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Where are all the women in the races for higher office in Maryland? | COMMENTARY

Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz speaks March 9 following an announcement by Gov. Larry Hogan at the State House in Annapolis. Schulz launched a campaign last week as a Republican candidate for governor, the only woman to throw her hat in the ring thus far.
Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz speaks March 9 following an announcement by Gov. Larry Hogan at the State House in Annapolis. Schulz launched a campaign last week as a Republican candidate for governor, the only woman to throw her hat in the ring thus far. (Bryn Stole/Baltimore Sun)

As Maryland’s next gubernatorial field starts to shape up, there is a glaring hole in the roster of announced and potential candidates. So far no woman has thrown her hat into the race on the Democratic side, and only one, Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, has done so on the Republican side.

As more women nationwide have entered political office, and at higher ranks than ever before thanks to Kamala Harris’ elevation to vice president and Nancy Pelosi’s role as Speaker of the House, Maryland is not experiencing the same levels of political ascendancy by women. There has never been a female governor, attorney general or state comptroller — although Del. Brooke E. Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, hopes to break the gender barrier in her bid for that last position; she is thus far the only woman to express interest in that race.

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Across the country there is more Congressional female representation than ever before. A record 142 women, or 26.5% of its 535 members, now serve in the U.S. Congress, according to the Rutgers Egleton Institute of Politics. None of those members are from Maryland. The state is represented by an entirely male congressional delegation. So far Heather R. Mizeur, a former Democratic state delegate, is the only female candidate vying for a spot in Congress, having announced she will challenge U.S. Rep. Andrew Harris, the Maryland delegation’s only Republican, next year. It will be an uphill battle against the incumbent Mr. Harris in the Republican stronghold, however.

We must encourage more woman to get on the ballot; it’s good for our state and for our representation. Women bring a different perspective and set of experiences to the table than men, not to mention they make up half of the population. It’s certainly better they have a say when laws about their bodies are being considered, but also wholly unrelated matters. Just like in companies, a diversity of members in office means a diversity of ideas and backgrounds, which makes for a better outcomes and ingenuity. Studies have also shown that women are more likely to introduce bills dealing with civil rights and liberties; health; law and crime; family; education; and housing and community development. That’s not to say men don’t care about those issues, women just appear to focus on them more.

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Maryland once had a better track record of women in higher office, which is why it is even more disappointing that the state has lost so much ground. Marjorie Holt, Beverly Butcher Byron, Helen Delich Bentley, Constance Morella, Barbara Mikulski and Donna Edwards are among those who have served in the U.S. House of Representatives. Ms. Mikulski also served in the Senate before her retirement in 2017.

And it is not because they haven’t tried. Several women, including State Sen. Jill Carter, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings and newcomer Kimberly Klacik, challenged Rep. Mfume in the last election. Ms. Edwards ran an unsuccessful bid to replace Ms. Mikulski in 2016, losing to Chris Van Hollen, the current senator. Among the questions that need to be answered is why voters aren’t blackening the bubble for female candidates. But we also need to look at why enough women aren’t in the pipeline or being groomed to take these offices when they become available, something we know some strategists, including the group Emerge Maryland, are pursuing. We also can’t ignore progress locally, including the first woman and first African American speaker in the Maryland General Assembly, Adrienne A. Jones.

Traditionally, governors come from other typically high-level elected offices, such as county executive or Congress. But Gov. Larry Hogan, who never served political office, also proved that there are other pathways. Some had urged Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks would seek the state’s highest office, but their hopes were dashed when she she would instead try to secure a second term in her current position. At least she’s staying in politics.

It comes down to this: If women aren’t even on the ballot, we don’t know what can be achieved. There’s still many months before Maryland’s next election. We hope to see some women candidates who aren’t on our radar jump into the race before then.

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The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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