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Charles County commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly and Del. Peter F. Murphy will attempt to trade posts in the 2014 election, with each deciding last week to run for the other’s current office.

Kelly (D) and Murphy (D-Charles) both stressed that they did not conspire, but that their respective decisions were contingent on the other not seeking re-election.

Kelly filed for candidacy Monday, while Murphy said he would file as soon as he had completed a financial disclosure form different from the one that was required of him as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates.

Kelly confirmed her decision Friday afternoon, exactly three months after she said she would not seek public office in 2014. At the time, commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D) had announced he was running for board president, and Kelly said Friday she did not want to run for re-election against a sitting colleague.

“Never in a million years did I see this coming this way. I was prepared to walk away, for a lot of reasons, including that I did not want to spend the next year working alongside someone I was running against. I was ready to move on to the next thing in my life,” she said.

Speculation had swirled since Kelly’s announcement in October that Murphy might challenge Collins, but the notion did not enter Murphy’s mind until he started getting pressure from supporters, he said. Actually, having recently welcomed his fourth grandchild into the world, Murphy said he had been questioning whether to run for re-election at all.

“I didn’t aspire to this. I honestly had not thought that this is the direction at all that I was going to go in. It’s kind of crept in,” Murphy said, adding that he would not have gotten into the middle of a race between Kelly and Collins.

Murphy said he believes he can have a greater effect on the county as commissioners’ president, and his experience as a delegate and background as a professional mediator would be major assets to a board that has clashed with state agencies about the county’s comprehensive plan and found itself mired in feuds between commissioners.

“The kinds of things that are going on, I feel like I could bring a very different tone to the county,” he said. “The best way I can think about it is, if you see a problem, and you feel you may be able to fix it, if you walk away from it, then you’re part of that, and I just couldn’t walk away.”

Kelly long has held interest in running for the statehouse, she said. She said she first wanted to run for the House of Delegates in 1994 but instead ran for commissioner because she did not want to oppose friend Ruth Ann Hall.

“A lot of it has to do with my temperament. I really enjoy that research, policy-driven sort of work,” she said.

Still, Kelly said she never considered the possibility of joining the House in 2014 so long as the delegation’s three incumbents were running for re-election.

“It didn’t cross my mind as a possibility because Peter Murphy was there,” she said. “I really did not expect this, that there would be an opening, and I think that because there is a vacancy, that it’s important to get someone who’s qualified, who has experience.”

In running for board president, Murphy is walking away from what was shaping up to be an easy re-election in a safely-Democratic county. Prior to Kelly’s filing, only incumbent Dels. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles) and C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) had filed to run for delegate, and there weren’t expected to be any challenge from fellow Democrats should Murphy have chosen to run for re-election.

“It isn’t about winning, at all. It isn’t about taking the easy way. It’s about public service. It’s about going where you feel you can make a difference,” Murphy said. “Someone did say to me ‘Don’t you think it’s a step back, going from state to commissioner?’ I was shocked by that. Public service doesn’t have a title. It’s not about status, and it isn’t about me. I would much rather do this knowing that it’s what I believe is the right thing to do and lose that race than stay someplace that’s safe and turn my back on what I think is right.”

Republican candidate Tom deSabla of La Plata also has entered the race for commissioners’ president.

The attempted switcheroo has sparked additional speculation that local candidates might consider switching races, or that former elected officials might be encouraged to re-enter politics.

Collins said he would reserve comment on Murphy’s candidacy until the latter officially had filed for office.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to be very leery about expressing or making comments one way or the other when someone hasn’t actually filed,” Collins said. “Whatever Del. Murphy does, I wish him the best.”

But Collins did dismiss rumors that Murphy’s entrance into the race could spur him to switch races, perhaps to delegate.

“I think I’ve been very clear about what my intentions are,” Collins said, noting that he announced his run for commissioners’ president in October and filed a month later.

Former commissioner Sam Graves had considered running for commissioners’ president prior to announcing his candidacy for his old District 2 seat. Graves said he has not altered his plans, but he did not rule out a future change.

“I’m not closing any doors, but I’m not jumping through any windows at this time, either,” he said.

With a seat in the county’s Annapolis delegation now open, its three remaining members expect more candidates to emerge ahead of the Feb. 25 filing deadline. Jameson said Murphy’s decision altered the complexion of her own campaign, which previously featured no apparent challengers.

“I was thinking wow, maybe for the first time in 12 years we’ll actually have a race where I won’t have to maybe do as much footwork, but that’s not going to happen,” she said. “Things happen for strange reasons, so I’ll get out there and wear out some shoelaces.”

Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) said he had been hearing rumors for weeks that Kelly might run for delegate, but he first got word of Murphy’s decision Thursday night during the Tri-County Council for Southern Maryland’s annual dinner in Annapolis.

“There’s some that think Candice has had long-term aspirations to come to Annapolis, so this I would say is somewhat of a natural progression,” Middleton said. “I look at people in the past in Southern Maryland who came to Annapolis, a lot of them started in local government. I always say what we really need up here is people who can be local advocates.”

As for Murphy, “I’m really and truly sad to see him go. I think he’s going to be greatly missed. He’s built a reputation for himself. He’s moved up in the House leadership, so I think from where he is it’ll be a big loss to Charles County,” Middleton said. “Quite frankly, I can’t understand why anyone would want to go from this job to the 24/7 fishbowl of being president of the county commissioners, but that’s his decision.”

Like Middleton, Wilson said he had heard “scuttlebutt about town” for a few months.

“I am disappointed but I’m not surprised,” Wilson said. “It’s ironic, I guess, that they’re saying this wasn’t planned, that this was just coincidental. I was disappointed only because every time we talked to Del. Murphy, he was the one that said we shouldn’t support any other delegates. Not that we were going to run as a team, but we were going to support each other.”

Wilson said he wished the delegation had been given more notice of Murphy’s decision.

“It’s unfortunate because it doesn’t leave a lot of time for other people who may not have the name recognition or otherwise become a contender,” he said.

Jameson encouraged more county residents to now file for delegate.

“Head to Annapolis, and hand in $50,” she said. “If people think they have something to offer our county, come on down and sign up.”

jnewman@somdnews.com