Third in a series of profiles of candidates for the Democratic nomination in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.
The photo from Life magazine hangs on the wall of state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin’s Annapolis office. It shows his liberal-activist parents cooling their feet in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, listening to Martin Luther King Jr. at the August 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Marcus Raskin, a White House national security aide, broke with the Kennedy administration over the Vietnam War and co-founded the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank. Barbara Raskin wrote a landmark feminist novel, “Hot Flashes.”
Growing up in their Adams Morgan rowhouse meant immersion in the movements that powered the tumultuous 1960s and ’70s: civil rights, women’s rights, and peace.
His parents’ legacy helped Raskin, 53, find his own path as a law professor, three-term state senator and now contender in the Democratic primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.
“Our house was packed with books,” Raskin said. “You would trip over books.”
In a nine-candidate field that is almost completely left of center, Raskin — who is considered a front-runner along with wine mogul David Trone and former news anchor Kathleen Matthews — is furthest out on the left flank.
He led the 2009 floor fight for the repeal of the death penalty and joined Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) and others in shepherding same-sex-marriage legislation to passage in 2012. The following year, Raskin worked with then-state Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) to pass a state ban on the sale of semiautomatic rifles.
During the current legislative session, Raskin has focused on a sweeping criminal-justice reform bill and a long effort to expand the use of ignition locks for drunk drivers.
Raskin says he wants to take “the Maryland progressive agenda” to Congress. He paints proposals with sweeping, Great Society-like strokes, such as his call for a “Green Deal,” a public works program to stimulate the economy by repairing roads and other infrastructure with an emphasis on environmental sustainability.
A longtime resident of ultra-progressive Takoma Park, Raskin has proposed a national commission to develop legislation “to liberate the American underclass from the interlocking problems of inadequate education and bad health care, environmental racism, unemployment, economic exploitation, and mass incarceration.”
He is an outspoken critic of Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that allowed unions and corporations to spend unlimited sums for or against candidates for elective office.
“An election is not an auction,” he told a Rockville audience recently. “It is a discussion among the people. What people hate about the age of Citizens United is that big money has become a substitute for everything else.”
Raskin has sought to tie his criticism of Washington’s money culture to his two wealthy principal opponents, Matthews and Trone.
“There’s a difference between celebrity and public service, and there’s a difference between big wealth and leadership,” Raskin said. “The skills of politics are different from the skills of simply accumulating money in a very unequal economy.”
Critics point out that Raskin is wealthy in his own right, although not on the same scale as Trone, co-founder of Total Wine & More, and Matthews, a former WJLA anchor and Marriott executive. The senator and his wife, Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin, have accumulated assets of up to $6.8 million, according to financial disclosure reports.
He also has the support of two super PACs. The Freethought Equality Fund, a super PAC that promotes the separation of church and state, spent $11,400 on a recent mailing for Raskin.
The group Mayday, which advocates for changes in campaign finance, announced last fall that it would raise $100,000 and recruit 250 volunteers on Raskin’s behalf, although with three weeks until the April 26 primary, it has so far spent less than $1,000 on Raskin.
Raskin says that as prescribed by law, he has had no coordination or contact with the groups.
Raskin is the product of an elite education that started at Georgetown Day School and continued at Harvard University and Harvard Law School. Now a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law, he projects a genteel academic dishevelment — baggy suits and curly, thinning hair askew.
He prides himself on his statehouse collaborations with Republicans and more-moderate Democrats. Among his legislative efforts, he co-sponsored Maryland’s medical marijuana bill with then-state Sen. David Brinkley (R), like Raskin, a cancer survivor.
Sen. James Brochin of Baltimore County, one of the Maryland Senate’s most right-leaning Democrats, said Raskin’s “gentle and persistent” advocacy got him to change his position on same-sex marriage.
“He spent two years working on me,” Brochin said. “He’s got an incredible amount of decency.”
Raskin said his approach to lawmaking has been informed by a look into the abyss: his 2010 cancer diagnosis and the prospect of being taken from his wife and three then-teenage children.
Finishing his chemotherapy as the General Assembly debated same sex-marriage, Raskin said, he started thinking about the juxtaposition of misfortune and injustice.
“Life is hard enough with all the natural misfortunes that we don’t need to compound it with socially created injustice,” he said. “The role of government should be to liberate people from injustice as much as possible.”
Next: Kathleen Matthews.
Read other 8th district candidate profiles: