Big Changes Coming to the State Senate
By Josh Kurtz
There are 33 Democrats in the Maryland Senate. But how many will be back after the 2018 elections?
That’s one of the most intriguing (and ignored) questions of this election cycle.
Turnover in legislative chambers is inevitable and sometimes significant. After the 2014 election, well over one-third of all members of the House of Delegates were new.
But this time, between a combination of retirements, bids for higher office, scrapes with the law and possible defeats, the state Senate is likely to see one of its biggest shake-ups in recent memory – perhaps entirely on the Democratic side. If you add senators in their 70s who are currently running for re-election but could conceivably change their minds given a last-minute health calamity, the list gets even larger (to be sure, a last-minute health calamity could of course befall anyone at any age).
What these Democratic senators decide to do and how they fare as they seek re-election will have a great bearing on the make-up of the chamber. Republicans are aggressively targeting half a dozen Democratic-held districts, and even Democratic strategists concede that they will probably lose a couple of seats.
What’s ironic is that while there could be record turnover, most of the Senate leadership will remain intact. So there will be a change in personnel and tone and average and median age, but not in the management of the chamber. Still, a big change in personnel now means even more significant change is just over the horizon.
As of now, all 14 Republicans in the chamber are attempting to come back, and Democrats have no obvious targets for picking up seats. So here’s a look at all the Democratic senators who will be – or could be – gone come 2019:
Sen. Ulysses Currie (Prince George’s): Currie, 80, wanted to step down a year ago but changed his mind after the process to replace him became too messy. There will be a competitive two- or three-candidate Democratic primary to replace him, but Democrats will hold the seat.
Sen. Ed DeGrange (Anne Arundel): DeGrange, 68, was gearing up for re-election, but decided recently to step down. Del. Pam Beidle will be the Democratic nominee – a tad more liberal than the departing incumbent, but also more energetic, and a political force in her own right. Republicans haven’t settled on a candidate: Anne Arundel County Councilman John Grasso originally announced for the seat, then opted for a quixotic bid for county executive instead. Will he change course again? The general election should be competitive.
RUNNING FOR OTHER OFFICES
Sen. Jim Brochin (Baltimore County): He’s running for county executive, and his district, which runs from Towson to the Pennsylvania border, is in serious danger of flipping to the GOP. Del. Chris West is the likely Republican nominee; Baltimore County Democratic Chairman Robbie Leonard and community planner Gretchen Maneval are competing for the Democratic nomination.
Sen. Rich Madaleno (Montgomery): Madaleno is running for governor, and his seat will remain in Democratic hands. Del. Jeff Waldstreicher is running aggressively for the seat, and Dana Beyer, who challenged Madaleno in the 2014 Democratic primary, has not ruled out another run.
Sen. Roger Manno (Montgomery): Manno is one of a handful of Democrats looking to succeed U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D) in the 6th District. He’ll likely be replaced by Del. Ben Kramer (D), so no partisan turnover here.
Sen. Anthony Muse (Prince George’s): Muse has declared a bid for county executive. Del. Jay Walker (D) is the favorite to succeed him, though the political situation in this district is a little fluid.
Sen. Victor Ramirez (Prince George’s): Ramirez is locked in a tough battle for state’s attorney with former Del. Aisha Braveboy (D). There is zero chance his seat will flip to the GOP, but the Democratic field may take a while to settle.
Sen. John Astle (Anne Arundel): His bid for mayor of Annapolis crashed a couple of weeks ago, and while it’s widely assumed he won’t seek another Senate term in 2018, he hasn’t said so definitively. Community and party activist Sarah Elfreth is already campaigning for the Democratic nomination, and former County Councilman Jamie Benoit’s name surfaces from time to time. But this is a big Republican target no matter who the Democrats nominate: former Del. Ron George is already seeking the Senate seat, and Del. Herb McMillan has not ruled out doing so.
Sen. Nat Oaks (Baltimore city): How much longer is this guy going to be around? Indicted in a corruption probe, and could be vulnerable to a tough Democratic primary challenge no matter happens with his criminal case. Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon is circling around this race; it would not be surprising to see her run.
