By: Nicholas Sohr
The price of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s trip to Asia this month is slowly trickling out from the state agencies that participated, but the governor’s detractors aren’t yet satisfied.
The Department of Business and Economic Development released a $144,086 tab for the trip Friday that included the governor and four other state employees.
House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell, who requested a full accounting of the trip, called that figure “clearly a low-ball estimate.”
“It’s ludicrous to mislead the taxpayers of Maryland at a time when people can’t pay their bills,” he said.
O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, said the trips can be worthwhile, but joked the governor’s entourage of more than 70 state officials, educators and business leaders was “great for the economy of Southeast Asia.”
The trip took the delegation through China, South Korea and Vietnam, and the businesspeople on the trip paid their own way.
“Could the same things have been accomplished with a smaller delegation? Why 16 to 20 academics?” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell also questioned the DBED figures. For instance, the department covered the costs for five people, but listed six hotel rooms in each country.
DBED spokeswoman Karen Glenn Hood explained Tuesday morning the sixth hotel room was for Secretary of State John McDonough. The rest of McDonough’s expenses were covered by his office, she said.
Mike Violette, president of Washington Labs Ltd., was one of the business representatives on the trip. He was looking to drum up business for his electronics testing business.
“Certainly, I rarely get a police motorcade. So that was pretty cool,” he said. “In Washington, I’m usually on the outside watching that stuff.”
He said the trip helped strengthen his relationships with Asian companies, particularly in South Korea, which he visited for the first time while on the trade mission.
“It certainly was a great conversation starter, being part of the [delegation],” Violette said. “We’re pretty well functioning in China and we’ve already done work in Vietnam to open things up, but it did reinforce the message there.”
The trip also helped strengthen ties in Maryland.
“Being on a trip like this, everyone is sharing some common experiences,” Violette said. “By day three, everybody has mapped each other out, the ice is broken, and you have some friendships started. And then you start to see some possible synergies on the domestic level.”
One of those shared experiences came on the way to the Great Wall. The tour bus came upon a mound of dirt in the middle of the road and, when fully loaded, couldn’t make it over. The group had to pile out and watch as the bus worked its way over the obstacle. Violette blogged about the experience here. And here are his posts on Vietnam and South Korea.