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45th District: Long Shots

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“Considering I’m just 26 years old, I don’t have an extremely long resume,” says Jamaal Simpson, who along with Kevin Parson is challenging the 45th District Democratic incumbents in the House primary election. Simpson’s thin resume is going to have to work wonders to overcome the incumbents’ well-established might.

Two of the incumbents—Talmadge Branch and Hattie Harrison—are institutions in Annapolis. Branch is the House majority whip, and Harrison is the first African-American woman to chair a legislative committee, the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee, for which she’s been banging the gavel since 1979. The third, Cheryl Glenn, has only one term under her belt, but as the Maryland political director of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters (which is just her most recent union post), she enjoys potent alliances with the labor movement.

But Simpson is not a complete greenhorn in politics. He chaired community activist Kinji Scott’s unsuccessful 2006 bid for 40th District delegate, and worked on late City Councilmember Ken Harris’ 2007 re-election campaign. Simpson says he sees Harris as a political role model because he “would never sway from his stance to compromise the promises he had made to his constituents.” Simpson is banking on voters to break out of the pattern of sending the same people to Annapolis every four years, saying voters “don’t have to settle for the status quo. They don’t have to vote for the same person they voted for last time . . . [or] who their parents voted for. Some of the incumbents have been in office for several decades and things have gotten worse.”

Parson ran in the district’s last two Democratic primaries for the House, coming in seventh in 2002 and fifth in 2006. He did not respond to City Paper’s attempts to reach him for this article, but in 2006 he was a Baltimore City public schools official, and said that the district needs “fresh, young, energetic people” in Annapolis.

In the 2006 primary, the incumbent with the least votes was Harrison, with 5,730, though Glenn, as a one-term incumbent, could also be considered vulnerable. Of the two, Glenn has the thinnest record of legislative accomplishments over the last four legislative sessions, with two bills that became law under her sponsorship. One, a companion to a Senate bill, allows domestic-violence victims to get out of their residential leases, and another the bars real-estate transfer fees.

Harrison had seven lead-sponsored bills become law. Three dealt with changes to unemployment insurance, and three others tinkered with other types of insurance; the seventh raised the lending limits of a state small-business loan fund managed by Meridian Management Group (“Something Ventured,” Feature, May 3, 2006), whose owner, Stanley Tucker, is one of Harrison’s campaign donors.

Branch, meanwhile, leveraged his clout as whip to get eight lead-sponsored bills passed during his most recent term. One reacted to human-rights atrocities in Darfur by authorizing the state’s pension board to divest from companies that have business ties to the Sudanese government. His legislation also directed funding for the Elevator Safety Review Board, declared the Friday after Thanksgiving a holiday called American Indian Heritage Day, codified the existing Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives, allowed recipients of temporary cash assistance to get a boost in their benefits upon the birth of a child, regulated the possession and use of stun guns, reformed the State Citizen Review Board for Children (which oversees children in out-of-home care), and established oversight procedures for state agencies entering into public-private partnerships.

None of the three incumbents responded to requests for comment for this article. The three candidates who prevail in the Democratic primary will face Republican challengers Rick Saffery and Larry Wardlow, along with Libertarian Ronald Owens-Bey, in the November general election.

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