Etienne enters race to unseat Miller
Seeks ‘common sense’ government
Roussan “Rou” Etienne Jr. has carved out a comfortable life for himself and his family in Baden, a quiet southeastern Prince George’s landscape painted with farms, rolling hills and historic barns. From his nearly 10-acre residential farm, Etienne has less than a two-minute commute to his post as senior chaplain for the Baden Volunteer Fire Department.
For the Haitian-American immigrant, who came to the United States from Port-au-Prince at age 5, the calm and beauty of rural Southern Maryland is sublime — but he is willing to trade a fraction of it in for the kerfuffle of the Maryland General Assembly.
In May, Etienne, 47, announced his 2018 run for the District 27 State Senate seat held by Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D-Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s). Miller was elected into office in 1974, just about the time Etienne and his family moved to Prince George’s County.
“A vote for Rou is definitely a vote for you,” smiles Etienne, before shifting to a more serious topic.
“We needed some honest and responsible government,” he concluded after talking with area residents about their needs and challenges in the district. “We have leadership, but there is no transparency; leadership would not listen to [constituents], [residents] would vote for things and they still wouldn’t go through.”
Etienne has not held elected office, but he is no stranger to politics. In 2014, he ran for Prince George’s County executive as an independent. He said he felt called to run because the current county executive, Rushern L. Baker III (D), didn’t deliver on a promise to pool a percentage of money from the National Harbor project into the county’s public school system.
“The deal gets done — nothing is coming back to Prince George’s County for our kids. A $1.7 billion budget and schools get nothing and teachers and parents have to come out of their pockets to buy basic necessities,” Etienne said. “Corrupt — not honest government, and the money is there.”
Etienne accumulated enough votes to be the top of a pool of many write-in candidates and finished second to Baker, but only garnered 0.2 percent of the vote against the incumbent, who swallowed up 98.8 percent.
Not dissuaded by the loss, Etienne is ready for another run. And due to his southern-most locale, which makes it most convenient for him to shop in Charles and recreate in Calvert, Etienne feels he is connected and knowledgeable enough to represent the needs of all three counties that populate the district.
His No. 1 legislative priority is to lower property and business taxes which he believes is paramount, and he wants to make sure legislation gets through. He blames Miller for being a barrier.
“He doesn’t have the heart and mindset of the people of this county. He blocks everything that benefits [business],” said Etienne, who also owns a talent management and marketing business called Rou Talent Agency. “Commonsense stuff is not even getting through the door.”
Etienne also plans to tackle Southern Maryland’s drug problem. With the help of his campaign chairman, Wallace Stephens, he has devised a strategy to collaborate with stakeholders, identify resources for mental health and facilitate services for communities affected by the opioid crisis.
Environmental preser vation of the region’s natural assets, specifically the Patuxent River, is also a legislative priority. “It’s common sense — we’ve got to preserve where people fish,” stressed Etienne, who steered clear of addressing climate change.
Etienne has assembled a diverse team for the campaign and calls on a higher power by opening up his staff meeting with prayer. That higher power may be in need: incumbent Miller has consistently accumulated 62 to nearly 75 percent of the votes in the district over his last three election campaigns.
Unlike those who are proponents of separation of church and state, the chaplain will tell you there is a place for God in the statehouse.
A registered independent for roughly 25 years, Etienne was very familiar with the Democratic Party, but said he was never impressed to join because he had always seen corruption. He also admits that he didn’t personally know one Republican until he learned that Ben Carson (R) was running for president.
“Oh, I’m definitely voting for him because I know his character and integrity,” said Etienne of the catalyst for his switch to the Republican camp less than four years ago so he could support his friend in Maryland’s primary.
He acknowledged the affiliation change presents an uphill battle, with District 27 split amongst Calvert, Prince George’s and Charles counties. In the 2016 General Election, there were roughly 54,700 registered Democrat voters to 27,000 Republicans. Calvert offers a ray of hope for Etienne with the senate district’s largest contingent of registered Republicans totaling 12,120.
Prince George’s, which makes up a larger share of the district, has a predominately Democratic population and has overwhelmingly backed Miller, a Prince George’s native who grew up in Clinton.
Etienne admits he may have also burned bridges with his home county’s elected leaders as he has publicly challenged the placement of cell phone towers on public school grounds as a member of a coalition of parents, community leaders and activists.
Republicans — especially black Republicans — are few, but collectively they have banded to create a Prince George’s County Republican Central Committee, of which Etienne is an at-large member.
Proud of his new affiliation, Etienne credits himself with starting a group called Maryland Grassroots Republicans. Sidestepping questions concerning President Donald Trump (R) and his policies, Entienne said he supports Republican Governor Larry Hogan and applauds him for pushing for transparency in government, like himself.
Beyond race and the politics, Etienne believes what he has done in the district as a leader on variety of issues is what will help him win this race, which he said includes advocating to successfully expand burial benefits for first responders in Prince George’s.
Etienne holds a doctorate in psychology from CI International and a bachelor’s in theology from Faith Seminaries in Washington, D.C. Both degrees come in handy for his chaplain duties and during summers when he, his wife Karen and two daughters host a day camp for at-risk boys and girls through his non-profit ZOE Group Foundation — one of many efforts he says he does to give back to the community.
Despite his busy schedule, Etienne wants to take on a new role so he can preserve the wealth and build new wealth in District 27.
“We have a system that is tearing down their financial vehicles and people are tired of it,” he said. “It’s time for change.”
Roussan Etienne at his home in Prince George’s County.