Del. Brian Crosby and former Del. Deb Rey love St. Mary’s County.
They both have military backgrounds; Crosby served as an Army Ranger and Rey retired from the Air Force.
The similarities end there.
Crosby, a 39-year-old Democrat, and Rey, a 55-year-old Republican, are vying to represent District 29B in the House of Delegates in a race that’s seen as one of the most competitive in Maryland.
Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said in an interview Saturday the county’s other two House subdistricts — District 29A and District 29C — are overwhelmingly conservative and Republican strongholds.
Eberly said recent history also plays a part in this year’s District 29B contest.
When Rey defeated former Del. John Bohanan (D) in 2014 by just 76 votes, Republicans did well nationally, winning control of the U.S. House and Senate during the sixth year of President Obama’s term. Bohanan had been a rising star in House Democratic leadership.
Four years later in 2018, Crosby was one of five Democrats to defeat Republican incumbents in the House of Delegates. Crosby ousted Rey by nearly 950 votes.
That year on Capitol Hill, Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives.
This year, Eberly said Republicans running statewide races such as Del. Dan Cox, the gubernatorial nominee, and attorney general candidate Michael Peroutka, aren’t expected to do well.
“Democrats are more likely to be fired up just because they want to avoid Peroutka and Cox [general election victories],” he said. “That certainly helps Democratic candidates down ballot.”
The differences between Crosby and Rey stood out at an Oct. 3 forum at the St. Mary’s County Library.
Rey called Crosby “a far left radical” who voted to fund abortions, indoctrinate the public schools and “sought to steal our votes” by proposing voters in St. Mary’s County reduce the number of county commissioners on the five-member board to two.
Crosby countered when he said Rey provided the district with “no voice in Annapolis,” because it received “no discretionary allocated funds” during her term.
Crosby has a major ally in his quest for a second term: House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County), who appointed Crosby to serve as vice chair of the powerful House and Economic Matters Committee. Crosby’s reelection is one of Jones’ top political priorities this fall.
Jones recalled when she visited St. Mary’s last year and witnessed Crosby help more than two dozen businesses secure access to state capital.
“The Republican businessmen giving him high accolades says something. He has a proven track record in working across the aisle,” Jones said in an interview. “He is a pragmatic legislator. He cares about his district. I don’t give high praise lightly. I need him back.”
Rey’s endorsements include the St. Mary’s County Fraternal Order of Police, Maryland Right to Life Political Action Committee and Maryland Free Enterprise PAC, and the former delegate said she’s also supported by Del. Matt Morgan, a fellow Republican who represents adjoining District 29A in St. Mary’s.
Morgan didn’t return phone messages and emails Friday seeking comment.
Through Aug. 23, Crosby had $100,307 in his campaign account. Rey reported $33,140 on hand.
During interviews with Maryland Matters, Crosby and Rey summarized a few of their positions, outlining their contrasts.
Like his Democratic colleagues, Crosby supports the multi-billion-dollar Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education plan. He said it will bring an additional $11.6 million for the county public schools that include the five Title 1 schools, all located in his district, that support children from low-income families.
According to the legislative redistricting map approved this year, his district has more Black residents than the other two St Mary’s subdistricts combined, with 10,728.
The Blueprint, which continues to be refined by an accountability and implementation board, also requires teachers to receive an annual starting salary of $60,000.
“This bill…tells those teachers that we value them,” Crosby said. “I represent a district, which is a microcosm of Maryland, [has] pockets of endemic poverty. The money that follows that student puts more money into the classroom in those schools.”
Although Rey acknowledged certain parts of the Blueprint program could be beneficial, she said the state should allow parents school choice. Public school advocates and union leaders claim school choice supporters want to use public money that only helps a limited number of students. In addition, opponents say it funnels money out of public education to benefit private schools.
Rey admits a “controversial position” she supports would allow teachers to have guns in the classrooms. She stressed they should be trained to handle a firearm and how to respond in emergency situations.
“If we put up [a sign] and tell people and let them know if they come in here shooting, we fire back,” she said. “I don’t know why we’re afraid of protecting our children.”
In response to Rey’s position on guns in the classroom, Crosby said, “That is the dumbest policy in American history. Teachers sign up to teach. They don’t sign up to go through combat trauma.”
Crosby, a small business owner, said his district faces a major challenge with infrastructure projects.
Work continues at a major thoroughfare at Route 5 and Great Mills Road, where he said if it’s raining, traffic can stall for more than an hour.
Crosby is making an early claim he’ll have more success working with a Wes Moore administration than Rey, but of course the Democratic gubernatorial candidate must first garner more votes than his opponents in the Nov. 8 general election.
Crosby praises Moore’s running mate, former Del. Aruna Miller of Montgomery County, with her background as a transportation engineer.
“There are a lot of things to like about Aruna Miller, but that’s a number one thing I like,” Crosby said. “It may not be the most sexy topic, but I’m looking forward to having many conversations about concrete with her. How can we better improve our road systems and our transit systems so we can make the quality of life for our residents much better?”
Rey said crime is the number one concern she’s heard from residents.
Rey supports mandatory jail or prison time if a person uses a firearm to commit a crime. She said the legislature should research and consider a similar law passed in Florida.
In 1999, lawmakers in the Sunshine State approved the “10-20-Life” law which required judges to issue rulings based on mandatory minimum sentences for firearm offenses. For instance, a person would serve 10 years in prison for possession of a firearm in a crime; 20 years if a gun gets discharged; and 25 years to life if someone was injured while the crime was being committed.
The legislature amended the law in 2016 to remove aggravated assault from the list of gun-related crimes.
“Let’s get that legislation from Florida, take a look at it and how it’s written and what has been the impact,” Rey said. “See if that is something that could possibly be a good thing here in Maryland. It’s a great starting point.”