Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is expected to select Democrat Sue Kullen to replace former state delegate George W. Owings III, making her the first woman to represent Calvert County in the General Assembly.
The Calvert County Democratic Central Committee notified Ehrlich (R) yesterday that it had nominated Kullen to replace Owings (D). Ehrlich, who in March picked the former House majority whip to head the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, has said that he would fill Owings's District 27B seat with a nominee selected by Calvert Democrats.
In naming Kullen, a 44-year-old Port Republic resident who served 10 years as an appointee of the governor on the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Planning Council, the Democrats passed over far more experienced candidates. The list included Hagner R. Mister of Prince Frederick, a former state agriculture secretary and a former county commissioner; Thomas M. Pelagatti, a Prince Frederick lawyer who is a former judge of the Orphans' Court in Calvert County; and Barbara A. Stinnett, a former county commissioner from Owings.
The selection of Kullen -- reportedly a compromise after the central committee members became deadlocked -- came as a surprise to almost everyone involved, including the candidate, who has never held a major elective office in the county.
"I was a little bit surprised, but pleasantly surprised," said Kullen, a consultant who works with the disabled. "I will not disappoint them."
Kullen's selection, expected to be confirmed by Ehrlich within the next two weeks, is seen as especially historic in a rural county that has always sent men to Annapolis.
"There has never been a woman delegate from Calvert County, nor a woman senator from all of Southern Maryland," said Grace Mary Brady, a former chair of the Calvert County Democratic Central Committee who has compiled a history of women in Calvert for its 350th anniversary celebration this year.
"The choice represents the trend toward a more representative individual because more than 50 percent of the population in Calvert County are women."
Democrats acknowledge that the choice of a political neophyte for Owings's seat also represents a major gamble for the party, which recently lost its majority status in the state's fastest-growing county to the Republicans. By contrast, possible Republican candidates for the seat include Calvert commissioners President David F. Hale, the leading vote getter in the 2002 commissioners race that saw the GOP take four of the board's five seats.
"It's a pivotal seat, and it will determine the future of the Democratic Party in Calvert County," Brady said.
Owings, a popular local politician whose appeal crossed party lines, didn't face a Republican opponent in 2002. That will almost certainly change in 2006, when formidable Republican opposition is expected in a district that covers northern Calvert, rapidly becoming a bedroom community to the greater Washington area.
"George garnered a huge number of Republican votes, and the reason he did that was because his philosophy was in line with the voters'," said Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large).
The chance that any other Democrat, even an incumbent, could accomplish that is unlikely, Kelley said. "This becomes a whole different ballgame now."
But members of the Democratic Central Committee are standing by their choice.
"I think the choice is a good choice," said Doris Spencer, committee chair. "I think she will do a fantastic job."
Meanwhile, Kullen will be learning her way around Annapolis -- and gearing up for 2006.
"The campaign starts now," she said.
Kullen's first move: figure out a way to raise money for what is expected to be an expensive election in two years.
"I need to get a campaign finance plan together," she said. "I need to get a campaign plan together."