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In Pasadena, fellow Republicans line up to challenge Don Dwyer

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Del. Don Dwyer is spending his final day in jail Sunday, completing a 60-day sentence for his 2013 drunken-driving and drunken-boating convictions.

But while that debt to society will be paid, the Anne Arundel Republican acknowledges there's a political price that may yet come in next month's GOP primary — in which six challengers are vying to oust him. "They're all targeting me," said Dwyer, who has represented a Pasadena-based district for three terms.

District 31B has two seats, and both Dwyer and fellow GOP incumbent Del. Nic Kipke are seeking to hold on to them. Some of the challengers in the June 24 GOP primary make clear they are not aiming for Kipke.

"I like and support Nic Kipke and think Nic has worked very hard for our area," said candidate Gus Kurtz, a small-business owner making his first run for office. "I'm not challenging both incumbents."

Said challenger Brian Chisholm: "Don has gotten himself into a lot of trouble. They've stripped him of his power. … I don't know if it's fair or not, but you've got to be effective."

Chisholm, a mortgage lender from Severna Park, added, "I think if we're going to continue to build on our Republican brand, we can't be hypocrites."

Kipke, who has risen to the top Republican post in Annapolis of House minority leader, declined to talk about his fellow incumbent. Instead, he's focused on his own record of serving the district. He said he welcomes the challengers.

"In a lot of places, you struggle to get people to run for office," he said. "We get to choose from so many candidates."

The crowded Republican field also includes Paul William Drgos Jr., a computer programmer and former Libertarian congressional candidate; Faith M. Loudon, a longtime Republican activist and former congressional candidate; Meagan C. Simonaire, a doctor's office assistant; and David Lee Therrien, a partner in a real estate firm.

Dwyer says he knows his legal woes and the repercussions — being stripped of his committee position and missing weekend votes while in jail — have encouraged challengers. But he insists that he can win. He says people know him from his steadfast conservative political views and his relentless sign-waving during campaign season.

"I was on a bad path. Thank God that's behind me — and I mean really behind me," he said.

Dan Nataf, a political science professor at Anne Arundel Community College, says all those people aiming for him could dilute the anti-Dwyer vote.

"People get into a race when they sense the incumbents are vulnerable, and in this case, the one that's vulnerable apparently is Don Dwyer," said Nataf, who directs the college's Center for the Study of Local Issues.

But if the anti-Dwyer vote gets split six ways, Dwyer won't need much to win the primary, Nataf said.

Dwyer's 60-day sentence was the result of convictions for two incidents — operating a boat under the influence in an August 2012 crash on the Magothy River that injured himself and six others, and driving a car while impaired in August 2013 after police saw him speeding and swerving on Route 100 in Pasadena.

In addition to the weekend jail time, Dwyer was also required to attend treatment, which he says he is doing, and install an Interlock on his truck — a Breathalyzer-like device that won't allow the vehicle to start if it detects alcohol. He can't be anyplace that serves alcohol, including most political events and even his local grocery store.

Dwyer said he deserved the legal punishments and said they've helped him turn his life around. He said he hopes voters will focus on the actions he's taken in Annapolis and send him back for another four years.

First elected in 2002, Dwyer earned a reputation as one most conservative lawmakers in Annapolis, fighting against legalizing same-sex marriage, against allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates and against gun control. He is raffling off a gun as part of his campaign fundraising effort.

In 2010, he drew attention for attempting to impeach Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler — now a Democratic candidate for governor — over a legal opinion that the state should recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Dwyer said over the years, he's gotten wiser as a delegate and learned to pick his battles. Yet as one of the most extreme members of the minority party, Dwyer has had few political successes.

Therrien said being stripped of the committee position made Dwyer even more ineffective. "I appreciate his challenges and I understand them, but I don't think that serves the best interest of our constituents," he said.

Drgos said he agrees with much of Dwyer's politics. It's the legal woes he can't get past.

"Dwyer has voted very conservatively, and I agree with his voting record. But unfortunately his personal life has become an embarrassment to the Republican Party and to his constituents," Drgos said.

Loudon and Simonaire steer clear of criticizing Dwyer, instead highlighting their own campaigns. Loudon emphasized her trustworthiness. Simonaire — the 23-year-old daughter of state Sen. Bryan Simonaire — said she brings a fresh, youthful perspective to politics.

Dwyer's challengers generally promote such Republican themes as lowering taxes, improving the business climate and fighting for gun ownership rights.

District 31B, which was carved out of the larger District 31 during the 2012 redistricting, includes Pasadena, Gibson Island and a few parts of Glen Burnie and Severna Park. The rest of the old district — Brooklyn Park and more of Glen Burnie — is in one-member District 31A.

Since 2006, District 31 has been represented solely by Republicans.

In addition to the eight Republicans running in 31B, three Democrats are on their party's primary ballot: Jeremiah Chiappelli, Stan Janor and Doug Morris. Each party's top two vote-getters will advance to the general election in November.

pwood@baltsun.com

twitter.com/pwoodreporter

The candidates

Brian A. Chisholm

Age: 43

Home: Severna Park

Job: mortgage officer

Paul William Drgos Jr.

Age: 39

Home: Pasadena

Job: computer programmer

*Don Dwyer Jr.

Age: 56

Home: Pasadena

Job: full-time legislator

*Nic Kipke

Age: 35

Home: Pasadena

Job: legislator; territory manager, factory marketing firm.

Gus Kurtz

Age: 51

Home: Pasadena

Job: owns car dealership, home improvement company.

Faith M. Loudon

Age: 75

Home: Pasadena

Job: homemaker

Meagan C. Simonaire

Age: 23

Home: Pasadena

Job: medical office assistant.

David Lee Therrien

Age: 57

Home: Pasadena

Job: partner, real estate office

*Incumbent

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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