and more.

Since the new GOP plan for health care had just been announced Monday, the delegation could not yet assess it and its impacts on business owners and employees.

But infrastructure projects like preparing the Howard St. Tunnel in Baltimore for double-stack trains to increase output from the Port of Baltimore got generally high marks. Sen. Chris Van Hollen called projects like that a win-win: they make commerce flow better and create jobs at the same time.

Noting with some amusement that he is very much in the minority in the delegation if not the federal government, Rep. Andy Harris (R–1st District) acknowledged that the new administration has suffered some messaging challenges and is sometimes unpredictable. But he said the president is attuned to calls for tax and regulatory reform. 

Cardin agreed that business tax rates need to come down, saying the U.S. ranks among the highest in business tax in the world—a detriment in a global economy.

With an aging workforce, the whole delegation seemed to agree that talent pipelines and workforce development are increasingly important, starting with education.

Rep. Anthony Brown (D–4th District) touted the P-TECH project under Gov. Larry Hogan as one that aligns well with public/private partnerships Congress is initiating to ensure that young workers are prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow.  

Chamber Board Chairwoman Sheela Murthy, founder and president of the immigration-dedicated Murthy Law Firm, pointed out that the U.S. is a knowledge-based economy, and immigrants contribute to that base. Yet, she said, difficulties with executive orders and visas can create challenges to that workforce development. 

Harris said he believes President Donald Trump’s newly revised executive order on immigration, released yesterday, poses no threat to visa holders. 

But Rep. John Delaney (D–6th District) countered that politics is perception, and the current climate makes it seem harder for the world’s best minds to come here for their education. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D–2nd District) followed up, noting the “brain drain” phenomenon when students here on visas take their talents back to other countries instead of staying in the U.S.

“It has a chilling effect on the economy,” Ruppersberger said.

The final question of the evening asked what each senator and congressman was going to do to make sure employers were supported with civility and bipartisanship in the 115th Congress.

Cardin called it the best question of the night, because it reminds Congress of its purpose.

“The election is over. It’s time for us to work together to do the job Congress is meant to do.”

Of the full delegation, only Rep. Elijah Cummings sent regrets. Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer was unable to join the delegation on the dais, but did attend the event earlier in the evening.

Kevin Manning, Ph.D. accepts the Maryland Chamber of Commerce 2017 Public Service Award.

View more images from the 2017 Congressional Delegation Dinner.