The candidates at an October, 2013 Takoma Park forum included incumbent Tom Hucker (left), who has since left the state delegate race to run for county council. Photo by Bill Brown.
BY MIKE PERSLEY
On June 24, residents of District 20 will have eight options to choose from as they go to the ballot box to elect two new Democratic candidates for the Maryland House of Delegates. Each candidate is jibing for the opportunity to replace delegates Heather Mizeur (D), who after two terms is stepping down to run for governor, and Tom Hucker, who is running for the Montgomery County Council.
In their eight years as delegate, both candidates comprised a solidly progressive record.
Mizeur fought to expand health insurance to uninsured children, create more family-planning options for those under the federal poverty line, and was an outspoken advocate for marriage equality, greater environmental regulation, and government transparency.
Hucker passed the countries first state-wide living wage bill, before it was vetoed by Gov. Bob Elrich in 2007.
He was recognized as a 100% Environmental Voter by the Maryland League of Conservation and Environment Maryland, as he fought to strengthen the state’s SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) laws.
Each of the new candidates share some version of the same progressive vision, and distinguishing one candidate’s positions from another can be a difficult task.
As longtime activist and Takoma Park resident Keith Berner puts it, “You don’t get elected in this district by straying far from the lefty mainstream.”
Over the coming months leading up to the June 12 primary election, the Takoma Voice will be running a series of articles covering the race, trying to break down the nuances of each candidates’ positions, the personal qualities that separate them, and why the election matters for District 20 residents. To begin, we’ll start by introducing – in random order – the candidates.
Jonathon Shurberg kicked off his campaign for delegate in January with an introductory party at El Golfo Restaurant in Silver Spring.
In announcing his candidacy, Shurberg offered to fight for economic justice and greater environmental regulation, and to bring to Annapolis, as his campaign slogan professed, “Progressive Values. Real Results.”
He’s been active in Maryland politics since he and his wife moved to Silver Spring in 1990, and he’s built a large resume.
In 1996, he opened a law firm that he says focused on serving individuals in the community, working in areas such as criminal law and domestic violence. In 2008, he won cases to protect transgender citizens from discrimination in Montgomery County.
He was a key member of the campaign teams that helped elect State Senator Jamie Raskin in a landslide victory over 32-year incumbent Ida Ruben in 2006, and the now US Secretary of Labor Tom Perez to the Montgomery County Council in 2002.
He has testified in front of legislative committees in Annapolis on several occasions and has become an outspoken advocate for progressive legislation with state legislators, experiences he says will make it easy for him to build relationships once he’s in office.
“The thing is that you don’t have to ask me what I’m going to do,” Shurberg says of his accomplishments. “You can look at what I’ve already done.”
Heather Mizeur, the delegate Shurberg hopes to replace, has not officially endorsed any candidates in the race, but she spoke at the Shurberg campaign kickoff party, introducing him as “the next delegate from District 20.” Mizeur praised Shurberg as an active member in the cause to “bring a new progressive vision to the politics of what is possible.”
If elected, Shurberg says he’ll fight to raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $11.50, to introduce paid-sick leave for all Maryland workers, and to require medical leave coverage by all businesses with more than 15 employees.
He also promises to fight for greater environmental regulation to help reduce wastewater and storm runoff into the Chesapeake Bay, and marijuana decriminalization.
Sadly, in June 2012, Shurberg’s wife Rebecca passed after a long bout with Thyroid cancer. Her death left him alone to raise his two sons, Eli and Ethan.
Around that time, Shurberg was suspended from practicing law for misappropriating funds, but was reinstated in October of 2013.
In discussing the mishap with Gazett.net, he admitted, “It was a very difficult time in my life. I made some mistakes with respect to my bookkeeping.”
There are many faces to David Moon over the years. He’s been an activist, a campaign manager, a political consultant, and a blogger. Latent within all of those faces, he says, is a “commitment to economic and social justice.”
Moon is perhaps most known today for his political blog Maryland Juice, which has gained a wide audience in the area for its in-depth and inside analysis of state and local politics.
Before blogging, he made his name on the campaigns for State Senator Jamie Raskin, Montgomery County Council members Nancy Navarro, Valerie Erwin and Hans Reimer.
In 2012, he helped launch Communities for Transit, a community outreach group that focused on rapid transit, and advocated for a county bus rapid transit system. He also served as voter registration director for immigrant advocacy group CASA when the Maryland Dream Act was on the ballot.
Today he is the program director for Demand Progress, an organization that “works to win progressive policy changes for ordinary people” through grassroots organizing.
Moon says that as a delegate, he will fight to ban political donations from corporations, provide universal pre-K for all of Maryland’s children, and end mass incarceration due to the countries strict marijuana laws.
Support for his candidacy comes from a wide range of places, ranging from Councilmembers Valerie Erwin and Nancy Navarro to State Senator Rich Madaleno, State Delegates Al Car and Ana Sol Gutierrez, etc.
The story of Will Smith, he says, is deeply rooted in the struggle of his parents. Born and raised in Silver Spring, Smith, according to his campaign biography, was the first person in his family to earn a college degree, graduating from The College of William and Mary before gaining a master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University and a law degree from William and Mary.
His parents, growing up at the tail end of the Jim Crow era, saw the struggle to end racial segregation firsthand. “Their struggle and sacrifice,” Smith says, “opened doors of opportunity for me and generations to come.”
Watching his parent’s determination in fighting for equality left a desire in him to give back that, he says, he still holds today.
Smith has served as an officer in the U.S. Navy reserves. He was worked for a civil rights law firm and at the ACLU on fourth amendment protection issues, and was a White House appointee to the Homeland Security Advisory Board at the Department of Homeland Security.
