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Election 2024 Government & Politics

Political Notes: A new caucus in Annapolis, Bd. of Elections arrest fallout, an early FEC number, a carbon copy in Ocean City, and personnel news

A view of the Maryland State House through a nearby office window. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Maryland General Assembly leaders and legislators announced the formation of a Jewish Caucus on Tuesday.

The first-ever Maryland Jewish Legislative Caucus includes the 20 Jewish lawmakers in the legislature and was announced in coordination with the General Assembly’s presiding officers.

Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) and Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery) will serve as the Senate and House co-chairs of the new group.

“Having a Maryland Jewish Legislative Caucus will enable members of the General Assembly to advocate for policies important to the Jewish communities of Maryland. We look forward to working with our colleagues to advance the mission of the Caucus,” Hettleman said in a statement.

Solomon added: “With antisemitic and hate incidents at record levels, the Maryland Jewish Legislative Caucus will be an important voice in the General Assembly to combat hate, collaborate with our diverse partners, and celebrate Jewish culture and heritage. We are ready to tackle these issues as we formally begin this work.”

With the official recognition, the caucus will now adopt bylaws and an organizational structure.

In addition to Jewish lawmakers, other legislators who are connected to the Jewish community through the district they represent, family, or affinity will be able to join as associate members.

The caucus’ initial focus will include:

  • Combating the rising frequency of hate crimes against Jewish communities and all protected populations under hate crimes laws;
  • Working to protect and advance civil rights and religious freedom of all;
  • Improving security measures for organizations predominantly serving Jewish communities and other vulnerable communities at risk for hate-based violence;
  • Celebrating Jewish culture and heritage in Maryland; and
  • Serving as a liaison to local, statewide, and national organizations serving Jewish residents.

“We must acknowledge that this is a particularly fraught moment for the Jewish community here in Maryland, nationally, and globally,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said in a statement. “As the legislature pursues strategies to combat antisemitism and encourage intersectionality, I look forward to working with the newly formed Maryland Jewish Legislative Caucus in that work.”

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) noted that Maryland “was founded on the principles of religious freedom and tolerance.”

“I am confident that the Maryland Jewish Legislative Caucus will uphold this legacy and work diligently to help us combat the rising hate, intolerance, and antisemitism we’ve seen in our communities,” Jones said in a statement.

Progressive group want GOP to return donations of alleged insurrectionist

An Eastern Shore progressive organization is calling on nine Republicans to return more than $13,100 in campaign contributions from a former state election official now charged in the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“It is vital that our elected officials and institutions stand firmly against those who threaten our democracy,” the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus said in a statement. “Accepting financial contributions from individuals who participate in such acts is not only morally reprehensible but also undermines the integrity of our democratic process.”

Carlos Ayala, 52, of Salisbury, faces federal charges including felony civil disorder and misdemeanor offenses. The charges were filed last week in the District of Columbia.

Federal prosecutors say this image shows Carlos Ayala on the Upper West Terrace at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Ayala was subsequently appointed to and resigned from the Maryland State Board of Elections. Image from court documents.

Ayala was identified as being part of a group of rioters illegally gathered on restricted Capitol grounds on January 6, according to a 13-page charging document filed in federal court.

Prosecutors said Ayala is seen on video climbing over police barricades as rioters overran the police lines on the U.S Capitol stairs.

He is later seen on video near a door on the Senate side of the building, waiving a flag, according to court records.

Prosecutors allege that the flag Ayala was carrying was thrust at a Capitol Police officer.

Ayala, one of two Republicans on the Maryland State Board of elections, resigned his position after the charges were unsealed. He remains free while awaiting a trial.

Even so, the progressive group spotlighted Republicans who have taken money from Ayala. Topping the list is Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st) who has received $4,700 from Ayala.

“The Lower Shore Progressive Caucus demands accountability and calls upon elected officials who have received donations from Carlos Ayala to renounce their association with him and return the funds,” the group said in its statement.

