ANNAPOLIS – Six state lawmakers are campaigning this year to leave the State House in favor of a seat in the U.S. Capitol, and a seventh says he will file campaign documents within a week with hope to make the move to Congress as well.
If victorious, five of the declared candidates – all Democrats – may be in for a rude awakening: They would leave a legislative body where they enjoy a comfortable majority for a congressional chamber in which they will likely be outnumbered by Republicans.
The two other candidates – both Republican – said being in the majority would be a refreshing change.
All seven face the seeming hurdle of campaigning for Congress during a hectic 90-day General Assembly session that is entering only its third week. The session ends April 11, just 15 days before the primary election.
But each candidate said serving in the Maryland legislature enables them to showcase for voters the political acumen that would serve the electorate well on Capitol Hill.
After leaving the State House for the day, the candidates’ nights and weekends are devoted to their congressional races.
“I start in the morning with my campaign manager and I end my day with my campaign manager,” Del. Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s, said of her daily conversations as she seeks the Democratic nomination for Rep. Donna F. Edwards’s seat in the 4th Congressional District.
Edwards, a Democrat, is leaving the House in a bid to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D).
Three of the legislators are running against each other to succeed U.S. Rep. Christopher Van Hollen, a Democrat who also is seeking Mikulski’s seat. The trio vying in the 8th Congressional District consists of Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin and Dels. Kumar P. Barve and Ana Sol Gutierrez, all of Montgomery County.
Del. Dereck E. Davis, D-Prince George’s, is competing against Pena-Melnyk for Edward’s seat.
On the Republican side, Del. Kathy Szeliga is running for the GOP nomination in the race to succeed Mikulski.
Del. Patrick L. McDonough, R-Harford and Baltimore counties, says he will file papers Thursday with the state Board of Elections in a bid for the party’s nomination to unseat U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat who represents the state’s 2nd Congressional District.
General Assembly strategies
On the campaign trail, Raskin has touted the liberal causes he successfully championed in the General Assembly, including same-sex marriage, abolition of the death penalty and giving people convicted of minor crimes a “second chance” by enabling them to have those offenses shielded by judicial order from public view after three years. Those legislative achievements came with Democratic majorities, which Raskin will likely not have if he wins a seat in the U.S. House, where Republicans hold a 246-188 edge, with one vacancy.
By contrast, Democrats hold 33 of the Maryland Senate’s 47 seats.
Raskin, however, said he is undaunted by the prospect of being in the minority and will spend this session on legislation that might not find favor in Congress, such as campaign-finance reform and requiring people found to have committed domestic violence to surrender their firearms.
“I’m not branching out in any new, unexpected direction,” he said.
But Raskin said he would limit to “no more than a dozen” the number of bills he introduces or chiefly co-sponsors this session, to enable more time for campaigning on evenings and weekends. Raskin has generally served as a lead sponsor on 35-to-40 bills in past sessions, he said.
Barve, in what could be described as a “State Circle strategy,” said he will not let up on his legislative activities during his congressional campaign.
Serving in the General Assembly and chairing the House Environment and Transportation Committee provides “an opportunity to demonstrate I’m an effective legislator on issues important to voters,” Barve said, citing a hearing he held Thursday on preventing the scourge of lead poisoning.
Gutierrez, of the House Appropriations Committee, said she also wants voters to focus on her work in the state legislature as a measure of how she would do in Congress. If elected, she said she would use her knowledge of the budgeting process toward ensuring adequate funding for transportation projects and early childhood education.
“We need to go back to seeing transportation as a common good and a common investment,” said
Gutierrez, who served as deputy administrator of the U.S. Transportation Department’s Research and Special Programs Administration in the 1990s.
Multitasking, planning ahead
ena-Melnyk, anticipating difficulty campaigning during a legislative session, said she opened her campaign headquarters last April, as the 2015 General Assembly session was ending. That decision gave her nine uninterrupted months to mount her congressional run in advance of this legislative session, she added.
Davis, who chairs the House Economic Matters Committee, did not return telephone and email messages seeking comment Friday.
Szeliga, R-Harford and Baltimore counties, said having been a working mother prepared her well for the “difficult” task of waging a U.S. senatorial campaign while serving as Republican whip in the General Assembly.
“Multitasking” is an essential task of raising children while having a job outside the home, added the former chief of staff to then-state Sen. Andrew P. Harris, R-Harford and Baltimore counties.
“We [working mothers] do a pretty good job at it,” Szeliga said.
She added that serving in the U.S. Senate, where Republicans hold a 54-46 majority, would be “delightful” after serving in the House of Delegates where the Democrats hold 91 of the 141 seats.
McDonough, R-Harford and Baltimore counties, said it is “very frustrating” to be in the minority party in what he called the “Maryland General Asylum.” McDonough, a staunch conservative, said he and his fellow Republicans “can do more” in Congress in the fight against terrorism and in repealing the president’s health insurance program, popularly known as Obamacare.
The candidates are permitted to raise funds for their congressional bids during the General Assembly session so long as the money goes to their federal campaign accounts. The candidates would have to surrender their seats in the General Assembly if they win the general election for Congress.
All of the candidates face hotly contested primaries.
In addition to Raskin, Barve and Gutierrez, other Democrats vying for Van Hollen’s seat are former television reporter and Marriott executive Kathleen Matthews; William Jawando, a former White House aide and adviser to then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan; David M. Anderson, a senior vice president at the Washington Center for Internships and Academic Seminars; and Joel Rubin, a former congressional liaison at the U.S. State and Energy departments.
For Edwards’ seat, Pena-Melnyk and Davis are competing against former Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown; former Army officer Warren Christopher; former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey; former Census Bureau statistician Terence Strait; Alvin Thornton, a political science professor who headed a Maryland commission on public-education funding; and former Prince George’s County Council Chair Ingrid Turner.
Republicans opposing Szeliga in the Senate primary are Richard J. Douglas, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense; John Graziani, a former contract and program manager at the Defense Department; Chrys Kefalas, deputy legal counsel to then-Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.; small-business owner Lynn Richardson; former U.S. Navy officer Anthony Seda; and Richard Shawver, who previously ran for Senate as a member of the Constitution Party.
McDonough will oppose Bill Heine, a project management specialist at Boeing Co., and attorney Yuripzy Morgan in the 2nd District’s Republican primary.