John Hurson, a former top-ranking member of the Maryland House of Delegates, is preparing a political comeback attempt.
Hurson, a Democrat who served as House majority leader and as chairman of the Environmental Matters Committee and then the Health and Government Operations Committee, told Maryland Matters Monday that he plans to run for an at-large seat on the Montgomery County Council in 2018.
“I have felt for a long time that county government is something I wanted to do, mainly because it’s so close to the people in their everyday lives, much more so than Congress or state office,” he said.
Hurson, who represented District 18 in the House from 1991 to 2005, said he will pitch himself to voters as a seasoned hand who will be able to fight for maximum levels of state and federal funding and attention for essential county services like education and transportation.
“The issues that are going to matter to me are things the county needs and how we get them,” he said. “Bread and butter issues for the county are what’s going to drive me.”
With the field of declared Democratic candidates for the four at-large seats on the County Council now approaching 30, Hurson will enter the race as one of the better-known and better-connected contenders — and perhaps the most experienced. But Hurson conceded that a potential path to victory – for him and for everyone else in the at-large race – “is really unknown” given the size of the field and the rapid political and demographic changes taking place in Montgomery County.
“I don’t think you necessarily have to have a niche,” he said. “I think I have to have people around the county talking about my candidacy.”
Hurson said he will participate in the county’s new public financing system for candidates. He plans to spend the next few weeks raising money and spreading the word about his candidacy, and will ramp up with a formal announcement shortly after Jan. 1. He has hired David Goodman, a veteran Maryland Democratic strategist, as a consultant for his nascent campaign.
Even though he resigned from the House in 2005 to take a full-time lobbying job with the Personal Care Products Council in Washington, D.C., where he is now executive vice president for government affairs, Hurson has remained active in political and policy debates at the state and national levels, and has hungered in recent years to return to public service. He spent a dozen years on the Maryland Community Health Resources Commission, including 10 as its chairman, and also served on the Maryland Council on Advancement of School-Based Health Centers. It was widely rumored that he would have been a leading contender for state health secretary had then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D) won the 2014 gubernatorial election.
Hurson, who turns 64 next month, said he is eager to return to the campaign trail and to dig into policy. He acknowledges that campaigning has changed considerably since he first ran for office in 1990 – as has the electorate – and he is curious about plotting political strategy in the age of social media.
Hurson said Montgomery County leaders need to be more focused, forceful and cohesive about laying out an agenda before every General Assembly session and then following through with state and federal officials. Hurson is a lifelong county resident, and argued that he can leverage his contacts in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill to the county’s benefit.
“I have a sense of what the county did look like and I have a sense of what it’s going to look like,” he said. “I’m concerned that some of the things we take for granted, some of the quality of life issues, some of the education opportunities, won’t be there” if local leaders don’t work closely together.
Hurson was elected to the House of Delegates to represent District 18, which takes in portions of Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Kensington, Silver Spring and Wheaton, in 1990 – at the same time now-U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) was elected to the state House. He was close to the district’s state senator, Patricia Sher (D), who was elected to the upper chamber that same year after serving a dozen years in the House. Sher was defeated in the 1994 Democratic Senate primary by Van Hollen.
Hurson was also close to Casper Taylor (D), another powerful lawmaker who became House speaker in 1994 and made Hurson his majority leader a year later. Hurson occasionally found himself walking an uncomfortable line between the institutional demands of being in leadership and his own reformer’s instincts, which are generally popular in Montgomery County and in liberal District 18.
He also spent a year as president of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Hurson said he will be “less nervous” as a member of the County Council than he was as an Annapolis lawmaker – more confident and sure of himself and more experienced dealing with leaders from other parts of the state and at other levels of government.
Something else has changed for Hurson since he was last in elective office: His personal life.
Hurson came out to his family in 2015 after what he describes as a 20-year struggle to come to grips with his sexuality. He had been married to Susan Butler Hurson, a well-known Washington, D.C., area OB-GYN, and the couple has two adult children: Laurie, 30, who works for the City University of New York, and Connor, 27, who works for a digital marketing firm in Columbia.
Coming out to his family, Hurson said, was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” He is now in a committed relationship with a man who came out to his own wife and kids about a decade ago. Hurson’s partner has lived in New Jersey but is moving in with him soon.
“This is something in my life that had to happen,” Hurson said. “While it’s been painful for the family in some ways, I think it’s made us stronger in some ways. It’s increased my level of confidence. It’s made me feel more real.”
The entire family, Hurson said, will be celebrating Thanksgiving together.