Baltimore County Democrat Jim Brochin calls himself the most independent member of the Maryland Senate. That kind of talk hasn't won him too many friends among party leaders.
Gov. Martin O'Malley has endorsed his opponent. So has Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. But Brochin — who opposed O'Malley on tax increases and Kamenetz on development decisions — says he wears their disapproval as a "badge of honor."
"My job isn't to do what Martin O'Malley tells me to do," says Brochin, who represents a northern Baltimore County district that now mixes sizable portions of Republicans and Democrats. "My job isn't to do what Kevin Kamenetz tells me to. My job is to do what my constituents want me to do."
Brochin's primary challenger, Connie DeJuliis, has a different take on the centrist incumbent. She says he's ineffective, not courageous.
"Being a legislator is more than just running to Annapolis, saying 'No,' and then saying, 'I'm an independent,'" DeJuliis says.
Brochin, 50, a three-term legislator who's made a name for himself by beating Republicans in high-energy campaigns, is facing the first primary challenge of his political career. DeJuliis, a former state delegate and wife of a top state official, has won some influential backers by casting herself as the race's unwavering Democrat.
DeJuliis, 67, calls herself a "proud progressive" and argues that Brochin's independent streak has hurt his relationships in the Democratic Party, causing many of his bills to fail.
Despite sponsoring more than 150 bills, Brochin has passed only 13 of those bills during his 12 years in the Senate, DeJuliis points out.
"I am a Democrat. I have core values and principles," DeJuliis says. "I will not waiver. It's hard to know what his core values are. They change all the time."
Brochin says his centrist views better represent the 42nd District, which now stretches from the suburbs of Towson to the farms of Hereford. He's socially liberal on many issues, he says, voting for same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana. But he's fiscally conservative.
"Most of my values are Democratic," he says. "Yes, I didn't vote to raise taxes. There's nothing wrong with living within our means. I'm sorry the party line is raising taxes, but I'm not going to do it."
The recent state redistricting process made the district, which once leaned Democratic, more conservative.
Brochin said party leaders were hoping he'd lose to a Republican when they drew the new district lines. O'Malley, he says, is still angry that Brochin sided with Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. over state control of Baltimore City schools. Brochin's conflict with Kamenetz stems from the senator's opposition to a county plan to pave a community park for a fire station.
As he walks door-to-door in the Towson neighborhood of Anneslie, Brochin's independence is admired. He's trekked these same streets in four election cycles now, and many voters greet him with a familiar, "Hi Jim!" before he can speak. Brochin walks fast, covering ground quickly. One election, he walked so much he lost 13 pounds, he says.
"We like that you look at the issue," says one voter, Edward Craig. "We like that you don't always vote the party line."
Brochin points to legislative battles he's won, such as bills to have a partially elected county school board and reform the state's speed camera programs. He cites his role in legislation imposing tougher sentences for sex offenders, preserving Towson University's MBA program and fighting development of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge.
"I've taken on some really tough fights," he says.
DeJuliis is no less persuasive as she greets voters nearby in nearby Idlewylde. She tells an up-by-her-bootstraps life story: The daughter of a steelworker. The single mother of three in Dundalk who worked the night shift on an assembly line to feed her family and put her kids through school.
"I know what hard work is," she says.
When drugs came into Dundalk, DeJuliis formed a community group to fight their spread. In 1990, she ran for state delegate and won, beating a ticket of men.