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Election 2024 Government & Politics

Meet the state lawmakers running for Congress: Sen. Sarah Elfreth

Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), center, speaks about her candidacy for the 3rd Congressional district to Anne Arundel County Young Democrats at Severna Park Library on March 5, 2024. Photo by William J. Ford.

Eight state legislators are running in congressional primaries in three separate districts this spring. Maryland Matters is checking in with all of them to discuss how they are balancing their legislative work with the imperative to be out on the campaign trail, along with the issues they are emphasizing in the General Assembly and on the campaign trail.

This is the fourth installment of our series. We’ll also have deeper looks into the congressional races and more information on other candidates as we get closer to the May 14 primaries.

Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel) calmly sat inside the Severna Park Library one evening earlier this month as several young political activists gobbled down slices of pizza.

Elfreth joined the Anne Arundel County Young Democrats to explain her vision for representing the 3rd congressional district. At age 35, she technically still represents as part of the Young Democrats — at least until her birthday in September.

Elfreth represents the Annapolis-based 30th District in the Senate, a seat she won in a competitive district after an intense, closely-fought general election. She was the youngest woman ever elected to the Maryland Senate.

“It was a really tough decision to decide to move potentially from the state Senate to Congress, but I thought about it a lot,” she said to the several people in attendance. “At the end of the day, my reason for running is the reason that you’re spending your night in this library and talking about campaigns and elections. It’s because there’s just too much at stake at the national level.”

Before Elfreth traveled to the library, she spent about two hours and 15 minutes listening to budget summaries and testimony as a member of the Senate’s Capital Budget subcommittee.

She’s among eight state lawmakers that juggle their legislative duties as they campaign for Congress during the 90-day General Assembly session.

Elfreth joins four other lawmakers trying to garner the Democratic nomination in the May 14 primary to replace Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd), who decided not to seek reelection this year.

A total of 22 Democrats are in the field, including John Morse, a labor lawyer who spoke to the Anne Arundel Young Democrats about his campaign on the same night as Elfreth’s.

Nine Republicans are in the field to represent the 3rd District, which includes Howard County and parts of Carroll and Anne Arundel counties, including Annapolis.

Elfreth has served in the Senate since January 2019 and has succeeded in passing 84 bills, more than any other legislator during that time.

Among her proudest legislative achievements is a law from two years ago that requires the state to budget money for psychedelic research to help military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. The law is named after David Perez, who served in the Army in Iraq and advocated for military veterans throughout the state and on Capitol Hill. He died in 2020 at age 34.

Anne Arundel County is home to the state’s second largest veteran population behind Prince George’s County.

“What I loved about that bill process…was bringing people to the table with really tough stories, people who have lost friends, family members,” she said in an interview. “We just didn’t connect the dots between allowing access for these veterans suffering from PTSD to these research institutions doing the research on actually solving the problem. It’s absolutely a national issue that I think can win bipartisan support.”

The senator has received support in her run for Congress from numerous fellow Democrats and Anne Arundel colleagues, including Sens. Pamela Beidle and Dawn Gile and Dels. Dana Jones and Andrew C. Pruski.

Elfreth garnered a tall endorsement in January from former Democratic Rep. Tom McMillen, a 6-foot-11 former University of Maryland basketball star and NBA player who represented part of the district where Elfreth is now running.

Andrew Pantelis, fourth district vice president for the International Association of Fire Fighters, announced on his Instagram page last month that Elfreth had received an endorsement from the Professional Firefighters of Maryland.

“During her tenure as Maryland State Senator, Sarah has been a steadfast champion of the fire service and organized labor,” he wrote. “We look forward to continuing our work with Sarah in Washington, D.C. on important issues such as national collective bargaining and cancer protections for our fire fighters and paramedics.”

With less than three weeks left in the legislative session, Elfreth has more than a dozen bills for which she’s the primary sponsor, including the high-profile Senate Bill 784. The Senate approved the measure 28-17 on Monday night. It now heads across the hall to the House, where a similar version remains in limbo with the Ways and Means Committee.

The measure would impose an excise tax on firearms, firearms accessories and ammunition to fund the state’s Trauma Physicians Services Fund, which helps cover costs for medical care by trauma physicians, for Medicaid-enrolled patients and other trauma related on-call and standby expenses.

Elfreth sits on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which advanced a fiscal year 2025 budget to the Senate floor with no tax increases.

Besides her time helping to analyze the budget and assess her own legislation, she sits on other committees and boards such as the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a tri-state group of state lawmakers, agency representatives and residents from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia to craft policy to help restore the bay. She was the commission chair in 2022, which put her on the road regularly to meet with her counterparts in Harrisburg, Pa., and Richmond, Va.

Elfreth is also an adjunct professor teaching public policy at Towson University, her alma mater.

With such a busy schedule, she said managing previous campaigns made her “built for this” congressional run.

“This is not my first rodeo. I’ve always had tough campaigns,” she said. “I have a fantastic base of volunteers who are wonderful and exactly the support I need at this moment when I can’t knock on every door. I’m also engaging full time in the Senate because that’s the job people elected me to do. I’m doing my best to do both.”


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Meet the state lawmakers running for Congress: Sen. Sarah Elfreth