Defying the odds against a legislator's making the leap to the state's top job, Del. Heather R. Mizeur plans to announce her candidacy Wednesday for the Democratic nomination for governor.
The 40-year-old Montgomery County lawmaker would join Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown as an official candidate on the Democratic side in the June 2014 primary. Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler is expected to formally jump into the race in September. Rep. C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat, has said he is considering a run.
If elected, Mizeur would become the first woman in Maryland to serve as governor and the first openly gay governor in the nation. Along with Del. Ron George on the Republican side, she also is trying to achieve what no other member of the Maryland General Assembly has done: win a popular election as governor while serving in the legislature.
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Mizeur said she would run a non-traditional campaign that emphasized public-service projects. She said she's planning such activities as repairing a playground in Silver Spring, painting a school in Baltimore and restoring a hiking trail in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge outside Cambridge.
"For me public service is an opportunity for ordinary people to do extraordinary things," she said. "The best way to help Maryland is to lift up our communities and get our hands dirty, and that starts on the campaign trail."
Mizeur is a two-term delegate who was elected in 2006 after having served as a policy adviser and Maryland state campaign coordinator for John Kerry's 2004 presidential run.
Mizeur, a native of rural Illinois, chose to stay in the Washington area after a Capitol Hill internship. She was an early volunteer in the Americorps program and spent much of the 1990s working in congressional offices on such matters as health care policy.
She has charted a generally liberal course in the House of Delegates but has worked across the aisle on such initiatives as an expansion of Maryland's family planning services.
After the Court of Appeals issued a ruling in 2012 that pit bulls were "inherently dangerous," Mizeur teamed with Del. Michael D. Smigiel, a conservative Republican from the Eastern Shore, to propose legislation to undo the decision. The effort was ultimately unsuccessful.
In recent years, Mizeur has achieved statewide recognition — especially among environmentalists — for her leading role in the fight to impose curbs on the natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking."
While Mizeur's legislation to impose a moratorium on the practice failed, Gov. Martin O'Malley has halted the issuance of permits until the environmental impact of fracking can be studied.
Donald F. Norris, chairman of the public policy department at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said Mizeur faces "formidable odds" in trying to jump from the back benches of the House to the governor's office.
"She's not known at all outside her district. She's going to have a really hard time getting that name recognition and raising money," Norris said. "In politics, hardly anything is impossible, but this is about as close as it gets."
"People outside Montgomery County know who I am," she said, and pointed to her membership on the Democratic National Committee since 2005.
Mizeur said she was active in the effort to pass the $1 billion school construction plan the assembly approved for Baltimore this year and has been getting around the state speaking to groups since she began considering a run for governor last November.
"I've put nearly 20,000 miles on my Chevy Volt over the course of the last six months," she said. She insisted she will raise enough money to mount a competitive campaign, and predicted that her opponents will be "quite surprised" when her campaign files its next contribution report next January.
In addition to her political base in the liberal bastion of Takoma Park, Mizeur has a presence in rural Maryland. The delegate said she and her wife, clinical herbalist Deborah Mizeur, own a 34-acre property in Kent County that they are turning into an organic herb farm.
Heather R. Mizeur
Job: Founding partner, The Mizeur Group health policy consulting firm
Resides: Takoma Park
Education: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Experience: Congressional staff positions, 1994-1998, 2003-2006. Takoma Park City Council, 2003-2005 Delegate since 2007
Personal: Married to Deborah Mizeur