Through his campaign, Smith says he hopes to “carry the mantle of activist-driven progressivism,” in which by engaging the community he can fight to expand funding for Maryland’s Small Business Reserve Program and Minority Business Enterprise Program.
He also hopes toward a comprehensive reform of the state’s criminal justice system, including the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, full funding for the criminal injuries compensation board, and effective prisoner re-entry.
D’Juan Hopewell, arguably more than any other candidate, has staked his campaign to a message of economic justice, one that he says grew out of his roots in religion.
The son of a preacher, Hopewell says he grew up steeped in biblical scripture, and took Jesus’s views on economic equality to heart.
“I grew up with Jesus the radical, and the view that everyone deserves a fair shot,” says Hopewell.
Although he doesn’t characterize himself as religious anymore, he says the views he learned about justice that he developed in his youth have followed him into adulthood.
Hopewell worked with the Human Rights Campaign on the statewide faith strategy to pass the Marriage Equality Act in 2012, and later the Maryland Dream Act.
He’s served until recently as the Maryland Advocacy Manager of Share Our Strength, a national charity fighting to end child hunger. In January, the organization played an influential roll in passing legislation through the county that provides for free, universal breakfast for every student in District 20 schools under the state’s Maryland Meals for Achievement program.
As a delegate, Hopewell says he would work to redirect state investments away from Wall Street, and toward small businesses.
“97.5 percent of the state’s employers are small businesses,” he says, “But virtually zero percent of our investment dollars go to those companies in our communities.”
What is needed, he says, is a state-run exchange for investment in local companies, and tax credits for investors who put money into small businesses ventures. Hopewell argues for the creation of a state-bank that can provide low-interest loans to middle-class families, and a series of statewide “local entrepreneurship academies”, training facilities that will help young people prepare for a new economy.
“The questions I ask is ‘How do we get capital back toward local people and how do we prepare young people,” he says. “Those are the two questions that our future rides on.”
In 2009, Justin Chappell was one of nine plaintiffs to sue the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission for its failure to meet requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Their victory led to a $3 million investment to improve the efficiency of routes within the system, which he says disabled people often rely on.
Chappell, who uses a wheelchair, says that he took on the case because of his strong beliefs that grew not only out of his own disability but also from his growing up in an ethnically diverse family, and being gay.
“I’m a gay man with a disability from a racially diverse family,” he jokes.
Chappell’s brother and sister were adopted from Vietnam and Korea, and now that they’ve grown up, they’ve adopted children of their own from parts of Asia.
His belief in human equality is something that he says flows through his entire family, and it’s one he’d like to bring to Annapolis.
As a delegate, Chappell says that he’ll continue to fight for stronger anti-discrimination laws, but that the heart of his campaign centers on creating responsible economic growth, protecting the environment, and expanding education options for everyone.
To create economic growth, he argues for greater public investment and private incentives for green technology. He’d do so by providing additional funding for public transit across the state, including requiring all new construction built around the Purple Line to be energy efficient.
Expanding vocational schools throughout the state would be a major part of his education agenda, he says, along with reducing the cost of college education.
“I think that experience, results, having a plan, and expanding opportunity for all, that’s what I think I’m about,” he says.
If elected, Darian Unger would like to take environmental protection head on.
“We have a moral obligation to take stronger steps to sustain the world and its resources for future generation,” his campaign website states.
Through his work experience, he has taken that cause to heart.
Unger is currently a business professor at Howard University, where he focuses his research on development of environmental energy technologies. Before that he earned his doctorate from MIT on innovations in global warming.
He is also a volunteer firefighter and EMT in the Silver Spring Fire Department and Montgomery County Fire-Rescue.
If elected, he says he’ll fight to improve public transit, and invest in bike lines and sidewalk construction. He’d also fight for stronger regulation in the energy to reduce carbon emissions.
The Darian Unger campaign refused to comment for this story.
George Zokle believes that discrimination in any form must be entirely eliminated, and he has spent his life fighting for others civil rights.
In 2001, he was a finalist for the Mr. NAACP at his university, and soon after he became the political director of the Young Democrats of Maryland and President of the Baltimore City Young Democrats.
His desire to fight for others, he says, comes from growing up and watching his parents work with the community back in Youngstown, Ohio.
“They were really involved in the church,” he says. “They really installed an attitude in me toward helping others.”
As a delegate, Zokle says he’ll fight for an increased minimum wage that will then be connected to inflation to keep up with cost of living.
He supports expansion of “business incubation programs” to diversify the local economy and greater oversight of Maryland’s Business Enterprise Program, a program designed to increase participation of minority and women-owned companies in the local economy.
He’d also like to introduce a similar program designed to help LGBT businesses expand.
Sheila Hixson was first elected as a delegate for District 20 in 1976, and in that time has helped pass a wide array of significant legislation on issues ranging from healthcare to gun safety.
In 2001, Hixson was a member of the “Thornton Commission”, a commission set up by the state to find new ways to more equitably distribute school finances throughout Maryland. The commission’s recommendations become the centerpiece of legislation such as the Maryland’s Bridge to Excellence Plan, gave local school districts the opportunity top plan and receive state money based on their specific needs.
She also sponsored the Maryland Responsible Gun Safety Act of 2000, which made Maryland the first state to require that all handguns be sold with built-in locks.
Hixson is currently the Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the Maryland General Assembly, and serves on the Commission to Study Ways to Improve the Horse Racing Industry, the Executive Nominations Committee and the Joint Legislative Policy Committee.
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The Maryland primary election will be June 24, 2014. Early primary voting dates are Thursday, June 12, 2014 through Thursday, June 19, 2014 from 10 am until 8 pm.
The general election will be November 4, 2014. Maryland election details are available online at http://www.elections.state.md.us/elections/2014/.