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Longtime Legislators Lose Seats in Tuesday's Primary

Rachel Baye

The General Assembly will look quite different in January following Tuesday’s primary, in which several incumbent state legislative leaders lost their seats.

In the House of Delegates, the highest-profile loss was that of Judiciary Chairman Joseph Vallario, who has held his seat representing part of Prince George’s County since 1975.

The Senate will see the biggest change, with roughly a third of the chamber’s 47 seats filled by new people. Four senators lost to primary challengers on Tuesday, and a fifth appears likely to have lost.

“It is surprising that you had some pretty notable folks in the General Assembly lose in primary battles,” said Melissa Deckman, chair of Washington College’s political science department.

She highlighted the Senate’s second-in-command, President Pro Tempore Nathaniel McFadden, who lost his seat representing East Baltimore to first-term state Del. Cory McCray; Sen. Barbara Robinson, who lost her seat representing West Baltimore to first-term state Del. Antonio Hayes; and Finance Committee Chairman Thomas “Mac” Middleton, from Charles County. He lost to newcomer Arthur Ellis.

Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Joan Carter Conway, also of Baltimore, trails state Del. Mary Washington in her race by about 500 votes but has yet to concede.

“All of these folks, I think, represent really the establishment part of the party. They were heavily backed by Senate President Mike Miller, and here you have really some more progressive insurgents who were able to topple those individuals, which was pretty surprising,” Deckman said.

Several winners in these primary contests lack opponents in November, and many of the others are in reliably Democratic seats.

Several of the new members will be younger and more progressive than the Democrats they are replacing, said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

“It’s going to be the most progressive Democratic caucus that the Maryland Senate has ever seen,” he said.

Eberly suggests that the stronger progressive wing of the Senate may even challenge Miller’s position as Senate president, a role he’s had since 1987.

“Miller goes with so much of his leadership team gone and no clear indication that he'll have the support to be a leader,” Eberly said. “It all comes down to is there someone that progressives could agree to coalesce around to challenge him."

While campaigning, Robinson said her absence from the Senate would leave an experience gap. She served 14 years in the House before she was appointed to fill the Senate seat vacated by Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh in 2016.

“I bring seniority, and seniority comes with experience,” she said during an interview in May. “I bring know-how.”

While appearing on WYPR’s Midday in April, Conway said her loss would cost Baltimore, and specifically her district, the key relationships she has built as a result of her committee chairmanship, not to mention the power that comes with it.

“As the new kid on the block when you sit in the back seat of the chamber, you have to maintain, broker those types of relationships,” she said. “As chair, you have a wide discretion in terms of the bills that pass or won’t pass.”

Whether Baltimore is actually hurt by that potential loss depends on who fills the seat, Deckman said.

“Mike Miller still has the ability to determine who's sitting in which chair, and so I think that all roads go through Mike Miller in a lot of respects there,” she said.

Sen. Stephen Waugh, whose district includes parts of Calvert and St. Mary’s counties, was the only Republican senator to lose to a primary challenger. Gov. Larry Hogan endorsed Waugh’s opponent, retired Maryland Natural Resources Police Sergeant Jack Bailey. Hogan has criticized Waugh for voting too often with Senate Democrats.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom. @RachelBaye
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