By Megan Poinski
Second in a series of seven articles
With 32 years in the General Assembly, Sen. Jennie Forehand is used to elections.
But she’s not used to fighting her way through a hotly contested Democratic primary with a former colleague from Montgomery County’s District 17.
Forehand (photo right) has not had a contested election for “a very long time,” she said. But she has one this year with former Del. Cheryl Kagan.
Kagan represented District 17, which includes Rockville, Gaithersburg and Garrett Park, for two terms, from 1995 until 2002. Kagan said that she thinks Forehand is a nice person with a distinguished and honorable record of public service, but she has been watching decisions made in Annapolis with increasing alarm.
“I believe in honoring Sen. Forehand for her 32 years of service, but I believe I can offer voters a better level of service in January,” Kagan said.
Forehand said she thinks that Kagan’s willingness to honor her long service is code for something else: branding the 74-year-old senator as too old to be effective. Forehand said she has expected a challenge from Kagan since 2006, when she received a call from a telephone poll that was likely fleshing out Kagan’s campaign strategies. The poll questions, Forehand said, centered on the age difference between the two women.
Forehand: “This is ageism”
“For me, this is ageism,” Forehand said. “I’m as wise as I am, and I am as able to do everything that I do. …I come from a family of marathon runners, and I am able to go the distance.”
Regardless of what Forehand thinks Kagan might be implying, the incumbent hopes the campaign will center on the issues, sentiments Kagan echoes.
Since leaving Annapolis, Kagan (photo right) has spent time working in the community. She was executive director of the Carl Freeman Foundation, which gives grants to community projects. She has also worked on several political campaigns, both in Montgomery County and in national politics.
Kagan unofficially entered the Senate race almost a year ago, with a campaign-related blog that she started on her home page. She said that she has always been the type to stand up and fight for what she believes in. That is what she is doing by running for the Senate, she said, and it is what she intends to do for the residents of District 17 if she is elected. Because Forehand has been in the Senate so long, Kagan said that she hasn’t done as much to meet with constituents through the years.
“She shows up at a ribbon-cutting, which is different than meeting people on their doorstep,” Kagan said. “People feel that they are ready for something new.”
Forehand said that she has considered it an honor to be uncontested for so many years, but is ramping up her campaign effort this year, knocking on doors and getting out to talk with constituents.
Because of her terms in Annapolis, Kagan said that many voters are already familiar with her and her leadership style, which she said is the key difference between her and Forehand.
Forehand said that constituents should be familiar with her record as well, and should remember the many things she has done for the county.
“If you take any eight of my years in the legislature and compare what she did to what I have done, if you just look at that, I would win.”
Key endorsements are split
Statewide elected officials are often reluctant to meddle in contested primaries in their own party, but both Gov. Martin O’Malley and Senate President Mike Miller are strongly supporting Forehand. She was a key vote in winning passage of O’Malley’s tax package in the 2007 special session.
Miller is supporting all four of the Montgomery County senators with challengers because of their experience. He said Forehand is “a veteran who’s got a great rapport with the delegates” in her district, and “the four are running as team.”
“Jennie’s been on the job, and she wants to come back,” Miller said. “Cheryl was in the General Assembly, and she walked away from it.”
The teacher’s union too has backed Forehand in its representative assembly. “She’s an incumbent with a 100% favorable voting record,” said Jon Gerson, who handles candidate support for the Montgomery County Education Association. “If you throw overboard incumbents with a good voting record, it makes it harder for a legislator to stick with you.”
But other significant groups are backing Kagan: on the environment, both the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club; on public safety, the unions for both the police and the firefighters; among women’s groups, NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland and the county chapter of the National Organization for Women; the Montgomery County Youth Slate and the Service Employees International Union.
The Montgomery County Business Political Action Committee has yet to endorse. Rich Parsons, who heads the PAC, said this race is one of its “tougher calls.” Both Forehand and Kagan “have been very good on business issues.”
Kagan said that the Senate campaign has been her most challenging run for office yet – even more difficult than her first run for office, when she faced 10 challengers for a single vacancy in the House of Delegates. There’s only one winner in this race, Kagan said, so it will take more money, more efforts, and more of a distinction between her and the incumbent.
Forehand, who has also been endorsed by the Democratic Women’s PAC, said endorsements don’t matter that much. She said she won her first election to the House in 1978 without a single endorsement.
And, Forehand said, she’s not too old to be an effective senator.
“70 is the new 50. At least, it is for me,” Forehand said.
Editor Len Lazarick contributed to this story.