Howard County's newest district is also one of its more interesting state-level races.
District 9B, formerly located in Carroll County, was redrawn in 2012 and now almost exclusively represents Ellicott City voters. The district was carved mostly along Ellicott City zip code lines, and touches a few small pieces of Columbia and Elkridge, as well.
In a race without incumbents for the single-member district, voters from both parties have a choice to make in the primary election June 24. In the running are a former state transportation secretary and delegate, a small business owner, a veteran math and computer science teacher and an attorney and blogger.
The area's history of moderate voting patterns would suggest that the two candidates who make it through to the November ballot will still have a close race ahead of them.
Though District 9B didn't exist in its current iteration two years ago, statistics for County Council District 1, which has similar boundaries, show that the area had the second highest number of registered Republicans in the 2012 presidential election, trailing only District 5, which contains Howard's most conservative electorate.
At the time of the 2012 election, the Ellicott City region had 17,194 registered Democrats, 12,814 registered Republicans and 8,445 independent voters – also second in number only to District 5. Incumbent County Council member Courtney Watson, a Democrat, took the district by a 53 to 47 percent margin in 2010; the closest margin for a council race in that election by far. Her opponent was Bob Flanagan, who this year is running as a Republican candidate in 9B.
Flanagan, 68, is the candidate in the race with the most political experience, though he has been out of elected office for more than a decade. The former delegate, first in District 14 and then in District 9A, represented Howard County from 1987 to 2003 and served as Minority Whip and chair of the Howard delegation for five and six years, respectively, before being appointed state transportation secretary by former Gov. Bob Ehrlich. He now works as a divorce lawyer in Ellicott City.
Despite his background, Flanagan has raised a lot less money than his small business-owner opponent, Carol Loveless.
According to the latest campaign finance reports, released late last month, Flanagan has $10,247.14 in funds to spend on his campaign, which is less than half of the $24,797.24 that Loveless posted.
From January through the end of May, Flanagan raised $3,910 from 24 donors and another $3,600 in contributions from five political action committees.
Loveless raised $11,535 from 49 individuals and businesses over the same period. She did not receive any PAC money.
On the difference in campaign funds, Flanagan said he has never been a big raiser. A pre-primary report before the 2010 County Council primary shows he raised $6,560.27 ahead of that race, in which he ran unopposed on the Republican side.
On the issues, Flanagan and Loveless have more similarities than differences. Both list what they see as a pattern of high taxes and business regulations from Annapolis in recent years as a chief concern.
While door-knocking, Flanagan said, "the thing that keeps coming up over and over again is people talking about leaving the state of Maryland because of high taxes, and businesses leaving and jobs leaving the state of Maryland because of regulation and taxes. Sometimes I ask about it, but more often than not people volunteer it to me. They're very discouraged by what's happening."
Loveless, 55, said she has seen some residents break down in tears when they tell her they are thinking about leaving the state.
The owner of a 42-employee security firm that contracts with large companies to supply long-term guards, Loveless said she decided to jump into the race because she thinks the General Assembly needs more business-oriented perspectives.
"Out of 181 legislators, only a few go home and make a payroll," she said. "And until you've done that, until you understand how it really works and until you feel the pressure that a small business owner feels – there's no substitute for that." Loveless' solution to some of the pressure she says businesses feel would be to lower tax rates across the board.
The two candidates differ on some issues: In a Baltimore Sun questionnaire, Flanagan indicated he would support the DREAM Act, a law allowing children of illegal immigrants raised in Maryland to pay in-state college tuition, while Loveless said she would not. The two also took opposite positions on whether they would vote to require the governor to respond to parole recommendations for inmates serving life sentences: Flanagan said yes, and Loveless said no.
On transportation matters, the Republican candidates had more nuanced differences: Loveless said she would not support plans for Howard to manage transit services in the suburbs, while Flanagan said he would like to see more cooperation among the suburbs.
"We already have empty buses traveling through Howard County at a huge expense to the tax payers," Loveless wrote.
"Transit services in the corridor involve not only Howard but Anne Arundel and Prince Georges [sic], all of whom should be involved [in] the management of these services," Flanagan said.
On the Democratic side, both candidates also share similar stances on the issues, though one has made commitment to the Democratic party a lynchpin of his campaign.
Rich Corkran, 67, a retired math and computer science teacher who spent 31 years in the Howard County Public Schools System, has emphasized his "lifelong Democratic values" at candidate forums, on his website and in his mailers.
The reminder is a jab aimed at opponent Tom Coale, 32, a medical malpractice attorney, former Columbia Association board member from Dorsey's Search and author of a popular local blog called HoCo Rising, who changed his registration from Republican to Democrat two years ago.
Coale wrote a detailed blog post in September 2012 explaining his decision, which he said was a result, among other things, of coming to the conclusion that, "whether we care to admit it or not, minimalist government and lower taxes primarily benefits the better off among us." Coupled with his socially liberal views, Coale decided his the Democratic party was a better ideological fit.
Coale's explanation hasn't stopped Corkran from expressing doubts about his sincerity. His campaign has spent thousands of dollars on mailers, including one with a photoshopped picture of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin standing next to Tom Coale, that call Coale's commitment to the Democratic party into question.
Coale brushes off the accusations as "silly." He points to nearly two dozen endorsements, including from the Howard County Education Association and Maryland State Education Association, as evidence of trust from the community. (Corkran called the teachers union endorsement "internal petty politics.")
"I have not run from my past at all, and I've been upfront with everyone in my positions in this race," Coale said.
Coale's platform has three main components: prioritizing education, supporting small businesses and keeping the tax burden low and addressing flooding in Ellicott City.
Similarly, Corkran has made support for education the cornerstone of his campaign. The last sentence of an endorsement questionnaire he recently filled out, he said, was "I will 100 percent support teacher bills in Annapolis."
In the Sun questionnaire, Coale and Corkran held similar positions on most of the issues. On marijuana decriminalization, Corkran said he was in support but wanted to take a wait-and-see approach before legalization, while Coale said he supports "full decriminalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana."
Moneywise, Coale's campaign holds the lead, with $40,630.06 in cash on hand reported at the end of the last cycle, including donations from 51 individuals and businesses, as well as $11,385 in transfers from the campaigns of County Council member Calvin Ball, state delegate Guy Guzzone, state comptroller Peter Franchot and County Council candidate Jon Weinstein.
Corkran's campaign reported $14,959.13 in cash on hand at the end of May. The report shows his campaign raised $1,805 in contributions from 13 individuals, as well as a $250 donation from the Teamsters PAC. Additionally, Corkran has loaned $25,000 to his campaign.
For more information on all four candidates, go to elections.baltimoresun.com/candidates. The primary election is June 24, and early voting begins June 12.