Maryland faces tough challenges in job creation, the budget and taxes, education, the environment and transportation in the next four years. In making endorsements for the House of Delegates and state Senate this year, The Sun sought pragmatic candidates with a record of putting progress over partisanship. Although many candidates fit that description, we've chosen to highlight five Democrats and five Republicans in competitive races whose accomplishments and ideas set them apart.
Michael E. Busch. Delegate Busch has been the Democratic speaker of the House of Delegates since 2003 and has been the No. 1 target of Republicans for almost the entire time because of his opposition to slot machine gambling. But what his opponents fail to give him credit for is the extent to which he has been willing to compromise on slots and other difficult issues.
Mr. Busch gave former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. two opportunities to legalize slots — either through a voter referendum or through legislation that passed the House in 2005. The Republican was unwilling or unable to take advantage of it either time. And Mr. Busch gave Gov. Martin O'Malley essentially the same opportunity in 2007 when the legislature agreed to put slots on the ballot. Mr. Busch may have opposed expanded gambling, but he also did not use his position to stand in the way if a majority of Marylanders disagreed. It's that kind of pragmatism that marks him as a leader.
Although Mr. Busch's campaign is of interest to voters across the state, it is the residents of District 30 who decide whether to return him to the State House, and he has represented their interests well. He's helped secure funds for a new elementary school and helped establish the Capitol City Safe Streets program, which has contributed to a reduction of crime in Annapolis. Mr. Busch is also a champion of the Chesapeake Bay, having pushed for tighter storm water regulations and the state's clean cars bill. And he has been a leader on tightening sex offender laws and removing barriers between schools and law enforcement when it comes to fighting gangs — a crucial issue following the death of Christopher Jones in nearby Crofton.
Jim Brochin. If the Senate leadership or State House lobbying corps held a popularity contest, Senator Brochin would probably come in last. In Annapolis terms, he is not "reliable," meaning you can't prejudge how he's going to vote on any particular issue. That's bad for lobbyists, good for his constituents.
Mr. Brochin, a Democrat, has a politically tricky district, spanning liberal and conservative communities, and he manages to wind up right in the middle. He's a solid vote on the environment and attentive to constituent issues — notably, he played a role in getting Baltimore County to commit to putting air conditioning in Ridgely Middle School and to addressing overcrowding at Rodgers Forge Elementary. Above all, Mr. Brochin is a model for keeping in touch with his constituents. He is an inveterate door-knocker, whether it's an election year or not, and that has helped him represent the views of his district well. He deserves to continue doing so for another four years.
James Mathias. The former mayor of Ocean City, a Democrat, is seeking to take over the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Lowell Stoltzfus. Those are big shoes to fill, and Mr. Mathias is the candidate to do it. He has shown himself to be a pragmatic leader who is willing to buck party chiefs to side with his constituents. Most notably, as a new delegate, he resisted tremendous pressure from the Democratic leadership in Annapolis and voted against a slot machine gambling bill that included a casino at Ocean Downs, a crucial issue for the small business owners in his district. Mr. Mathias has ably balanced the needs of agriculture and environmental protection on the Eastern Shore, and his experience both in his family's small business and as mayor for a decade of Maryland's premier tourism resort make him the right choice to help bring jobs to the district.
Keith Haynes. Although most of the attention in Baltimore's 44th District has centered on former City Councilman Keiffer Mitchell's welcome return to politics, voters there would do well to also remember Delegate Haynes. His chief accomplishment during the last four years was to successfully sponsor legislation requiring the automatic expungement of criminal records for arrests in which prosecutors declined to press charges. That was a particularly big issue in Baltimore, where the legacy of zero-tolerance policing led to thousands of such arrests, making it difficult for the innocent to get jobs, mortgages or government assistance. In Annapolis, it usually takes years for ideas like that to gain favor, but Mr. Haynes, a Democrat who was alone in pushing the measure, managed to get it through the legislature on the second try. It passed 130-9 in the House and 47-0 in the Senate. There are few lawmakers who can point to a single action that has done so much good for their constituents.
Ronald Young. Mr. Young, who served 16 years as mayor of Frederick, is challenging state Sen. Alex Mooney in the 3rd District. It is easy to make a case against Mr. Mooney, whose extreme social positions and inability to reach across the aisle have made him one of the least effective lawmakers in Annapolis. But that misses the substantial reasons why Mr. Young would be a good choice.
