Publisher Kenneth Brown

Should Elected Officials Occupy Seats on the Baltimore County Central Committee?

If you’re a voter, you have probably noticed that in the Maryland gubernatorial elections, key races on the ballot are for delegates and senators, but are also for members of your political party’s Central Committee. How many of you are familiar with the role a Central Committee member plays?

For the purpose of this column, I will use the Democratic Central Committee as the source. For full disclosure, let me say that I am a political consultant for a District 10 delegate and a District 44 senator, both of whom serve on their respective district’s Central Committee. As always, my views are my own.

To review some of the duties of the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee, according to its website, members are the “grass roots-level elected volunteers of the State Democratic Party.” They must be dedicated to working for the election of Democrats to public office, while encouraging the participation of activists, volunteers, and financial contributors.” The website continues: “In essence, Central Committee members are the people elected to work directly in the trenches on behalf of the Party and develop a Democratic Party presence at the local level. They are the ones who do the organizing and actual tasks that help get Democrats elected. They are not managers or members of a board of directors, but worker bees themselves. They help organize and when necessary do the following activities: fundraising, staff party booths/events, precinct organizing and canvassing, distribute political literature, voter registration, phone banking and any task needed to be successful in an election.”

Why should elected officials who have already been elected to a state and local offices sit on the Central Committee?

In my research regarding elected officials’ membership on central committees in Maryland, I discovered that out of the state’s 24 jurisdictions, there were only two jurisdictions that had current elected officials holding central committee seats—Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

Baltimore County has nine Democratic central committees, which represent the nine county districts. Out of the nine, only two of the districts have current elected officials as members—District 10 and District 44B.

District 10 has five seats and four representatives occupy those seats—Sen. Delores Kelley, Del. Ben Brooks, Del. Jay Jalisi and Councilman Julian Jones. Pat Kelly is the fifth. Four is the highest number of elected officials on a central committee in any jurisdiction.

District 44B is represented by four Central Committee members, and Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam and Del. Charles Sydnor III hold half of those seats. The other members are Bishop Barry Chapman and Nayna Phillipsen. (By the way, District 11’s members are: Linda Dorsey-Walker, Noel Levy, Matt Peterson, and Braxton Street.) Currently, there is one vacancy because Marisol Johnson, who is running for Baltimore County Council, decided to step down.

Please understand my position that elected officials should not occupy two seats has nothing to do with their qualifications. Many of our current elected officials and others started their political careers on central committees. And when elected officials run for these seats, they have a huge advantage in winning them, particularly as an incumbent who has the capacity to promote themselves and raise money.

It appears that in Baltimore County elected officials did not become part of the Central Committee until 1994, with the formation of the Tenth District. When that minority district was created, some candidates ran for office as senators and delegates, as well as members of the Central Committee. American politics was never designed for us to occupy two seats for elected office simultaneously. You can’t play on a minor league baseball team and a major league team. You can’t be governor of the state and executive of a county. If you have a seat and run for another and win, you have to give one seat up.

What drives a candidate to campaign to serve as a state or local official, as well as a member on the Central Committee? Is it influence? If a delegate and senator can’t fulfill their position for elected state office in their particular district, it is the Central Committee that chooses who replaces that representative. A person, from a community activist to someone who has never won any election at any level, to someone who may be a friend or relative, can walk into elected office with just the vote of the majority of five individuals. The committee’s recommendation is sent to the governor, who then appoints them to the seat.

In District 10, that responsibility to select a replacement has been used twice. When first-term Del. Joan Parker became ill and passed away, the Central Committee had the duty of finding her replacement. Del. Adrienne Jones was recommended and appointed delegate. It was a wise decision, as Del. Jones has climbed the legislative ranks and has been Speaker Pro Tem since 2003. After serving on the Central Committee for years, Del. Jones decided to resign, which presented District 10’s second opportunity to recommend a replacement. That was Rob Johnson, who fulfilled her term but was not re-elected by voters to the Central Committee. In District 44B, when Rainier Harvey resigned in 2015, the Central Committee selected Nayna Phillipsen.

That’s why it is important to have well-intentioned people on the Central Committee. People who will show up for the meetings—not just attend a couple a year when it is convenient—as well as people, who as the guidelines, say are willing to be “worker bees.”

Local central committees can create their own bylaws. In Prince George’s County, they used to allow this dual representation, but officials changed the bylaws to prohibit elected officials from running for a seat on the committee. This is something Baltimore County should look at.

We need more representation in our districts, not a consolidation of representation. One individual should not take up multiple elected seats.

After all, one of the functions of the central committee is to help the state and local officials get elected and to help the Democratic Party. If you’re already in office, why would you hold a seat of a body designed to help you and your colleagues get elected? When elected officials run for these seats it may discourage other qualified people from running because they feel they can’t compete.

In my view, the ideal candidate for Central Committee is someone who wants to be involved in the political process. This person may or may not have higher aspirations, but if you’re interested may be a good place to start.

The Central Committee meets monthly, including during the legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly in Annapolis. The issue of attendance has come up. Our legislators should be focused on the business of state government. And if they’re not at the Central Committee meetings, I question how they effectively fulfill their Central Committee duties. If elected officials want to be a part and bring their experience and wisdom to the Central Committee, they can seek out qualified candidates, support them in their run, and mentor them. Other com-munity leaders and members should do the same.

I’ve had conversations with people on the state and local level. Nobody seems to be able to make a good argument on why it is essential for an elected official to hold a central committee seat.

The way you make a community better is by bringing more new people into the process—people who are collaborative team players, and also independent thinkers. By elected officials running for two offices, they could be blocking fresh talent, ideas and commitments. More people need opportunities to be part of the process. Open the Central Committee tent and let people in.

What do you think? Share your opinion below.