Lost in Monday’s news that state Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D) will run for Prince George’s County executive in 2018 was another Prince George’s political development: Matt Dernoga, the son of former County Councilmember Tom Dernoga (D) and a senior policy analyst for his father’s successor, Councilmember Mary Lehman (D), is running for a seat in the House of Delegates.
While promising “a campaign kickoff this fall,” the younger Dernoga sent out an email Monday saying he will run for a House seat in District 21, which takes in sections of College Park, Laurel, Beltsville and a sliver of Anne Arundel County.
“Given the enormity of the challenges we currently face, I feel compelled to do something about it,” Dernoga wrote. “We need to resist Trump, no doubt. However, to do this effectively, the Democratic Party needs new leadership, new energy, and new ideas to tackle ongoing, unsolved problems in our communities and our state.”
Dernoga’s decision to run could put him on a collision course with the district’s Democratic incumbents – Sen. Jim Rosapepe and Dels. Ben Barnes, Barbara Frush and Joseline Pena-Melnyk – who have run as a team in the past two election cycles. Frush was elected to the House in 1994 and the other three were elected to their current positions in 2006.
It isn’t clear, however, whether the team will remain intact: Frush, who is 71, is the subject of retirement rumors, and Rosapepe and Pena-Melnyk have expressed some interest in seeking higher office – soon if not next year.
But it wouldn’t be the first time a Dernoga has clashed with the Prince George’s Democratic establishment.
In early 2002, Tom Dernoga won the 1st district County Council seat in a special election, defeating the establishment choice, C. Michael Walls, by a 2-1 margin in the Democratic primary. Walls, who was then the president of the Laurel City Council, had the support of the entire Dist. 21 delegation and other party leaders. Dernoga had been endorsed by Muse, then-Congressman Albert Wynn (D), and the widow of the man he was trying to replace, former Councilmember Walter “Mike” Maloney (D).
In his email, Matt Dernoga, who is 29 and has both a B.A. and a Master’s degree from the University of Maryland, tried to make a virtue of his youth and his willingness to buck the establishment.
“For far too long, politicians have neglected aging school buildings, a deteriorating Metro system, a Chesapeake Bay on life support, growing income inequality, skyrocketing prescription drug prices, and the climate crisis,” he wrote. “At the root of many of these issues is a campaign finance system designed for the wealthy and well-connected. All of this, and more, is why I have decided to run for delegate.”