So you want to run for office in Maryland? Just do it.

There are many reasons why I love living in Maryland, and the state’s Democratic politics is one of them. If you’re a progressive, how can you not love it? In 2012, we affirmed marriage equality, passed our version of the Dream Act and banned arsenic in agriculture, to name a few high-profile accomplishments. Our sights are now set on repealing the death penalty this year.

But there’s one more reason why Maryland politics is exciting to follow – its female leaders, present and future. I fully realized this when I attended a women’s Candidate, Campaign & Leadership Training, hosted by the Democratic Women’s PAC of Maryland and the Young Democrats of Maryland’s Women Caucus on Jan. 12. The daylong conference was designed to give Democratic women the tools, tips and strategies to run for local and state-wide offices, from campaign 101 to fundraising, online strategies, field operations and public speaking.

One look around the packed lecture hall at UMBC, and it was clear that the room was full of women of different ages, races and backgrounds from across the state. More important was the enthusiasm, tone and energy of the conference. Women (elected to public office or not) were helping other women by respectfully sharing their knowledge and experiences in the field and doing so with a good dose of humor and encouragement. Rep. Donna Edwards (D), Delegates Susan Lee, Ariana Kelly, Mary Washington; Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin and Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley were some of the elected women who offered advice and encouraged several women eyeing public office to keep in touch after the conference.

Underlying this energy was a feeling of working together, not against one another, to increase the number of women in public office in Maryland. The supportive attitude and energy of women mentoring women for leadership positions is what will make the difference in increasing our numbers in statewide and Congressional offices. As women, we have a responsibility to grow new political leadership networks on local, state and federal levels, or else we won’t be heard.

Numbers from the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University gives us an idea of where Maryland is in terms of female representation and how far it still has to go. According to the Center for American Women in Politics, Maryland ranks 8th among state legislatures for the proportion of women. Out of 188 legislators in the Maryland House and Senate, only 57 are women. Women are 30 percent of the state legislature. We have one female U.S. Senator (Barbara Mikulski), one Congresswoman (Rep. Donna Edwards), and no women in executive positions. (This could change if Del. Heather Mizeur, a strong feminist, runs for governor and wins!)

Although Maryland’s numbers are better than women’s representation in the U.S. House and Senate (18 percent), I think we can do better and set an example for the rest of the country. The Candidate, Campaign & Leadership Training is a step in the right direction and I’m already keeping an eye on a few women here in Frederick County who could run for office. I hope they do. Ultimately, I want to see Maryland women make up 50 percent of the state legislature and more. If Saturday’s training was any indication, I’d say that we can do it.


Follow the money. Support the Fair Elections Now Act.

Sitting in a university auditorium on a Saturday morning for a Young Democrat convention and listening to one Maryland Democratic lawmaker after another gush about how much the party has accomplished, how great and beautiful the state is, and how I need to help re-elect Obama and Ben Cardin can be tiring. I also think it’s preaching to the choir – do I really have to be reminded of how awesome it is to live in Maryland when I read about what’s been going on in Virginia? Or how important it is to re-elect Obama? I don’t think so. Thank you, enthusiastic Democratic state delegate! Moving on…

So, I sat up a little straighter in my seat when Congressman John Sarbanes (District 3) began to talk about public financing for campaigns and the Fair Elections Now Act. Campaign financing has been a hot topic of conversation for months in the 2012 presidential primary, with the rise of super PACs (political action committees), the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, and the influence of billionaires like Foster Friess and Sheldon Adelson. All of these elements have created a perfect storm of unprecedented monied influence in the Romney, Santorum and Gingrich campaigns. According to The Washington Post, five donors accounted for 25 percent of the money that flowed into the presidential race in January. The filthy rich men who infuse the presidential race with millions are casino owners (Adelson), hedge funders, corporate raiders, homebuilders and businessmen (PayPal’s Peter Thiel). And when these “kingmakers” are dumping buckets of money into Republican presidential campaigns, they sometimes feel free to give their political opinion on women’s healthcare (see: Foster Friess’ aspirin between the knees). The only time super PACs are laughable is when I watch The Colbert Report.

Back to the Fair Elections Now Act, which Sarbanes co-sponsors and models in his own re-election bid for his fourth term in the House of Representatives. The bill would allow federal candidates to choose to run for office without relying on donations from lobbyists and large contributions from big money. Candidates would have to raise a large amount of small donations from their communities in order to qualify for Fair Elections funding.

For example, Sarbanes would have to collect 1,500 contributions from Marylanders and raise a total of $50,000 in order to qualify. He would then receive $900,000 in Fair Election funding with 40 percent of the money split for the primary and 60 percent for the general election. The Fair Elections fund would also continue to match small donations raised by him and other House and Senate candidates.

The novel idea of the Fair Elections Now Act is that by publicly financing House and Senate campaigns, candidates would be freed from constant fundraising and could spend more time focusing on what their constituents need. (Yes, our elected officials could truly have the chance to be public servants. Amazing!) By focusing on small, grassroots donations, it makes the candidate more accountable to the voter, who wields more influence than usual with his/her $5 or $20 campaign contribution, because the candidate needs it and the person’s vote. It’s a model that more politicians should be using. And it’s refreshing and admirable to hear a Maryland Congressman put his money where his mouth is.

There are a few things we can do to support the Fair Elections Now Act. Let’s take back our collective power as voters and make public financing of political campaigns the norm in our communities.