Updated: Mar 29, 2020
Voters become complacent about elections when they don’t feel they have a choice. When a ballot is lined with one unopposed candidate after another, it hardly seems worth the trouble to cast a ballot. This year, however, Garrett Countians will actually be making some big decisions about future leaders of their community and state. Anyone looking for choices in this year’s midterm election has a lot to be happy about.
In a down-to-the-wire filing, Republican, Bob Gatto is back in the race as an official write-in candidate for County Commissioner. He and Fred Fox were in a three-way competition with the incumbent, Jim Hinebaugh for Republican voters in the June primary. With three candidates, voters were asked to select between the incumbent and two others which resulted in Hinebaugh securing his reelection with no other party challengers in the fall General Election. What Gatto realized was he and Fox consumed roughly 700 more votes in the primary making Hinebaugh the less popular candidate with overall Republican voters.
Facebook has become a popular polling platform in politics which Gatto used to canvas voters before pursuing a write-in campaign. He confesses campaigning is not his strong suit. He just wants to serve his county and do the job. His soft-spoken, gentle demeanor is uncommon in the political arena, yet a fire in his belly and a vocal base of support encouraged him to reenter the race. He’s now reaching out to his Republican, Democrat, and Independent friends to vote for him on November 6.
Gatto has served as commissioner in the past and knows the job and its expectation. He was largely apolitical before his first run for office in 2010. When he first served, he learned that politics can be a nasty environment of back scratching and backstabbing. He wants to bring a different tone to the commissioner’s seat and represent a broader interest of not just those who will vote him into office.
As a small business owner of his electrical contracting company, he’s learned about customer service and has seen the measure of Garrett County residents living paycheck to paycheck and those enjoying the spoils of massive success in sprawling lake homes. It’s a diverse population with diverse needs and interest. Neither should take precedence in Gatto’s mind.
"Good people stay away or feel they can't make a difference,” says Gatto when talking about running for office. “Many have given up.” Campaigns are often won by the candidate with the biggest purse, according to Gatto. "It's sad but for the most part. This process sometimes comes down to who has the most money.”
Running for office is something Gatto takes seriously. "I am humbled when people donate to my campaign. They are giving me their hard-earned money as well as their trust,” he explains. Regardless of the giving amount, he says he feels an enormous responsibility to the donor. He’s anticipating a much bigger bank account funding his opponent in the race but with less than a week away from the General Election and early voting underway, both candidates could be in the same boat.
"An early announcement would be giving those who support my opponent time to pump more money into his effort,” says Gatto who just wants a level playing field. He feels a late filing was the best way to accomplish that.
Although he has a strong support base following the primary, Gatto is apprehensive about asking too much of them which is why he drives about the County placing many of his own signs. "I put up my own signs, write my own ads and announcements with very little help,” he proudly shares.
An important part of Gatto’s campaign is the County budget which is a primary function of a Commissioner. How tax dollars are spent can be prioritized differently depending on who’s sitting in the official's chair.
“In four years the budget has risen over $8 million. That doesn't sound like we’re being conservative,” Gatto says. "I know we have been fortunate to see a small rebirth locally in real estate and construction and we have also seen more support from the State with new funding.” But he knows nothing is for certain and the County needs to be proactive in case things sharply shift as they have in the past. "The current board has demonstrated their definition of being financially and physically conservative in about 8 million ways,” he says with a hint of sarcasm.
“We still have our education system as well as many businesses and individuals in this county struggling to make ends meet,” Gatto continues. Some schools are facing consolidation, restructuring or closing due to budget constraints as was pointed out in recent Board of Education public meetings. Maintenance of the public school system seems to be a low priority or neglected which weighs heavy on Gatto. He wonders how building new infrastructure is a solution when the County struggles to maintain its existing real estate?
Gatto is no stranger to balancing a budget with his many years in the private sector, running his own business. "You balance expenses and revenues. There is no cash flow unless you create it,” he puts it simply.
"For too long this County assumes that those who have decided to live and work here will continue to do so.” Gatto feels that without seriously considering their constituent’s needs, this expectation is flawed. "There are plenty of reasons to live in Garrett County but what Governmental framework is in place for people to find sustainable success,” he asks?
There are several factors that Gatto feels will need to be addressed in the next Commissioners’ term. He would like to see more support for local businesses, better programs for workforce development, and a way to close the gap between wages earned and the cost of living. Gatto is also concerned about the emerging issues around drug abuse and addictions that are impacting every aspect of society and the economy.
One largely overlooked resource is agriculture, according to Gatto. “We not only have a rich heritage and access to this market but we also have the means to grow this sector from a micro-economy to a major producer.” He sees this as a trend on which Garrett County should capitalize. "We have 30 million people within 10 hours of Garrett County and people are more concerned about where and how their food is farmed.” He feels the pristine environment and natural rainfall are the County’s unique assets to place food exports in high demand.
"I don't have all the answers but I know how to get things done,” Gatto says with confidence. “Some would say I am crazy for wanting to run but I am tired of the little guy being pushed aside.”
Gatto describes his campaign as a rising ocean where everyone enjoys the swell rather than a government that caters to special, private interests. He admits he made some mistakes in his first term as Commissioner but he also learned a lot and is ready to take on new challenges.