The Democrat has a proven track record of fiscal conservatism, including cutting taxes repeatedly as mayor, and he has a good sense of the areas in which his district could succeed in economic development, such as encouraging spillover job growth from institutions such as Fort Detrick. He has broad experience not just in local government but also at the state departments of Planning and Natural Resources, and that has enabled him to present a far more detailed platform than most candidates do on education, taxes, transportation and the environment. This race is a rare instance when replacing a 12-year incumbent with a legislative newcomer would instantly provide the district with more effective representation.
Susan Aumann: Delegate Aumann, a Republican who is seeking her third term representing the 42nd District in Baltimore County, is a paragon of collegiality. She serves on the House Appropriations Committee and has been named three times to the conference committee that hashes out a final deal on the budget between the House and Senate, giving her more influence over state spending than most Democrats, let alone Republicans.
She is also closely in tune with constituent issues and able to build bipartisan support on complicated legislation. A good example was a bill she sponsored requiring labs that handle potentially dangerous biological materials (as one does in the Hunt Valley portion of her district) to inform the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and local officials so that emergency responders can be prepared if they are called to handle a fire or other incident. It's not partisan and it's not sexy, but it's important and was difficult to accomplish, requiring as it did coordination among private businesses and federal, state and local agencies.
Steve Schuh: Delegate Schuh is also influential on budget matters — he led the drafting of alternative spending proposals that contributed to the state's record of holding down spending increases during the last four years. He was also the lead sponsor this year of the Jessica's Law Enhancement Act, which tripled required minimum prison sentences for child sex abusers.
Either his work on that bill or his acumen on fiscal issues alone would merit his return to Annapolis representing District 31 in Anne Arundel County, but Mr. Schuh boasts a much rarer distinction: He is the only legislator in more than 15 years to get perfect scores from both Maryland Business for Responsive Government and the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. Delegate Schuh proves that a legislator can be both pro-business and pro-environment, and that's an attitude that lawmakers from both parties would do well to emulate.
Warren Miller: Delegate Miller, a Republican who represents Howard County's District 9A, is a strong advocate for business — he gets a perfect rating from Maryland Business for Responsive Government — but his chief accomplishment in the legislature stems from his belief that citizens have a right to know exactly where their tax money is going. In 2008, he sponsored the Maryland Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which requires the state to maintain a searchable database that includes information about all state payments of $25,000 or more. The so-called " Google government" bill was modeled after similar federal legislation (sponsored by then- Sen. Barack Obama) and allows voters to search by the agency making a payment, the vendor receiving it or by the ZIP Code of the vendor. The site also tracks grant funding.
Mr. Miller's success with this bill is impressive not just because the legislation itself was important but because it shows that he has figured out how to get things done in Annapolis. He first introduced the bill in 2008 with a handful of cosponsors and got nowhere. In 2008, he got dozens of lawmakers — many of them Democrats — to sign on to the legislation, and it passed both chambers unanimously. He worked hard, reached across the aisle, accepted compromises when necessary and stuck to it. That's the kind of representative all voters deserve.
David Brinkley. Republicans in the General Assembly have long complained that the state spends too much, but they have relied too often on advocating for across-the-board spending cuts — a bad idea that trims worthwhile programs as much as wasteful ones. But Senator Brinkley, who represents Frederick County, collaborated with Sen. E.J. Pipkin this year to produce a blueprint of exactly what the state would need to cut. Some ideas were better than others, but the effort tackled the difficult issues and eschewed political gimmickry. Although the idea wasn't adopted, it did change the conversation in Annapolis and forced the legislature to begin grappling with long-term problems, such as employee pensions.
Allan Kittleman. Senator Kittleman has risen quickly through the GOP ranks in the Senate, winning election as minority leader in 2008. That makes him responsible for being his party's chief voice in debates on contentious issues. There are two ways to do that job. One is to say what it takes to make a good sound bite on the evening news, and the other is to craft well-constructed arguments to peel off conservative Democrats or win fights on amendments that bring bills back toward the ideological center. Mr. Kittleman has chosen the second path. He is an able spokesman for conservatism but employs the kind of genial manner that can get people on his side.
Mr. Kittleman has also chosen to carry on a crusade of his father, the late Sen. Robert Kittleman, to end the practice of giving legislators money to dole out in scholarships. The $11 million-a-year fund allows senators to give out $138,000 a year, and delegates a third as much, to the children of favored constituents with few strings attached. Mr. Kittleman, like his father, argues that this amounts to a state-sponsored incumbent protection racket. Worse, Sun analyses of the program in the past have found that the scholarships sometimes wound up in the hands of legislators' relatives or campaign contributors. Though the idea of eliminating them hasn't gotten far in the Senate, it did pass the House this year. Voters should send Mr. Kittleman back so he can keep working on it.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun