As longtime state senator retires, District 30 candidates will have to appeal to a changing county

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

For the first time in more than two decades, Annapolis and southern Anne Arundel County will get a new state senator.

But whether it’ll be a longtime businessman with General Assembly experience, a rising star with fresh ideas or a long shot looking to shirk typical politics is up to voters.

Longtime state Sen. John Astle is retiring after 23 years in the Maryland Senate and leaving a spot for one of three candidates — Democrat Sarah Elfreth, Republican Ron George and Libertarian Chris Wallace — to fill.

District 30 is a swath of the county including Annapolis, Arnold and most of southern Anne Arundel County. Astle won his seat in 1995, when another decade-long veteran Gerald Winegrad retired. Both said the county could use someone new.

“I think one of the most important things happening around Maryland and the United States is new blood in politics,” Winegrad said.

Elfreth, 30, is a political newcomer who chaired the joint Democratic campaign in the 2017 Annapolis election. A millennial and first-time politician, Elfreth has run as a champion for women’s health, countywide access to pre-K and tougher environmental laws.

George, 64, is an experienced politician who served in the House of Delegates for eight years between 2008 and 2015. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2014. George has called constituent services his No. 1 priority, pointing to a legislative record stemming from resident-specific issues. A jeweler and small-business owner, he’s a proponent of entrepreneurship, tax cuts on retirement income and paring down public school administration to send funds directly to classrooms.

And unlike most races, voters will have a third choice in November. Wallace, 31, a Navy reservist who owns a firearms training company, said his third-party status is his biggest asset. He favors privatizing some government services to free up government funds to “better meet the needs of our citizens,” he said.

The region has grown more demographically diverse in the years since Astle’s first campaign. The Anne Arundel County population is 74.7 percent white, 17.5 percent black and 3.2 percent Hispanic/Latino, according to 2017 census data. In 2000, the population was 81.2 percent white, 13.6 percent black and 2.6 percent Hispanic/Latino.

Winegrad and Astle admitted the region is changing, requiring the new state senator to be adaptable and open to the diverse needs of different constituent groups. But it’s not just demographic communities to be considered; the county is home to some of the state’s wealthiest residents while also housing a large contingent of low-income and public housing communities.

George highlighted the need to provide protection for state retirees and varied job opportunities for young people who find college unaffordable or unappealing.

“I am a product of trade school,” he said. “My father couldn’t send me to college, so I got good enough at that trade that I ended up setting up shop and paying my way through college. It just gives people so much more security.”

He said he hopes he can make his office a depot for certain groups — women, recent naturalized citizens, young adults — to create new businesses and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Elfreth, also a proponent of vocational school, has championed affordable child care for single parents and worker rights. She plans to protect women’s access to cancer screenings, family planning and birth control, which a Republican-controlled federal government might seek to limit. Raised by a single mother and the product of a “union household,” she said, she’s passionate about getting career and technical education in county high schools.

Wallace said social tolerance is part of his platform as a Libertarian.

“I believe people should be allowed to live their lives the way they see fit as long as they are not causing harm to others,” he said.

Despite economic and ethnic diversity in the district, access to water and environmental concern unites the district residents, Winegrad said. “No one lives more than two miles from tidal water.”

Elfreth and George named the environment as one of their key issues. George, dubbed the “Green Elephant” in some of his campaign literature, pointed to his record expanding fiscally conservative environmental measures like an energy credit program that allowed municipalities to earn credits to invest in renewable energy.

Elfreth, a consultant and project manager with the National Aquarium’s Marine Conservation District, decried overdevelopment in Mayo, Edgewater and Annapolis, which she said contribute to stormwater runoff and bay pollution. She said the state needs to strengthen its Forest Conservation Act, which hasn’t been updated since it was passed in 1991.

Other than negative campaign ads sponsored by their respective parties, George and Elfreth have run relatively quiet campaigns, choosing to focus on local issues and door-knocking rather than invoking the political tribalism shaking up federal races. Wallace has chosen not to raise money or run a typical campaign; he’s less concerned with selling a person and more concerned with affecting change in office, he said.

Astle, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for Annapolis mayor, said he might be an anachronism — “I think things have changed and I’m not sure that I have,” he said. But one of the keys to his 23 years in office was keeping an open mind.

“I think part of my success once I got in was I paid attention to people,” he said. “Somebody in my office always answered the phone.”


When you go

What: Election forum with District 30 senator and delegate candidates

When: 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Kneseth Israel, 1125 Spa Road, Annapolis

Forum will be moderated by Chris Nelson, former president of St. John's College and currently on faculty staff.


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