Other Republicans who received donations include:

  • County Executive Julie Giordano: 2 donations totaling $2,500.
  • State Senator Mary Beth Carozza: 2 donations totaling $1,050.
  • State Senator Johnny Mautz: 1 donation totaling $200.
  • Wicomico School Board District 3 Representative Susan Beauchamp: 2 donations totaling $2,200.
  • Wicomico State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes: 2 donations totaling $225.
  • Wicomico County Council At-Large Representative James Winn: 1 donation totaling $200.
  • Wicomico County School Board At-Large Representative Kristin Hazel: 1 donation of $1,000.
  • Wicomico County Republican Central Committee: 2 donations totaling $1,100.

Some early financial returns

Candidates for Congress aren’t required to release their 2023 year-end campaign finance reports until Jan. 31. But that didn’t stop state Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), one of 15 Democrats running for the open seat in the 3rd congressional district, from teasing her fundraising numbers on Tuesday.

Elfreth, who appears to be one of the frontrunners in the May 14 Democratic primary, said she raised $402,576 in the eight weeks between kicking off her campaign in early November and the Federal Election Commission’s Dec. 31 filing deadline. The campaign said it received contributions from 611 donors, nearly 80% of whom are 3rd District residents. The campaign is expected to report $374,800 cash on hand.

“People want a proven leader with strong ties to our district who will go to Washington to fight for a healthy Chesapeake Bay and an inclusive and innovative economy,” Elfreth said. “I am grateful to the many neighbors and supporters who invested in this campaign and am humbled by the tremendous outpouring of encouragement from residents of the Third Congressional District.”

Meanwhile, another lawmaker running in the 3rd District, Del. Terri L. Hill (D-Howard), is holding an announcement rally Saturday morning at the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center in Columbia — two months after she announced her intention to seek the seat that Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd) is leaving at the end of this Congress.

The answer is blowin’ in the wind

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st) is hoping history will repeat itself.

Last March, Harris participated in a congressional hearing in Wildwood, N.J., organized by his colleague, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.), meant to take aim at the fledgling offshore wind energy industry in the U.S. Van Drew brought a few colleagues and several vocal opponents to the hearing, at a convention hall in the resort town — and Harris, as a member of the House Appropriations Committee, threatened to withhold salaries of officials at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Now, Harris is bringing the same crowd, including Van Drew and another New Jersey congressman who was at the prior event, Rep. Chris Smith (R), to a congressional hearing at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center in Ocean City on Saturday afternoon, where opposition to offshore wind development proposals off the coast remain high. Promised witnesses include an expert in the fishing industry, an expert in environmental and energy policy, an expert in the economic impacts of offshore wind, and an expert on the local impacts of offshore wind. Harris has also invited Biden administration officials and representatives of at least one of the companies working to put wind turbines in the sea near Ocean City.

On a social media post last week, Harris said the hearing would focus on “the effects offshore wind industrialization is having on our environment, marine life and economy.” He noted that Van Drew and Smith represent districts that “are directly impacted by the harmful effects of offshore wind.”

It sounds like a carbon copy of the New Jersey hearing a year ago. But will the result be the same?

Last fall, half a year after the congressional hearing, Orsted, a major wind developer, announced that it was canceling its two proposed New Jersey projects. The company is still aiming to build off the coast of Ocean City.

State party leader moving on

Vincent D. Harrington is stepping down as executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party after a year in the position.

The party announced Tuesday that Harrington, , a campaign strategist from Prince George’s County who was previously Gov. Wes Moore’s political director, would be “moving on from his position … in the coming weeks.” He was announced as executive director on Feb. 8, 2023.

Additional details were not available Tuesday and the party did not respond to questions.

“To serve in this capacity has been the honor of a lifetime,” Harrington said in a statement. “I’m not just a proud Democrat, I’m a proud Marylander. And I believe that our Party works every day to honor the Maryland spirit and the incredible working families that make this state the best in the country. I am proud of what we have accomplished this last year, and I cannot wait to see this Party continue to grow as we all step up to the front lines to fight for the very soul of this nation in 2024.”

