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Election 2022 Government & Politics

Seven Non-Officeholders to Watch in the Democratic Lieutenant Governor Sweepstakes

Dr. Leana Wen speaks at a Maryland Planned Parenthood gala in 2019. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Political gossip will be at a full roar this week with the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference underway.

Even with the delta variant raging, most candidates for statewide office are expected to make the scene in Ocean City, moving from the convention center to the party circuit to the boardwalk, to meet actual voters. It will be a rare opportunity for officeholders, government bureaucrats, lobbyists, strategists and other political insiders to assess many of the contenders up close and personal.

A major topic of conversation — whose answer is largely unknowable at this point — is who the candidates for governor will choose to be their running mates. These announcements could come any time — in the next few weeks, or as late as Feb. 22, the candidate filing deadline for the 2022 primaries.

For the nine men seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, there will be pressure — almost an expectation — to select a woman to be their candidate for lieutenant governor. One of the leading Democratic contenders, state Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, has already pledged to add a Black woman to his ticket.

The universe of potential running mates is infinite, yet most candidates for governor will look first to officeholders to run with them. Among Democrats, the list of women officeholders who are frequently mentioned as possible running mates includes Sens. Melony G. Griffith of Prince George’s County and Cheryl C. Kagan of Montgomery County and Dels. Vanessa E. Atterbeary of Howard County, Stephanie M. Smith of Baltimore City, Maggie L. McIntosh of Baltimore City, and Joseline Peña-Melnyk of Prince George’s.

Local elected officials are also part of the discussion, including Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro, Baltimore City Councilmembers Phylicia Porter and Odette Ramos, and Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart.

But if recent history is any guide, officeholders may be reluctant to join a gubernatorial ticket if they aren’t convinced that victory is a sure thing — especially if they are up for re-election in 2022. State legislators and many county officials would have to sacrifice their seats to join a gubernatorial ticket next year; many municipal officials would not. And Navarro is term-limited.

So inevitably, speculation will turn to other potential Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor — women who aren’t currently holding office. Here, after discussions with a variety of political leaders and strategists, are seven non-officeholders who could be in the mix:

Cheryl Bost

The president of the Maryland State Education Association is often at the intersection of political and policy battles. She’s savvy, comes from the always-pivotal Baltimore County and could bring the political heft of the teachers’ union along with her.

Charlene Dukes

The civic-minded former president of Prince George’s Community College has taken a temporary gig as president of Montgomery College — a testament to her respect in the education community. She has other policy chops, including recent service as head of Prince George’s Forward, a group that recommended a future-looking, multi-faceted agenda for County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D).

Candace Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth, the former mayor of Hyattsville, put aside a promising political career of her own to launch and head Our Black Party, an organization to promote Black political leaders and a Black agenda. But she’s still a viable contender for any number of political offices, whenever she wants back in to the game.

Aruna Miller

The well-rounded former state lawmaker from Montgomery County who lost a bid for Congress in 2018 was preparing for a political comeback this year by raising money for another congressional bid. Unless new political maps create a new opportunity for her, however, she is unlikely to challenge the heavily-financed Democratic incumbent in her district, Rep. David J. Trone. But someone so smart and knowledgeable could be an asset to a gubernatorial candidate.

Laura Neuman

The former Republican served as interim Anne Arundel County executive and has ample economic development experience in the public and private sectors. She has a wealth of government and political contacts, especially in Central Maryland.

Krishanti Vignarajah

Her campaign for governor in 2018 didn’t go so well, but on a personal and policy level she impressed just about everyone she met. Since then she has been doing important work as executive director of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, and a run for LG would be a way to get back into the political conversation.

Leana Wen

There’s long been speculation about whether the former Baltimore health commissioner and high-profile public health expert is interested in a political career. She’s got an inspiring life story and impeccable communication  skills and could help a gubernatorial candidate develop a strategy for combating the latest phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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