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Democratic Central Committee hosts forum

By JEFF NEWMAN

Staff writer

About 40 people showed up to hear the five candidates running for the House of Delegates in District 28 speak Tuesday at a forum hosted by the Charles County Democratic Central Committee.

The task of speaking first — organizers had the candidates speak in alphabetical order — fell to newcomer John Coller, the lone District 28 candidate to not have previously run for and been elected to public office.

A Port Tobacco resident and Waldorf real estate broker, Coller said of the five candidates, “I probably have the least amount of name recognition, and probably people know the least about me individually.”

Coller said he originally moved to Charles County as a single father after enrolling his children at Archbishop Neale School in La Plata.

“Because Maryland and Charles County have been so good to me, that’s why I decided to run,” he said.

As president-elect of the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors, he said it is “no shock that I’m going to be favorable to homeowners’ rights, property rights, the issues surrounding real estate, finance, banking, business in general,” Coller said.

Coller said the legislature needs more members guarding against the “unintended consequences” of legislation that could damage property rights or homeowners’ rights, as well as more advocating for small businesses.

“I’m lucky enough to be one of the people who have signed both sides of a paycheck, and not everybody in Annapolis can say that,” he said. “We need a number of people who have small business interests at heart.”

Coller also said his “commitment to civil rights” led to his endorsement by Equality Maryland, the state’s leading LGBT advocacy organization. Equality Maryland has not endorsed any other General Assembly candidates in the tri-county region.

Coming off her 12th legislative session and in the midst of her fourth campaign, Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles) said it was her professional background as a bookkeeper for the Hughesville Tobacco Warehouse, data coordinator for the Academy of Natural Sciences and executive director of both the Greater Waldorf Jaycees Foundation and Charles County Chamber of Commerce that prepared her for Annapolis.

She has sat on subcommittees dealing with property and casualty insurance, unemployment insurance and public utilities, and chaired the workers’ compensation subcommittee.

“These aren’t things that really get you excited, but they’re things that have to be done,” she said. “Someone has to delve deep into the subject matter and know what to do.”

Energy issues also have become a forte for Jameson in recent years. She is the only House member on the state’s Strategic Energy Investment Advisory Board.

Jameson touted a 2011 bill she sponsored that was the first in the nation to let solar hot water heaters count toward renewable energy goals. She mentioned another 2011 bill she authored eliminating automatic court dates for minor traffic offenses, as well as 2007 legislation she sponsored requiring the collection of DNA from those charged with sexual offenses that eventually passed in 2009 after becoming a priority for Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

The DNA bill has resulted in 149 arrests for rape that would not have happened otherwise, Jameson said.

A former teacher and College of Southern Maryland employee from 1974 to 2012, when she was appointed by O’Malley to the Maryland Higher Education Commission, former Charles County Commissioner Edith J. Patterson called herself “an intense fighter and advocate for education.”

Patterson said her long history as an elected or appointed official, beginning in 1982 with a dozen-year tenure on the Charles County Board of Education, followed by four years with the Charles County Democratic Central Committee — two as its chairwoman — and then five years as a county commissioner, ending with her 2010 loss to commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D), a fellow 2014 candidate for delegate.

Patterson was the first African-American to serve as a Charles County commissioner, when she was appointed in 2005 to fill a vacancy on the board.

Those experiences have left Patterson “well-prepared” to serve in the House of Delegates, she said.

“We must remain collaborative with our state and maintain productive relationships with the governor as well as the General Assembly,” Patterson said. “In all the aforementioned offices, I’ve had to either enact legislation, adhere to state and local policy and work collaboratively with teams.”

If elected, Patterson said her top priority would be education, and she would push to increase funding for school construction and science, technology, mathematics and engineering — STEM — programs; keep college affordable via tuition freezes; close achievement gaps; expand prekindergarten availability throughout the state; and protect teachers’ pensions from being raided to balance the state budget.

Patterson also said she would support increasing union jobs and minority business contracting opportunities, bringing light rail transit to Charles County, replacing the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, restoring local highway user revenues, tax breaks for active duty and retired military members and environmental initiatives.

Kelly recalled past statements by Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) that the best training for the statehouse is having served as a county commissioner.

“I think that is true,” she said. “During my time as a commissioner, I’ve had the chance to get to know many different groups.”

Her priorities as a commissioner included increasing salaries for teachers and police and boosting the quality of rural housing, she said.

In addition to her experience as a commissioner, Kelly recounted her past work as executive director of a Catholic Charities homeless shelter for women and children, and a community organizer with Southern Maryland Area Self Help, for which she spurred efforts to shut down an open-air drug market in Malcolm, provide working toilets in low-income areas and replace substandard trailers on county-owned land with low-income housing.

Kelly elicited a few chuckles in the crowd when she referred to herself as “a lifelong Democrat, except for a very small period of my life,” in reference to her brief stint as a Republican that began prior to her March 2005 appointment to fill a vacancy on the commissioners’ board and ended with her defeat in the 2006 election by former District 1 commissioner Sam Graves.

“I think one of the things I bring to this office is that I am a true Democrat in terms of the issues, my positions on the issues, and the initiatives that I think are important,” Kelly said.

Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) was the last candidate to speak and detailed his childhood being raised in the Missouri foster care system before being adopted at age 9 by a pedophile who abused him until he joined the U.S. Army as his “only escape” out of high school.

“I tell people all the time. I did not join as a patriot, but I sure left as one,” Wilson said.

Though he barely graduated from high school, Wilson went on to earn a 4.0 as an undergraduate and eventually a law degree from Howard University School of Law. He worked as a prosecutor in Prince George’s County from 2005 until 2012, when he went into private practice.

Wilson also recently authored a book on his abusive childhood called “10,000 Hills.”

As a freshman delegate, Wilson has championed bills dealing with foster children, veterans and the criminal justice system. He has made a habit of railing against party initiatives on the House floor when he felt legislation did not receive proper vetting or debate.

“I’m not going to be a good politician,” Wilson said jokingly. “I’m not polished. The speaker says I curse more on the floor than anyone he’s ever heard.”

jnewman@somdnews.com