Sixth in a series of articles on candidates for the 7th Congressional District.
As a state legislator, Del. Terri Hill has parlayed her medical experience into legislative action.
During last year’s session, the Harvard University and Columbia University -trained physician shepherded a bill to expand HIV prevention efforts for minors. And her legislation aimed at reducing youth sports injuries, although ultimately unsuccessful, sparked an ongoing conversation in Annapolis about the dangers of contact sports for children.
Now, Hill, 60, hopes to put that experience to work on Capitol Hill. The Howard County Democrat is among those vying to replace the late Elijah Cummings, who represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District.
“What I don’t think we’re lacking in Washington is another policy expert,” said Hill, a plastic surgeon who has practiced since 1991. “I don’t think we’re lacking another attorney. But we don’t have enough people who care for people at those critical times.”
“I’ve been by the bedside," Hill continued. "I see when the health system fails people and when it does them well. I’m a provider.”
There are 32 candidates hoping to replace Cummings, who died in October. A special primary will be held Feb. 4 to select the Republican and Democratic nominees, and a special general election will follow April 28 to choose who will fill the rest of Cummings’ two-year term representing parts of Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Howard County. April 28 is also the date of the regular U.S. House primary for candidates who want to win a full term of their own.
Hill views her medical career as a “doorway” to get to know people intimately and the issues that drive them. Doctors aren’t just familiar with health care, she says. They have a window into environmental issues causing illnesses, the plight of addiction, the disparities of the education system and, in her case, the economics of small business. Hill owns her Ellicott City practice.
“It’s health care writ large,” she said. “It’s not health care defined by what insurance you have and what your prescription drug coverage is."
Hill said she would focus on the environment and social justice and immigration reform, in addition to health care. She has campaigned on a pledge to reduce prescription drug prices.
She supports moving toward a single-payer health care system over time, but cautioned a lengthy transition period would be needed. None of the current options on the table at the federal level get it right, she said.
Hill seeks to sell her message of using her medical experience in a holistic way during conversations on the campaign trail.
Before a recent candidate forum, she barely paused to remove her coat before engaging a potential voter in a conversation about her practice, emphasizing her work for burn victims and cancer patients, in addition to cosmetic procedures. Then, without skipping a beat, she launched into the highlights of her legislative agenda as a delegate, forked over a piece of campaign literature from her bag and directed the woman to her website.
A delegate since 2015, Hill has had success sponsoring legislation that authorized grants for services helping senior citizens and mandated better reporting of sewage overflows into state waterways.
She drew criticism for the bill that sought to reduce head and other injuries by limiting contact sports, such as tackle football, for children in elementary and middle schools. It also would have barred checking, a blocking maneuver in youth ice hockey and lacrosse. Under intense scrutiny from youth sports advocates, the bill failed, an outcome Hill said at the time she expected.
Hill isn’t dropping the issue. She plans to file legislation again this year, this time with each proposed safety restriction in a separate bill in hopes of making each easier for lawmakers to digest and pass.
State Sen. Clarence Lam, a Democrat from Baltimore and Howard counties who was elected alongside Hill, described her as a tenacious legislator who doesn’t hesitate to ask questions. Some lawmakers paint with a broad stroke, he said. They have a general idea of what they want to do, but haven’t scoped out the details. That’s not Hill, Lam said.
“She’ll have a sense of what she wants to do and makes sure the steps to get there are spelled out,” Lam said.
Lam acknowledged that Hill’s youth sports proposal caused backlash, but said her interest in the issue speaks to her level of commitment to scientific data.
“The evidence doesn’t always point to the most popular choice, but that’s not of concern to her,” he said.
Hill has no easy task in attempting to win the Democratic nomination, given the large field and the registration advantage in the Baltimore portion of the 7th Congressional District, said Tom Coale, a Howard County native and co-host of the Elevate Maryland podcast. The latest figures show 58% of the district’s 343,168 Democrats are from the city, 24% are from Baltimore County and only 18% are from Howard County.
Coale said Hill, part of a well-known political family in Howard County, is well regarded by her constituents and fellow Howard lawmakers. Hill’s mother, Ethel Hill, was a member of the Wilde Lake Village Board and managed the campaign of the first African American candidate elected to the county school board. Terri Hill’s sister, Donna Hill Staton, is a former Maryland deputy attorney general and a former judge.
Hill could see a path to victory if the numerous Baltimore-centric candidates in the race divide the city’s share of the votes, Coale said, but she would need to run the table in Howard. That will be difficult, given that other candidates have campaigned heavily there, he said. Democrat Kweisi Mfume represented the 7th District when he served in Congress from 1987 to 1996, and Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, Cummings’ widow, spent time in Howard when she was state party chairwoman, Coale said.
“I do think Terri is going to perform well in Howard County and I think she has covered this county better than other campaigns I’ve seen, but it can only get you so far,” he said.
Hill understands the challenge.
“We know who the main candidates are and we know who has already gotten national TV exposure,” she said. “I would be foolish to think I’m a front-runner.”
But she also doesn’t regard herself as an underdog.
“It’s nice to be working for communities that know you," she said. If she can remind enough people of her record of working hard for them, she said, “I think my chances are excellent.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
Coming Wednesday: Jill P. Carter.
Education: Bachelor’s degree in bioelectric engineering, Harvard University, 1981; medical degree, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, 1985
Experience: Delegate serving Howard and Baltimore counties, 2015-present; medical director and owner, Visage Rejuvenation Spa LLC, 2006-present; mission surgeon for Operation Smile in Baltimore, Venezuela and China