Eti­enne en­ters race to un­seat Miller

Seeks ‘com­mon sense’ gov­ern­ment

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TA­MARA WARD tward@somd­news.com

Rous­san “Rou” Eti­enne Jr. has carved out a com­fort­able life for him­self and his fam­ily in Baden, a quiet south­east­ern Prince Ge­orge’s land­scape painted with farms, rolling hills and his­toric barns. From his nearly 10-acre res­i­den­tial farm, Eti­enne has less than a two-minute com­mute to his post as se­nior chap­lain for the Baden Vol­un­teer Fire De­part­ment.

For the Haitian-Amer­i­can im­mi­grant, who came to the United States from Port-au-Prince at age 5, the calm and beauty of ru­ral South­ern Mary­land is sub­lime — but he is will­ing to trade a frac­tion of it in for the ker­fuf­fle of the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly.

In May, Eti­enne, 47, an­nounced his 2018 run for the District 27 State Se­nate seat held by Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D-Charles, Calvert, Prince Ge­orge’s). Miller was elected into of­fice in 1974, just about the time Eti­enne and his fam­ily moved to Prince Ge­orge’s County.

“A vote for Rou is def­i­nitely a vote for you,” smiles Eti­enne, be­fore shift­ing to a more se­ri­ous topic.

“We needed some hon­est and re­spon­si­ble gov­ern­ment,” he con­cluded af­ter talk­ing with area res­i­dents about their needs and chal­lenges in the district. “We have lead­er­ship, but there is no trans­parency; lead­er­ship would not lis­ten to [con­stituents], [res­i­dents] would vote for things and they still wouldn’t go through.”

Eti­enne has not held elected of­fice, but he is no stranger to pol­i­tics. In 2014, he ran for Prince Ge­orge’s County ex­ec­u­tive as an in­de­pen­dent. He said he felt called to run be­cause the cur­rent county ex­ec­u­tive, Rush­ern L. Baker III (D), didn’t de­liver on a prom­ise to pool a per­cent­age of money from the Na­tional Har­bor project into the county’s pub­lic school sys­tem.

“The deal gets done — noth­ing is com­ing back to Prince Ge­orge’s County for our kids. A $1.7 bil­lion bud­get and schools get noth­ing and teach­ers and par­ents have to come out of their pock­ets to buy ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties,” Eti­enne said. “Cor­rupt — not hon­est gov­ern­ment, and the money is there.”

Eti­enne ac­cu­mu­lated enough votes to be the top of a pool of many write-in can­di­dates and fin­ished sec­ond to Baker, but only gar­nered 0.2 per­cent of the vote against the in­cum­bent, who swal­lowed up 98.8 per­cent.

Not dis­suaded by the loss, Eti­enne is ready for an­other run. And due to his south­ern-most lo­cale, which makes it most con­ve­nient for him to shop in Charles and recre­ate in Calvert, Eti­enne feels he is con­nected and knowl­edge­able enough to rep­re­sent the needs of all three coun­ties that pop­u­late the district.

His No. 1 leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity is to lower prop­erty and busi­ness taxes which he be­lieves is para­mount, and he wants to make sure leg­is­la­tion gets through. He blames Miller for be­ing a bar­rier.

“He doesn’t have the heart and mind­set of the peo­ple of this county. He blocks ev­ery­thing that ben­e­fits [busi­ness],” said Eti­enne, who also owns a ta­lent man­age­ment and mar­ket­ing busi­ness called Rou Ta­lent Agency. “Com­mon­sense stuff is not even get­ting through the door.”

Eti­enne also plans to tackle South­ern Mary­land’s drug prob­lem. With the help of his cam­paign chair­man, Wal­lace Stephens, he has de­vised a strat­egy to col­lab­o­rate with stake­hold­ers, iden­tify re­sources for men­tal health and fa­cil­i­tate ser­vices for com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by the opi­oid cri­sis.

En­vi­ron­men­tal preser va­tion of the re­gion’s nat­u­ral as­sets, specif­i­cally the Patux­ent River, is also a leg­isla­tive pri­or­ity. “It’s com­mon sense — we’ve got to pre­serve where peo­ple fish,” stressed Eti­enne, who steered clear of ad­dress­ing climate change.

