WASHINGTON -- A Democratic state lawmaker in Maryland is seeking to become the nation's first openly gay person elected governor.
State Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Takoma Park) announced Wednesday that she will enter the 2014 Democratic primary to succeed term-limited Gov. Martin O'Malley (D). Mizeur's entry formalizes what is likely to be a very competitive three-way primary in the heavily Democratic state. If elected, Mizeur would also be the first woman Maryland governor.
“I’m running for governor because I love this state," Mizeur told The Huffington Post. "I see limitless possibilities on what we can accomplish together.”
Mizeur is challenging Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and state Attorney General Doug Gansler for the Democratic nomination. Brown, who is close to O'Malley, announced his candidacy earlier this year, while Gansler will likely enter the race later. Brown's candidacy is also historic, with the two-term lieutenant governor seeking to be Maryland's first black governor.
Mizeur downplayed the historic aspect of her candidacy and said her sexual preference seldom comes up as she campaigns across the state. She described being openly gay as being "the least interesting about me to most people."
“It is a sign of how far we have come as a state that an LGBT person can be a serious candidate," Mizeur said. "But that we are still talking about it shows we have more to go.”
Having a strong shot at being the first openly LGBT candidate to win a governorship may boost Mizeur's candidacy. Paul Herrnson, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, said Mizeur will attract national donors from the LGBT community, and may swing undecided LGBT voters in Maryland to her campaign. Hernson noted that a similar dynamic could help Brown with the black community.
Former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey (D) was the nation's first openly gay governor, but McGreevey came out after he had been in office for more than two years and announced his resignation at the same press conference. McGreevey's resignation took effect three months after the press conference.
Mizeur is campaigning for governor at a time when Democratic women are pushing to lead states. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan is the only Democratic woman governor, while four Republican women hold governorships. In addition to Mizeur, Pennsylvania U.S. Rep. Alyson Schwartz and New Mexico state Sen. Linda Lopez have announced gubernatorial campaigns in 2014, while other women, including Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis and Rhode Island Treasurer Gina Raimando, are considering gubernatorial campaigns. New Jersey Democratic gubernatorial nominee Barbara Buono is running this year.
In Maryland, former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend was the unsuccessful Democratic gubernatorial nominee in 2002, while former state House Minority Leader Ellen Sauerbrey was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for governor in 1994 and 1998.
Mizeur intends to campaign for improving education in low-performing school districts, increasing access to health care and environmental protection. She also said she intends to stress community service during her campaign and if elected.
On the Republican side, Hanford County Executive David Craig, state Del. Ron George, businessman Brian Murphy, energy consultant Brian Vaeth and Frederick County Commissioner Blaine Young are seeking the party's gubernatorial nomination.
Herrnson said the Democratic primary is likely to determine the next governor. He noted that Gansler is a well-known attorney general, while Brown has had a high profile as lieutenant governor. Brown's recruitment of Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) as his running mate could help in the primary, Herrnson said. Mizeur has made inroads with party activists with her work as a national Democratic committeewoman and in working for other candidates.
“The key is not being well-known across the state, but the key is to be well known among active Democrats,” Herrnson said.