Barring an upset of historic proportions, state Sen. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin will be heading to Capitol Hill rather than Annapolis in January.
Raskin’s all-but-certain election to Congress in his Democrat-dominated district will leave a void for many in the State House, where the scraggly haired legislator with the baggy suits has been his colleagues’ go-to guy on constitutional matters and an influential member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where he has been praised by Democrats and Republicans.
Such bipartisan agreement has been in short supply in Congress, prompting many pundits to question why the well-regarded and oft-quoted constitutional law professor would abandon a state Senate where his party is in the majority for the U.S. House where Republicans rule. Raskin, D-Montgomery, said his 10 years on the Senate panel have prepared him well for the challenge.
“The great thing about JPR is it’s a committee with very low partisanship and open to new ideas,” Raskin said, using the panel’s three letter nickname and citing the recently passed justice reinvestment bill that would change Maryland’s focus from incarceration to treatment for non-violent criminals. Gov. Larry Hogan is expected to sign the bill in the coming weeks.
“I will try to bring that JPR spirit with me to Washington,” Raskin said. “Washington needs a dose of serious bipartisan analysis and legislative action.”
Raskin spoke on Wednesday afternoon, his voice still raspy from his Democratic primary victory the previous day. The American University law professor is seeking the seat held by U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who won the Democratic primary Tuesday to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat.
Sen. H. Wayne Norman Jr., a Republican, said he has no doubt that his Democratic colleague on JPR will be an effective representative.
Raskin is “very open minded” when it comes to acknowledging flaws in his own legislation and making amendments or even withdrawing the bill altogether, said Norman, who represents parts of Harford and Cecil counties.
“That’s the kind of guy who’s going to make a good congressman,” Norman added. “He’ll be an asset down on the Hill.”
Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and JPR chair, called Raskin his “closest friend” in the General Assembly.
“I lean on him quite a bit,” Zirkin said. “I lean on Jamie not only for constitutional questions. He is a moral compass.”
Zirkin said he was torn as he campaigned for Raskin, including spending Election Day at a voting site in Silver Spring.
“I was rooting for him to win, for the country, and rooting for him to lose, for me,” Zirkin said.
“He is going to be a great congressman,” Zirkin added. “Clearly that place needs help. He is as non-partisan as you can get.”
Raskin will face Emmitsburg attorney Daniel L. Cox, winner of the Republican primary, in the general election in November. Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-to-1 in the 8th Congressional District, which encompasses parts of Carroll, Frederick and Montgomery counties.