One is too young and inexperienced. Another is too cantankerous and controversial. And the third says he doesn’t even want the job. But odds are, when Republican Andy Harris is elected to Congress this November, one of the three District 7 delegates will move up to fill his seat representing Baltimore and Harford counties in the state senate.
Harris’ surprising upset of nine-term incumbent Wayne Gilchrest in the Republican Primary Election a few weeks ago placed the state senator as the favorite to take over the First District Congressional seat – leaving a prized piece of political real estate vacant and ready for occupancy.
Tradition and law make it exceedingly likely the next Baltimore/Harford state senator will come from the trio of offbeat politicians currently comprising the District 7 delegation. Rick Impallaria, J.B. Jennings and Pat McDonough have stuck together since they were elected to the newly configured district in 2002, but Harris’ impending departure from the senate could change all that.
Harris’ victory in the Republican Primary not only set up a General Election matchup with the Democratic nominee – Queen Anne’sCounty State’s Attorney Frank M. Kratovil Jr. – in November, which Harris is expected to win easily, but it also set up a stack of District 7 dominoes.
The first chip to fall will be Harris ascending to U.S. Congress and right now the delegates, periphery players and political-wannabes are scrambling to make sure their own chips will be bumped up when the rest of the stack goes down.
It was Harris’ historic win which set up this game of District 7 dominoes. Here are the results of the District 1 Republican Congressional Race in Maryland – note Harris’ vote total and margin of victory in Harford County.
This week, two of the District 7 delegates said they will actively seek the senate appointment, most likely through nomination by the Baltimore County Republican Central Committee, while the third delegate in the district said he’s sitting this round out.
Del. Pat McDonough, a controversial talk radio host who previously served in the General Assembly as a delegate in the late 1970s, was first to announce his intentions to seek Harris’ senate seat and he immediately painted himself as the frontrunner.
“In the last election, my vote totals not only placed me first, but I ran very close to Senator Andy Harris in the total. Many people do not realize the 7th District is actually a Democrat district. I believe the numbers are 35,000 registered Democrats compared to approximately 27,000 registered Republicans. I am not sure of the number of Independents. My total in a district of this type would be considered among the highest in the State for a Republican,” McDonough wrote in an email this week.
But McDonough will face opposition from a familiar face. Del. J.B. Jennings, a beef farmer who formerly worked for Bob Ehrlich, also said he would like to take Harris’ place in the state senate.
“Yes, I will be seeking the nomination from the Central Committee to serve out the rest of Andy Harris’ term,” Jennings said by email Wednesday.
The third in the District 7 trio, Del. Rick Impallaria, said Thursday he’ll stay out of the way and will leave McDonough and Jennings to duke it out – although he will be standing in one of their corners.
“I am content with my House seat and am not looking to run for the Senate. I support Pat McDonough for the Senator of District 7. The voters have shown overwhelming support for him, and he is a great colleague to work for, and will be able to hold only the senate seat in the Seventh District,” Impallaria wrote in an email interview.
By all measures, McDonough and Jennings seemed to have gotten along well during their six years in office together.
Jennings, who turns 34 next month, was a surprising candidate when he ran for the District 7 delegation seat in 2002. Many, including some of his current colleagues, complained Jennings, in his mid-twenties at the time, was too young and inexperienced. They also weren’t thrilled that Jennings got the OK from Ehrlich, who was making his first run for governor, to use the popular congressman’s name on his campaign signs and literature.
McDonough, who insists on correcting me when I call him controversial (he says the word I’m looking for is “popular”), has nonetheless taken on some controversial topics. He has criticized a resolution that would have called for Maryland to officially apologize for slavery, championed the cause of making English the official language of everywhere and once famously hip-tossed an immigrants’ rights advocate to the floor of the State House in Annapolis. If controversial isn’t the right word, you tell me what is.
Anyway, McDonough might have also thrown the first punch in this race for the nomination to the senate seat when he questioned Jennings’ popularity in the 2006 election.
“I believe my record and the facts are clear of my chance and should be seriously considered by the committees. Del. Jennings ran thousands of votes off my pace and last in the 2006 election. The Democrats fielded a strong and well financed challenge to Senator Harris in 2006 and I expect them to do the same in 2010,” McDonough wrote.
Jennings cited his legislative record as his strength and the reason he should be chosen for the senate seat.
“I believe I have a great record here in Annapolis. I have had 8 bills passed, I have a perfect voting record – never missed a vote – to just name a few,” he said in an email interview.
District 7 encompasses the eastern part of Baltimore County on portions of western Harford County. While it’s possible the next District 7 senator could be someone other than McDonough or Jennings and someone from within the Harford part of the district, McDonough said that’s unlikely.
“Seventy percent of the district is in Baltimore County. The [Democratic] challenger will emerge from Baltimore County because the best chance of acquiring or holding on to the Senate seat should reside in that jurisdiction. Delegate Impallaria and Delegate Jennings both reside in Baltimore County. I live in Middle River, the heart of Democrat territory. I ran very well in all of the Democrat precincts, coming in first in a number of them,” he wrote.
And could the next District 7 senator be someone other than a current delegate? McDonough doesn’t think so.
“I believe it would be short-sighted to place someone else in the Senate position other than a [delegate]. The 7th District Senate seat is particularly sensitive and important because it represents the affairs of two major counties. In other words, if a Democrat were elected to the 7th District Senate seat, it would have a strong impact on Harford County. The county would have 2 Republican senators and a new Democratic senator. Plus, Baltimore County would lose its only Republican State Senator,” he added.
But let’s not forget, this round of dominoes doesn’t end with the nomination of someone to occupy the senate seat. If the appointment goes to McDonough or Jennings, the push will then be on to fill their seat in the House of Delegates.
“As to who may replace me when I win – I have heard a few names pushed around, but this vote won’t happen for at least 10 months so its still to early to know who’s interested,” Jennings wrote.
You’ve got to love the confidence from the young guy, but while Jennings has his focus on the senate seat, McDonough may be looking toward a bigger political prize.
“Most importantly, if I am not nominated to replace Sen Harris, I will seek the seat in the 2010 election. Finally, I have discussed the possibility of running for Baltimore County Executive. That endeavor is still speculative and the appointment to the vacant Senate seat would certainly assist with fundraising efforts. However, I repeat, and this is important, if I am not appointed I will vigorously seek the senate seat in 2010.”
Line them up, knock them down, see who’s left standing – it’s all part of the game when you’re playing politics.
And, in case you missed it, please check out The Dagger’s full Maryland General Assembly preview.