Five Democrats are running for three positions in the primary for the District 16 state delegate race. Incumbents Bill Bronrott of Bethesda, Marilyn Goldwater of Rockville and Susan Lee of Bethesda are facing challengers Charles Chester of Rockville and Regina Oldak of Bethesda.
The top three vote winners in the Democratic primary will face three Republicans in the general election: Robert F. Dyer, Angela Markelonis and Mike Monroe, all of Bethesda.
Also in district 16, Sen. Brian Frosh of Chevy Chase is running unopposed in both the primary and the general election. District 16 includes Bethesda and parts of Potomac, including Avenel and River Falls.
Frosh and the three incumbents are running together on the traditional district 16 slate. Frosh, Bronrott, Goldwater and Lee won handily on the same slate in the 2002 election.
“The people in the district seem to be satisfied with what we’re doing and the set up the way it is,” said Goldwater, 79, a retired nurse who has served as a delegate for 25 years. “Assuming they still feel that way, we will continue.”
“We co-sponsor each others’ bills and advocate for each others’ bills in different committees,” said Lee, 52, an attorney who has served as a delegate since 2002. “I feel so privileged to work with Del. Bronrott, Del. Goldwater and [Senator] Frosh.”
Lee was appointed to the General Assembly in February 2002 to fill the remaining nine months of former District 16 delegate Nancy Kopp’s term after Kopp was elected Treasurer of Maryland.
“I got there in the middle of a 90-day session, and as soon as I got there I hit the ground running,” said Lee. “I worked with my colleagues in the House of Delegates and the Senate to learn everything I could … and I think I did a very good job.
During the 2002 election, Bronrott, Goldwater and Frosh invited Lee to be part of the slate based on her work during the appointment.
STATE SENATOR Brian Frosh (D-16) said that the three incumbents will be hard to beat.
“Delegates Goldwater, Bronrott and Lee are very hardworking, well-known – they take care of their constituents and have a good solid record of experience,” he said. “I think the three incumbent delegates will be returned to office and I think they deserve to be.”
Frosh said that he is running on a slate with the incumbents because they work well together.
“We have complementary interests, and I think we’ve achieved good results for the state, the county and for district 16,” he said. “They’re excellent public servants. I’m voting for them and hoping that they’ll get four more years.”
State Senator Rob Garagiola (D-15) also predicts an easy win for the incumbents.
“I think that the three [district 16] delegates have done a great job representing their constituents, and I would say they are very well positioned to win reelection,” he said. “They’ve all got strong track records and have served their constituents very ably. They’ve each developed their spheres of expertise and influence on a variety of issues that compliment each other very well.”
NONETHELESS, those who have worked with Chester and Oldak on civic issues say the challengers would enrich the General Assembly.
Oldak, 55, is an attorney who serves as vice president of the Policy and Legislation committee for the Montgomery County Commission for Women. She chaired the Commission’s annual legislative briefing, an event held each January to educate the public about women’s issues and the political process. She also serves as policy chair of the Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington.
“I think she’d make an outstanding legislator,” said Deborah Horan, president of the Commission for Women. “Reggie has testified in Annapolis and participated in rallies … she has been quite a force on the commission.
“She always brings very measured, thoughtful insight to our deliberations and she’s delightful to work with,” continued Horan. “I have seen her jump in and take the ball and run with it, and I can’t imagine that she would do anything less than that as an elected official.”
George Brill, who operates Brill Plumbing and Heating and serves in a business trade organization in Montgomery County, has known Chester for 10 years. Brill said that when Baltimore Gas & Electric deregulated seven years ago, it tried to use rate payers’ money to fund private businesses. Chester helped the trade organization get laws passed in the General Assembly that require utility companies to use profits rather than rate payers’ money when creating start-up companies.
“[Chester] has been quite helpful for our association,” said Brill. “He knows a lot of delegates so he’s very well connected and gets things done. He’s able to present our side of the issue without offending anybody.”
The five candidates for District 16 have similar platforms in the areas of growth, transportation and education. In addition, they all support stem cell research and the Healthy Maryland Initiative, which would increase the tobacco tax by $1 per pack of cigarettes in order to provide affordable health coverage for low-income families and employees of small businesses.
All of the candidates support Smart Growth, a land use concept designed to combat urban sprawl that emphasizes compact development around mass transit and environmental preservation of surrounding areas.
“We have to pay a lot of attention to infrastructure as we are building,” said Oldak. “We’re going to have growth no matter what happens. We have to control it and direct it, and we need the transportation infrastructure” in place.
