By Jennifer Barrios
There’s a surge of Democratic women running for office in Maryland this year — and party officials say they want to make sure it stays that way.
New rules in place for the June 26 primary mean Democratic voters in 17 counties, some for the first time, will vote separately for men and women who are seeking central party positions.
State party chair Kathleen Matthews said the rules will help ensure a pipeline of future female candidates for higher office. Maryland has no women in its congressional delegation or in any top statewide elective positions.
“Maryland is a state that rewards people who have run for office by electing them to higher office,” Matthews said. “And the central committees are the first tier of elective office that you can run for.”
According to numbers compiled by the party, the number of Democratic women running for county and state positions has increased 44 percent this year — to 545 from 378 in 2014. The number of women seeking state Senate seats doubled to 36, and the number running for the House of Delegates increased by nearly 60 percent, from 67 to 107.
But that is not enough, Matthews said in an interview.
“Even though you have roughly twice as many women running for office in Maryland, you still have more men running for office than women,” Matthews said. “We’re not at gender parity in terms of the broad pool of candidates.”
The Democratic National Committee has required equal numbers of men and women on party central committees for decades. But in many places, that often meant party leaders appointing nonvoting “gender-balance” members to address disparities among elected committee members.
In some Maryland counties, appointed members only recently were given the right to vote and make floor speeches. In six other counties — Allegany, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Harford and Washington — Democratic committee seats are already divided between male and female candidates on the ballot. Eleven more, including Montgomery, the state’s most populous, will do so starting in June. And Democrats in all 23 Maryland counties and Baltimore City will adopt the rules by the June 2022 primary.
The change prompted cries of discrimination from Democrat Edward Kimmel of Takoma Park, a retired lawyer, who criticized the policy on the political blog “Seventh State.”
“Any individual can only run for half of the slots,” Kimmel said. “They get to vote for all of them, but they can only run for half of them.”
He pointed to District 20 in Montgomery County, which has two seats on the central committee. “They are now going to be a boy seat and a girl seat,” Kimmel said. “If I am well satisfied by the way the man votes, that’s cool. . . . If I am unhappy about the policy positions taken by the woman . . . I cannot run against her. I have to recruit some other woman to run against her.”
Matthews said courts have upheld the Democrats’ 50-50 rules. She likened the new Maryland measure to Title IX, which prohibits sexual discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funds, and said being elected to a party committee gives individuals more legitimacy than being appointed in the name of gender parity.
Melissa Deckman, a professor and chair of the political science department at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., called central committees “important gatekeepers for people who want to run for office.”
“Having more women in these central committees is really important,” she said. “I think it will ultimately lead to more women running for political office.”
Women who run for office are as likely to be elected as men who run, said Mileah Kromer, an associate professor of political science at Goucher College in Baltimore. The challenge, she said, is “getting women to step into the arena,” which is much more likely to happen if they are encouraged by party officials.
“This is going to force change,” Kromer said.