April 26, 2018 at 6:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Madaleno faces uphill battle in Md. governor’s race

Maryland state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) speaks to the Washington Blade editorial staff on April 19. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Maryland state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) last week conceded he faces an uphill battle to become the state’s first openly gay governor.

A poll that Goucher College released on Wednesday notes Madaleno would lose to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan by a 27-45 percent margin if he were to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary on June 26.

Twenty-six percent of respondents said they were undecided in the hypothetical race. A second poll that Goucher College released in February indicates 19 percent of respondents would vote for Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and 12 percent would vote for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in the primary, compared to two percent of respondents who said they would vote for Madaleno.

“The public polling data certainly has been challenging,” Madaleno told the Washington Blade’s editorial staff in an interview on April 19.

Madaleno nevertheless pointed out the polls indicate most Maryland voters remain undecided. He also noted he and his running mate, Luwanda Jenkins, have won straw polls that have been conducted after candidate forums.

“When people have had a chance to hear from us, I come out ahead,” said Madaleno, noting he received 57 percent of the vote in a recent Baltimore County straw poll. “When people know me, I do well. It’s a matter of getting known and getting the resources to get known.”

Madaleno is accepting public funding for his campaign.

‘I’m running against’ Hogan’s second term

Madaleno, Baker and Kamenetz will face off against former NAACP President Ben Jealous; former State Department official Alec Ross; lawyer Jim Shea and Krishanti Vignarajah, who was former first lady Michelle Obama’s policy director, in the primary. The winner will run against Hogan, who has a 69 percent approval rating in the latest Goucher College poll.

Madaleno in recent months has emerged as a vocal critic of Hogan. Madaleno throughout his campaign has also sought to position himself as the most progressive candidate.

“We cannot afford to have an untethered governor when we have an unhinged president,” Madaleno told the Blade when asked whether Hogan would become a more conservative governor if he were to be re-elected in November. “I’m really not running against Larry Hogan’s first term. I’m running against his second term and what is that going to look like.”

Madaleno talks trans rights, Md. sodomy law

He has pointed out to the Blade during previous interviews that he is among the lawmakers and advocates who led efforts to secure passage of Maryland’s same-sex marriage bill in 2012. Madaleno in 2014 introduced a transgender rights bill that became law that year.

Madaleno told the Blade he supports a bill that would allow Marylanders to obtain state-issued ID cards and driver’s licenses with an “unspecified” gender marker.

He noted trans women — and especially trans women of color — in Baltimore “wind up the victims of violence or are murdered.” Madaleno told the Blade many of them turn to sex work or use drugs.

“That’s why having progressive laws that let people live their lives as who they are are important to providing stability to individuals and to the community as a whole,” he said.

Madaleno said he supports the legalization of marijuana in Maryland, but did not say whether he backs the decriminalization of sex work in the state.

Madaleno has previously said he would support a bill that would repeal Maryland’s sodomy law. He explained to the Blade why the statute remains on the books, even though the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in the Lawrence v. Texas case rendered it unconstitutional.

“We made the strategic decision after Lawrence that we were making progress,” said Madaleno, noting lawmakers after the landmark decision were advocating for nondiscrimination and hate crimes bills. “We were playing defense on relationship recognition . . . we were doing all these things.”

Madaleno conceded to the Blade the lack of progress on repealing the sodomy law has “been a source of frustration.” He said he would encourage the state’s attorney general and state attorneys to sit down and figure out how to remove the statute from the books.

“We have spent our political capital on I think more important things and made progress in Maryland,” said Madaleno. “I would rather still have this arcane language sitting there that is embarrassing but unenforceable and have a sexual orientation and gender identity-inclusive anti-discrimination law than be in the situation with Virginia where you’ve decriminalized that but you can still be fired for being gay.”

Madaleno told the Blade he would ask the state’s attorney general to clarify whether the Maryland National Guard has the authority not to implement President Trump’s ban on trans service members.

“That’s one way you can stand up to the Trump administration,” said Madaleno.

Ross comment was ‘personally offensive’

Madaleno spoke with the Blade less than three weeks after the Maryland House of Delegates overwhelmingly approved a bill that would ban so-called conversion therapy for minors.

Madaleno, who sponsored the bill in the Maryland Senate, said he “had not a clue” state Del. Meagan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County) was going to come out as bisexual and disclose in a speech on the House floor that her father, state Sen. Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County), and her mother suggested she undergo conversion therapy. Madaleno during the interview also reiterated his criticism of Alec Ross over his comment after a candidates forum in Frederick last month that he “prances around Annapolis.”

“At a minimum, it was a poor choice of words,” Madaleno told the Blade. “I don’t think that’s a word that people use.”

Ross and his running mate, Julie Verratti, who is a lesbian, strongly rejected Madaleno’s criticisms and accusations. Madaleno reiterated to the Blade that he found the comment “personally offensive.”

Dana Beyer running for Madaleno’s Senate seat

Madaleno, 52, has represented the 18th Senate District since 2007.

He became the first openly gay person elected to the Maryland General Assembly in 2002. Madaleno also worked for state Sen. Barbara Hoffman (D-Baltimore City) and the late state Del. Pete Rawlings (D-Baltimore City).

Gender Rights Maryland Executive Director Dana Beyer, who ran unsuccessfully against Madaleno in 2014, is running for Madaleno’s seat that he will vacate at the end of the year. Madaleno told the Blade he has “not taken a position” in the race.

“We’ll see how that plays out,” he said.

Madaleno also said he will support the Democratic nominee if he does not win the primary.

Baltimore takeover would be ‘aggressive and confrontational’

Madaleno during last week’s interview also discussed a number of non-LGBT issues.

He said all of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates should release their tax returns as he did last week. Madaleno also told the Blade the state should work with Baltimore officials to reduce the city’s crime rate and improve its schools and infrastructure.

“You want to do that in partnership with the elected officials of the city,” said Madaleno. “To do a city takeover would, I think, be very aggressive and confrontational.”

“You want to do that as much as possible hand-in-hand with the city leadership and not set up a fight where it’s like the bad big brother coming in to demand a change,” he added.

Madaleno said he supports increased investment in Maryland’s public university system as a way to lure Amazon to build its second headquarters in the state. He also told the Blade that any effort to impeach Trump should hinge upon the outcome of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether his presidential campaign had any involvement with Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Trump has ethical problems,” said Madaleno. “There are things that we should try and make sure we know about what conflicts he has. At the same time, some unusual things happened in the election.”

(Editor’s note: Blade staffers Kevin Naff, Chris Johnson and Lou Chibbaro Jr. participated in the interview with Madaleno.)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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