Montgomery County Sen. Kramer Gets Democratic Primary Challenge

Zachary Kiser, a scientist and public health professional, plans to challenge state Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery) in the 2022 Democratic primary.

A public health professional and scientist who until recently worked on Capitol Hill is taking aim at state Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery).

Zachary Kiser, a 31-year-old resident of the Aspen Hill neighborhood in Rockville, will announce Thursday that he’s challenging Kramer in the 2022 Democratic primary.

In an interview, Kiser said he plans to make the case that Kramer, whose father is a former Montgomery County executive and whose sister served in the legislature and is secretary at the Department of Aging in the Hogan administration, is out of touch with the district and has an insufficiently progressive voting record in Annapolis.

“I see the community as a diverse, vibrant progressive community,” he said. “It’s a really nice amalgamation as I see it of different visions of the American Dream.”

Kramer, Kiser continued, has had every opportunity handed to him and hasn’t known the privation that many of his constituents have encountered.

“To use a country phrase, my daddy wasn’t a county executive,” he said.

Kramer dismissed Kiser’s challenge, predicting that the voters of District 19 “are not going to want to support a candidate who needs a GPS to get from Kemp Mill to Olney or from Glenmont to Derwood or from Aspen Hill to Four Corners.”

“This person wouldn’t know anything about Ben Kramer because he hasn’t lived in this district for more than a minute,” Kramer said.

Kiser’s announcement comes as the District 19 delegation — Kramer and Dels. Charlotte Crutchfield, Bonnie L. Cullison and Vaughn M. Stewart — is scheduled to speak before the Leisure World Democratic Club, in the heart of the district, on Thursday evening. Maryland Matters has learned that the four lawmakers plan to run as a team in the 2022 primary — a rarity in a district that has frequently seen Democrats split by factions over the past several decades.

Nevertheless, Kiser believes that he has a compelling life story and a message that will resonate with voters in a district that is becoming increasingly diverse.

He grew up poor in Appalachia, often lacking for basic necessities, which drove him to a career in scientific research and public health. He earned a Ph.D. from the Morehouse School of Medicine and spent the past two years working on Capitol Hill, first as an aide to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and then on the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. Since February, Kiser has been working for CRD Associates, a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm that represents health care nonprofits and professional associations.

Kiser said he was comfortable shaping policy behind the scenes until he was struck by the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I decided it was time for me to parlay whatever credentials I had into tangible action,” he said. “I know what it’s like not to know where food is going to come from. To really fight for someone you really have to know about the state [of living] they’re working with.”

Sen. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery) on the Senate floor. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Kiser said that as he learned about Kramer’s record in the legislature “it aggravated me” that the veteran lawmaker was slow to embrace certain progressive pieces of legislation, like the $15 minimum wage and the Family Medical Leave Act. He said Kramer’s support for the Montgomery County government liquor monopoly is anti-small business — and also a matter of self-interest, since the Kramer family owns shopping centers where county-run liquor stores rent space.

Kiser accused Kramer of eschewing social media to avoid attention and said the senator has benefited from having his committee voting sessions held with almost no public scrutiny.

“It bothers me that you have a guy running on his family name and his family money and you can’t really watch him,” Kiser said.

Kramer, 64, is finishing his first term in the Senate and previously served three terms in the House of Delegates. His father, Sidney Kramer (D), is a former state senator who served as Montgomery’s county executive from 1986 to 1990, and his sister, Rona E. Kramer (D), represented the adjacent District 14 in the Senate for eight years and now serves in Republican Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s cabinet.

Kramer defended his constituent service work and his voting record in the legislature. “If [Kiser] thinks there’s a chink in the armor there, he’ll find that he’s sorely mistaken,” he said. “I’m going to run very proudly on my record.”

Kramer, who ran unopposed for the Senate seat in the 2018 Democratic primary, reported having $62,317 in his campaign account as of mid-January. He also reported $234,559 in campaign debt — mostly unpaid loans to himself from prior campaigns dating back to 2006.

Kiser’s goal is to raise between $50,000 and $70,000 for the campaign and he is reaching out to labor unions and progressive groups, courting their support. Kiser is also working with some of the same strategists who helped Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro (D) defeat Kramer in a special council election in 2009 and who helped then-Del. Karen Montgomery oust Rona Kramer in the 2010 District 14 Democratic Senate primary.

Kramer said he’s ready for the fight.

“It’s got my competitive juices flowing, which is good for me,” he said.

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Josh Kurtz
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.