Josh Kurtz: A Sense of the Senate

By Josh Kurtz

Take a good look at the state Senate over the next three weeks, before this legislative session ends. It’s likely to change a lot very soon.

Transformation comes to the chamber after every election. Seven new senators were elected in 2010. Six of them ousted incumbents in primaries. The seventh, Sen. J.B. Jennings (R), was elected to replace Andy Harris (R), who voters sent to Congress that year.

This cycle, it looks as if even more change is possible.

Here’s what we know: In Montgomery County, Sen. Brian Frosh (D) is running for attorney general. Del. Susan Lee (D) is the current frontrunner for his seat, but in a district with so many ambitious pols and so many wealthy people, it’s hard to imagine that she’ll be able to just waltz into the Senate.

In Harford County, Sen. Barry Glassman (R) is the odds-on favorite to become the next county executive. Del. Donna Stifler (R) is putting out the word that she’d like to run for the seat, but she’s faced some health problems, and that could become a factor in her decision. There’s also the possibility that Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R), whose district is becoming increasingly favorable to Democrats, moves into Glassman’s district and tries to extend her Senate service there.

Former state Sen. Art Helton (D) is making his umpteenth comeback attempt in Jacobs’ district. But party leaders might find Harford Councilwoman Mary Ann Listanti (D) a more viable alternative. Privately, Republicans fret that the seat is in grave danger of flipping if Jacobs moves on — and maybe even if she doesn’t.

In Howard County, Sen. Allan Kittleman (R) is gearing up for the county executive race — and a Senate vacancy would surely prompt a scramble among Republicans and possibly even Democrats. But even though he comes from a universally-admired political family and has a solid moderate profile, he may conclude that as Howard becomes a Democratic stronghold, a countywide race is a fool’s errand.

At least three Democratic Senate incumbents look to be vulnerable next year: Jim Brochin in Baltimore County, Roy Dyson in Southern Maryland, and Jim Mathias on the Lower Shore.

Mathias is being challenged by Del. Michael McDermott (R), who will be formidable. But the incumbent starts with a huge financial advantage. Brochin may survive; at the very least, he will outwork anyone the Republicans throw at him. Dyson won by less than 1,300 votes in 2010. If Republicans can convince House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell or St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan to run, Dyson’s extraordinary 40-year political career may come to a close.

Sen. Ron Young (D) might also be considered potentially vulnerable, but his Frederick-Washington district is becoming more Democratic, and Republicans have no obvious strong challenger. If anything, the political cross-currents involving his wife’s bid for mayor of Frederick this year and his son’s possible run for governor next year could ensnare Young more than any partisan challenge.

Several senators must be put on retirement watch, including two Baltimore City powerhouses.

Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chairwoman Joan Carter-Conway (D) has talked openly of stepping aside. She’ll be 63 on Election Day 2014. Senate President Pro Tem Nathaniel McFadden (D), who has had his share of health problems, will be 68. Succession battles in both districts would be fascinating to watch — especially in East Baltimore, where the primacy of Du Burns’ old machine may be diminishing.

In Baltimore County, Sen. Norm Stone (D), who has surpassed his 50th year of service, is widely expected to step down, though he hasn’t said anything definitive yet. Del. John Olszewski Jr. (D) is the heir-apparent.

In Howard County, Sen. James Robey (D), who will be 73 next year, is considered a better than even bet to retire. His departure would create an opportunity for Del. Guy Guzzone (D) or Howard Councilman Calvin Ball (D) — both of whom are also eyeing the county executive race.

Although all three seem to be seeking another term at the moment, three septuagenarian women need to be on retirement watch, just by virtue of their ages: Sens. Jennie Forehand (D) and Karen Montgomery (D) in Montgomery County, and Sen. Delores Kelley (D) in Baltimore County. Even if Forehand decides to seek a sixth term next year, she could face a tough Democratic primary challenge — possibly from Del. Luiz Simmons or maybe in a rematch with former Del. Cheryl Kagan, who Forehand beat by just 350 votes in 2010.

Also worth watching: Does Sen. David Brinkley (R) try to run for Congress again? Has Sen. Bryan Simonaire (R) ruled out running for Anne Arundel County executive?

Meanwhile, several senators could face peril in their respective primaries.

Former Montgomery Del. Saqib Ali (D), who lost to Sen. Nancy King (D) by about 250 votes in 2010, is determined to try again next year. In a newly configured Baltimore County/City district, Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (D) is expected to take on Sen. Verna Jones-Rodwell (D).

In Baltimore City, Sen. Bill Ferguson (D), who ended Sen. George Della’s long political career in 2010, is almost certain to face a serious primary challenge from someone affiliated with the Della camp — maybe even Della himself. Former state Sen. John Pica has also talked of returning to politics and challenging Ferguson.

In Montgomery County, Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola (D), who’s had a tumultuous year, could find himself with a tough challenge on his hands — even though he’s sitting on $71,000 in his campaign account, and even though none of the delegates in his district is likely to take him on.

In Prince George’s County, there’s talk that Del. Jay Walker (D) may challenge Sen. Anthony Muse (D). And Muse, whose ego knows no bound, could be running for any number of offices next year, if the spirit moves him. He’ll be sure to fail to file the necessary campaign finance reports, whatever he does (is anyone at the state Board of Elections paying attention?).

And in an adjoining district, scandal-stained Sen. Ulysses Currie (D) ought to be attracting a strong challenger — even though none of the delegates in his district seems inclined to do so. Surely someone out there could run an effective campaign against Currie – despite the $100,000 in his campaign account.

All the clichés about a few months being a lifetime in politics apply here. Some senators we’re not even thinking about now may choose to move on, for one reason or another. Some aggressive challenger we haven’t even heard of yet may target an incumbent who, for all appearances, looks perfectly safe, but may turn out to have a glass jaw. So there may even be more change possible than we can imagine right now.

But even if there is almost 100 percent turnover in the Maryland Senate come 2015, one thing is for certain: Mike Miller will still be in charge.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Montgomery Councilmember Seeks Investigation Into Anonymous Web Attack

Peter Principle

Louie, Louie

Inside Out, Outside In?