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Novice Politician Seeks Collaboration, Listening in Annapolis

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Maureen “Mo” Bryant quit her long-time work last year as an executive in the commercial construction industry, and began knocking on doors in northwest Anne Arundel County.

What was she selling door-to-door? Herself, as a prospective Republican state senator in District 32. For months, she thought she’d be facing Democrat Pam Beidle, the three-term delegate and former county council member, in the fall. But on the Feb. 27 filing deadline, she got a Republican opponent in John Grasso, the loud and flamboyant county councilmember who had toyed for months with challenging County Executive Steve Schuh. Instead, term-limited on the council, Grasso settled on the post he originally said he was interested in and might have a better chance of winning.
Bryant shifted gears, though not her strategy. She treats her candidacy as a job, and goes door-knocking every morning and afternoon, along with roadside sign-waving.

She says she’s up to 3,000 households now, and once Grasso entered the race, she’s shifted to just approaching Republican primary voters.
“They don’t know me,” Bryant, 59, concedes, making her first run for public office. “I’m very much in a David-and-Goliath situation.”
She’s relying on the skills she developed as an Air Force daughter moving around the country, eventually landing in Prince George’s County where her father was commander of Andrews Air Force Base (now Joint Base Andrews). Her father later became involved in Prince George’s County Republican politics, which is how she met the young Larry Hogan, Jr., who recently encouraged her to run for office.

“I truly believe Maryland is on the right track, but we’re not going to get there as long as Democrats keep blocking good legislation and passing bad ones.” Among them she includes proposals to make Maryland a sanctuary state, and the so-called “rain tax.” Grasso is the rare Republican who enthusiastically supports the tax to help clean up stormwater runoff as part of an aggressive environmental record.
“I’m fiscally conservative and socially responsible,” said Bryant. “There’s a way to bring people together; there’s a way to let everybody win. It’s called compromise, and it really isn’t rocket science. There’s no reason for the divisiveness, the name calling.”
That’s part of what she saw when she attended county council meetings, an office she first considered running for. “I didn’t see listening skills.”

She said she’s been balancing budgets and using her collaborative and listening skills her whole professional career. They were essential for success in the male-dominated construction trade.

She’s also blended her career with her “philanthropic passion for certain at-risk communities.” She’s served on the boards of the D.C. Police Foundation, Mentors Inc. and the YWCA. But she felt her work with nonprofits was just not moving the needle enough, and led to running for office.

“John Grasso thinks I’m a non-entity,” Bryant said, and she hopes it stays that way until she wins the Republican primary in June.

McMillan on Stage

Nobody expected Del. Herb McMillan to shrink quietly off the political stage in his final days in the House of Delegates, where he’s always been one of the most talkative members of either party.
On March 19, he was the lone opponent to speak against the move to prop up the disintegrating individual health insurance market (as described in this month’s State Column).

“This bill will increase health insurance costs for everyone,” said McMillan, as the other 46 Republican colleagues who would later vote against the bill sat silently. The current rates, “they’re not affordable now, yet we want to stabilize them.”

The bill, supported by Gov. Hogan, attempts to fix the problem, but “it’s not fixable,” McMillan said. “I will not vote to stabilize failure.”
Later that week, as the lawmakers debated the $44.5 billion state budget, McMillan said that the Democrats and the governor, as well, failed to live up to their promises to hold Maryland taxpayers harmless from any increase in state and local taxes because of the recent changes in the federal tax code.

“If a person makes a commitment to do something, I expect them to keep it — be it the governor, the Senate president or the speaker — all of whom promised to fully make whole all Maryland taxpayers,” McMillan said, never afraid to take on members of his own party.
McMillan may not be missed by most of his colleagues, but he may be missed by the reporters who could count on him for juicy quotes whenever he stood up in the back of the chamber.

Kipke Flips

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke was in a difficult position on the bill to stabilize the individual health insurance market. He serves on the Health and Government Operations Committee, which takes pride in its somewhat unusual bipartisan cooperation.

Kipke was one of four Republicans who voted for the bill in committee, trying to stabilize skyrocketing insurance rates for about 140,000 customers of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. The other four committee Republicans voted against the bill, including his seatmate, House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, of Baltimore County.

“There is an enormous affordability crisis on the horizon,” Kipke said. Like many legislators of both parties, he was getting calls from constituents about the rising health insurance costs. Since many of these constituents were small-business owners and self-employed professionals and craftspeople, many of them were Republican voters and the natural constituents of the GOP.

The plan to stabilize rates depended on taking $300 million from health insurers who had been paying a premium tax to the federal government, but were getting a one-year reprieve in 2019 when they wouldn’t have to pay the federal tax.

“It was very appealing to me,” said Kipke. “Let’s use it for some public purpose.”

But by the time the bill got to the House floor two days after the committee vote, the members received some additional information from the League of Life and Health Insurers in Maryland: It turned out not all health insurers had been paying the federal tax on premiums, and this state tax would be a new expense for them.

“We got bad information,” Kipke said. “I do know not everybody paid this tax.”

So on the final floor vote, Kipke voted against the bill that he had supported in committee.

The measure is going to go into law, with the governor’s support, but it leaves open the big question no one in Washington has been able to figure out.

“What are we going to do to make health insurance more affordable?” Kipke asked.