Primary election: For Jennings, King

Our view: Republican voters in the 7th and 33rd districts have a chance to select candidates who combine conservative principles with an ability to get results in Annapolis

September 13, 2010

The question that consumed Maryland's Republican state senators during the last four years was whether they should seek to confront the Democratic governor and majority in the legislature at every opportunity or whether they should look for ways they could work with the other party without compromising their beliefs. Two devotees of the confrontational school — Sens. Andy Harris and Janet Greenip — have either left or are leaving the legislature, and voters in their districts have the opportunity to replace them with candidates who are solidly conservative but dedicated to building the kinds of relationships that will help them get more done for their constituents.

In the 7th District in Baltimore and Harford counties, which Senator Harris is leaving to run for Congress, the GOP primary pits Del. J.B. Jennings against former Del. Al Redmer. The winner of the primary will face off against either Rebecca Weir Nelson or Jim Stavropolous Jr., who are competing in the Democratic primary. Mr. Jennings is a farmer who recently joined the Maryland Air National Guard, and Mr. Redmer left the legislature seven years ago to become Maryland Insurance Commissioner and, later, an executive in the insurance industry. Both built reputations in the House as conservatives who disagreed with Democrats without being disagreeable, and both learned how accomplish some of their goals within a system that is heavily stacked against them. Both say they hope to continue in that vein in the Senate.

Mr. Jennings says that if elected, he would focus on agricultural issues, specifically making sure environmental regulations treat the industry fairly, and matters of local concern, such as preparations for the influx of jobs at Aberdeen Proving Ground as a result of the federal base closure and realignment process and the continued fallout of a gas station leak in Jacksonville. Mr. Redmer wants to focus his attention to business regulations and economic development, but his chief attribute might be his experience in the insurance industry, both as a regulator and an executive. He says he would bring his expertise to bear in making the state's Medicaid system more efficient to mitigate increased costs associated with national health care reform.

Both are good choices, but Mr. Jennings wins our endorsement because of his greater depth of knowledge about local issues.

After Ms. Greenip retired from the Senate last year, former Anne Arundel County councilman Ed Reilly was appointed to represent the 33rd District. He is being challenged by Del. James King, who is now completing his first term in the legislature. Brian Benjers, a political newcomer, has run a negligible campaign. There are no Democrats running in that district, so the winner of the primary will be the next senator. Both Mr. Reilly and Mr. King say they want to build records of accomplishment, not partisan bomb-throwing, but there's reason to believe Mr. King would be more successful at it, and for that reason, he earns our endorsement.

Mr. Reilly, an insurance agent from Crofton, said he intends to be active in sponsoring legislation in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, on which he served this year, and would hope to reintroduce some of the proposals Senator Harris made in the past, though he was unable to say which ones. The major piece of legislation he sponsored this year was a bill to improve the state's budget picture by cutting aid to local governments and reducing mandated spending. The idea was admirable, but some of the particulars — cutting aid to community colleges, the Head Start program and local police departments, for example — weren't.

Mr. King, a restaurant and bar owner from Gambrills, hopes to use his experience in small business to improve Maryland's economic climate through attention to taxes, fees, regulations, unemployment insurance and other issues. He has presented a detailed blueprint of the ideas he would pursue, and while we don't agree with all of them, it is clear that his background as an entrepreneur would be valuable in the Senate.

There is no doubt that Mr. King is a conservative, but he has built solid relationships with Democrats in the House. That enabled him to have an impact on several pieces of legislation of local and statewide importance, notably a bill dealing with the fly ash problem in his district and anti-gang legislation passed in response to the killing of 14-year-old Christopher Jones, which took place in Mr. King's district. Notably, Mr. King was one of a handful of Republicans who voted in 2007 to place the referendum authorizing slot machine gambling on the statewide ballot. Mr. Reilly has tried to use that vote to attack him, but in truth, it is a mark in his favor. Mr. King campaigned as a proponent of slots, the people in his district wanted the chance to vote on the issue, and he put his principles and his constituents' wishes above partisan politics. That's the kind of senator District 33 deserves.

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