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Election 2024 Government & Politics Health Care

Meet the state lawmakers running for Congress: Sen. Clarence Lam

Sen. Clarence Lam (D-Howard and Anne Arundel). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

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 seventh 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.

The people skills needed to address the needs of a legislative constituency is a lot like working as a doctor overseeing a dozen patients in one day — at least according to state Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard and Anne Arundel), a physician who is running for U.S. Congress.

“The legislative work is not dissimilar from the patient care and clinical work I do. It’s about helping people…you’re interacting with others, you’re really trying to solve their problems,” Lam said in a recent interview.

Lam is running to represent Maryland’s 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes all of Howard County and parts of Carroll and Anne Arundel counties, including Annapolis.

On Monday he released his first television ad for the congressional run, urging Marylanders to vote for “Dr. Clarence Lam, Democrat for Congress,” where he is shown knocking on doors and pitching himself as a doctor, a lawmaker and a father.

“Life is a balance, right?” Lam told Maryland Matters. “Certainly wearing multiple hats, whether it’s the General Assembly, in medicine or through a campaign. Over the last nine years, it’s kind of become second nature to be juggling many different priorities.”

He also gives credit to his support system, including the campaign team and his legislative staff, for helping manage the varying responsibilities.

Lam is a preventive medicine physician at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the program director for the school’s preventive medicine residency program. He also continues to see patients as the medical director of occupational health at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Lam’s experience as the son of Asian immigrants inspired him to run in 2014 to become a Maryland delegate. His mom is from Taiwan and his dad is from Hong Kong.

“I was a second generation Asian American, born and raised in Pennsylvania. And I recognized, particularly as a son of immigrants, my family had a lot of opportunities here that they simply wouldn’t have if they had been somewhere else,” he said.

He served in the Maryland House of Delegates from 2015 to 2019 before winning a vacant Senate seat in 2018.

But the race for the 3rd District is crowded. Lam is running to succeed U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D), who is retiring. There are 21 other Democrats and 10 Republicans vying for the seat.

“I fully expected there to be many candidates jumping into the fray. Did I have an exact number? No. But I expected a lot of candidates,” Lam said in a recent interview.

According to documents from the Federal Election Commission, Lam’s campaign had a little over $329,000 at the end of December. The next campaign finance reports, showing fundraising and campaign spending during the first three months of the year, will be out on April 15.

Lam believes that his experience as a physician with public health policy knowledge will distinguish him from his competitors, specially in the post global health crisis political climate that came with COVID-19.

He said that, particularly after a pandemic, Congress needs more people who understand health care, medicine and science, and who are “able to work at that intersection where it crosses with politics and policy.”

During the 2024 session, which ended Monday, Lam’s priority legislation spanned a variety of issues, from climate and environment-focused bills to behavioral health-related bills. Not every bill made it out of the legislative process, but he’s had some successes this year.

One of his bills approved by the legislature would categorize gender-affirming care as “legally protected care” under Maryland law. The intent is to protect the medical information of persons  who seek gender affirming care in Maryland from being shared across state lines, and potentially into the hands of law enforcement in states that are more hostile to transgender people.

That bill is on its way to the governor for final consideration.

Another bill would allow librarians to unionize and engage in collective bargaining, if they so choose. While Lam’s Senate bill did not get a House floor vote, a bill crossfiled in the House, HB 609, was approved in both chambers and also is heading to the governor’s desk.

When the campaign trail and the legislative work gets to be too much, Lam finds comfort in spending time with his family and his young daughter.

“With a 2-year-old daughter, a lot of the re-centering is just around her. Being able to spend time with your daughter….You kind of cherish those few moments that you have with your daughter each day to read a bed time story. To share breakfast together. To go for a short walk,” Lam said.

“It also helps you reflect on the future you’re working towards. There’s no more of an important reminder of the future you’re working towards than when you look at young people, especially your own daughter, that you’re trying to build a future that you can really be proud of that she’s living in,” he said.

To see the rest of the series so far: Del. Lesley Lopez (D-Montgomery), Del. Harry Bhandari (D-Baltimore County), Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel), Del. Terri L. Hill (D-Howard), Del. Mike Rogers (D-Anne Arundel) and Del. Joe Vogel (D-Montgomery).


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Meet the state lawmakers running for Congress: Sen. Clarence Lam