Maryland Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rushern L. Baker III has selected longtime Montgomery County Council member Nancy Navarro as his running mate in the crowded, open primary for the state’s top job.

Navarro, a self-described progressive, was first elected to the County Council in 2009 in a special election and twice served as its president. A native of Venezuela, she was the council’s first Latina and first immigrant member. Before joining the council, Navarro, 56, served for five years on the board of Montgomery County Public Schools, the state’s largest school system. While serving on the school board, she co-founded Centro Familia, a community organization designed to help Latino and other immigrants.

Baker, 62, said that when he began discussing possible running mates with advisers from across the state, Navarro was always at the top of the list.

“It just clicked,” Baker said of his initial discussions with Navarro. “She’s the perfect person because of her background in getting things done. The things that we care about are the same, whether it’s education, diversity in business or health.”

Navarro and Baker, who served as county executive in Prince George’s for two terms and as a member of the House of Delegates for nine years, both have the legislative and executive experience that can be crucial in gubernatorial bids. But both are from the Washington region, so they lack the geographical diversity that Maryland gubernatorial candidates often seek.

Baker, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 2018, said he understands that candidates typically try to get geographical balance on their tickets. For his first run, he chose as his running mate Elizabeth M. Embry, an attorney who once ran for Baltimore City mayor.

“Having run before and having gone around the state, what I understood is, it’s more important to get someone” with a record of accomplishments who can also “be an example to Western Maryland or the Eastern Shore,” Baker said. “Also, our state is very diverse. . . . Frederick doesn’t look like what Frederick did 20 years ago; Baltimore and Baltimore County are very diverse”

Baker said he has been impressed with Navarro’s work since her time on the school board. In 2011, President Barack Obama named her to his Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Navarro, who is term-limited and who said the last two years have been “grueling” advancing policies in Montgomery, said she was initially apprehensive about seeking higher office after her council term ends in 2022.

But she said she realized there is more to accomplish.

“I kept thinking I have a lot I want to work on and contribute to,” she said, adding that pandemic recovery is a top priority, particularly access to health care.

Navarro has been an advocate for Montgomery County’s growing Latino population, and she spearheaded sweeping racial equity legislation that passed in 2019.

Earlier this year, she garnered widespread attention after a council employee and a technician helping to run a virtual hearing were recorded laughing at her accent.

Baker is the first among the nine Democratic gubernatorial candidates to announce a choice for lieutenant governor. Del. Daniel L. Cox (Frederick) , who is running for the Republican nomination, selected Gordana Schifanelli, an attorney from Queen Anne’s County, as his running mate last week. Schifanelli is a parent who helped push for the ouster of the county’s schools superintendent, who had sent a letter to parents in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Candidates must select their running mates before the Feb. 22 filing deadline.

Baker’s campaign also announced Wednesday that they will be participating in the state’s Fair Campaign Financing program, which provides matching contributions for small-dollar contributions.

The program has been used by gubernatorial candidates from both parties since it was created decades ago, including Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in his first run for the top office in 2014.

Officials from Common Cause Maryland and Maryland PIRG said they were thrilled to know that the program will be used this campaign cycle.

“For too long Maryland gubernatorial elections have been dominated by large and corporate donors,” said Emily Scarr, the director of Maryland PIRG.

Under the program, candidates must refuse donations from large donors and can only accept donations from individuals of $250 or less.

Baker, who is typically outraised by opponents, said he and Navarro are “energized” about joining the program.

“What they don’t usually tell you when you run for higher office is that, if you want to win, you have to spend the vast majority of your time calling wealthy donors and asking for contributions,” Baker said. “When I decided to run again for governor, I knew I wanted to do things differently and this gives us the chance to put together a grass-roots campaign that truly reflects our progressive values.”