McMillan enters GOP primary for Anne Arundel exec; Saab also eyes the race

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Former state Del. Herbert R. McMillan (R) announced Wednesday that he will run for Anne Arundel County executive in 2022.

McMillan joins business consultant Chris Jahn in the GOP scrum to take on first-term County Executive Steuart Pittman (D), but the list of candidates is almost certain to grow: County Councilmember Jessica Haire created an exploratory committee last month ahead of a likely run, and state Del. Sid A. Saab told Maryland Matters Wednesday that he is actively considering the race.

McMillan in the primary plans to cast himself as a conservative and political reformer who has thrived politically in competitive districts. He spent three terms representing the Annapolis area in the House of Delegates and also served on the Annapolis City Council.

As his time in the legislature wound down, McMillan became increasingly critical of the Anne Arundel County Democratic machine, led then by the late House speaker Michael E. Busch, and the county’s Republican establishment, led by then-county executive Steve Schuh. Now, he is focusing his fire on Pittman, who upset Schuh in the 2018 general election and has attempted to push through progressive taxation and land use policies — but he’s also throwing shade at Haire, the wife of Maryland Republican Chairman Dirk Haire and the likely favorite of most establishment Republican politicians in the county.

In a statement, McMillan called Pittman “an inexperienced, socialist ideologue.”

“We must confront the reality that in the present crisis, county government is not the solution to our problems; county government, specifically our County Executive, is the problem,” he said. “Within my own Republican Party, machine politicians beholden to special interests aren’t part of the solution either; they’re also part of the problem. In the current crisis, where’ve they been? What’ve they done? What leadership have they offered? They have not led. I have, and I will.”

McMillan, a Naval Academy graduate, promised to govern as a fiscal conservative, and touted his recent work pressuring Pittman to reopen county businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic and fighting to reopen public schools.

He was first elected to the House in 2002, lost a bid for the state Senate in 2006, and returned to the House four years later. He chose not to seek re-election in 2018, saying he was worn down by machine politics.

“The Republican Party is at a crossroads today,” McMillan said. “I’m the candidate with the values and fiscal conservatism who’ll find solutions to the problems that matter most to our families and small businesses.”

But Saab, in an interview, suggested that as a small business owner, he is best equipped to represent the interests of businesses and the workforce if he is elected county executive — and said business leaders are urging him to consider the race.

“I respect my [Republican] opponents’ experience, but I think when you’re dealing with large budgets, you need someone who’s done budgets,” Saab said. “When you’re an executive, you need to be in the trenches and used to making budgets to keep the lights on.”

Saab, who immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon as a teenager, said that he fears young people no longer believe that the American Dream is attainable. And he said that of all the elected Anne Arundel Republicans, he has been the most vocal about arguing for the county to ease business restrictions. Saab too characterized Pittman as out of step with voters.

“He’s moved in a very progressive way in a county that’s really moderate,” Saab said. Pittman has already raised taxes, the two-term lawmaker pointed out, and is advocating for a bill in the legislature that would enable local governments to change their tax structure to generate more revenue.

After years as a center-right county that has elected both Republicans and Democrats to county offices and the legislature, Anne Arundel lurched perceptibly to the left in 2018, electing Pittman as county executive, installing a Democratic majority on the county council and sending several young progressives to the legislature. After voting for Republican presidential nominees for decades, the county voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and for President Biden in 2020.

But political analysts differ on how durable the Democratic gains in Anne Arundel are, and Pittman’s perceived vulnerability is illustrated by the number of Republicans preparing to run against him.

Saab said he would make a final decision on a run for county executive by the end of summer — and possibly sooner. He predicted that if he runs, he can be competitive financially with the other Republican candidates.

Through mid-January, Saab had $121,910 in his campaign account — just a step below Haire’s $122,912 war chest. McMillan had $27,522 in leftover funds from prior campaigns, while Pittman reported $242,745 on hand.

“Whoever wins the Republican primary would be a better alternative” to Pittman, Saab said.

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