This year’s wide open races for the Prince George’s and Montgomery county councils hold the potential to transform our region, but ultimately Annapolis holds the purse strings and will set the context for policies that shape the communities where we live, learn, work and play. We will be closely tracking the candidates running for Maryland governor, state legislature, and in the competitive sixth congressional district.
This cycle’s marquee transportation issue will likely be Governor Larry Hogan’s blockbuster proposal to add four toll lanes to I-270, the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and the Beltway at a cost exceeding $9 billion under conservative cost estimates. We will be looking for candidates willing to prioritize true transportation alternatives with lower price tags like the MARC Growth and Investment Plan ($3.9 billion), Southern Maryland Rapid Transit ($1 billion), Metrorail extensions and new entrances and a variety of Bus Rapid Transit proposals, like the Corridor Cities Transitway ($545 million).
The Washington region’s Metro system has struggled as the only major transit system in the country without a dedicated revenue source, but there’s a growing consensus for dedicated funding among our region’s leaders. Will Annapolis step up to the plate with a bondable funding source, without insisting on labor concessions and governance changes that could jeopardize such a deal?
Many main streets through Maryland’s towns and cities are maintained as state highways that prioritize high-speed vehicular throughput at the cost of bike/pedestrian safety and walkable streetscapes. Changes to State Highway Administration leadership, state support for sidewalk maintenance, and various other proposals could move us closer to Vision Zero.
Maryland needs to expand its stock of affordable housing and preserve what it has. The state has finally gotten the Purple Line construction underway, and it will be important to put policies in place to maintain affordability in communities along the route.
The race for governor
The Washington Post named the Maryland race for governor among the top 10 gubernatorial races to watch this year. While Maryland is generally considered a blue state, it is unclear if Democrats will be able to win back the governor’s mansion.
Governor Hogan currently enjoys the advantages of incumbent status, a 71 percent approval rating, and a significant campaign cash lead over the seven Democrats running to face him in the general election. Additionally, following the loss of several Republican candidates in Virginia and Alabama, national groups like the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association have demonstrated interest in investing in a race that would make Governor Hogan the first GOP governor to be reelected in Maryland in more than 60 years.
On the Democratic side, seven candidates are vying to win the June 26 primary race: Rushern Baker (currently Prince George’s County Executive), Ben Jealous (the former head of the NAACP), Kevin Kamenetz (currently Baltimore County Executive), Rich Madaleno (currently a state senator), Alec Ross (tech entrepreneur), Jim Shea (lawyer), and Krish Vignarajah (previously a policy director to former First Lady Michelle Obama).
The race does not yet appear to have a clear frontrunner, but early January polls indicated that Baker, Kamenetz, and Jealous held the top three spots in the race. Baker has been endorsed by state officials like Attorney General Brian Frosh and Senator Chris Van Hollen, while Jealous has won endorsements from Senator Cory Booker, Progressive Maryland, SEIU, and CASA in Action.
During a December event, the candidates talked about the need for more funding for schools and mass transit but did not offer funding details. Since then, the candidates have focused on issues relating to healthcare, the environment, criminal justice reform, and income inequality. Most recently, Madeleno, Jealous, and Shea each announced support for a $15 hourly minimum wage. As the race progresses, we’ll be asking candidates on both sides of the aisle how they plan to prioritize transit projects and housing throughout the state.
Coming up, Democratic candidates will need to declare their picks for Lieutenant Governor by the February 27 filing deadline. Jealous was the first to announce his running mate, former Maryland Democratic Party Chair Susan Turnbull.
The race for the state legislature
The entire General Assembly is up for election this year, and Prince George's and Montgomery counties carry enormous weight. Together they elect 16 senators and 47 delegates — more than a third of the entire General Assembly. All are currently Democrats, although Montgomery County Republicans have expressed optimism about several upcounty delegate races.
Most districts elect one senator and three delegates district-wide, although a few (such as districts 23, 27 and 47 in Prince George's) are divided up into sub-districts that elect one or two delegates each. In theory, we could see as many as 70 Democratic and Republican primary contests, but so far only 16 races have more candidates than seats. Even there, it’s common practice for incumbents to anoint a successor to fill vacancies on their slate, making them heavy favorites. We’ll be looking to identify districts where transportation and development issues are likely to be a significant factor.
