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Baltimore County Democrats nominate state delegate, Catonsville progressive for vacant seats

Dr. Leslie Grant, a 7th congressional district candidate, chats with Del. Shelly Hettleman before votes are tallied at the Baltimore County Democratic State Central Committee building in Towson Jan. 28.
Dr. Leslie Grant, a 7th congressional district candidate, chats with Del. Shelly Hettleman before votes are tallied at the Baltimore County Democratic State Central Committee building in Towson Jan. 28.(Taylor DeVille/Baltimore Sun)

Maryland state Del. Shelly Hettleman and Catonsville activist Sheila Ruth were confirmed as the nominees for vacant Baltimore County seats in the state legislature, the Baltimore County Democratic State Central Committee voted Tuesday night.

Hettleman received a unanimous 31 votes approving her appointment. Ruth received 29 votes in favor and two votes against her appointment.

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Their names will now be forward to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who has final say in appointing state house replacements.

If Hogan accepts the nominations, Hettleman, first elected to serve the 11th Legislative District in 2015, would continue representing constituents in Baltimore County stretching from Lochearn to Cockeysville in the Maryland Senate after former District 11 Sen. Bobby Zirkin announced his resignation in December.

Ruth, a longtime advocate for progressive Democratic issues, would fill the Maryland House seat relinquished by Del. Charles Sydnor III to represent constituents in District 44B, which encompasses Lochearn, Woodlawn and parts of Catonsville and Ellicott City, after Sydnor was tapped to replace Shirley Nathan-Pulliam in the state Senate.

Hettleman and Ruth will serve until 2023, the remainder of the terms left by Zirkin and Sydnor.

Central committee members will be tasked with filling Hettleman’s House seat if Hogan accepts her nomination. A timeline for that selection process has not yet been announced.

The committee has 30 days from the time a seat is vacated to submit a nominee for replacement to Hogan, who will then have 15 days to accept or reject them.

Hettleman, 55, told The Baltimore Sun the Senate seat is “a bigger platform to advocate for issues and fight for my constituents.”

“I’m excited, I’m thrilled" to “jump across the street” into the Senate building, Hettleman said after the vote, adding she is looking forward to her new role on the Senate judicial proceedings committee.

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The Pikesville resident last year was the lead sponsor on legislation requiring Maryland law enforcement agencies to expand rape kit testing after the practice languished for years, leading to over 6,500 untested rape kits in 2018.

Hettleman — like Ruth — said she plans to push for school construction funding through the proposed Built to Learn Act and enacting Kirwan Commission recommendations in state public schools.

Ruth, for her part, said combatting the opioid crisis and climate change top her concerns.

“All Democrats care about justice — economic justice, racial justice, the environment,” the 55-year-old said. “I think progressives take a little bit stronger position that government needs to play a stronger role in making a difference in people’s lives and addressing the issues that we have to deal with.”

In the legislature this year, Ruth said she would back a number of bills that seek to mitigate problems posed by climate change, including efforts to phase out state coal-fired plants; organize a coalition of states committing to reduce greenhouse gases; and create more energy efficient construction standards for new building projects, Ruth said.

As an activist, Ruth last year organized support for a package of Baltimore County bills meant to strengthen ethical standards and institute public campaign financing and was a lead organizer pushing for the passage of Baltimore County’s anti-discrimination housing law that prevents landlords from denying applicants based on their source of income.

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The Catonsville resident said she would also throw her support behind a bill that will seek to achieve the same goal statewide.

“I think we have some momentum for it” since Baltimore County joined Baltimore City, Howard and Montgomery counties in enacting its own housing policy, Ruth said.

This will be Ruth’s first stint in office; she lost a Democratic primary in the 2018 county council election to incumbent Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk.

Saying she was “honored” to receive the committee’s support, Ruth said after the vote “I’m ready to get to Annapolis and get to work.”

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