Josh Kurtz: A Public Service Announcement to Freshman Lawmakers Re: the Tawes Crab Feast
Dear Freshman Senator or Delegate:
Congrats on surviving your first legislative session! Here’s hoping you’ve caught up on sleep and have reacquainted yourself with your loved ones.
I’d like to talk to you about one of the great summer rituals of Maryland politics: The J. Millard Tawes Crab & Clam Bake in Crisfield.
No doubt, some of you have already attended this one-of-a-kind event. And many of you have probably heard about it.
This week, I imagine most of you received an email about the crab feast, from State House lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano. In case you missed it, it said, in full:
STOP what you are doing please and decide!
Are you coming to Tawes Crab Feast 7/17/19 11:30 AM-4:00 PM in Crisfield, MD? It is the only place to be in Maryland on that day – the superbowl of Maryland politics.
If you have not already responded to me please let me hear from you and mail in your form and payment for tickets. Form is attached.
Where do I begin?
For starters, Bruce Bereano is not the gatekeeper for Tawes, an event that draws a few thousand people every summer — most of whom are there for the seafood and the beer and care not a whit about Maryland politics.
Bruce Bereano is not the sole ticket vendor for Tawes. You can order your ticket online here.
Or you can call the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce at 410-968-2500 for further information. In years past, you were able to send them a check and they’d mail you tickets.
And if you are a procrastinator, or if you decide at the last minute that you are able to attend, you can walk up to the gate on the day of the event and buy a ticket.
To repeat: You do not need to buy your tickets from Bruce Bereano.
Now, let me say a few words about Mr. Bereano and the role he plays at the annual crab feast.
Bereano, a fixture in Annapolis for four decades, loves the event — as so many Maryland political junkies do. He has attended for years.
At some point — was it a dozen years ago? Fifteen? More? — Bereano set up a tent at Tawes, alongside the civic groups, government agencies, business organizations, political parties and labor unions that have tents of their own, providing blessed relief from the unforgiving sun beating down on the asphalt.
Bereano invited current and former lawmakers and other state powerbrokers and political hangers-on to join him in his tent. He’d provide dessert when none was available to average festival-goers. He’d provide a better grade of beer. Eventually, he provided extra food. He’d set up big, industrial fans, to keep his guests cool. No one can fault him for that.
As the years went by, Bereano’s tent grew bigger and bigger. Now, it is literally the size of a circus big top, an apt metaphor, perhaps. It’s the center of activity for all the political people who turn up in Crisfield.
In fact, most now just duck into his tent, greet their friends and colleagues, and stay there (a rare exception is Bereano’s friend, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr., who spends most of the crab feast pressing the flesh and meeting real voters). Maybe they’ll make a perfunctory round through the aisle of other tents — which have diminished in recent years, as Bereano’s has grown. But mostly, they stick with their own — and with Bruce.
Why is this a problem?
The Crisfield crab feast has traditionally been an opportunity for politicians to mingle with ordinary voters and the interest groups that sponsor the event. It’s supposed to feel like a little slice of democracy to go along with all the all-you-can-consume crabs, beer and fried clams.
Now, it’s the Bereano Show — and instead of reaching out to voters, politicians who attend Tawes are paying tribute to a high-earning lobbyist and, by extension, all his clients.
Bruce Bereano has thrived all these years in Annapolis because, more than any other lobbyist, he has an uncanny ability to make state legislators feel like VIP’s. Heck, he makes ex-lawmakers, who time has forgotten, feel like VIPs. That’s a unique talent. No wonder they love him.
Bereano has earned the right to sponsor the event, invite whomever he wants, and try to make his tent the center of the action. He points out that he’s pumping a lot of money into the Crisfield economy. He hires local kids as runners and waiters.
Good for him. Good for Crisfield.
But is it good for democracy?
That’s something to consider, dear freshman, as you ponder whether to make the long, hot trek to Crisfield in mid-July — and what you do when you get there.
Thanks for reading the rantings of an old-timer.