Heading into final day, Md. House, Senate at odds over when they’ll become candidates

Kimberly Fisher, from White Haven, Md., casts her ballot at a polling place in Wicomico County in 2012. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

With one day remaining in Maryland’s legislative session, most of the big issues are out of the way. But lawmakers are still wrestling over when candidates for state office — including the General Assembly — will have to make their intentions known next year.

Last week, the Senate tucked a provision into a far-reaching campaign finance bill that would set the filing date for the 2014 elections in January, nearly six months in advance of the June primaries. Under the House version of the bill, the filing date would be in April.

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Over the weekend, several lawmakers confirmed part of the rationale for the Senate’s move was to help incumbents in the legislature. With a January filing date, sitting lawmakers would know much sooner who plans to run against them — and they would know that before having to cast any votes in next year’s 90-day legislative session.

That’s a bigger plus for senators, whose toughest competition for re-election often comes from delegates representing the same district. In 2010, senators from both parties faced a handful of spirited primary challenges from their colleagues across the hall — and several of the up-and-coming delegates were successful.

“It would mean incumbent senators would know very clearly what delegates are running against them by January,” said House Majority Leader Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), who argued for the House position.

Legislative sessions during election years tend to be political already, Barve said, and “this would only accentuate that.”

All 188 seats in the House and Senate will be on the ballot in 2014, along with the statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller.

Sen. Roy P. Dyson (D-St. Mary’s), chairman of a Senate subcommittee with jurisdiction over election issues, said that an earlier filing date “tends to benefit incumbents,” adding that “personally, I’m not wild about that.”

Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore), who shepherded the campaign finance bill through the chamber, downplayed concerns about how the bill affects sitting lawmakers, calling that “inside-Annapolis thinking.”

Ferguson said it’s generally a good thing for the public to have longer to scrutinize candidates, and he said the January filing deadline has several other advantages. Among them: It would mean candidates would have to file two reports about their campaign finances, rather than just once, before the June primary.

An aide to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) confirmed that he supports the January deadline as well.

“Hopefully, this is a minor part of a large campaign finance bill that we can work out on Monday,” Ferguson said.

The 90-day legislative session is scheduled to end at midnight Monday.

The campaign finance bill makes several major changes to Maryland’s laws, including raising the amount that donors may give to candidates and closing a loophole that allowed multiple companies owned by the same people to make multiple contributions to the same candidates.

Holding primaries in June marks a change for Maryland. In 2010, primaries were in September, and the filing deadline was in July.

 
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