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Gay, Tea Party Republican considers unprecedented run for governor

Wednesday - 12/12/2012, 11:02am  ET

By DAVID GUTMAN
Capital News Service

TAKOMA PARK, Md. - She's a progressive state delegate who has partnered on legislation with a Tea Party Republican. She used to work as a registered federal lobbyist. And she co-owns an organic medicinal herb farm.

It seems fair to say that Maryland has never had a candidate for governor quite like Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Takoma Park.

And if she decides to run and wins, she would be the first openly gay candidate elected to governor in American history.

"I'm taking a very serious look at it," Mizeur said when asked if she will run for governor in 2014. "I'm not really looking at plan B options right now, my focus is on the upcoming 2013 [legislative] session and weighing through whether or not I get in this race."

Prior to November's election, Mizeur was a prominent spokeswoman for referendums to approve same-sex marriage and provide in-state tuition for some children of undocumented immigrants, two issues on which her side won resounding victories.

"It was a big year for progressives in Maryland," Mizeur said. "Standing on this side, it was incredibly affirming for Marylanders to support the right for affordable higher education for all and to treat everyone equally under the law."

On these issues Mizeur was firmly on the side of the state's Democratic establishment. But on another controversial referendum--expanding casino gambling -- Mizeur was an outspoken critic, on the opposite side of most prominent Democrats, including Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

"My concern about the casino expansion is that it is a lazy form of economic development," Mizeur said. "I think that what Marylanders voted for on Question 7 was that they want more jobs, and we only gave them one option for more jobs and that was casinos."

Mizeur thinks the state would have been better served focusing on transportation-- building the red line in Baltimore and the Purple Line in the Washington suburbs-- and school construction as ways to create jobs.

While she said her focus for the 2013 legislative session will primarily be job creation, most of Mizeur's biggest legislative accomplishments have to do with health care.

In 2007, Maryland passed a law, which Mizeur sponsored, allowing young people to stay on their parents' health care plans until age 25. A similar provision was included in the federal Affordable Care Act, allowing young people to remain covered until age 26.

Vincent DeMarco, president of Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, worked closely with Mizeur on a number of healthcare bills.

"Heather was a lead sponsor of the under age 25 law and she worked hard to make sure it was incorporated in the Affordable Care Act," DeMarco said. "We think Heather's great and we want Heather to be a key player in healthcare in Maryland for a long time."

In 2011, Mizeur partnered with Del. Michael Smigiel, (R-Elkton), the chairman of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Delegates, to pass a bill expanding family planning services to low-income women.

"I went to Mike and talked to him about collaborating on a bill that would lower the number of abortions in Maryland by 2,800 a year and save the state $25 to $35 million a year and he says, 'What's the catch?" Mizeur said.

The bill expands access to prenatal care through the Medicaid program. It reallocated a pool of money that was dedicated to postnatal care, and now gives free prenatal care to all women with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level.

Smigiel agreed on the success of their unlikely collaboration.

"I'm chairman of the Tea Party Caucus, you know, and you wouldn't think that a person who is a gay legislator heading up a very liberal agenda would be able to find common ground, but we were able to, and that's a good thing," he said.

"Heather is a very intelligent, very capable individual who has shown that she's willing to work across party lines," Smigiel said. "Doesn't mean I'm going to pick up and vote for her or like her philosophies, but I do respect her abilities and the fact that she argues what she believes."

Given Mizeur's day job (state legislators meet only 90 days per year, so almost all of them have other jobs), it's unsurprising that many of her greatest accomplishments have come in healthcare.

In 2008, Mizeur and her wife Deborah, both former political aides on Capitol Hill, co-founded The Mizeur Group, a lobbying firm that focuses on health care policy analysis.

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