Tales of Takoma: Jamie Raskin

Jamie Raskin celebrated his birthday on Dec. 12 with a party at Republic with several hundred of his friends, who showed up at his invitation on 24-hour notice.

Back in the late 1980s, when the three-term state senator and now Congressman-elect for Maryland’s 8th District moved to Takoma Park with his wife, Sarah, he was best known as Professor Raskin, teaching constitutional law at American University’s Washington College of Law.

Jamie had grown up in a household immersed in the political confrontations of the 1960s. His father, Marcus Raskin, founded the Institute for Policy Studies in 1963 to critique the “national security state” and was later arrested for conspiring to encourage draft resistance as one of the so-called Boston Five (who included Benjamin Spock). Their trial was a precursor to the Chicago Seven trial.

In the same spirited tradition Jamie spent time in Takoma Park writing a book on student rights, debating in local politics and, working with FairVote in the aftermath of the 2000 national election to find a way to address the ills of the Electoral College. At the same time he and Sarah raised three children, and he coached in Takoma Soccer.

Then in 2006, Professor Raskin became Candidate Raskin in a long-shot challenge to State Senator Ida Ruben, a 32-year incumbent and President Pro-Tem of the Maryland Senate.

The Washington Post initially called his quest “impossible,” but, after an old-fashioned door-to-door campaign that led to a 2-to-1 margin in his favor, the Post declared the victory “inevitable,” as Jamie exuberantly recalled while regaling his birthday well-wishers with stories of his fight against the odds.

His first endorsement came from the Silver Chips, the student newspaper at Montgomery Blair High School. When his opponent took umbrage, phoning Principal Phil Gainous to insist the students be disciplined, the Post defended the students in an editorial titled “The State Senator and Silver Chips.” Suddenly Jamie had the spotlight as a constitutional hero.

On July Fourth, a couple months before the primary election, the local store Summer Delights offered free scoops of ice cream in a flavor created to honor Raskin. The line of eager partakers soon extended around the block The state ethics committee took notice (spurred on by Ida Ruben) and declared it bribery. Jamie gleefully told his birthday crowd how “with the help of Blair students, we canvassed every ice cream store in the area to prove that they all gave sample size cones and this did not constitute a gift. And the committee issued a ruling to that effect.”

Once elected, Jamie joined a strong District 20 delegation whose senior member was State Delegate Sheila Hixson, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee and considered the most powerful woman in the state legislature.

Jamie told the birthday crowd of his legislative debut as floor leader on a bill to restore voting rights to ex-felons. (“I was the only white delegate willing to support the bill.”). After listening to Republicans declare that this bill meant murderers and rapists would get to vote, Jamie countered, “Unlike those people, who would never get out of prison, the vast majority of felons are convicted of non-violent crimes. Take Jack Abramoff, for example [a former Republican congressman serving six years for corruption]. I defend the right of ex-felons like Abramoff to get their voting rights back.” And thus the “Jack Abromoff law” passed.

Jamie recalled his role in the 2012 passage of the same sex marriage law, making Maryland “the first state to recognize same sex marriages before ordered to by a court of law.” He linked its importance to the landmark Supreme Court decision by explaining, “James Obergefell told me that because of the Maryland law, he and his partner James Arthur flew to Maryland to be married on the tarmac of BWI before returning home to Ohio. When Ohio refused to recognize their marriage, he filed the lawsuit that led to the historic Supreme Court ruling.”

Jamie also championed another piece of legislation that has bearing on the current debate over the Electoral College. Reaching back to his post-2000 proposal, Jamie introduced the National Popular Vote bill to require Maryland to award all its electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. Although the bill passed in 2007, it does not go into effect until enough states whose combined electoral votes total at least 270 have passed the bill. To date, ten other states plus the District of Columbia are part of the Compact, representing 30.7 percent of the votes needed.

Jamie had risen to Majority Whip of the Maryland Senate when U. S. Rep.Chris Van Hollen, the District 8 incumbent, decided about a year ago to enter the race to replace retiring U. S. Sen. Barbara Mukulski. Jamie immediately jumped into the District 8 race along with 11 other candidates, including wine mogul David Trone. It turned into the most hotly contested and expensive Congressional primary in the country, but once again Jamie prevailed.

On Jan. 3, when Jamie is sworn in, he will become the first resident of Takoma Park to represent Takoma Park in the U. S. Congress.

About the Author

Diana Kohn
Diana Kohn is president of Historic Takoma, Inc., which is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the heritage of both Takoma Park MD and DC. Diana is co-author of Images of America: Takoma Park, a photo history of the town.