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Anti-incumbency, Einstein and what they mean for Md. politics

The last-minute scramble by office-seekers across the state to file their paperwork on time is over, but all that means is the real fun has just begun. Now, these races will actually play out.

I wanted to update our story on some General Assembly contests with the potential to be very, very interesting – both for the committee chairmanships the incumbents hold and the forces potentially at play in the districts – with a few more tidbits that didn’t make the original version.

Del. Joseph Vallario found himself in the spotlight often in the 2010 legislative session, perhaps most prominently during the brief attempted impeachment of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (who, incidentally, for all the fuss over the opinion he issued on gay marriage, is running unopposed.) Vallario, as head of the Judiciary Committee, led the vote that put an end to the impeachment.

Vallario drew more criticism, however, over complaints from female legislators that he treats them unfairly in his committee. Also, a drunk-driving bill died in Judiciary when Vallario didn’t put it up for a vote.

Those incidents have inspired opposition from within the Democratic party in Prince George’s County.

In an interview Thursday, Vallario said of the crowded field – 10 Democrats and two Republicans filed for the primary, seeking two seats – “the more the merrier.” (One of Vallario’s chief challengers, former police officer Percel Alston, is included in the original story. )

But the longtime head of Judiciary also said he would be taking the campaign “very seriously,” as he has with all previous contests. Vallario has served in the House of Delegates since 1975.

Vallario dismissed the notion that voter anger and an anti-incumbent mood could hurt long-serving, high-ranking state legislators.

“I don’t see that in this area, not with the General Assembly,” he said. “I think there’s an anti-incumbent spirit in some of the higher offices.”

Some state political watchers agree with that assessment.

“I don’t think the anti-government electorate is a strong in Maryland as it is in other places,” said University of Maryland professor Paul Herrnson.

“I think the [delegates and senators] in Maryland are very good at keeping in touch with their constituencies,” he said. “And there are some parts of the state that just haven’t been as affected by the economic problems the country has had.”

Johns Hopkins University professor Matthew Crenson said while the anti-incumbent mood will certainly hit the governor’s race, it will be “much less of an issue” in the General Assembly.

That, however, doesn’t appear to have diminished challengers’ hopes that voters will favor Annapolis outsiders this year.

Pocomoke Mayor Mike McDermott, a Republican, is hoping to unseat House Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway.

“It’s kind of that national sense of government in a little bit of a microcosm,” McDermott said of his perception of the mood on the Eastern Shore.

Conway, like Vallario, said it would be a hard-fought campaign.

“I look at it from the point of view that it’s going to be tough,” he said. “You’re just about in every race going to get a double whammy with this economy and this downturn. It’s going to have its impact.”

McDermott said he thinks Conway’s position atop the powerful budget committee, while normally a strength come reelection time, could prove to be a vulnerability as voters worry about mounting government borrowing.

He referenced Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – in regards to electing a dominant Democratic majority every four years.

“We’re living in an Einstein type of government. And this isn’t E=mc2.”

You can find the full list of state candidates here and local candidates here.

In addition to all the standard information about the candidates, the list also includes nicknames.

Most are pretty pedestrian, but some of the more interesting ones include:

Barry “Bail Out People” Chapman
Thomas E. “Pinkston” Harris
Brian “BMORE” Brown
Phillip “Phil Phest” Mills
Catherine “Tiger” Taggart-Ross