By Len Lazarick
The Democratic primaries in Montgomery County, are shaping up as the most interesting and contentious races prior to the general election’s expected O’Malley-Ehrlich rematch.
Montgomery county is Maryland’s most populous jurisdiction, and has no Republicans in elected office. Still, many of the Democratic incumbents are facing tough battles in September.
In half of the county’s eight legislative districts, incumbent senators are being challenged by current and former delegates from their own districts. County Executive Ike Leggett, the former chairman of the state Democratic Party, is concerned about how the situation will affect the general election.
“All the action is basically in the Democratic primary,” Leggett told MarylandReporter.com in an interview. “We need to make sure our party is well united in November.”
Leggett was the headliner last Thursday at a fundraiser for Del. Anne Kaiser, a two-term delegate who chairs the education policy panel on the House Ways and Means Committee. Kaiser has been endorsed by the liberal Progressive Maryland and got the nod Wednesday from the local teacher’s union.
“We have so many contested races, we have to make sure we have no permanent scars because of these races,” Leggett said. He pointed out that O’Malley needs a strong margin of victory in the county, which also has the state’s second-largest bloc of Republican voters.
“The governor will win in Montgomery County,” Legett said. “We want to make sure he really wins this county.”
The primaries get even more complicated when it comes to local endorsements.
Kaiser is running on a slate with Sen. Rona Kramer, who is being challenged by Del. Karen Montgomery. Montgomery has been endorsed for senate by the same organizations as Kaiser. Their district runs along the Howard County border from Burtonsville in the east through Olney to Damascus.
“Rona Kramer has been a great senator in my mind,” Kaiser said. “She’s been an excellent partner to me.”
Kaiser said when one of her bills “needs an extra push” to pass in the Senate, “she’s the one who takes care of me.”
“On the things that fundamentally matter to me, she’s with me 110%,” Kaiser said.
Kramer, who sits on the Budget and Taxation Committee, describes herself as “fiscal moderate” who is more liberal on social issues.
Montgomery County “shouldn’t be supporting the rest of the state,” Kramer said. “The extremists in the county want Montgomery County to be giving everything away and not supporting its own needs.”
She noted that she has a 100 percent voting record on teachers issues, “but they don’t own me. They can’t call me and say you will vote this way or that way.”
Montgomery said she’s challenging Kramer because “she’s not representing the people in this district as she should be,” particularly on environmental issues. She also disagrees with Kramer on taxes, noting that the wealthiest pay a smaller share of their incomes than do the middle class and have enjoyed “enormous tax breaks” on the federal level.
In neighboring District 19 which splits Olney, freshman Del. Roger Manno is challenging freshman Sen. Mike Lenett. That race seems as much about style as about issues.
Lenett, like six of the eight incumbent Montgomery senators, was endorsed by the local teachers union. However, Manno enjoys the backing of 16 different trade unions, as well as the endorsement of the former senator and delegates from his district.
“There’s a sense that the incumbent hasn’t brought people together,” Manno said.
Freshman Del. Saqib Ali describes his challenge of District 39’s Sen. Nancy King, a former delegate appointed to the post, as “a classic insider versus outsider race … a classic liberal versus conservative race.”
But King too was endorsed by the teachers, and Ali said he didn’t get a chance to win the nod.
“I didn’t even get interviewed,” he said
“On the key issues of education policy, I’m in the right,” Ali said. He pointed to King’s support of legislation allowing tax credits for businesses that contribute to private schools. “I don’t think we should give government vouchers to students in private religious schools.”
In an e-mail, Tom Israel, MCEA executive director, noted that King “has been a strong advocate for education and education funding” on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and its education subcommittee.
“That and her prior experience on the Montgomery County Board of Education have made her a longtime friend of MCEA,” Israel said.
In District 17, four-term Sen. Jennie Forehand has an aggressive challenge from former delegate Cheryl Kagan, who has been campaigning for the seat since last year. The teachers are backing Forehand.
In an unusual move, the Montgomery teachers did not endorse the chairman of the Senate delegation, Rich Madaleno, who faces no challenge in the primary.
“Rich has always been a great advocate for public education,” Israel admitted, but his proposal to shift some of the cost of teachers pensions back to the counties would have hurt Montgomery County in particular.
“We look forward to continuing to work with Rich, and we know he will continue to be an advocate for our schools” Israel said. “But the credibility of MCEA’s recommendations would be shot if there were no consequences for an action that so seriously threatened the interests of our schools and our county.”