Josh Kurtz: Dominoes

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By Josh Kurtz: 

If Doug Gansler picks a running mate from Prince George’s County, expect serious downballot ramifications.

His choice won’t just impact the politics in the district of whomever he selects but will have a domino effect in other parts of the county. Support for Anthony Brown in Prince George's is broad but not necessarily deep, and Gansler's choice could upset the entire fragile balance.

It could determine who County Executive Rushern Baker endorses for governor, and it could also determine if a ticket of Democratic dissidents is cobbled together throughout the county – a place where incumbents tend to slate together and state senators have an inordinate amount of power.

For now it’s widely assumed that the two leading contenders from Prince George’s to be Gansler’s No. 2 are Dels. Jolene Ivey and Melony Griffith. Ivey is openly campaigning for the job. Griffith, who has seen lawmakers from her district – like Brown and Dereck Davis – move on to bigger and better things, is getting antsy. She may get help with Gansler from former Congressman Al Wynn, a Griffith ally who supports the attorney general’s gubernatorial bid.

If Ivey gets the nod, the implications may be broader – because if Griffith is passed over she will surely take a look at challenging state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D) in the 25th district, which is right in the heart of the county. Currie is vastly better funded and will have the strong support of Senate President Mike Miller. But Currie will be 77 next year, and could be vulnerable given his federal corruption trial a few years ago – acquittal notwithstanding.

Even if Griffith isn’t tapped by Gansler and decides to seek re-election, Currie may not be entirely out of the woods. Former Del. Juanita Miller, who would have no problem waging a slash and burn campaign, even against a nice guy like Currie, may run.

And with Del. Aisha Braveboy running for attorney general next year, the 25th district has already attracted two quality challengers for House seats: Darryl Barnes, a businessman who runs the well-respected nonprofit Men Aiming Higher, and Antonio Jones, a member of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Barnes will almost certainly join a ticket headed by Currie and Davis, the chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee.

In Ivey’s own district, the oddly-shaped, inside-the-Beltway 47th, her departure to join Gansler’s ticket could have a salutary effect on Del. Doyle Niemann, who is the odd man out under the new legislative map. If Ivey seeks re-election, Niemann is a lot more likely to run for an open County Council seat than for another term in the House. But there are now signs that Niemann could wind up running for Council no matter what Ivey does.

More intriguingly, departures by Ivey and Niemann could help solve a dilemma for Democratic leaders in the adjoining district, the 22nd, where Rush Baker, the 25-year-old son of the county executive, wants to run for the House despite the presence of three incumbents – Dels. Tawanna Gaines, Anne Healey and Alonzo Washington – who all plan to seek re-election. Healey and Gaines have been reliable allies of the younger Baker, and Washington, who was just appointed to the seat this year, is close to some of the young bucks who helped elect Baker county executive, like former Del. Justin Ross, who Washington replaced.

So if there are vacancies in the 47th district, the younger Baker may be persuaded to take a look at a race there. Another awkward situation for the Baker crowd was recently averted when David Sloan, former executive director of the state Democratic Party, moved out of the 22nd district and into the 26th, where he is planning to seek a House seat.

The 26th, in the southern part of the county, is also in flux as state Sen. Anthony Muse, who has never met a higher office he doesn’t want to run for, ponders challenging Baker for county executive next year. Already Del. Veronica Turner seems determined to run for Senate regardless of what Muse does – aided by the Service Employees International Union – and Del. Jay Walker is looking at the Senate race as well. Ed Burroughs, a young member of the county school board, is also expected to seek a House seat in the 26th district, along with Sloan.

Muse and Currie may not be the county’s only state senators with targets on their backs. Former Del. Gerron Levi, who ran unsuccessfully for county executive in 2010, is reportedly taking a close look at challenging Sen. Joanne Benson in the south-central 24th district, and she could run an aggressive campaign.

Benson, meanwhile, has not yet said which of the district’s three delegates, if any – Carolyn Howard, Darren Swain or Michael Vaughn – she plans to slate with. Durand Ford, Benson’s legislative aide, is preparing to run for the House in the 24th. Angela Angel, a lawyer who works for the County Council, may also run there. Former Del. Tiffany Alston, who was removed from the legislature last year, and Greg Hall, who came tantalizingly close to being appointed to replace her until his former criminal background came to light, could also get into the race.

There’s intrigue also in the Bowie-based 23rd district, where Dels. Jim Hubbard and Geraldine Valentino-Smith have been thrust into a single-member subdistrict together. Valentino-Smith is the early favorite, but House leaders in Annapolis may come to Hubbard’s aid. Expect the district’s senator, Doug Peters, to sit on the sidelines in that race.

And in the 23rd’s other subdistrict, controversial House Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario is running in unfamiliar territory after being carved out of the 27th district. Right now Vallario and the other incumbent, Del. Marvin Holmes, are the only declared candidates, but other Bowie-based contenders are expected to emerge, including, possibly, Board of Education President Verjeana Jacobs. Peters’ posture on this race is once again unclear.

Beyond the district-by-district drama, there’s the question of what Baker will do in the gubernatorial race. The safest assumption is that at some point he’ll join the stampede of elected officials backing Brown – after all, it should be to the county’s advantage to have a county resident as governor. On the other hand, Baker and Ivey are close friends – real-life friends, not just political friends – so if she is running on a ticket with Gansler, that could present the county executive with another 2014 dilemma. But having a governor from Prince George's is almost certainly more advantageous to the county than having the third straight lieutenant governor.

And could all the churn in county politics create a slate of dissidents? Suppose Muse runs for executive. Suppose Currie and Benson get legitimate challengers. Suppose Peters sides with some, most or all of them, as some political insiders expect. Suppose there are enough warring factions to create competitive House and Council races just about everywhere.

The Prince George’s political landscape of 2014 isn’t wholly dependent on Doug Gansler’s selection for lieutenant governor – but it could make a big difference. The first domino may fall in just a few weeks.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this column misidentified the previous employment of David Sloan.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.