A majority of Maryland voters want to change how vacancies in the General Assembly are filled, according to a poll commissioned by a coalition of public interest groups.
Among 818 registered Maryland voters surveyed who said they are likely to vote in the 2024 general election, 85% favored filling vacancies in a special election. Only 13% favored continuing the practice of having local party central committees fill the vacancies.
The poll, commissioned by Common Cause Maryland and the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, was conducted between Sept. 18 and 28, by Annapolis-based Gonzales Research & Media Services. The margin of error for the poll is 3.5%.
“The General Assembly can’t continue to allow a handful of individuals to speak on behalf of thousands of voters. Letting another session pass with no action continues to diminish the voice of the voters,” said Common Cause Maryland Executive Director Joanne Antoine.
Currently, vacancies in the House of Delegates and the Senate are filled by local political central committees. Those panels submit a candidate to the governor for appointment to fill the balance of the term.
The poll results, released after a Senate committee chair announced her impending departure, show strong support for special elections. An effort to change the process has foundered in recent years but could benefit from public opinion and an early boost from the Senate president.
Last week, Senate Finance Committee Chair Melony Griffith (D-Prince George’s) announced she will leave her post by the end of the year to become president of the Maryland Hospital Association.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) announced a series of leadership changes in light of Griffith’s departure on Tuesday.
Those appointed to the legislature are free to run for re-election
Common Cause and Maryland PIRG note that 23% of legislators now serving in the Maryland General Assembly were not originally elected to their seats.
“It’s way past time for Maryland to establish a special elections process for legislative vacancies,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “There is no doubt that appointed policymakers are committed to public service and their districts, but our democracy would be stronger and more resilient if we joined state legislatures across the country that hold special elections.”
Lawmakers in the last three years have introduced amendments to the state constitution creating a special election process.
Legislation introduced last year died in the House Ways and Means Committee.
Ferguson on Monday told a gathering in Montgomery County that reform is needed when it comes to filling vacancies.
“I do not think it is fine the way it is,” Ferguson told the group, conceding that he does not yet know how to change the system.
“This is an issue that we are going to take up very seriously,” Ferguson said.
Ficker releases first campaign ad
Perennial candidate Robin Ficker released his first digital campaign ad Tuesday in his campaign for the Republican nomination to represent Maryland in the U.S. Senate.
The 90-second video entitled “Put Me In The Ring” highlights his background as a former state delegate and his push for term limits and capping tax increases in Montgomery County.
Ficker, 80, also shows snippets of him waving a Maryland flag at a sporting event and pictures with the late heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who Ficker says “taught me to use my voice for good and never give up.”
“When we the people make our voices heard, there’s nothing we can’t do,” he said. “But establishment politicians in both parties fail us time and time again.”
Ficker says he is concerned that the U.S.-Mexico border “remains wide open,” violent crime and drug use are increasing and children are “falling behind in schools.”
“Maryland deserves better…to disrupt the status quo,” Ficker said in the video that ends with him shadowboxing.
But there’s plenty of competition for the open Senate seat after longtime Sen. Ben Cardin (D) decided not to seek reelection in 2024.
Retired Brig. Gen. John Teichert is also seeking the Republican nomination with a similar platform. Teichert, a 33-year Air Force veteran from Anne Arundel County has support from state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R-Baltimore County).
According to the state Board of Elections website, two more candidates have filed for the Republican nomination: Ray Bly, an Army veteran of Howard County who sought the House of Representatives District 7 seat in 2022 and last year; and Lorie R. Friend, a registered nurse from Garrett County who came in second in seeking the Republican nomination for Senate last year.
Another potential candidate is Del. Kevin Hornberger (R-Cecil County). During an interview Monday, he said he made no decision on the race and likely won’t decide until the end of the year.
It will be tough for the Republican nominee to win in the general election given Maryland’s heavily Democratic electorate.
The top three Democratic contenders are U.S. Rep. David Trone (6th), Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
All three have won endorsements, but the Alsobrooks campaign touts more than 100 federal, state, and local officials and community leaders and political action committees that back her. She recently announced the endorsement of various unions including the American Federation of Government Employees.
Meanwhile, the Trone campaign announced Tuesday it will host a roundtable at the Hyattsville Branch Library in Prince George’s with members of the Latino community.
The discussion at 2 p.m. Sunday represents the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Trone plans to announce a Latino advisory board that will include business, nonprofit and community leaders.
Former lieutenant governor and siblings disavow RFK Jr.’s politics
Maryland’s former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D) and three of her siblings issued a statement this week calling their brother Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s presidential campaign “perilous for our country.”
RFK Jr. announced on Monday that he would abandon a Democratic primary bid for the presidency and launch an independent campaign instead.
“The decision of our brother Bobby to run as a third-party candidate against Joe Biden is dangerous to our country,” the siblings — Townsend, former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II (D-Mass.), Rory Kennedy and Kerry Kennedy — wrote.
“Bobby might share the same name as our father, but he does not share the same values, vision or judgment. Today’s announcement is deeply saddening for us. We denounce his candidacy and believe it to be perilous for our country,” the statement continued.
It is not the first time RFK Jr., a prominent vaccine skeptic and conspiracy theorist, has been confronted publicly by family members. In 2019, Townsend was joined by former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II (D), and her late daughter, Maeve Kennedy McKean, in writing an op-ed in Politico taking RFK Jr. to task for his opposition to vaccines.