One such district is District 18 (Chevy Chase/Kensington/Wheaton) where Senator Rich Madaleno’s gubernatorial bid has sparked wide open races. Delegate Al Carr is the only one of the four incumbents seeking re-election. Skepticism towards the Purple Line has long been seen as a political necessity with the politically influential Chevy Chase residents of the district. Now that the Purple Line is finally under construction, we will be watching to see if candidates pivot to embrace this opportunity, seeking ample funding for the project and bus/trail connections to surrounding communities.
Eight candidates have filed so far: Carr, Ron Franks, Mila Johns, Helga Luest, Leslie Milano, Joel Rubin, Emily Shetty, and Jared Solomon, all Democrats.
In District 21 (College Park/Laurel/Odenton), delegate Barbara Frush is not running again while her two colleagues, Ben Barnes and Joseline Pena-Melnyk, are expected to. There's a crowded field to try to fill the open seat (and/or unseat one of the incumbents). One of them is long-time environmental advocate Matt Dernoga, who's worked for the last eight years for District 1 county council member Mary Lehman and is the son of Tom Dernoga, Lehman's predecessor on the county council. Lehman was Dernoga's chosen successor.
But the race got even more interesting when Lehman herself, who is term limited out of her seat, also declared her candidacy for delegate, putting her in opposition to her staffer and, indirectly, to her mentor. Meanwhile, the elder Dernoga, Tom, is running for the District 1 county council seat he once held. Other declared candidates for District 21 delegate include Democrats James McDowell, Fernando Raffucci, and Brencis Smith and Republican Chike Anyanwu.
The race for Maryland’s sixth congressional district
Rep. John Delaney (D) will leave his seat in the House of Representatives after becoming the first major Democrat to announce his run for president in 2020, opening a competitive race in Maryland this year. His sixth district seat represents parts of Montgomery and Frederick counties and all of Garrett, Allegheny, and Washington counties in western Maryland. Given its diverse make-up, the race is expected to get a significant amount of funding from both parties.
On the Democratic side, five candidates will face off: Andrew Duck (an Army vet, who has run for this seat in the past), Nadia Hashimi (pediatrician and author), Roger Manno (current state senator), Aruna Miller (current state delegate), and David Trone (local business owner, who ran for Congress in the nearby 8th district last cycle).
The candidates have not thus far outlined transit priorities and have largely focused their campaigns on health care and environmental concerns. However, Trone's website lists a plan for improving infrastructure in the state that calls for express lanes on I-70, walkable transit way along I-270, and fully funding long-planned improvements,“I-81, I-70, MARC rail and other key transportation projects in Western Maryland, to better connect our communities, reduce congestion, improve safety and provide more jobs.”
As of January, Trone and Miller had the biggest amounts of cash on hand, with over $750,000 each in campaign funds. However, Trone’s campaign is largely self-funded and suggests he’ll run a similar playbook to 2016, relying heavily on television and radio advertisements in the expensive regional media market. This may discourage outside groups like Emily’s List, who endorsed Miller, from contributing in the primary.
There are three Republican candidates running for the nomination: Amie Hoeber (the former Deputy Under Secretary of the Army under President Reagan, who has also previously run for this seat), Lisa Lloyd (a nurse practitioner), and Brad Rohrs (a real estate agent). Hoeber has been outspoken about how the transportation issues this district faces hurt economic growth and quality of life but has not yet outlined how she would specifically address this issue. Rohrs wants “to procure funding for road projects in Western Maryland, an expansion of 270, and a new bridge over the Potomac to relieve existing traffic congestion.”
As of now, Hoeber has the cash advantage in the race with $118,000 in campaign funds. She donated half of those funds herself and may signal that she is willing to repeat the self-funding strategy from her 2016 race.
Are you an undecided Maryland voter? What do you want the candidates to prioritize? Who do you see as a front runner?