Bronrott, 51, is a freelance public relations consultant who has served as a delegate since 1999. He said that because of his position on the House Environmental Matters Committee, he helped kill legislation sponsored by the Ehrlich administration that would have eliminated the Office of Smart Growth.
“I think the state should be working more closely with counties and municipalities to encourage more transit-oriented, pedestrian-friendly growth in Smart Growth areas,” he said.
Lee said revitalization projects should be focused on communities where the transportation infrastructure is already in place.
“A lot of money and funding has to be devoted to mass transit – that reduces gridlock, pollution and congestion,” she said. “We really have to support the building of the inner Purple Line and other mass transit lines to connect people so there is less use of autos to get around.”
All of the candidates support the Purple Line, also known as the Bi-County Transitway. It is a proposed 14-mile Metrorail addition that would connect Bethesda and Silver Spring in Montgomery County to College Park and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County.
Bronrott points out that commuting between east and west transportation is increasingly common.
“Thirty years ago, the region’s planners focused on building a transit system that is north/south oriented, but we now know a lot of the traffic is east/west,” he said. “I believe the Purple Line is the single most important transportation priority for our state and region. It will get tens of thousands of cars off the Beltway and many of the state roads that feed into the Beltway.”
In addition to building the Purple Line, health attorney Chester, 51, supports linking up the MARC commuter trains in Maryland with the VRE trains in DC. He would like a more regional approach to transportation, such as that between New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
“We do have a regional transportation authority running the metrorail, but there isn’t coordination with local state-run systems,” like commuter trains or buses, said Chester, who is vice chair of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness, and who formerly served as a Democratic precinct official.
Chester says that the public is willing to pay higher license and user fees on their vehicles if the funds are used for transportation projects. He also advocates tax credits for vehicles that are fuel-efficient or run on alternative-fuel.
“We have some of the highest amounts of smog and lung-related illnesses in the DC area generally,” said Chester. “I’ve been a triathlete for three years, and the last couple years I’ve had low-level asthma, which is increasingly true of a lot of adults and their kids. The American Lung Association and other healthcare organizations are concerned about the impact of roads and cars on health.”
THE INTER-COUNTY CONNECTOR (ICC) is supported by all five candidates. The 14-mile, toll freeway would connect I-370 near Rockville with I-95 near Laurel. It would cost about $2.5 billion to build and drivers will pay an estimated $6 roundtrip.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Bill Clinton deemed the project too destructive to the environment, but President George W. Bush helped fast-track federal approval of the ICC in 2003.
The Sierra Club gave Bronrott, Goldwater and Lee qualified endorsements because the group approved of the incumbents’ environmental record overall, but not of their support for the ICC.
“I support the ICC – it’s going to be built, it’s not much of a question now,” said Oldak. “I don’t know where I would have been years ago when it was proposed, but I think it’s going to happen now.”
Candidates for Delegate 16 said that they would like to see the environmental impact of the ICC minimized.
“I think we have to work with the local government to make sure there is minimum damage to the local environment and to communities that exist already,” said Lee. “That will require very close coordination with the county executive in Montgomery County … as well as community organizations and environmental groups.”
“There’s constant oversight that has to be done,” of the ICC, said Goldwater.
The billions of dollars of funding for the ICC will not endanger the prospect of the Purple Line as some critics have claimed, said Bronrott.
“I think if we have a combination of leadership at the top along with our congressional delegation … [the Purple Line] is a very doable project,” he said. “There’s been a lot of foot-dragging within the Ehrlich administration on this issue. … I hope the next governor will take this on as the next funding top priority.”
All of the candidates support education funding as recommended by the Thornton Commission, which advocates for a $1.3 billion increase in education spending, partly funded by a tax hike on cigarettes. The candidates also support the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI), which would determine school funding for particular areas of Maryland based on the cost of living there.
Bronrott said that the geographic cost index would protect Montgomery County from being “shortchanged” in state education funding.
“A dollar spent in Montgomery County is much different than a dollar spent in other parts of the state,” he said. “Comparing one dollar here versus one dollar in western Maryland is like comparing apples and oranges to some degree. The [education index] is an important tool that will make sure Montgomery County gets its fair share of Thornton Commission dollars.”
Incumbents Bronrott, Goldwater and Lee have all racked up endorsements from the Montgomery County Education Association and the Maryland State Teachers Association.
Chester suggested authorizing state bonds in order to fund more school construction.
“In the past we’ve looked to earmark funds for education from the cigarette tax,” he said. “The cigarette tax should be used for healthcare, smoking cessation and for the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, so we also have to look elsewhere for money for school construction. Bonds are one potential way to go.”