Maryland’s former Commerce Secretary and GOP gubernatorial candidate Kelly Schulz has found a running mate from within the Hogan administration.
Schulz and Dr. Jeff Woolford, an Air Force veteran and assistant Health secretary, were in Annapolis on Tuesday morning to file to put their names on the ballot for the June 28 primary.
“Today is an exciting day for our campaign as we introduce Marylanders to our next lieutenant governor, Jeff Woolford,” Schulz said in a statement. “Jeff’s professional experience, personal character, and life story make him extremely qualified to serve as our next lieutenant governor. I look forward to working with him in helping Maryland be safe, steady, and prosperous.”
Schulz told reporters their campaign would focus on the three key issues they hear from voters throughout the state: combatting violent crime, public education, and Maryland’s economy.
Woolford, a Sykesville resident who grew up there, had a 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force, starting as an aircraft mechanic and working his way up to fighter pilot and then medical officer, flight surgeon, and pilot-physician, a rare position in the USAF. He retired from the military in 2019 and went almost immediately into state government service, first as chief of staff at the Department of Human Resources, and since April 2021 as assistant secretary and chief medical officer at the Maryland Department of Health, where he has been overseeing the state’s mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics and other public health programs.
During his military service, Woolford was deployed to Afghanistan and served in tours of duty in the United Kingdom, Germany, and South Korea. He is currently a lieutenant colonel in the Maryland Air National Guard.
Woolford has six higher education degrees, including master’s degrees in business administration and public health from Johns Hopkins University, in addition to his medical degree. He is the co-founder and chair of Parallax Enterprises LLC, a Pikesville-based medical technology company.
“It is a tremendous honor to be part of this ticket and to run alongside Kelly Schulz as we continue to work toward a brighter future for all Marylanders,” Woolford said in a statement. “I’m humbled by the opportunity and look forward to meeting with voters in every corner of the state. Over the last seven years, Maryland has made a lot of progress and I am committed to making sure we continue in the same direction.”
Schulz said Woolford is far and away the most qualified individual running for lieutenant governor, and the best-equipped to take over as governor in case of emergency.
“It was a very long process,” she said of her decision to select Woolford. “We had a lot of advisers and friends offering advice. We’re very pleased that through very long conversations we were able to come up with the right individual.” Schulz went on to say that she and Woolford “have a strong friendship and a strong bond.”
Schulz’s principal Republican primary opponent, state Del. Daniel L. Cox, is running with Gordana Schifanelli, an attorney and conservative activist. Eight of the 10 Democratic candidates for governor have already selected their running mates.
Schulz, 53, has aligned her campaign closely with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), and his administration, which she joined as secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation in 2015. Schulz became secretary of Commerce in 2019 and left the administration in January to focus on the campaign full-time.
After filing on Tuesday, Woolford, 50, confirmed that he also would be stepping down from his post in the Hogan administration to “focus on my next job,” campaigning for Schulz.
Woolford’s military and medical careers appear to be marked by ambition and a desire to take on multiple responsibilities. According to articles in 2014 generated by Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama when he was stationed there, Woolford at first never thought that he would amount to more than an airplane technician, but decided to attend military college and medical school after being urged to do so by colleagues and mentors.
“He has done everything and more than what he said he was going to do,” his wife Nicole Woolford told a public affairs officer at the Air Force base. “When we got married, he had this all mapped out and he has done every single thing, including starting his own company.”
Woolford’s candidacy for lieutenant governor will inevitably be compared to the 2002 run of Admiral Charles R. Larson, the former commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis who was the running mate of the Democratic nominee for governor, then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Larson, a Naval Academy classmate and close friend of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), switched parties to join Townsend’s ticket. The pair lost the general election by 4 points.
Asked Tuesday if he had ever considered running for public office, Woolford replied, “I had contemplated it throughout my life, but I wanted to wait for the right time and to be able to come home and make a difference.”
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.