Surkamp — Democrat for County Commission
Incumbent Jim Surkamp is running to hold onto his seat as Shepherdstown’s Democratic County Commissioner. This is his second run for office – he was first elected in 2005. Despite being under indictment for allegedly attempting to vote twice in last year’s county zoning referendum, Surkamp says he’s now going to run twice as hard.
Openness in government is a central issue for Surkamp’s campaign. He says he wants county government’s business to be transparent, written down and professional. Since he came to office in 2005, Surkamp says that he has worked to try and shed light on the complicated nature of county politics. Surkamp claims credit for getting the meetings of the county Planning Commission and the County Commission archived on the Internet, and the initiative to broadcast those meetings via Webcast.
Surkamp says he took the lead in bringing a lot a positive changes to the county government. “We have no debt and $7 million in the bank,” said Surkamp during a telephone interview on Monday, April 19. “That’s a testament to the management of the county over the last five years.”
“When I got in here, the County Commission wasn’t even in the loop. It used to be secret, closed by self-interest and operated by phone only. You can quote me on that,” said Surkamp, saying that he stands up to greedy land developers to make sure they stay within the law. “I’ve been criticized for being difficult. Well, if I am standing between a person and a million dollars they wanted, they would call me difficult.”
Surkamp’s theory of government boils down to one thing: accountability. “I have to stand before the public and be accountable at all times. I back that up by being in touch with over 6,000 people in the county via e-mail.”
He says it makes his job harder, but more genuine.
“People give me problems [that they are facing] all the time, and every problem is a good teaching experience.”
Surkamp, a registered Democrat, says that his views on local politics cannot be housed within the traditional two-party labels which apply at higher levels of government. “I am a Democrat in that I want to take care of people, but I am also like a republican in that I hate wasting the public’s money.”
Surkamp highlights his commitment to fiscal responsibility, half jokingly pointing out that he is the only county commissioner who drives a red 1991 Honda Accord with 220,000 miles on it. “I consider it a badge of honor in that I am the antithesis of conspicuous consumption. I don’t buy Cadillacs, and I don’t wear bling.”
There’s a bigger point here, says Surkamp: An inexpensive lifestyle is often a green lifestyle, too. “Maintaining that car, it has provided a lot of repair work to Jim’s Auto Repair in Ranson. I keep them in business by keeping an old car that needs fixing.”
Looking ahead, Surkamp says he wants to take the lead at the county level to create a master plan on bike lanes. He says he helped coordinate with the municipal government of Shepherdstown in hopes of building a bike lane connecting Morgan’s Grove Park to the town limits.
Surkamp is an “Army brat.” His father was an instructor at West Point Military Academy and one of four class captains of 1943. Surkamp, like many other military children, grew up in places all over the world.
Surkamp’s campaign biography, posted at jimsurkamp.net/campaign/bio.htm, is filled with notable accomplishments. After graduating in 1971 from Colgate University in Upstate New York with a degree in history, Surkamp reports he has, among other things, worked as an investigative journalist for the Rockland Journal News in Rockland County, N.Y. Following this, Surkamp’s bio indicates he spent the 1970s and early 80s working for corporate investigation firms in New York. His campaign bio also notes that he won an Angel Award for moral excellence in media for a one-hour radio docudrama broadcast nationally in 1999 on Public Radio on the subject of Vietnam veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and that the documentary won accolades from people at the highest level of radio journalism.
Surkamp sums up his campaign on a bright note, which harkens to his experience as a commissioner during the last five years. “We’re probably the best county commission in West Virginia – $7 million in the bank, no debt? That’s not an accident.”
Editor’s note: Surkamp’s interview with the Shepherdstown Chronicle was conducted by phone about an hour before his indictment was released.See Page 3 of the April 23 edition for more information.