There are a record number of women from both parties — close to 60 — running for state and local offices on the Anne Arundel County ballot this year.
Democrats have been particularly active in recruiting women candidates through two organizations: the Anne Arundel County Democratic Women and Emerge Maryland, an organization dedicated to training progressive Democratic women, particularly women of color, to run for public office.
“I’m tired of being the only Democratic woman who’s been elected in this county,” said Del. Pam Beidle, who’s running for the West County District 32 Senate seat held by retiring ticket mate Ed DeGrange. “We need more women making those decisions” about issues such as pay equality, reproductive rights and gender discrimination.
Beidle served two terms on the County Council before being elected to House of Delegates in 2006. She attributes the election of Donald Trump and the #MeToo movement for driving the interest of Democratic women in elected office.
Beidle, along with school board member Stacy Korbelak and a few others, in 2017 revived the Anne Arundel County Democratic Women organization. Korbelak said the group has been attracting as many as 125 women to its meetings.
“We’ve had an all-male County Council for quite a while,” said Korbelak, who has served six-and-a-half years on the school board, but is not running in the county’s first election for the Board of Education. She is running for the Democratic Central Committee.
Democratic women “really saw a lack of representation” in elected office. “There are a lot of progressive candidates this time,” some of them currently on the board of the county Democratic Women organization. They include Allison Pickard running for council in District 2 and Debbie Ritchie in District 3. Neither have primary opponents, so they will be on the November ballot.
“We thought Hillary Clinton would be president,” Korbelak said, and perhaps stir more interest in women for political office. Trump’s election was a shocker, but it had a similar effect.
The WISE (or Women Indivisible Strong Effective) Women organization that grew out of Women’s March on Washington the day after President Trump’s inauguration has also contributed to the push for more Anne Arundel women to run for office, Korbelak said.
Korbelak’s group encourages women to get involved, but does not fund candidates or endorse in races. It does provide a Civics 101 course, exposing them to meetings of the County Council, school board and State House delegation.
Emerge Maryland provides some of the most intense training, 75 hours over five or six months. “The women learn all the nuts and bolts of running for office,” said executive director Diane Fink, who’s run the Maryland organization since it started six years ago.
Emerge has all-day seminars on campaign mailers and fundraising, and it teaches “proven methods of reaching their voters and winning their races,” Fink said, such as targeting voters and going door to door.
“Nobody else does this” in such depth, Fink said. Political parties frequently do candidate training, but they tend to be one- or two-day affairs that do not include the deep dive and one-on-one training “so they have a real understanding of what it takes to win.”
“I think women will pick up some seats,” said Korbelak.
Some of those may be Republicans as well, since they are running in four of the council districts and four of the legislative districts.
The Emerge alumnae in Anne Arundel include Pickard and Ritchie, Lisa Rodvien in Council District 6, Anne Colt Leitess for state’s attorney, Pamela Luby for delegate in District 33, and in one of the most interesting contests, Sarah Elfreth for Senate in District 30.
District 30 Senate Seat
Sarah Elfreth is only 29, but she already has a considerable amount of political experience. She has conducted advocacy projects for the National Aquarium, worked with The Johns Hopkins University, Towson University and the University System of Maryland, and she was also president of the District 30 Democratic Club.
She favors strengthening public schools, expanding health care for working families, as well as their day care options, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, among other issues.
This is pretty standard fare for a liberal Democrat who helped a progressive candidate for mayor of Annapolis, Gavin Buckley, defeat Sen. John Astle in the Democratic primary last year. Astle, a 75-year-old ex-Marine and helicopter pilot, is a moderate to conservative Democrat, particularly on fiscal issues. Elfreth is much further to the left.
Surprisingly, with Astle retiring after six terms, Elfreth faces another woman even further to the left than she is, Chrissy Holt.
Holt describes herself as an “experienced business leader” who worked business development for a number of startup tech companies. However, based on her experience with a son born with hemophilia, she favors Medicare for All, the single-payer health-insurance system advocated by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, among others.
Holt has four children from two marriages, and emphasizes she is a native Marylander, unlike Elfreth, who is single and grew up in New Jersey.
Holt’s April 5 campaign event in Annapolis was emceed by civil rights activist Carl Snowden and attracted an array of progressive candidates and supporters, including Mary Reese, who is running for delegate. Mayor Buckley and former county executive Janet Owens were also on hand.
“I am not interested in maintaining the status quo,” Holt wrote in The Capital newspaper. “I’m not the choice of the Democratic establishment, and neither am I seeking political office for a paycheck or lifetime career. I am a change-agent Democrat with a background of success in business and advocacy.”
On the November ballot, one of these progressive Democratic women will face Ron George, the Main Street jeweler and former Republican delegate. George is a fiscal and social conservative who ran for governor in 2014, losing to the more moderate Larry Hogan.
George was just endorsed by R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., the former Democratic speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. “As a state delegate, Ron George demonstrated leadership by successfully breaking through the partisan divide and building coalitions to pass legislation on important issues,” Mitchell said, in a statement. Like Astle, Mitchell, who is from Kent County on the Upper Eastern Shore, was a moderate-to-conservative Democrat and served as speaker from 1987 to 1992, back in the day when Democrats like him held the balance of power as they governed from the center.
The Libertarian Party has nominated Christopher Wallace for Senate in District 30 as well.
Across the state, all these moderate to conservative Democrats have been replaced by Republicans, except in five Senate districts like District 30 and District 32, where Beidle will try to hold on to the Senate seat.
Professor Dan Nataf’s semi-annual poll of public opinion in Anne Arundel County had some mixed news for County Executive Steve Schuh. Schuh’s job approval dropped from 49% last fall to 41% in the survey, which was taken in late March. The percentage of respondents who could not offer an assessment of the executive stayed high at 38%. Gov. Larry Hogan stayed stable at 76% as did President Trump at 34%.
The percentage of those saying that the county was moving in the right direction was down from 60% last fall to 47% this spring. The issues of major concern to county residents are drugs, 28%; and development, 10%; followed by crime and education, both at 9%.
Schuh holds a 15-point lead over his challenger, Democrat Steuart Pittman (38% to 23%), but “many voters were hard pressed to make a choice with 37% percent unsure,” Nataf said. “The percentage of unsure voters was 40% for Democrats and 47% for unaffiliated voters, suggesting that there is still a lot of room for campaigns to affect the outcome.”
In his home county of Anne Arundel, known as a swing county, Gov. Hogan continues to maintain a steady level of support, with 56% saying that they will vote for him in November. But voters also had a lower opinion on the direction of the state. There was a drop from 60% who thought Maryland was headed in the right direction last fall to 52% this spring.
The poll by the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College interviewed 663 county residents, mostly by landline telephones. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7%.