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Group organizes for FASTC support
Published: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 4:31 AM CST

GRASONVILLE The Eastern Shore Leadership Council believes that a "silent majority" of Queen Anne's County residents agree that the Foreign Affairs Security Training Center (FASTC) is in the best interest of the county and the larger region.

At a luncheon in Grasonville Monday, group members and community leaders argued that the facility would be beneficial to the future of the area, and shed light on how they had and would go about spreading that message to citizens.

Matthew Hogans, president of the nascent organization, said that the group supports the FASTC because it will bring much needed jobs and economic growth and sustainability to the area at a time of economic turmoil.

Those sentiments were echoed by many in attendance, including Queen Anne's County Commissioner Paul Gunther, who lamented that far too many students are forced to leave the area to find jobs and start their lives after they graduate high school.

"That's a sad situation," Gunther said. "A very sad situation."

A majority of county residents are in support of the project, said Fred Yang, a pollster for Washington, D.C.-based Hart Research Associates, who conducted a poll on the controversial project in January. Speaking at the meeting, he said the poll found that support was the strongest among those who responded that they had been paying "close attention" to the project.

While there are always going to be vocal groups, Yang said, findings in the poll lead him to believe that more county residents want the FASTC than don't.

"There really is a silent majority out there," Yang said. "It is silent, but it is the majority."

Yang also noted how more respondents from each political party were favorable to the facility than not (47 percent to 24 percent favorable/unfavorable split for Democrats, 50 to 21 for independents, 51 to 28 for Republicans). He said this sort of bipartisan support for an issue was unusual.

"This is one of those polls that's not about partisanship," Yang said. Invoking the old adage that "politics stops at the water's edge," he added, "I really think that's the case here in Queen Anne's County."

Hogans and other group members have been working since January to capitalize on this support, spending an estimated $40,000 on the poll and on a mailing that was sent to county residents who may be undecided on the project. Stephen Meehan, a member of the group's board of directors and its spokesman, said at the meeting that the goal of these efforts was to promote public discussion on the project.

While Meehan said more mailings could be considered, he believes that area residents are now plugged in to what's happening with the project.

"I believe the public is now engaged in this," Meehan said."

Beyond the public's knowledge of the project, a significant concern of many gathered is what they see as a very vocal yet small minority of county residents who are adamantly opposed to the project.

Clayton Mitchell, former Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, said that strong political leadership is needed to stick up for what they believe is in the best interest of the county against those groups fighting the project.

"If you don't have that," Mitchell said, "the minority groups are going to run things all the time."

Formed in January, the Eastern Shore Leadership council is a non-profit comprised of business leaders and others in the area focusing on "sustainable local economies and job growth on Maryland's Eastern Shore," said group president Matthew Hogans.

Hogans is joined on the group's board of directors by Tom Helfenbein, Kathryn Hogans, Roland Karbaum and Meehan, who said that the group would be working on broader issues in addition to FASTC, including education and the future of farming in the area.

"We're not going away after FASTC ends," Meehan said.

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