New Democratic Party Chair Ken Ulman, who was elected to the party position in November, said Harrington’s leadership “was one of infectious passion for this Party and for our great state. His presence will be deeply missed not just by me, but by the countless Maryland Democrats who have had the pleasure of getting to know our Executive Director over the past year. I look forward to seeing what this incredible leader does next for our great state.”

Gov. Wes Moore (D) also released a statement through the party.

“What I know about Vincent Harrington is this — he never shies away from the call to serve and he accomplishes big things,” Moore said. “His eagerness to lead has been an asset not just to our Party but to our State. Those who know him know a Marylander who truly cares about his community and is always willing to go the extra mile on behalf of others. He is a special talent and his impact on our society is just beginning.”

A lifelong Prince George’s County resident, Harrington had worked in community relations and other political operations before joining the campaign of Moore and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller.

Haines remembered in the Senate

The Maryland Senate adjourned Tuesday in memory of Republican former Sen. Larry Haines.

Haines, a 20-year veteran of the chamber, died Saturday at Lorien Taneytown Assisted Living. A cause of death was not announced.

He was 85.

“He was a real giant in Carroll County,” said Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll).

“Senator Haines was a powerful voice for Carroll County and common-sense conservative values throughout his time in the Senate,” Ready said.

Haines, a Woodbine native, was the son of the late Arthur L. Haines and the late Evelyn M. Haines.

He attended Mount Airy High School and Frederick Community College. He was a dairy farmer in Carroll County and later founded Haines Realty in 1972 where he worked as a broker and appraiser.

Haines was a long-time member of the Church of the Open Door in Westminster.

“Senator Haines drew from his devout Christian faith,” said Ready.

“That life perspective was really reflected in his Senate work. He advocated very aggressively for organizations like Helping Up Mission and other nonprofit and charitable groups that gave a second chance, particularly to people struggling with addiction. It was something he really cared deeply about.”

Haines was elected to the Senate in 1990, and first served on what was then the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. A year later, he was moved to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee where he served the balance of his time in the Senate.

He announced his retirement in 2010, telling Maryland Reporter that his wife had reminded him of his vow to not become a career politician.

“I stayed long enough to be vaccinated, but I didn’t stay so long that I got infected,” he told the website. “I’ve seen other legislators, who’ve had a change come over them after a long, long time. It was a tough decision, but I believe in my heart that it was the right one.”

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jane Marie Haines (nee Armfield) and sons Garry A. Haines and Kevin E. Haines, both of Westminster, and Levi T. Haines of Hanover, PA.

The family will receive visitors at the Church of the Open Door, 550 Baltimore Blvd., Westminster on Friday from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and again on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. A funeral service is planned for Saturday at 11 a.m.

MBE ombudsman coming

Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced Tuesday that Nichelle Johnson will serve as the state’s first “minority business enterprise ombudsman.”

The position will be in the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority, and Women Business Affairs. Johnson is familiar with that office because she works as the state’s MBE compliance officer.

“I am grateful that Nichelle has raised her hand to serve Maryland in this new leadership position. Our entire administration is confident in her ability to advocate for our minority-owned businesses and help us grow a more equitable economy,” Moore said in a statement. “As the first Minority Business Enterprise Ombudsman in Maryland history, Nichelle will work to forge stronger partnerships between our small businesses and state government. And in doing so, she will position us to win this decade.”

The governor announced in September he would appoint a person to help bring in more small and diverse businesses to receive state contracts.

The state has historically struggled to reach a 29% diversity goal in state contracts, with participation currently below 15%.

Some of Johnson’s responsibilities will include helping those business navigate through the procurement process, developing policies and guidance to improve agency compliance and helping to resolve issues that arise during contract performance.

According to the governor’s office, Johnson will also develop new training programs for prime contractors and subcontractors to help contract outcomes meet program goals.

“Nichelle has been a key member of our team for more than four years,” said Yolanda Maria Martinez, special secretary to the business affairs office. “This promotion acknowledges the great work she has been doing and our confidence in her abilities to influence positive outcomes for the minority business enterprise community.”


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Political Notes: A new caucus in Annapolis, Bd. of Elections arrest fallout, an early FEC number, a carbon copy in Ocean City, and personnel news