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Fallston / Joppa
News Maryland Harford County Fallston / Joppa

In District 7, team of incumbent delegates fights challenge from Harford candidate

Three incumbent Republicans running for the three seats in the House of Delegates in District 7, which encompasses western Harford County and eastern Baltimore County, are being challenged in their party primary by two other candidates, one with Harford County ties who has been campaigning across the district for months and ruffling the incumbents' feathers in the process.

David Seman, a Jarrettsville resident, has been running an aggressive campaign as he tries to unseat one of the three incumbents, Dels. Patrick McDonough, Rick Impallaria and Kathy Szeliga, in the Republican primary next week. A fifth candidate is also running for the GOP nomination, Tina Sutherland of Middle River.

The Democrats have filed one candidate for each of the three delegate seats, Bob Bowie Jr. of Monkton; Pete Definbaugh of Baldwin; and Norman Gifford Jr., of Chase, so they don't have a contested primary. The names will be on the Democratic primary ballot.

In the district's Senate race, incumbent Sen. J.B. Jennings, of Joppa, is unopposed in the Republican primary and will face Democrat Kim Letke, of Joppa, who is unopposed in her primary, in the November general election. Their names will be on their respective party's primary ballots.

Large area, many voters

District 7, which has voted solidly Republican in legislative races since its creation prior to the 2002 election, has gained more Harford voters as a result of redistricting two years ago, which added areas north and east of Fallston, including Norrisville, Upper Cross Roads and Jarrettsville, which had formerly been in the 35th District.

The district also takes in Fallston and Joppa in Harford County and Middle River, Chase, While Marsh, Perry Hall, Kingsville, Baldwin, Jacksonville and Monkton in Baltimore County.

Even with redistricting, however, there are still about 1,600 more Baltimore County voters in a district with 90,499 registered voters, 46,039 in Baltimore County and 44,460 in Harford County. Prior to the last redistricting, the split was closer to 60-40 Baltimore over Harford County.

According to figures from the Harford County and Baltimore County boards of election, there are 21,230 Republicans in the Harford portion of District 7 and 17,360 Republicans in the Baltimore County portion, 38,590 in all.

Democrats in the Harford portion number 14,965 and 20,180 in the Baltimore County portion, 36,144 in all. There are 8,265 unaffiliated or minor party voters registered in Harford, 8,499 in Baltimore County, 16,764 in all.

Of the three incumbent delegates, both McDonough, who lives in Middle River, and Impallaria, who lives in Joppa, are seeking fourth successive terms in the House of Delegates (McDonough also served a single term from 1979 to 1983). Szeliga, a Perry Hall resident, was elected four years ago and replaced Jennings, who was elected to the Senate after serving two terms in the House.

Conservative positions

Seman ran unsuccessfully for one of the delegate seats in District 35 four years ago, failing to unseat one of the incumbents in the Republican primary. According to the candidate questionnaire he completed for the Baltimore Sun, he would have voted against the Maryland Dream Act, gay marriage, transgender rights, the flush tax, marijuana decriminalization, increases in the flush tax, gun control legislation and repeal of the death penalty.

That doesn't necessarily distinguish him from the incumbents, however, as all of them voted against the majority of the legislation in the survey.

Seman signs can be found all over Fallston and Jarrettsville, and most of have been up for months. The owner of a home improvement business, Seman, 55, is chairman of the Jarrettsville/Norrisville Community Council, a member of the Harford County Planning Advisory Board and president of the Harford County Republican Club.

Seman said Tuesday that while he may be conservative, "I plan to work for all the people of District 7, without political grandstanding and bluster."

Without criticizing any of the incumbents by name, he said the district has been poorly represented and its residents' needs have largely been ignored because of an unwillingness by the incumbents to work within the Democratic controlled legislature.

He also said he is a business owner and family person first, not a professional politician. "I can promise you that once the 90 days (legislative session) is over, I will be back in the community running my business," he said. "That's the only way I can be an effective legislator, to be in the community and talking with the people I represent."

