Meet the Distracted Caucus

Sens. Jill P. Carter (left) and Mary L. Washington are among the lawmakers running in primaries this year who will have to split their time between the legislative session and the campaign trail. File photos

Meet the Distracted Caucus — state lawmakers who are campaigning in primary elections this spring.

These legislators have to figure out how to show up back home regularly while proceeding through the intensity of the 90-day General Assembly session, which is now under way.

Four state lawmakers — Sen. Jill P. Carter and Dels. Talmadge Branch, Terri L. Hill, and Hassan M. “Jay” Jalisi — are running in the special Feb. 4 Democratic primary for the congressional seat left vacant by the death of the late Congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D).

State Sen. Mary L. Washington (D) is running for mayor of Baltimore in the April 28 primary. Del. Nick J. Mosby (D) is running for City Council president in the primary. And two Republican lawmakers — state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling and Del. Neil C. Parrott — are running for congressional seats in the April 28 primaries.

Both are hoping to get the Republican nominations to challenge Democratic incumbents in November: Salling is targeting U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, while Parrot has his sights set on Rep. David J. Trone.

(Disclosure: the David and June Trone Family Foundation is a financial supporter of Maryland Matters.)

So how are the legislators balancing their vast responsibilities in Annapolis with the need to be on the campaign trail regularly?

In an interview, Washington said the dynamic isn’t much different from what most legislators who have regular jobs face on a daily basis.

“The thing about being a Maryland legislator is, we always have two jobs,” she said.

Hill, a physician, said the equation reminders her of when she was doing her residency, and would get home at 3 or 4 every morning. She says she has worked to balance her time throughout her entire career.

“All of that was sort of training for this ‘marathon’ right now,” Hill said.
Hill’s campaign last week released a long list of political events the candidate plans to attend over the next few weeks, even with her legislative duties.
Carter said she feels lucky that the legislative session just got started and that the special primary is only a few weeks off. While things are slow in the State House, Carter said, she’s able to wave at intersections in the 7th District in the morning, get to Annapolis for legislative work, and be home with plenty of time to go door-knocking and attend night-time events.
“It’s going to be difficult for the latter part of the session,” Carter said.
Most of the candidates currently running for Cummings’ seat have also filed to run in the regular, April 28 primary for a full term. But it’s unclear whether runners-up in the special primary will want to stay in the regular primary. So for those state lawmakers participating in the special election, the next three weeks may be chaotic, but things could calm down immediately after Feb. 4.

As the session intensifies, the burden will start to hit those lawmakers campaigning in the April 28 primaries.

Salling, who has a potentially competitive GOP primary, said his No. 1 goal for the moment is to focus on his legislative work.

“I’m here [in Annapolis] right now for 90 days, as my constituents’ state senator, doing all that I can to represent them,” he said. “I’m still going to be very busy on the days that I’m not here, and just meeting, greeting, going about.”

Several of the candidates said that one of the benefits of being in Annapolis is the opportunity to discuss their campaigns with their fellow lawmakers — to seek advice from seasoned politicians and, with luck, drum up support. Last week, for example, Hill announced an endorsement from Del. Jen Terrasa, a fellow Howard County Democrat.

“I got to see first-hand Terri’s leadership style when she led the Howard County Delegation last session,” Terrasa said.

Salling said he has lined up support in the primary from fellow Republican state senators and from former GOP gubernatorial nominee Ellen R. Sauerbrey, a conservative icon. Salling said knowing he has persuasive surrogates in his corner helps his cause, even if he is tied up in Annapolis.

“I’m prepared,” he said. “I’ve got good support. I do have good leadership backing me up.”

Bruce DePuyt and Samantha Hawkins contributed to this report.

[email protected]