Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) upstaged a union rally organized to protest the state Senate’s longtime president Monday, declaring that he will work actively in the upcoming campaign to unseat both Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
“We have a desire to get out into the primaries and saddle up, so to speak, and talk to the voters about what went on here,” Franchot told reporters on the 90th and final day of a session notable for its bursts of acrimony.
Franchot spoke just moments after he stood alongside union activists at a rally organized by the Service Employees International Union Local 500 just outside the State House. Those attending held signs and wore shirts adorned with the words “Take a Hike Mike (Miller).” Speakers accused the eight-term senate president of failing to sufficiently champion progressive legislation.
A website — takeahikemike.com — has been established to drive home their litany of complaints.
Among the speakers: a gun-safety advocate, a supporter of a $15-an-hour minimum wage, a former legislative staffer frustrated by the pace of sexual harassment reform legislation, and a community college professor angry that a bill allowing instructors to unionize died without a vote.
“The pay for adjunct faculty is so low that it is a struggle for many of us to afford our homes, groceries for families and health insurance,” said Joan Bevelaqua, a visual arts instructor at two community colleges. “That’s why adjuncts want to join together and bargain collectively for a fair shake. We had the votes in the General Assembly…It should have been easy. Democrats have a veto-proof majority in both chambers.”
“The bad news for Mike is that there’s a political price to pay for standing in the way of change,” Bevelaqua added.
In addition to Franchot, another noteworthy attendee of the anti-Miller rally was former Del. Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City), who is seeking a state Senate seat this year.
Franchot had a rough legislative session. His proposal to make it easier for brewers of craft beer to move product drowned in committee. Then lawmakers removed school construction funding power from the Board of Public Works, on which the comptroller serves. That move was prompted in part by what some saw as the indignity of the semi-annual “beg-a-thon,” though Franchot’s alliance with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) was also a factor.
But Franchot cast his looming involvement in the upcoming primaries as striking a blow for fresh air in the halls of Annapolis — not payback.
“Fifty percent of [what happens here] is good government. … 50 percent of it is in the back room and it’s become unacceptable,” Franchot said. “And so yes, I will be out in many Senate and House districts this spring, summer and fall, talking about the need for honest government, open government, good government.”
A source familiar with Franchot’s plans said the comptroller will soon endorse Del. Mary L. Washington, who is challenging Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway in the Democratic primary in Baltimore’s 43rd District, and also plans to back Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth in her primary bid to oust Prince George’s County Councilwoman Deni Taveras. He is likely to get involved in some open-seat races as well.
Spotting Tommi Makila, the man challenging Miller in the District 27 Democratic primary, at the SEIU rally in Annapolis Monday, Franchot corralled him by the shoulders to meet reporters.
“This gentleman’s gonna win,” he said. “Because people are going to get out. For the first time, they’re going to engage the negatives of the machine. Am I for Tommi Makila? You bet I am.”
Makila, an energy consultant from Accokeek, is a former homeowners’ association president making his first run for public office. He said he has $1,000 in his campaign account. Miller reported $1.1 million on hand as of mid-January.
Makila said he was motivated to run less because of ideological differences with Miller than a sense that politics in the Calvert-Prince George’s district is fundamentally broken.
“We have the establishment dictating behind closed doors who they support,” Makila said. “The slates and sample ballots decide who gets elected. If there’s an open seat on the board of education, it’s the senator who, through his slate, basically decides who gets elected.”
Informed of Franchot’s participation in the SEIU event and his commitment to engage in the primary, Miller said, “Tell him the water’s fine. He’s an elected official and he’s free to campaign anywhere.”
“The speaker and I, [and] Delegate Maggie McIntosh, we did what was always the right thing, and we stand by it,” he added, referring to the measure to take school construction decisions away from the Board of Public Works. “We’re prepared to accept any consequences. And I just think —once we get out of here — people might think differently about things. There will be a cooling off period. But whatever he wants to do in my district is fine.”
A Miller supporter handed out a lengthy list of endorsements from progressive and labor leaders praising the Senate leader for his support of their legislation over the years.
While Miller has a single primary opponent, Busch, who represents a two-member subdistrict based in Annapolis, is running in a Democratic primary with three other candidates: Aaron Axe, a Naval Academy graduate and former instructor; Alice Cain, a leader of a nonprofit education association who previously worked on Capitol Hill; and Mary Reese, a Navy veteran who ran a small publishing business. The general election in that district could be competitive as well.
Because they are so outnumbered in Maryland, Republicans see an all-out war among Democrats as potentially beneficial, a fact underscored by the presence of several seemingly gleeful aides to Hogan not far from where Franchot and his team took part in the SEIU event.
Not all of the factual claims made by speakers at the rally could immediately be verified. Asked repeatedly by a reporter if he stands behind the statements made at the anti-Miller rally, Franchot said, “I’ll pass on that one.”