Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Zina Pierre and the District 30 Dilemma (Updated)

Democratic Annapolis Mayoral candidate Zina Pierre has her share of problems. But the really interesting question generated by her issues goes far beyond the city elections in Annapolis. That’s because the city is the heart of District 30, home of House Speaker Mike Busch and one of the state’s key swing jurisdictions.

District 30 is a super-competitive district in many ways. Its current incumbents are Democratic Senator John Astle, Democratic Delegates Mike Busch and Virginia Clagett and Republican Delegate Ron George. But the fact that three of the four delegation members are Democrats vastly understates the closeness of this district.

Consider these statistics from the District 30 2002 and 2006 elections.

2002 General Election

Democratic Registered Voters: 31,006
Republican Registered Voters: 28,267

Democratic Actual Voters: 20,691
Republican Actual Voters: 19,722

Democratic Turnout Rate: 66.73%
Republican Turnout Rate: 69.77%

John Astle (D), Incumbent: 24,799 (55.40%)
Andy Smarick (R): 19,922 (44.50%)

Mike Busch (D), Incumbent: 22,422 (17.74%)
Virgina Clagett (D), Incumbent: 21,875 (17.30%)
Herb McMillan (R), 20,972 (16.59%)
Dick D’Amato (D), Incumbent: 20,545 (16.25%)
Michael Collins (R): 19,140 (15.14%)
Nancy Almgren (R): 18,861 (14.92%)

2006 Primary Election

Democratic Registered Voters: 32,599
Republican Registered Voters: 29,795

Democratic Actual Voters: 13,026
Republican Actual Voters: 8,990

Democratic Turnout Rate: 42.08%
Republican Turnout Rate: 31.66%

2006 General Election

John Astle (D), Incumbent: 24,999 (52.9%)
Herb McMillan (R): 22,216 (47.0%)

Mike Busch (D), Incumbent: 22,479 (17.1%)
Virginia Clagett (D), Incumbent: 22,360 (17.0%)
Ron George (R): 21,811 (16.6%)
Barbara Samorajczyk (D): 21,758 (16.5%)
Andy Smarick (R): 20,594 (15.6%)
Ron Elfenbein (R): 20,457 (15.5%)
David Whitney (Constitution): 2,225 (1.7%)

The above record illustrates that this district is almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans and both parties are competitive for the Delegate seats and the Senate seat. Any small shift threatens to move the balance one way or the other.

Here is what makes the Pierre situation so volatile. If elected, she would be the first African-American Mayor in the history of Annapolis. According to the Census of 2000, District 30 had 89,557 residents over the age of 18, of whom 11,973 (13%) were black. In 2006, there were 32,599 registered Democrats in District 30. If 75% of African Americans over the age of 18 were registered Democrats (a conservative assumption considering that the ratio of the 2000 population to 2006 registered voters is 86%), that would mean that more than a quarter of the district’s Democrats are African-American. Thus, they are a crucial voting bloc in both the primary and the general election.

Speaker Mike Busch is in a very sensitive spot. If Pierre is elected, her legal problems could spin out of control in the local media for months, enraging voters and creating momentum for Republicans. But if Busch or the Democratic establishment is seen to push her out, some African-Americans could sit out the election next year in protest. Complicating matters is that one of the Democrats’ hopes for turning out incumbent Republican Delegate Ron George is former Hillary Clinton operative Judd Legum, an inside-the-Beltway candidate who does not have the incumbent’s nearly twenty years of continuous history in the district. One Democratic source who knows the district well speculates that Busch may very well have wound up with two Republican Delegates sharing the district with him even before the Pierre scandal started.

The GOP would love to knock out Busch as they did to former Speaker Casper Taylor in 2002. That probably won’t happen given the fact that Busch’s district is more Democratic than Taylor’s Allegany/Washington district. But it’s entirely possible that the Pierre affair could convert a potential Democratic Delegate pickup into a loss.

Stay tuned.

Update: Judd Legum has proven me wrong about his Annapolis roots.