Running as a Republican in Maryland’s 12th legislative district, which stretches from southwest Baltimore County to Columbia in Howard County, is an uphill battle.
The district hasn’t had a Republican state delegate since Don Murphy’s final term ended in January of 2003 — Murphy is the only Republican delegate in District 12’s history.
Despite the long odds, three Republican candidates, all from the Baltimore County side of the district, have announced their candidacy for one of District 12’s three delegate seats.
Their campaigns come amid an upset of the district’s legislative slate: Sen. Edward Kasemeyer’s surprise retirement, which prompted incumbent Del. Clarence Lam, a Democrat, to withdraw from the House race and run for Senate.
When Lam announced his candidacy for state Senate, he said that he and the other two incumbent Democrats were seeking a House candidate to support in Lam’s place, but as of Feb. 22 had not announced a decision.
As of Feb. 23, three Democrats were filed to run for District 12’s House seats: incumbent Dels. Eric Ebersole and Terri Hill, and James Howard of Columbia.
The filing deadline is Feb. 27.
“[Kasemeyer] retiring does leave an opening,” Republican candidate Melanie Harris said, likening the Democrats’ strategy of seeking a replacement to a game of musical chairs.
“It’s an election year,” Harris said. "The people need to find the replacement.”
The Republican slate
Lives in: Halethorpe
Background: Russell went to a military high school and enlisted in the Maryland National Guard at 18. He said he has been deployed twice: once to Egypt as a multinational force observer on the border with Israel, and once to the Baltimore riots after Freddie Gray.
Aside from his military career, Russell said he has worked for other Republican politicians, including Gov. Larry Hogan and Del. Bob Long. He ran for the House of Delegates in District 44B in 2014, losing to Democratic Dels. Charles Sydnor and Pat Young.
Top three issues:
- Health care: Russell is focused in particular on the opioid crisis, which he said needs to be solved by providing resources such as counseling and rehab. “Addiction is not a crime,” he said. “It’s a disease.”
- Education: Russell said he is focused on boosting funding for schools and on ensuring that they are not overcrowded. He said that as a child with learning disabilities including ADHD, he learned how difficult it is to get one-on-one attention in a crowded classroom.
- Taxes: The Republican candidate described himself as being “in step and line” with Hogan on taxes, advocating for spending tax dollars efficiently and making sure taxpayers are not “overburdened.”
On running in a blue district: “I believe as a Republican in Maryland, we’re more moderate than our Democratic opponents. I’m willing to sit down and go across the aisle.”
Lives in: Wynnewood
Background: Now retired, Cockey said he spent 40 years in Baltimore's restaurant industry and owned a tavern in Upper Fells Point — a career that he said put him in touch with many local political officials.
Top three issues:
- “Accountability”: Keeping an eye on “the money we dole out to other jurisdictions,” Cockey said, is his top priority, naming Baltimore City in particular. “Our money goes in there to prop them up,” he said. “So there has to be some accountability with the money the state gives to that city.”
- Teachers and first responders: The money saved from “keeping an eye on where the money’s being spent,” Cockey said, should be used to pay teachers and first responders; people “aren’t paid for what they’re worth,” he said.
- "Level playing field”: Cockey said he would like government to provide a “level playing field for everyone,” citing education as an example. It’s an issue that has weight in the district's Baltimore County side, where community members have long fought for a fix to the aging Lansdowne High School.
On running in a blue district: “I’m a person, not a party,” Cockey said, adding that he believes young people will research him and “understand that I’m the oldest, the most experienced” — and, because he is retired, a “full-time candidate.”
Lives in: Arbutus
Background: With a background in event marketing, Harris said she recently worked for a state senator, though she declined to name him because he had not given permission and “he’s not a part of my campaign.”
Harris said she has also been involved in the Baltimore Young Republicans and Maryland Young Republicans, serving in the leadership for each club.
Top three issues:
- Taxes and spending: “I consider myself a Hogan Republican,” Harris said, saying she wants to focus on “letting people keep more of the money that they make” and maintaining a balanced budget.
- Education: Harris said she wants to “be that loud voice” for Lansdowne High School in advocating for a fix to the building, saying that she wants to make sure students have “a fair opportunity to education regardless of ZIP code.”
- Opioid epidemic: Last year, Harris said, she lost a close friend to opioids. She said one way she would work to stem the crisis would be to spread information about Maryland’s “Good Samaritan” laws, which give those who call emergency services in the event of an overdose limited criminal immunity.
On running in a blue district: “Where I live is slightly more Republican,” Harris said of Arbutus. “But I love my community —we all work together, play together, and it’s the same in Howard County. I feel there’s a place for me. So why not now?”