Josh Kurtz: Numerous Political Battles on the Horizon in Prince George’s County

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A battle is brewing for control of the Prince George’s County House delegation in Annapolis.

Del. Michael Jackson (D), backed by some of his fellow freshmen, is putting out the word that he wants to become delegation chairman. But the current chairman, Del. Jay Walker (D), plans to seek a second two-year term.

The fight for the gavel is just one of many political battles on tap in Prince George’s – some this year, others percolating in advance of the 2018 election cycle. All provide reminders that Prince George’s remains one of the most fascinating places for politics in Maryland and in the D.C. region.

The county’s 24-member House delegation could vote on its next leader as soon as mid-September.

In a recent interview, Jackson refused to cast his decision to run for chairman as an attempt to unseat Walker. In fact, he said he wasn’t sure Walker was running again and that as far as he was concerned, the post was vacant.

“I think about Prince George’s County and our state all the time,” Jackson said. “I’ve always been a leader and I know leadership equates to advocacy. This is something I want to do for our county.”

Walker did not respond to phone and email messages last week. But colleagues and other county government officials say he is planning to seek a second term as chairman – and they expect a close vote.

How could Walker, who was first elected to the House in 2006, be imperiled by a freshman like Jackson? There aren’t dramatic differences between the two when it comes to ideology and legislative agenda.

One colleague said the differences are mostly stylistic, describing Jackson as “a hugger” while Walker, a former professional football player, possesses a certain rough-hewn, locker room jocularity.

And Jackson is no ordinary freshman. He’s a former two-term sheriff of Prince George’s who ran unsuccessfully for county executive in 2010 and also served as president of the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge. Although he was aligned with former County Executive Jack Johnson (D) he is now working in the county’s Homeland Security agency under the current executive, Rushern Baker (D). He is actually eight years older than Walker (52 to 44).

Even as the Jackson-Walker battle plays out, Prince George’s politicos are gearing up for the increasing likelihood that veteran state Sen. Ulysses Currie (D), who is 79 years old, will retire before the end of the year due to declining health. Almost certain to put in for the appointment are freshman Del. Darryl Barnes (D), and former Del. Melony Griffith (D), who finished 21 points behind Currie in the 2014 Democratic Senate primary.

Other potential contenders, including freshman Del. Angela Angel (D), could emerge for the Senate appointment. The elevation of Barnes or Angel to Senate would then necessitate the appointment of a new delegate. Nick Charles, an Air Force veteran and community activist who sought the seat in 2014, is almost certain to try again – and others could follow.

Just as tantalizing is the prospect that Prince George’s voters this November could approve a ballot measure adding two at-large members to the County Council who are elected countywide. That would create two new positions for ambitious pols to shoot for – and term-limited members of the current County Council would be eligible to run for one of those slots.

As it is, 2018 will see plenty of political turnover in Prince George’s County.

Baker is term limited as county executive and is expected to run for governor. State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks (D) is the frontrunner to replace him, though state Sen. Anthony Muse (D) and term-limited Councilman Mel Franklin (D) are also preparing to run (Franklin is a prime candidate to seek an at-large Council seat if the position is created and he drops his bid to run for executive).

With Alsobrooks all but certain to run for executive, state Sen. Victor Ramirez (D) is preparing to run for state’s attorney, and he may not be the only candidate in that race.

Four other council members are also termed out: Andrea Harrison (D), Mary Lehman (D), Obie Patterson (D) and Karen Toles (D). Patterson, a former delegate who is 78, will retire outright. But Harrison and Toles could wind up seeking legislative seats in Districts 24 and 25, respectively. Lehman may also be looking for another political opportunity as well.

Expect former Del. Jolene Ivey (D), who left the legislature in 2014 to run unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor, to run for Harrison’s Council seat, and she will be hard to beat.

And there could be more retirements on the legislative front. Del. Carolyn J.B. Howard (D) is 77 and is almost certainly done. The indestructible House Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario (D) is 79; will he crank up for another term? How about Del. Susie Proctor (D), who was appointed to replace her husband, the late Jim Proctor (D), earlier this year? She turns 76 in two weeks.

What about Senate President Mike Miller (D), who turns 74 at the end of the year? Could Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D) or Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D) be persuaded to challenge Comptroller Peter Franchot in the 2018 Democratic primary, as is rumored?

And the Prince George’s school board? Don’t even get us started!

But rest assured, a change in county leadership is gonna come...


Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Dailyon Capitol Hill. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

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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.