By Megan Poinski
Fourth in a series on contested Senate races
While opponents in other contested Montgomery County legislative races struggle to differentiate themselves on issues, in district 14, the Senate candidates and their supporters agree that there’s a lot that separates incumbent Sen. Rona Kramer and her Democratic primary Del. Karen Montgomery.
“I don’t need to use a campaign message to differentiate myself,” said Kramer. “We are extremely different.”
Both women have served in the General Assembly eight years representing the slice of Montgomery County bordered by Howard County to the northeast and Prince George’s County to the southeast.
Montgomery calls herself a progressive Democrat, and has more liberal views on state policy than Kramer. Montgomery said that she was comfortable in the House of Delegates, but Kramer’s stance on some of the issues—specifically on taxes for small businesses and on environmental issues – led her to jump into the Senate race. She said it was not an easy decision to make, and she has nothing personal against Kramer – just fundamental disagreements on political issues.
Kramer’s voting record “went against what I believe in” as a progressive Democrat, Montgomery said.
Montgomery said she believes in includes expanding services to people who are developmentally disabled, fairness in taxation, and more attention to the environment. She supports higher taxes for the wealthiest residents, as well as combined reporting of revenues for corporations, a controversial taxing method that lumps together all the business any subsidiaries do in the state.
Kramer also has strong viewpoints on the issues trumpeted by Montgomery, but she sees them differently. Kramer has been endorsed by Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett because of the financial strategy she supports. Montgomery’s tax plan is “proven to fail,” Kramer said, and will help continue a net loss of revenue to the county.
“She is promoting failed tax policies that will really hurt everyone,” Kramer said.
Aside from different policy strategies, Kramer said that leadership and experience are both on her side for the match-up. Kramer deals with tax policy as a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. She is also on the committees on audits, executive nominations, spending affordability, and pensions.
The teacher’s union, the League of Conservation Voters, and Progressive Maryland are all strongly supporting Montgomery.
“Sen. Kramer of all the Montgomery County senators has one of the lowest lifetime scores” in the Progressive Maryland scorecard, said Rion Dennis, PM’s acting executive director. Kramer scored 51% for the last four years, while Montgomery and the other two delegates in the district had 95% scores. Kramer “has been a strong advocate for working families” and “helping out people in her district,” Dennis said.
Jon Gerson, head of community outreach for the Montgomery County Education Association, said Kramer “was a key figure blocking passage of combined reporting,” thus enabling “large corporations not to pay their fair share of income tax.” The comptroller’s office estimates combined reporting would generate at least $100 million more in corporate taxes.
“You can’t support things [like education] and not support the measures to pay for them,” Gerson said. On the other side, “Karen is a former special education teacher who has been a very strong advocate of those who are disenfranchised.”
Kramer is one of the few business owners in the county delegation, managing shopping centers. She is a former president of the chamber of commerce, and has been endorsed by the Montgomery County Business Political Action Committee, particularly because of her role on the Budget and Taxation Committee, said Rich Parsons, head of the PAC. Kramer is needed there to protect the county’s interests. “We don’t just need warm bodies in these seats; we need real leaders,” he said.
Kramer has been endorsed by Gov. Martin O’Malley and Senate President Mike Miller. “People might not agree with her, but they respect her,” Miller said. “The person running against her took a walk on the whole special session,” in 2007 when major tax increases, slots and health care measures were passed.
Kramer said that this race is a challenge, but it is “more enjoyable” than the one she ran eight years ago that first got her to Annapolis. She knows more people, and has a track record; the Senate seat is the only elected office she has ever held.
Montgomery said that she is also enjoying her time on the campaign trail.
“I have dropped weight, and my doctor is very pleased with the direction my health has taking,” she said. “He says, ‘Obviously, the campaign agrees with you.’”