Howard County Council member Calvin Ball had an idea to start a statewide minority caucus — an idea birthed from his experiences as the only minority on the council and his desire to support other minorities in similar situations.
On Saturday, with help from a handful of other elected officials who attended an intimate planning lunch for the caucus, Ball started to bring the idea to life.
The group, which met directly following the conclusion of the Maryland Association of Counties annual summer conference in Ocean City, talked about the different needs the caucus can serve, primarily creating a support network for minority elected officials throughout the state, many whom are the only minorities serving on their local government bodies.
Craig Mathies, a Democratic county commissioner in Somerset County who was elected in 2010, said he knows first hand that there is a need for a group of local elected officials focused on addressing minority issues.
“In my situation being the only minority on the (Somerset County Commissioners) and the first one in the history of the county, it’s made me aware of how insignificant minorities have been in the past in the decision making,” Mathies said.
After Mathies noted Somerset County is 42 percent black, the other elected officials reacted with a mix of surprise and disappointed.
“You’re 42 and you’re the first person,” MACo president Ingrid Turner repeated what Mathies just said, shocked.
Turner, a Democrat on the Prince George’s County Council, is the first black women president of MACo.
Charles County Commissioner Debra Davis, a Democrat who, like Mathies, was first elected in 2010, said she is only the second black to be elected to the Board of Commissioners.
“I’m challenged every day,” Davis said about learning the ins and outs of the job. She noted that is looking “to deal with some of these issues in a more intimate setting” and the minority caucus will offer her that opportunity.
Responding to Davis’s comments, Dorothy Bailey joked: “Sometimes you just want to be able to call someone at 2 o’clock in the morning and say ‘Am I really crazy?’ and have them say, ‘Yes, you really are.’”
Bailey, former chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Council, said many minority elected officials do not have a mentor they can call.
Ball hopes that those in need of a mentor can find one at the caucus.
“One of the challenges (is) you don’t know who has your best interests at heart,” he said. “It’s nice to know someone who will have your back.”
Mathies agreed: “If you don’t have a sounding board, if you don’t have someone you can talk to, it can be so frustrating that you just quit.”
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, a Democrat from Prince George’s County, stopped by the lunch after he delivered the closing address for the MACo conference.
“I think this is a great development,” Brown said, offering the caucus the support of his office.
Brown noted that minorities elected officials sometimes have a greater burden than others.
“They’re representing the entire community, but there’s an expectation that we advocate … for the interest of minority issues,” he said.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, immediate past president of MACo, also attended to the lunch to offer his support for Ball and the cause.
He also offered ideas for the caucus, suggesting it create a pipeline of elected officials that MACo can refer to when there is an opening on one of the two spots often reserved for MACo members on state boards and commissions.
Ulman also encouraged the caucus at some point consider bringing in an redistricting expert to discuss the issues and opportunities the once-a-decade process creates for minorities in various jurisdictions.
Ball also brought many of his own ideas to the table — having the caucus aid in succession planning for retiring minority elected officials, using the organization to tackle fundraising issues and other challenges minorities face in campaigns and helping elected officials address issues minorities are facing in their communities, among others.
Though the group did not hammer out all the details (they discussed having another larger planning meeting for the caucus sometime this fall), Ball seemed pleased with the results.
“This conversation demonstrated that the time is right to embrace this diversity across the state and the local level,” he said after the lunch. “I’m excited about the promise this holds on empowering current and elected officials as well as preparing emerging leaders across the state.”