Maryland gubernatorial candidate Rushern L. Baker III is teaming up with Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Navarro to run as a ticket in 2022, and the duo will use the state’s public campaign financing system.
Baker is the first in the nine-candidate Democratic field to announce his lieutenant governor running mate, well in advance of the Feb. 22 deadline for campaigns to file candidacy paperwork.
Baker said that by choosing Navarro early, it gives them time to work as partners in developing a vision and policy platforms for the campaign.
“Anybody who’s ever worked with me knows I want someone who will take issues and run with them and challenge some of my assumptions,” said Baker, a two-term county executive in Prince George’s County who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for governor in 2018.
In Navarro, Baker picked a running mate experienced in local government. She’s finishing her second of two terms on the county council and also served on the county school board. Before entering public service, Navarro, a native of Venezuela, ran a family child care center and founded a nonprofit, Centro Familia.
On the council and the school board, Navarro said she’s worked on issues of racial equity and closing the achievement gap between different groups of students. Like most local officials, she’s been involved in helping the community respond and adapt to the coronavirus pandemic.
Navarro said her experience as a local official positions her well to helping the entire state.
“After 2020, we all need to acknowledge that it’s not the same, and it requires leadership, in my opinion, that not only reflects the community but is tried and tested,” Navarro said.
Baker said he asked five people for suggestions of lieutenant governor picks and Navarro was at the top of each person’s list. He wasn’t sure she would say yes, or that she would say yes so quickly. Some prospective lieutenant governor candidates might want to wait longer to get a better read on how the gubernatorial field is shaking out, Baker said.
Navarro said she had considered moving on from politics in 2022, when her term on the Montgomery council ends, but Baker was persuasive. She said wasn’t interested in joining a candidate who was wedded to “the usual political formulas.”
“I’ll be honest — and I told him this — he is the only person I would do this with,” she said.
In Maryland, the lieutenant governor “shall have only the duties delegated to him by the Governor,” according to the Maryland Constitution. So, depending on the governor, the lieutenant governor can have a considerable role in running state government, or no role at all.
Baker said Navarro will have a meaningful role in the campaign, and in the State House, should they win.
When Baker ran for governor in 2018, finishing second in the Democratic primary, his running mate was Baltimore lawyer Elizabeth Embry. That time, Baker stuck to the typical timeline, announcing Embry in February, about four months before the June primary.
But Baker said the February timing meant he and Embry didn’t have much time to delve into talking about serious issues, which he would have liked.
“The campaign was pretty much set,” he said. “It was plug and play, you come in and we tell you where to go. I didn’t want that this time ... We’re going to go in together and shape the government.”
Baker and Navarro also filed their official candidacy paperwork this week and opted into the state’s public campaign financing system, known as the Fair Campaign Financing Fund, which was revamped this year.
Under the system, Baker and Navarro will only be able to accept donations of $250 or less from individuals. Once they hit certain thresholds of donations, it unlocks matching funds from the state.
Typically, candidates doing conventional campaign fundraising can accept donations from individuals, companies and groups adding up to a maximum of $6,000 for each four-year election cycle.
Outgoing Republican Gov. Larry Hogan used the state’s public financing system — receiving close to $3 million from the fund — when he first won in 2014, but not for his successful reelection bid in 2018.
Advocates for public campaign financing were pleased to see a gubernatorial candidate select this route. Emily Scarr, director of Maryland PIRG, said candidates who use public financing “can spend time building support in communities instead of chasing big checks from wealthy donors and special interests.”
“Candidates choosing to use the program are committing to run a campaign powered by the people of Maryland, not big money, ensuring regular people are the center of our elections and moving us toward a more inclusive, responsive, and accountable government,” said Joanne Antoine, director of Common Cause Maryland, in a statement.
In a statement, Baker said that some don’t realize that running for a high-level office requires spending a lot of time calling “wealthy donors” and asking for money.
Maryland Policy & Politics
This way, Baker said, he and Navarro can have sufficient money to run a winning campaign, “but instead of raising that money from special interests and out of state donors, we can reach out to everyday Marylanders who can actually show up at the polls and vote for us.”
Baker served two terms as county executive in Prince George’s County, the state’s second-largest county, from 2010 until 2018. Baker won the seat on his third try, after the prior officeholder, Jack Johnson, was charged in a corruption scandal that eventually landed him in federal prison.
Baker also served nearly 10 years in the Maryland House of Delegates, from 1994 to 2003.
On the Republican side, gubernatorial candidate Del. Dan Cox filed paperwork last week naming Queen Anne’s County attorney Gordana Schifanelli as his candidate for lieutenant governor. Schifanelli has been a key figure in her county’s controversies over how to address racism in public schools. That county’s first Black schools superintendent ended up leaving the county after enduring relentless criticism for calling for a renewed fight against racism.
Joe Werner of Baltimore County also has filed to run for governor as a Republican, with Minh Thanh Luong as a running mate.
The other announced Republican candidates, state Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz and anti-tax advocate Robin Ficker, have not announced running mates. Neither have any of the eight other announced Democratic candidates.
Baltimore Sun reporter Bryn Stole contributed to this article.