COULD RUN FOR SOMETHING ELSE
Sen. Cheryl Kagan (Montgomery): Has not ruled out running for county executive, and could also wind up as a candidate for lieutenant governor in 2018. Her seat would remain in the Democratic column if she left.
VULNERABLE IN THE DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY
Sen. Joanne Benson (Prince George’s): Former Del. Tiffany Alston (D) and retired Navy officer Everett Browning are already challenging Benson, and the Democratic field could grow. Alston is a flawed candidate, and Benson is favored. But it’s an unpredictable year, especially in Prince George’s. So Benson must be considered on the “watch” list.
Sen. Joan Carter Conway (Baltimore city): Her bizarre spotty attendance in the final days of this year’s legislative session sparked wild speculation that the chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environment Committee would not return in 2018 – or at least wouldn’t seek re-election. But Del. Mary Washington’s announcement that she would seek the Senate seat seems to have strengthened Conway’s resolve to run again. Washington is a more than plausible challenger, but her candidacy seems a little hastily thrown together, especially now that the rest of the District 43 delegation is arrayed against her. Conway has myriad institutional advantages but will still have to work hard to secure another term.
Sen. Nathaniel McFadden (Baltimore city): The veteran lawmaker and Senate president pro tem is involved in one of the marquee primary contests of the cycle. Del. Cory McCray is a rising political star who is running an aggressive, generational-themed campaign. But McFadden, who was elected to the Senate in 1994 and also spent five years in the Baltimore City Council, has built up a lot of good will in the East Baltimore district and will have the full support of Senate President Mike Miller’s political machine. Yet the contrast and energy level between the two – McCray is 34, McFadden is 73 – is stark. This should be a close and fascinating race until the end.
Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (Baltimore County): Nathan-Pulliam, who is 78, is completing her first term in the Senate, but has served in Annapolis since 1995. She is being challenged by Aletheia McCaskill, a union activist. If key union groups crank up to oust Nathan-Pulliam, she will be in trouble. And this is another generational battle: McCaskill is 45.
Sen. Doug Peters (Prince George’s County): Peters is being pummeled by his challenger, wealthy defense contractor Tim Adams, who is intimating on the campaign trail that the three-term incumbent, who also served on the County Council and the Bowie City Council, is corrupt. Adams has long been civically active, and his wife, Sheila Tillerson Adams, is the administrative judge of the Prince George’s County Circuit Court. Race could also play a role in the primary outcome, as the 23rd District is about 60 percent African-American. Adams is black, Peters is white.
Sen. Barbara Robinson (Baltimore city): Another incumbent facing a much younger challenger in Baltimore city – in this case, Del. Antonio Hayes. Robinson is reportedly 79; Hayes is 40 years her junior. Robinson was appointed to the Senate in late 2016 after spending a decade in the House. She is more entrenched than some Hayes partisans imagine, but he will outwork her dramatically.
VULNERABLE IN THE GENERAL ELECTION
Sen. Kathy Klausmeier (Baltimore County): Faces a tough challenge from first-term Del. Christian Miele (R), in an east county district where Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is very popular.
Sen. Jim Mathias (Lower Eastern Shore): Only by force of his personality and his long record of public service does Mathias stay in office. Because his district is very Republican now. Del. Mary Beth Carozza (R) is his likely general election challenger – and she will be tough.
Sen. Ron Young (Frederick County): The city of Frederick is trending Democratic, but there are still plenty of Republicans in Young’s district and he is a top GOP target, despite more than 40 years in public service. Republicans have a competitive primary between wealthy businessman Craig Giangrande and Frederick County Councilmember Billy Shreve.
OTHER DEMOCRATIC SENATORS WHO ARE 70 OR OLDER AND SEEKING RE-ELECTION
Sen. Edward Kasemeyer (Baltimore-Howard counties): The chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee is 72.
Sen. Delores Kelley (Baltimore County): She’s 81.
Sen. Mac Middleton (Charles County): The chairman of the Finance Committee is 72.
Sen. Mike Miller (Prince George’s/Southern Maryland): The venerable Senate president is 74.