Endorsements: In the Democratic primaries for the Maryland General Assembly from Prince George's County

Saturday, August 28, 2010

PRINCE GEORGE'S County's all-Democratic delegation in the state legislature includes some talented freshmen; journeymen of varying quality; and a few old lions, some of whom haven't quite realized that the 21st century dawned a decade ago. The contested Democratic primaries on Sept. 14 -- there are no contested Republican primaries in Prince George's -- include some promising first-time candidates who could help determine how much clout the county wields in Annapolis at a time of dwindling state funds for public schools and social services. The following candidates, identified in bold type, are our choices.

(Identify your legislative district and current representatives by entering your address online at http://mdelect.net/electedofficials/. See a list of all candidates at http://www.elections.state.md.us/elections/2010/candidates/index.html.)

DISTRICT 21: In the House, each incumbent deserves another term. Freshman Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk is a rising star who pushed an innovative redistricting measure to count state convicts in their districts of residence, not where they are incarcerated. Another first-term representative, Del. Ben Barnes, atoned for a vote against one key domestic violence measure by pressing for GPS monitoring for abusers and requiring them to surrender firearms. Del. Barbara Frush, a 16-year veteran, is a leader on environmental issues and was a champion of the 2007 ban on smoking in bars and restaurants.

DISTRICT 23: In the Senate race, first-term Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters, a business executive, merits another term and would be more effective than any of his three challengers. Mr. Peters has been a cautious, detail-oriented advocate for veterans and small business; he also managed to secure a tax break for Prince George's homeowners.

The House race here is split in two. In District 23A, the no-nonsense incumbent, Del. James W. Hubbard, has distinguished himself on consumer protection issues. In the contest for the district's open seat, the best of several talented newcomers is Geraldine Valentino-Smith, a lawyer, nurse and member of the Bowie City Council with valuable experience as a health-care advocate in Annapolis. In District 23B, incumbent Del. Marvin E. Holmes Jr. is a conscientious and hard-working lawmaker.

DISTRICT 24: Sen. Nathaniel Exum served 12 years in the Senate and, before that, 14 years in the House, has a terrible reputation in Annapolis, which is richly deserved. Despite his long years as a lawmaker, he has no significant leadership role in the Senate, and for good reason: He is widely regarded as an obstructionist who wields the race card as a cudgel. His major achievements are few, unless you consider what he's helped block -- for instance, a rescue package for Prince George's Hospital. A better choice is Del. Joanne C. Benson, a 20-year veteran of the House who's fought against human trafficking and domestic violence and was instrumental in enacting Maryland's seat-belt law.

In the House race, we support the two incumbents: Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard, a 22-year veteran who has pushed for education funding, and Del. Michael L. Vaughn, an authority on minority small-business issues. For the district's open seat, we back newcomer Clayton A. Aarons, an Army veteran, criminal lawyer and community leader who wants to make it easier for prosecutors to go after drunk drivers on manslaughter charges.

DISTRICT 25: A strong team of incumbents here merits reelection. Del. Dereck E. Davis, chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, and Del. Aisha Braveboy, an exceptionally strong freshman, were instrumental in enacting a foreclosure mediation law that took effect last month. Del. Melony Ghee Griffith played a key role in enacting tax legislation that yielded millions of dollars in state funding for the county.

DISTRICT 26: Sen. C. Anthony Muse, a minister at one of the county's largest churches, is a conscientious freshman whose crusade on behalf of student financial literacy has gained traction. He faces only nominal primary opposition.

In the House, two of the three incumbents, Dels. Veronica Turner and Kriselda "Kris" Valderrama, have been less than stellar lawmakers; there is no reason to return them to Annapolis. Easily the strongest of four challengers is businessman Ollie Anderson, a smart, savvy former military officer and diplomat with can-do proposals for job creation and public-private partnerships. Another challenger, Sidney L. Gibson, a community leader who has been active in education and business development, could bring to the district new energy and ideas. Freshman Del. Jay Walker merits reelection; having learned the legislative ropes, he is prepared to push for investments in education and economic development.

DISTRICT 27A: In the House, a pair of old-school stalwarts, James E. Proctor Jr. and Joseph F. Vallario Jr., have served a combined more than half a century between them. Mr. Proctor is a competent and unobjectionable lawmaker, but Mr. Vallario, as chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, has used his muscle to kill untold numbers of reasonable bills -- toughening sanctions for drunk drivers and perpetrators of family violence; making judges stick to prison sentences they hand down -- and takes anti-democratic pride in preventing lawmakers from voting on legislation he dislikes. He is a relic. A much better alternative is Percel Alston, the smart, even-keeled former head of the county's Fraternal Order of Police. Mr. Alston would take a common-sense approach to law-and-order issues and be an advocate for vocational education.

DISTRICT 47: Sen. David C. Harrington, who was appointed to fill an empty seat two years ago, faces a challenge from Del. Victor Ramirez. As a County Council member from 2002 to 2006, Mr. Harrington disgraced himself by using his county-issued credit card for personal expenses; he later repaid the county. He says he's learned his lesson; we hope so, because he has the potential to do good work on transportation and education. We doubt that Mr. Ramirez, whose achievements are slight and who helped kill a bill that would have helped victims of domestic violence, would be more effective.

There are two excellent incumbents in the House race: Del. Doyle Niemann, a thoughtful lawmaker who spearheaded bills to help homeowners facing foreclosure; and Del. Jolene Ivey, a smart freshman who's been an advocate for business improvement districts. The best of the remaining field is Michael Summers, a community outreach official in the state's attorney's office, who has a nuanced grasp of issues and a track record of promoting literacy and reducing truancy.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company