Democratic state Sen. Richard Madaleno has known he wanted to run for office since he was 9 years old.
“My mother put me in front of our polling place when I was 9 to hand out literature because of a candidate that she was supporting,” he said in a recent interview. “And then when I was 13, one of our neighbors ran for the House of Delegates.”
He became fascinated with politics. He was involved in student government in high school and president of the student body at Syracuse University.
With a bachelor’s degree in Soviet studies and a master’s in public administration, Madaleno wanted a job with the State Department. When he didn’t get it, he moved home to Silver Spring and took the only job he could get — one he was not excited about — working as a budget analyst in Annapolis for the Maryland General Assembly.
But it turned out the role suited him.
“In 2002 when I entered the General Assembly, because I had spent time in Annapolis, I had been a budget analyst, I had been a committee staff person, I'd worked for the Montgomery County government — I had developed a reputation as the budget guy,” he said.
In the House of Delegates, where he served from 2003 until 2007, he was on the Appropriations Committee. He’s now vice-chair of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, and many of his General Assembly colleagues consider him an expert on the state budget.
“He knows budget issues and numbers as well as anybody else in the legislature because he has that staff experience,” said Del. Sandy Rosenberg, a Baltimore City Democrat who led the Appropriations subcommittee for which Madaleno worked as an analyst and later served with him as a member of the House. “He’s been on both sides of the budget process.”
Now Madaleno is staking his bid to replace Gov. Larry Hogan on that budgetary expertise, and on his nearly three decades in government, including 15 years representing Montgomery County in the General Assembly.
“Over and over, I've had the chance to be engaged in so many different issues and to make progress on those issues that I think I am the best positioned to take on this responsibility as governor because of that experience at the state level,” he said.
Melanie Wenger, director of Montgomery County’s Office of Intergovernmental Relations, was working for the General Assembly’s nonpartisan office responsible for legal and fiscal analysis — now the Department of Legislative Services — when Madaleno started there in 1989. Now a friend of his, she said she knew he would run for office long before he did.
“It was just always a given in the back of my mind that that was his goal,” she said. “And then he talked about it openly long before he actually threw his name in the hat, you know, in the House of Delegates.”
She said Madaleno’s work as a budget analyst was more creative than that of some of the other legislative staffers. He started pitching policy ideas to the lawmakers he worked with.
“He, I think, always did think a lot like a legislator, like a very creative legislator. So I can think of things that he had huge fingerprints on that likely weren’t the initial ideas of anybody but they were recommendations of his,” she said.
For example, at one point the legislative leaders were revamping state employee leave policies.
“They were going to do their kind-of standard fare. ‘Well, this is going to be, you know, your optional leave types of things, and here's going to be the set holidays.’ And Rich came in with kind of an entire different creative package that made a lot of sense, and that's what happened,” she said. “And those are the rules for state employees today.”
As a legislator, Madaleno has led the charge on many of the more progressive policies to come out of Annapolis.
The state Senate’s first openly gay member, he was at the forefront of the push to legalize same-sex marriage in 2012.
More recently, he sponsored a law to protect funding for family planning services, such as those provided by Planned Parenthood. If Congress makes those services ineligible for Title X funding, Maryland has to fill the gap.
“Planned Parenthood serves an incredibly important public service in this state,” he said just before the bill’s hearings in the House and Senate in March 2017. “To eliminate that would be to consign more people, especially poor women in our state, to a life with poorer health care and limited choices.”
Since Hogan took office, Madaleno has also gained a reputation as a political attack dog.
When Hogan introduced his proposed budget during the 2016 General Assembly session, the governor pushed for cuts to the programs state law requires him to fund year after year. He proposed a system that automatically cuts funding to those programs when revenues are lower than projected.
“It’s the type of sloppy budgeting that one would expect out of someone running for senior class president, not the governor of the state of Maryland,” Madaleno told reporters at the time. “He wants to come up with a gimmick that avoids him from having to go to the voters and tell them, ‘I’m reducing your children’s education opportunity. I’m reducing health care. I’m reducing public safety.’”
Lately, Madaleno has also been aiming attacks at President Trump.
His newest campaign ad calls attention to those efforts. It highlights last year’s Planned Parenthood legislation and the 2013 assault weapons ban.
“And what’s the number one way I piss off Trump and the Republicans?” Madaleno asks at the end of the ad before turning to kiss his husband, Mark Hodge. “Take that, Trump!”
But Madaleno said in an interview that he believes those efforts may be part of the reason why establishment politicians from his home county — people like U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh — endorsed Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker over him.
“I do think you see the grayer establishment going with Baker, the next generation of electeds overwhelmingly with me,” he said. "I think I rock the boat more than County Executive Baker."
Madaleno captured 6 percent of likely voters’ support in a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. That places him fourth in the primary contest, behind former NAACP leader Ben Jealous, Baker, and former Montgomery County Council member Valerie Ervin.
But the same poll found him the best situated of all of the Democratic candidates in a matchup against Hogan. Forty percent of registered voters would pick Madaleno over Hogan, and 10 percent said they were undecided.
The primary is June 26, and early voting begins Thursday.