Choices in Montgomery

Monday, August 23, 2010

IN MONTGOMERY COUNTY, the Democratic primaries for the state legislature are notable this year for the number of tough challenges to entrenched incumbents. (There are no contested Republican primaries in Montgomery or, for that matter, GOP lawmakers in the county's lineup in Annapolis.) The competition could help strengthen a delegation that, despite Montgomery's status as the colossus of Maryland localities, has tended to punch below its weight. The following candidates, identified in bold type, are our choices in contested primaries, which will be held Sept. 14.

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DISTRICT 14: Sen. Rona E. Kramer, a moderate two-term incumbent, is facing a spirited challenge from another incumbent, Del. Karen S. Montgomery, who wants to move up to the Senate. But there's no compelling reason to depose Ms. Kramer, who, from her perch on the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee, has been an influential voice for economic development in a county that badly needs more of it. Ms. Montgomery is a solid, old-school liberal, but she undercut her own credibility by skipping the General Assembly's special session of 2007 -- the most important legislative event of the past four years -- in favor of a family vacation.

In the House race, the only incumbent among eight candidates is Del. Anne R. Kaiser, an energetic legislator who deserves reelection on the strength of her clout on education issues and work to eliminate tax scams. For the other two seats, we support Robert "Bo" Newsome, whose sensible ideas on fiscal policy would protect Montgomery's tax base, and Jodi Finkelstein, a veteran advocate for victims of domestic violence who would bring fresh passion to a legislature that's treated the issue cavalierly.

DISTRICT 15: In the House, two exceptionally strong incumbents deserve reelection: Del. Brian J. Feldman and Del. Kathleen M. Dumais. Mr. Feldman, chairman of Montgomery's delegation in the House, has helped spur the county's burgeoning biotech corridor. Ms. Dumais has used her expertise in family law to push for tougher domestic-violence laws. The third seat, which is open, should be filled by Aruna Miller, a transportation engineer whose expertise could help make a dent in the region's traffic problems.

DISTRICT 16: Both incumbents in the House should be returned to Annapolis. Del. C. William Frick, appointed to fill a vacancy three years ago, has made a promising start with bills to protect credit card holders and other consumers. Del. Susan C. Lee, who is completing her second full term, has staked out an important niche fighting identity theft and Internet fraud. In a strong field of 11 other candidates, the best is Hrant Jamgochian, an impressively smart, politically savvy health policy expert who could have a real impact.

DISTRICT 17: Sen. Jennie M. Forehand is a beloved figure, or rather fixture, in Annapolis, having served 16 years in the state Senate and, before that, 16 years in the House of Delegates. Alas, she is not really an influential one, despite good work on human trafficking, transportation and other issues. The county would be better served by Cheryl C. Kagan, a hard-charging former state delegate and nonprofit executive.

DISTRICT 18: Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. who leads Montgomery's delegation in the Senate, is a respected expert on budget and fiscal issues who's had the courage to try to tackle burgeoning pension obligations to public employees, which threaten to bankrupt Maryland. He should be a shoo-in against nominal opposition in the primary.

In the House, the three incumbents are running on a slate with Mr. Madaleno, but they disagree with him and with each other on major issues. We support Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, who favors construction of the Purple Line along the Georgetown Branch route; by contrast, Dels. Jeff Waldstreicher and Al Carr oppose it. Ms. Gutierrez, the sole Latino in the Montgomery delegation, has also been a strong advocate in Annapolis for immigrants. Two strong challengers are worthy of support: Dana Beyer, a retired physician and former aide to County Council member Duchy Trachtenberg; and Vanessa Atterbeary, an attorney who serves on the Montgomery County Commission for Women. Both are Purple Line supporters who are better attuned to the district's mix of affluent and working-class residents.

DISTRICT 19: Sen. Mike Lenett is a paradoxical figure in Annapolis -- a bright, energetic lawmaker who has undermined his own effectiveness by failing to forge strong relationships with too many of his colleagues or by alienating them outright. He faces a concerted challenge from another incumbent, Del. Roger P. Manno, a like-minded lawmaker whose more collegial approach would probably yield better results.

In the House primary, Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, an able centrist, is the lone incumbent and deserves reelection. Among five other talented candidates, we support Bonnie Cullison and Sam Arora. Although we have had disagreements with the Montomery County teachers union, which Ms. Cullison used to lead, she is smart, civil and likely to be an effective lawmaker. Mr. Arora, an energetic former campaign staffer for Hillary Clinton, is a detail-oriented policy wonk who could put his stamp on legislation.

DISTRICT 20: The three House incumbents -- Dels. Sheila E. Hixson, Tom Hucker and Heather R. Mizeur -- constitute a very strong lineup. Ms. Hixson, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, gives Montgomery a powerful voice at a time of increasing budget constraints. Mr. Hucker has made a successful transition from his advocacy work at Progressive Maryland, a liberal group he founded. And Ms. Mizeur brought energy and enthusiasm to her effort to advance health coverage for Marylanders.

DISTRICT 39: It's hard to be enthusiastic about the two Senate candidates, Sen. Nancy J. King and her challenger, Del. Saqib Ali; neither is a heavyweight in Annapolis, and neither has had great legislative success. Mr. Ali is viewed as a grandstander more skilled at campaigning than lawmaking; Ms. King as an old-school pol. On balance, Ms. King, who at least has the respect of colleagues who regard her as thoughtful, is the better bet.

In the House race, both incumbents, Dels. Charles E. Barkley and Kirill Reznik, are talented lawmakers. Mr. Barkley is esteemed for his work on the Appropriations Committee and past leadership of the county's House delegation; Mr. Reznik for his knowledge of health issues, notably autism. For the third seat, which is open, Robert J. Hydorn, a local activist who has been president of the Montgomery Village Foundation, is the strongest candidate.

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