Female victories dominate election
Of the 33 who made it through the June primary, 20 won their races on Tuesday
Charles Carroll, a revolutionary and Declaration of Independence signer, served in the Maryland Senate more than 230 years ago.
Looking out at a crowd of supporters Tuesday night, state Senator-elect Sarah Elfreth thanked supporters, family friends, Maryland Speaker of the House Mike Busch and retiring state Sen. John Astle. But then she invoked Carroll, her predecessor in representing Anne Arundel County.
“While we’ve had senators that have done tremendous things for this community, in 250 years every senator has looked like Charles Carroll,” Elfreth said.
Tuesday night, the county voters sent two Anne Arundel County women — Elfreth and Del. Pam Beidle — to the Senate, the first since Janet Greenip served District 33 between 2003 and 2009. It was a night of firsts— the first woman elected to serve as Anne Arundel County state’s attorney, the first female supermajority on the Anne Arundel County Council and the first elected school board, all females.
At least 50 women ran for office in Anne
Arundel County this election cycle, the most ever according to state election records. Of the 33 who made it through the primary, 20 won their races Tuesday, sometimes competing against each other.
Elfreth and Beidle were among nine women in the General Assembly and County Council to take over seats held by men. Newly elected District 30A delegate Alice Cain, who will replace longtime Del. Herb MacMillan, said Wednesday she didn’t run on being a woman, but nevertheless, her representation is important.
“Part of why I ran is … because, as a woman, there are a lot of people in power right now, and I would start in the White House, who don’t have a lot of the same priorities I have and a lot of my friends have,” she said. “I wanted to bring our voice into the conversation.”
Cain, Elfreth and Beidle will join District 32 Delegate-elect Sandy Bartlett, District 21 Delegate-elect Mary Lehman and incumbent Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk in representing Anne Arundel County in the General Assembly. Anne Colt Leitess triumphed over State’s Attorney Wes Adams, after he unseated her in 2014, becoming the first woman elected to the job.
In 2013, Colt Leitess was the first woman to hold the seat, but she was appointed, not elected. She said in taking the job she applied the wisdom learned over a lifetime and as a wife and mother.
“One of the things that happened to me before when I got that position, it was really quite eye opening. Because there were people who came and said you need to do this you, need to do that, you need to make this change and … I immediately thought, no, everything I do has a ripple effect — if I make a decision about something, it could affect all these other issues,” she said. “I think that women tend to be collaborative. I think that women think about every single perspective.”
Five women — Sarah Lacey, Allison Pickard, Amanda Feidler, Lisa Branigan Rodvien and Jessica Haire — took over seats on the all-male Anne Arundel County Council to establish the first female majority since Beidle served in 2002.
Beidle was a mentor for some of the female candidates running this cycle. Her first primary election was “really, really tough,” she said, and she didn’t have anyone to turn to.
“I felt like it was my responsibility to mentor them, to help them,” she said. “It’s not an easy thing to run for office. I know what it’s like to get started and not have someone help.”
On the Democratic side, the women running built a coalition to provide training and support. They attended school board and county council meetings. They provided an uplifting text or phone call during tough days.
Bartlett said she was especially grateful to have Beidle.
“She understood being questioned by men in ways men were not questioned by each other,” she said. “She understood having to be a strong, beautiful, graceful person and also being a force to be reckoned with.”
The new legislators said they hope they can provide representation that comes from knowing what it’s like to be the only one in a room that looks different from everyone else. Being a woman in office can bring a much-needed perspective on rights typically branded as “women’s issues,” as the ills that affect women are sometimes symptoms of larger inequity, they said.
“When we talk about birth control, when we talk about choice, when we talk about childcare, universal pre-kindergarten, those have so often been pigeonholed as traditional women’s issues and have not gotten the attention they deserve,” Elfreth said. “To me, it all boils down to a woman having a choice over when she has a family, when she has a job. It’s an economic issue.”
But so-called women’s issues are often just people issues. Almost every candidate interviewed said they’d be focusing on education issues, as this year the General Assembly will be considering the recommendations made by the Kirwan Commission and rewriting the funding formula for state schools.
Beidle, who said she’d be on the budget and tax committee, would like to get prescription funding back for retirees. Cain wants to strengthen laws that would prevent future gun violence. Elfreth wants to update the state Forest Conservation Act.
Cain, who was able to work with Republican aides during her time assisting the Congressional education committees, said she hopes the growing contingent of female legislators might help get things done.
“Particularly when you’re working in a climate that is a man’s world or primarily run by men, you find ways to help each other,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons we were able to get some really good things done on Capitol Hill. We approached the work as ‘let’s listen and learn and figure out where we have common ground.’ ”
Despite successes elsewhere, in District 33 four women — Eve Hurwitz, Heather Bagnall, Pam Luby and Tracie Cramer Hovermale — were unsuccessful in their bid to unseat the three male incumbent delegates and senator. As of Tuesday night, Dels. Tony McConkey, Michael Malone and Sid Saab narrowly won re-election. But Democratic challenger Bagnall, who is 645 votes away from overcoming McConkey, is holding out for absentee ballots.
Hurwitz, who ran for state Senate, said she’d be moving on to try to accomplish her goals as a private civilian. She has already organized a rally Thursday supporting Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigation President Donald Trump’s campaign ties to Russia during the 2016 election. Trump forced former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the investigation, to resign Wednesday.
Hurwitz said the Maryland Democratic Party could have provided more support for the District 33 candidates, but recognized they might not have the financial resources. She said she asked for $500 a month to assist the District 33 races and office space.
Fabion Seaton, spokesman for the party, said providing that money would be unfeasible. If the party offered that kind of donation for all 400 candidates statewide, it would cost $200,000 a month, Seaton said.
But the party had volunteers and organizers carrying literature and knocking on doors “for every single race,” Seaton said.
Hurwitz said was proud of how far she and the other District 33 candidates came, despite running lean campaigns. She said she thinks her gender made a difference, even if to stand out from the traditionally white, male candidates running in District 33.
“I think a lot of the women that won were not hesitant to say that — “’I’m a woman and that’s OK.’ That’s different,” she said. “And don’t vote for me just because I’m a woman, but representation matters.”
Sarah Elfreth was elected to the District 30 Maryland Senate seat left open by the retiring John Astle.