Seman said he has learned from mistakes he made four years ago, namely he didn't start campaigning early enough and didn't raise enough money. He got out early this time and said his fundraising also has gone well, allowing him to send out several mailers that his opponents are attacking as not truthful.

"I've been very well received everywhere in the district, in Harford and Baltimore counties," Seman said.

Impallaria, 51, manages rental properties he owns and works in the building trades. He has chaired the Harford County legislative delegation the past few years and says he tries to work closely with his fellow delegates, regardless of their party.

Impallaria said he and the other two incumbents are optimistic of victory, noting they have done polling that shows them comfortably ahead.

"We all run as a team and we stay in touch with our constituents," he added.

'Dirty' tactics

Impallaria dismissed the Seman challenge as based on "dirty" campaign tactics, such as a mailed piece Impallaria said was aimed at him and his business voting record and "not based on any facts."

"It's disgusting to have to deal with, but we have to deal with it," he said, adding that "people don't like negative campaigning."

McDonough, 70, a veteran host on talk radio in Baltimore, is probably best known for his efforts, albeit unsuccessful, to pass legislation requiring English to be the official state language and other initiatives to restrict immigration into the state.

He and Impallaria have garnered considerable goodwill in the Harford County community with their annual memorial flag waving event at the Route 152 overpass along I-95 each Sept. 11.

"I think we are in very good shape," he said. "We've done direct mail and been knocking on doors and out on the street. We have maybe 20 to 30 percent new voters, but I think all three of us [incumbents] have good name recognition as individuals, plus we have a huge advantage with four of us [including Jennings] working as a team."

McDonough also complained about direct mail pieces from the Seman campaign, including one that attacked both Impallaria and Szeliga for voting for bond bills, one to fund renovations at Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton and the other for the Kingsville Fire Hall. The two totaled about $500,000 in state funds.

"I take everyone seriously when I campaign, and we've always had challenges, but this is one dirtiest campaigns I've been involved in," McDonough continued. "Rick [Impallaria] has one of the highest pro-business voting records in the legislature, all three of us are small business people."

District 7 is so big geographically and so diverse, McDonough said, that to represent it properly he has to be involved with two legislative delegations, two county administrations, and two school districts, and "we really have to be involved in all the Harford County legislation, not just that affecting our district. I think it's been a credit to all three of us that we have worked closely with Democrats from Harford County."

Szeliga, 52, owns a general contracting company with her husband. When she won her first term four years ago, she showed her mettle as a campaigner in emerging from a crowded primary field to get the GOP nomination and then won easily in the general election.

She was out putting up signs Wednesday afternoon, while also knocking on doors in a get-out-and-vote push and said her campaign is "going pretty well."

Upset about taxes

"People are wildly upset about taxes in Maryland," Szeliga said. "I know I have been primarily talking with Republican voters, but I'm not exaggerating. I just put a sign up at a house that's for sale in Kingsville where the people are moving to Delaware; they are voting with their feet. Even at early voting the Democrats I talk with are upset about 40-plus taxes that have been approved the past eight years."

Szeliga said she was able to make a difference during her first term, noting she was honored to be elected minority whip by the House Republicans, giving her a leadership position in her first term; and received a legislator of the year award from the Maryland Society of Anesthesiologists for her efforts to clear up an issue with pediatric dental care. Maryland Business for Responsive Government has also honored her.

Szeliga said she looks forward to returning to Annapolis, noting she was among the legislators who pushed through reforms of the state estate tax and has "an appetite for more" such efforts.

Like the other two incumbents, Szeliga said she is disappointed in the Seman campaign's negative and misleading information, adding that "nobody believes Rick [Impallaria] isn't a good vote for business" and that her support for the Kingsville and Ladew Gardens bond issues aren't beneficial to District 7.

"It's disappointing," she said, "but the voters are smart enough to know a vote for me is a vote for solid conservative principles."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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