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Meet the state lawmakers running for Congress: Del. Harry Bhandari

Del. Harry Bhandari (D-Baltimore County). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

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 fifth (check) 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.

As a state legislator who’s story starts in Nepal as an educator and now sits in Maryland House of Delegates, Del. Harry Bhandari (D-Baltimore County) sees himself as a representation of the opportunities that an immigrant can have in the United States.

“I am a witness, that a person who was born 1,000 miles away could come here…and become a Legislator. I’m an example,” Bhandari told Maryland Matters.

He hopes to continue his story into the U.S. House of Representatives as runs to represent Maryland’s 2nd District, which takes in most of Baltimore County and most of Carroll County, that will available following the retirement of U.S. Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D).

Bhandari arrived to the United States from Nepal in 2005 to pursue higher education, attending Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Bhandari received a PhD from the UMBC for Literacy and Culture for his study on the “Political Participation and Linguistic Integration of Minorities” in 2022.

He’s worked as an teacher for Baltimore City Schools and as adjunct faculty with Baltimore City Community College, according to his biography on the Maryland General Assembly website. Bhandari pulls from his teaching experience to help inform his legislative duties, which he hopes to carry over into Congress should he win the District 2 seat.

“I’m a legislator, but I consider myself a public servant and more like the educator, teacher,” he said.

He said that balancing the work of his legislative duties along with the challenges of running for Congress requires “rigorous scheduling and prioritizing tasks.”

“I rely on a strong support team to keep both my legislative and campaign responsibilities on track. And ensuring that neither areas suffers due to lack of attention,” he said. In managing this balancing act, he said that his duties as an elected official take priority.

After an unsuccessful bid for the House of Delegates in 2014, Bhandari tried again for the 2018 election and won, becoming the first Nepali American elected to a state legislature in the United States.

He currently serves on the House Health and Government Operation Committee and is the chair of the Maryland Legislative Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Caucus.

Many of his legislative priorities fall into education or health and access-related issues.

For the 2024 session, HB 1143 would establish a Maryland Emergency Department Wait Time Reduction commission “to address factors throughout the health care system that contribute to increased emergency department wait times.”

The bill has already passed the House and is awaiting approval from the Senate Finance committee before it can get full consideration from the Senate chamber.

Another bill Bhandari has sponsored this session is HB 426, which would require that movie theatres provide a certain amount of movie screenings with closed captioning and subtitle options, aiming to better accommodate Maryland’s deaf and hard of hearing population. While HB 426 has received approval from the House chamber, its Senate cross-file is further along as it has approval from the Senate and is awaiting a full House vote.

With only a handful of days left in the 2024 session, it’s difficult to tell which bills will make it through the legislative process and head towards the governor’s desk, including some of Bhandari’s priority legislation.

He wants to continue working on those issues surrounding health care and education as a Congressman.

“My thinking is I will always fight for healthcare and education and the seniors. These are my top goals, and if I win, we will work together,” he said.

Bhandari said that a major reason he is running for Congress is because he wants to give back to a country that has granted him opportunities he’s had.

“I’m running because this country has given me a tremendous opportunity,” he said. “I want to make sure that other persons, the vulnerable, they get the same opportunities that I get.”

But Bhandari wants to take all his experiences — as an American immigrant, as an educator and as a legislator — to help serve the people of Maryland’s 2nd district. Bhandari is one of six Democrats, along with three Republicans, vying for the seat.

But the current competition appears to favor Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. (D), who is racking up endorsements from state officials and party leadership.  Recently, the National Education Association threw their support behind “Johnny O” based on recommendation from the Maryland State Education Association.

Bhandari remains optimistic about his uphill battle for the seat.

“There is a competition within yourself. There is no competition with anybody else,” he said. “When you go into politics, they always say ‘Oh you’re competing with…’ I’m not thinking like that. I am competing with myself and how I could be better.”


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Meet the state lawmakers running for Congress: Del. Harry Bhandari