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Catonsville's incumbent legislators form a slate for 2018

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Four incumbent state legislators who represent parts of southwestern Baltimore County have filed for re-election as a slate, a contrast to the 2014 election cycle when the district's three House of Delegates seats were open after incumbents retired.

Delegates Eric Ebersole, 59, Terri Hill, 58, and Clarence Lam, 36, as well as state Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, 71, all Democrats, met at the elections office in Annapolis on Monday to submit their paperwork together, formally beginning the process of campaigning as a group.

The four are running separately — one candidate's outcome does not affect another's — but will pool resources and share campaign materials such as buttons and signs to mitigate costs and make their pitch to constituents as a team.

Although the formal filing deadline isn't until Feb. 27, Ebersole said the legislators wanted to signal to the voters in District 12, which covers portions of Baltimore and Howard counties, that they had "no doubt" about returning to the legislature.

"It's nice to send a message to the people who support us that we're going to continue," he said.

Campaign costs in District 12 depend on the competitiveness of the race and candidate experience, but in 2014 ranged from about $10,000 to $200,000 for individual delegate candidates, Lam said. The group hasn't decided fundraising goals yet.

One other candidate, Republican Michael Russell, has filed to run for a delegate's seat in the district, which stretches from Columbia to parts of Catonsville and Arbutus. He filed June 9.

The district has about 41,000 registered Democrats, more than double the number of Republicans, but Ebersole said the incumbents are approaching the race with the mindset that it will be competitive.

"To do anything less would be a disservice to the people who elected us originally," Ebersole said.

Russell, a 27-year-old Halethorpe resident and a student at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, ran unsuccessfully for the District 44B delegate seat in 2014, earning 17 percent of the vote, but said his experience in that campaign helped prepare him for the upcoming election. He was "hesitant," he said, and learning while he went along.

"I didn't want to waste people's money on something I was learning about," Russell said. He wants to focus on issues such as gerrymandering and school redistricting.

Russell said he understands the district is largely Democratic, but is confident in his ability to "really listen to [residents]," which he said he feels the incumbents are not doing.

Hill, Lam and Ebersole were elected to the House of Delegates in 2014 after all three delegates retired, which Lam called a "very unusual circumstance" and said might have been partly because of redistricting.

In 2012, the state adopted new legislative districts after receiving 2010 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which provides the information every 10 years. Districts 12A and 12B became a unified District 12.

The open seats paved room for the three new delegates. Kasemeyer has been a senator since 1995. He served in the Senate from 1987 to 1991, and is the chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee. Hill credits his experience, as well as his ability to "guide us but not direct us," in helping them represent the district as a team.

Ebersole, a longtime Howard County teacher and a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the legislature during this past session focused heavily on the state impacts of federal legislation, prioritizing issues such as health care and education in a largely Democratic state he said was "playing defense" against the presidential administration.

The Catonsville native was the primary sponsor on eight bills in 2017, one of which provided incentives to two- and four-year colleges to create programs for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

"That's really one of my bigger accomplishments," he said.

Lam and Hill, who are two of four physicians serving in the General Assembly, said their health-care experience gives them a unique perspective heading into a time when the future of the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama's health care law that expanded Medicaid, is uncertain.

In fiscal 2017, more than 150,000 Baltimore County residents were enrolled in health-care organizations that provide services to recipients of Medicaid, the state program that provides health care to low-income Americans.

Lam, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said health care was a priority heading into the next session because there's "a lot more that we can do" regarding access to care.

Three of the 11 bills Lam acted as the primary sponsor on in 2017 were related to health care, and he said the rise in opioid-related deaths in the state was a specific concern for him. Baltimore County had 208 heroin-related deaths in 2016, the second-most in the state after Baltimore City.

"It's not just an urban issue, it's a suburban issue, it's a rural issue," Lam said. "It's a really big issue across the state, so that's when we do need to bring in our expertise."

Half the bills Hill sponsored in the 2017 session were related to health, one of which required the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene and the state Department of Education to conduct assessments regarding the need for school districts' behavioral health services.

"It was a step towards one of my primary goals of helping the state to recognize, identify and treat behavioral issues at the earliest stage," Hill, a member of the Health and Government Operations Committee said.

Ebersole said the group plans on holding a campaign event in September. Running as a slate helps remind voters understand how much the four have come to depend on one another while crafting policy, Hill added.

"It's a benefit to serve with this group," she said. "We have variable strengths. We've come to know each other, respect each other. We work well together."

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