Del. Virginia M. Thomas announced yesterday that she will run for Senate, saying Howard County needs a "more effective senator" than the current District 13 representative, Sen. Thomas M. Yeager.
Ms. Thomas said she would be "visible and assertive" in the Senate, citing her record during three terms in the House of Delegates of helping secure state financing for Howard schools and other projects, solving constituents' problems and guiding health care legislation.
Because senators represent larger districts and are fewer in number than delegates, "you do get a lot of power to benefit constituents," Ms. Thomas, D-13A, said at a news conference. "I don't see that happening in the last 12 years."
Mr. Yeager, D-13, the eastern Howard district's senator since 1983, took exception, saying that the Columbia delegate "tends to exaggerate her role in many things" and operates in a style that draws more attention than his.
Ms. Thomas' step up to the Senate race -- she has hinted at the possibility for months -- sets up a highly competitive Democratic primary on Sept. 13 between candidates whose political careers have mirrored each other. Ms. Thomas and Mr. Yeager both served on the County Council from 1974 to 1982 before being elected to the legislature.
No Republicans have filed for the race.
Ms. Thomas emphasized that she has been successful in securing state money for school construction in her east Columbia district over the years. She played down a recent flap with delegation members over whether her efforts to promote financing for school projects in her district might have actually cost the county money for another project this year.
"You've got to know how to play the game and who the key players are," Ms. Thomas said. "You've got to be tenacious about fighting for your constituents. I'm not going to apologize for fighting for older schools."
She said most delegation members counted on General Assembly recommendations that had yet to be acted upon by the state Board of Public Works, which makes school financing decisions.
But Mr. Yeager charges that Ms. Thomas "went around" the delegation, telling state officials that the county had money in its budget for a new Eastern High School and advocating renovation projects at older schools. The county received $7.2 million in state money for school construction in the latest round of awards, instead of the $9.1 million some lawmakers anticipated, he said.
Mr. Yeager, 57, said the Howard delegation has worked cohesively to achieve common goals but criticized Ms. Thomas for "attempting to go around the system for more limelight for herself."
Ms. Thomas, 53, said the delegation -- six Republicans and three Democrats -- lacked power during the last four-year term, and criticized Mr. Yeager for not working hard enough to earn state support for county ventures.
Ms. Thomas said she has been responsive to citizens' concerns, helping residents in various communities address flooding problems, improve a park-and-ride facility and create a highway berm. She charged that Mr. Yeager has been "invisible" on those issues in his district.
Mr. Yeager responded that he works on problems through official channels rather than scheduling more visible community meetings. While solving constituent problems is important, he said, "issues of substance," such as taxation and crime, will distinguish the candidates as the campaign wears on.
"I tend to be more moderate on taxation," he said. "I don't think
[Ms. Thomas] has found a tax she didn't love."