Eti­enne has as­sem­bled a di­verse team for the cam­paign and calls on a higher power by open­ing up his staff meet­ing with prayer. That higher power may be in need: in­cum­bent Miller has con­sis­tently ac­cu­mu­lated 62 to nearly 75 per­cent of the votes in the district over his last three elec­tion cam­paigns.

Un­like those who are pro­po­nents of sep­a­ra­tion of church and state, the chap­lain will tell you there is a place for God in the state­house.

A reg­is­tered in­de­pen­dent for roughly 25 years, Eti­enne was very fa­mil­iar with the Demo­cratic Party, but said he was never im­pressed to join be­cause he had al­ways seen cor­rup­tion. He also ad­mits that he didn’t per­son­ally know one Re­pub­li­can un­til he learned that Ben Car­son (R) was run­ning for pres­i­dent.

“Oh, I’m def­i­nitely vot­ing for him be­cause I know his character and in­tegrity,” said Eti­enne of the cat­a­lyst for his switch to the Re­pub­li­can camp less than four years ago so he could sup­port his friend in Mary­land’s pri­mary.

He ac­knowl­edged the af­fil­i­a­tion change presents an up­hill bat­tle, with District 27 split amongst Calvert, Prince Ge­orge’s and Charles coun­ties. In the 2016 Gen­eral Elec­tion, there were roughly 54,700 reg­is­tered Demo­crat vot­ers to 27,000 Repub­li­cans. Calvert of­fers a ray of hope for Eti­enne with the se­nate district’s largest con­tin­gent of reg­is­tered Repub­li­cans to­tal­ing 12,120.

Prince Ge­orge’s, which makes up a larger share of the district, has a pre­dom­i­nately Demo­cratic pop­u­la­tion and has over­whelm­ingly backed Miller, a Prince Ge­orge’s na­tive who grew up in Clin­ton.

Eti­enne ad­mits he may have also burned bridges with his home county’s elected lead­ers as he has pub­licly chal­lenged the placement of cell phone tow­ers on pub­lic school grounds as a mem­ber of a coali­tion of par­ents, com­mu­nity lead­ers and ac­tivists.

Repub­li­cans — espe­cially black Repub­li­cans — are few, but col­lec­tively they have banded to cre­ate a Prince Ge­orge’s County Re­pub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, of which Eti­enne is an at-large mem­ber.

Proud of his new af­fil­i­a­tion, Eti­enne cred­its him­self with start­ing a group called Mary­land Grass­roots Repub­li­cans. Sidestep­ping ques­tions con­cern­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump (R) and his poli­cies, En­ti­enne said he sup­ports Re­pub­li­can Gov­er­nor Larry Ho­gan and ap­plauds him for push­ing for trans­parency in gov­ern­ment, like him­self.

Be­yond race and the pol­i­tics, Eti­enne be­lieves what he has done in the district as a leader on va­ri­ety of is­sues is what will help him win this race, which he said in­cludes ad­vo­cat­ing to suc­cess­fully ex­pand burial ben­e­fits for first re­spon­ders in Prince Ge­orge’s.

Eti­enne holds a doc­tor­ate in psy­chol­ogy from CI In­ter­na­tional and a bach­e­lor’s in the­ol­ogy from Faith Sem­i­nar­ies in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Both de­grees come in handy for his chap­lain du­ties and dur­ing summers when he, his wife Karen and two daugh­ters host a day camp for at-risk boys and girls through his non-profit ZOE Group Foun­da­tion — one of many ef­forts he says he does to give back to the com­mu­nity.

De­spite his busy sched­ule, Eti­enne wants to take on a new role so he can pre­serve the wealth and build new wealth in District 27.

“We have a sys­tem that is tear­ing down their fi­nan­cial ve­hi­cles and peo­ple are tired of it,” he said. “It’s time for change.”

STAFF PHOTO BY TA­MARA WARD

Rous­san Eti­enne at his home in Prince Ge­orge’s County.

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