When Maryland Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery Co.) announced her candidacy for governor last week, she became the first openly LGBT person to aim for the top job in Annapolis, setting up what will be a historic feat if she wins in 2014: becoming not only Maryland's first female governor, but the first out governor in the country.
Prior to her official entry, Mizeur had long been seen as a person with ambitions for higher office. As a member of the House of Delegates, Mizeur has carved out a niche for herself within her party's progressive wing as an advocate for LGBT rights, women's rights, children's health care and environmental issues.
(Photo by courtesy Friends of Heather Mizeur)
But Mizeur does not have a clear shot at the governor's mansion – or even her own party's nomination. With Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) term-limited, coupled with Maryland's Democratic lean, Mizeur's decision to run pits her against at least two other Democrats who have already been elected statewide: Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman as his running mate; and Attorney General Doug Gansler, whose campaign says he will formally announce his run in September.
That's not to say Mizeur has little chance of winning. Earlier this year, she surprised political observers by placing second behind Brown in a western Maryland Democratic straw poll, in which party activists select their choices for the state's top offices. According to Todd Eberly, assistant professor of political science and public policy at St. Mary's College of Maryland, many political reporters had previously ignored Mizeur and focused on the battle between Gansler and Brown.
''What these reporters forgot is that the primary electorate is quite different from the general-election electorate,'' Eberly explained by email to Metro Weekly. ''Primaries have very low turnout, and those who do turn out are among the most passionate members of a party's base. Among base voters Mizeur has a lot of appeal – her record with regard to health care legislation, her staunch opposition to fracking in western Maryland, and her advocacy for LGBT issues all resonate with the Democratic Party's base. She also offers Maryland women a chance to shatter the glass ceiling that has prevented any woman from becoming governor of Maryland.''
''Put simply,'' Eberly continued, ''Mizeur is the most exciting candidate in the race.''
However, Eberly noted, Mizeur will still have a tough time winning the Democratic nomination. Brown, the presumptive favorite, will have O'Malley and the state Democratic Party establishment backing him, including Senate President Thomas V. ''Mike'' Miller, U.S. Reps. Steny Hoyer and Donna Edwards, and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Brown, who stands to become the state's first African-American governor, also hails from Prince George's County, one of two counties crucial to any Democratic candidate. In contrast, both Gansler and Mizeur hail from vote-rich Montgomery County, meaning they could divide the vote and expand Brown's electoral advantage.
Mizeur touts a trademark of her gubernatorial campaign, in which she and her volunteers take part in community-service projects throughout the state. Following her official announcement, the campaign embarked on four different projects. Team Mizeur held a supplies drive in Glenarden benefiting Shepherd's Cove Shelter for Women and Children in Capitol Heights. They improved a playground in Silver Spring, participated in a wetland-cleanup project at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, and visited day campers at the Goodnow Community Center in Baltimore.