19 May Josh Kurtz: House Freshmen Honor Roll
By: Josh Kurtz, The Center Maryland
Ask Annapolis insiders to evaluate the 60-strong class of House freshmen so far and some say – with tongues only partly in cheek – that it’s easier to name the bad ones than the standouts.
It may eventually be worth having a conversation about the lawmakers who are disappointments. But you also want to give these people some time, and the benefit of the doubt. Not every top-notch Annapolis legislator started out that way.
Yet already, after just two legislative sessions, a consensus is building on the stronger members of the House Class of 2014. The top 10 are listed below.
Some came to Annapolis with a lot of political experience – though none has held elective office before. Others are true political novices. Some are mere kids. And all seem to have bright political futures – whether they’re thinking that far ahead or not.
We are refraining, for now, from offering a list of top freshman senators, for the simple reason that most joined the Senate with a great deal of political experience already under their belts. In fact, of the 11 new senators elected in 2014 – plus Sen. Craig Zucker (D), who joined the chamber earlier this year – only one, Sen. Johnny Ray Salling (R), had never held political office before.
So without further ado, the stars, so far, of the House freshman class (in alphabetical order):
Erek Barron (D-Prince George’s, age 42): Soft-spoken, cerebral former prosecutor; conscientious and working an array of issues. Was a big player in the criminal justice reform debate this year, an unusual and enviable position for a freshman. Has also managed not to get dragged into some of the internecine Democratic battles in Prince George’s County.
Mary Beth Carozza (R-Lower Shore, age 55): The Eastern Shore has a few promising freshmen, but none is as well rounded and substantive as Carozza. She grew up working for her family’s business in Ocean City and has had numerous top-tier staff jobs on Capitol Hill, in the George W. Bush administration, and with former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R).
Antonio Hayes (D-Baltimore city, age 38): A former community organizer and longtime political aide, he already has a lifetime of political experiences that will serve him and his constituents well. Will his decision to endorse Sheila Dixon over Catherine Pugh in the recent mayoral primary hurt him? Pugh is his senator, but Dixon is his former boss – so he gets points for loyalty.
Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County, age 51): She’s perhaps best known around the state for her work in Ben Cardin’s political operation, and that has provided her with important contacts in Annapolis. But she’s also extremely plugged in to her district and the entire Baltimore region, and that pays dividends as well.
Marc Korman (D-Montgomery, age 34): Possesses that classic Montgomery County combination of policy chops, political antennae and work ethic, and is putting his knowledge of congressional sausage-making to good use in Annapolis. Has also become one of the legislature’s toughest and most thoughtful watchdogs of Metro – and lord knows, the ailing transit system needs all the prodding and oversight it can get.
Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore city, age 37): Born on Valentine’s Day, she combines sweetness with steely determination. No one works harder or is better prepared for a hearing, an election, an issue campaign. No one learns lessons more quickly when she falls short. She has already worked an extraordinary array of issues, and is a very effective advocate for her city and her constituents.
Cory McCray (D-Baltimore city, age 33): No one has a more compelling life story or a more genuine dedication to public service and lifting up his community. His picture ought to be in the dictionary next to the Yiddish word “hamish.” But he’s got impressive political chops as well. The BEST Democratic Club, which he helped form, is now a powerhouse, not only in Baltimore but in statewide Democratic circles. And four of the five grass-roots candidates he worked hard to support in the City Council primaries last month prevailed.
Christian Miele (R-Baltimore County, age 35): Some political strivers can be obnoxious – ambitious for ambition’s sake. Miele is undeniably ambitious but remains community minded and is channeling that energy to build bridges to colleagues of all political stripes. He rode the wrong horse in the GOP presidential race, heading the Maryland campaign for Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. But he was hardly alone – and his work for Rubio built his network of connections all across the state.
Will Smith (D-Montgomery, age 34): District 20, in the liberal enclave of Silver Spring and Takoma Park, sent two intriguing newcomers to the House in 2014. Del. David Moon (D), a political strategist and blogger and passionate progressive, has exceeded expectations by energetically reaching out to colleagues – especially those he disagrees with. Smith gets slightly higher marks, in part because he’s smoother around the edges. But he’s also played a substantive role in debates over criminal justice reform and voting rights. It will be interesting to see if either Smith or Moon is elevated to the state Senate after Jamie Raskin is elected to Congress.
Brett Wilson (R-Western Maryland, age 49): Ask anyone who follows Annapolis to name the top Republicans in the House freshman class, and Wilson makes every list. The Washington County prosecutor has become a thoughtful, powerful voice on issues like domestic violence and the opioid epidemic in the state. He’s also a clear-eyed political reformer.