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Gubernatorial hopeful Rushern L. Baker III (D) has tapped Montgomery County Council member Nancy Navarro to be his running mate.
A former two-term Prince George’s County Executive and state legislator, Baker said in an interview on Tuesday that he has known and admired Navarro for nearly 20 years. He said they have worked together on economic development in under-served communities, immigrant issues, and encouraging people of color to enter teaching.
Navarro is finishing her third term on the council and is barred by Montgomery’s term limits law from seeking re-election next year.
“We’re in a very serious time,” Baker said. “When I decided to run, I wanted to bring along a partner who understood the issues right away, who did not need a learning curve, and who understood the importance of local government working with the state government to get big things done.”
Navarro become the first Latina to serve on the Montgomery County Council in 2009. A former member of the county school board, she emigrated to the U.S. from Venezuela.
Baker is the first Democratic candidate for governor to choose a running mate. Because all nine of the Democrats who have launched candidacies are men, Navarro has been widely mentioned as a potential ticket-mate.
But she said Baker was the only person she considered running with.
“I had been wrestling with this notion of ‘what do I do next,’” she said. “It’s rare to find an elected official who leads with empathy and kindness, who is visionary and pragmatic.”
The pair said they spent several months discussing whether to run together.
If Baker and Navarro capture the Democratic nomination in June, they would become the first major-party ticket in Maryland in which both candidates are people of color. Recently released Census data show that less than half of Marylanders identify as white alone.
Baker’s decision may boost his ability to compete in a county that is home to several other Democratic candidates, including Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot and former attorney general Doug Gansler.
But it leaves the ticket without someone from the Baltimore region. When he ran unsuccessfully four years ago, Baker partnered with Elizabeth Embry, a Baltimore resident and high-ranking attorney in the state Office of the Attorney General.
He downplayed the absence of someone from the Baltimore region on his ticket, saying, “If you’re the mayor or a councilmember of Baltimore City, what you care about is whether you have people who understand what you need at the local level to help you do the things you need to do.”
“I think Nancy knows where Baltimore City is,” he added.
Baker and Navarro will make their first appearances as a ticket on Wednesday.
Republican gubernatorial hopeful Dan Cox, a state delegate from Frederick, was the first GOP candidate to choose a running mate. He selected Gordana Schifanelli, an attorney from Queen Anne’s County, earlier this month.
Candidates are not required to select a running mate until the filing deadline, Feb. 22. The primary is June 28.
Returning to the campaign trail
Baker took a couple weeks off from campaigning following the death of his wife, Christa Beverly Baker, in September.
She died following a decade-long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The two had been married for 34 years.
Baker said he decided to resume campaigning early last week, when his adult children returned to college following trips back to the couple’s home at National Harbor. The transition was not easy, he said.
“I had all the intentions of doing them,” Baker said of the first events he put on the campaign calendar last week. “But when Monday came, I just couldn’t. I just wasn’t ready to see people.”
Baker said all the Democrats running for governor reached out to share condolences after his wife died, as did Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R), a longtime friend and a potential gubernatorial candidate.
“Everyone’s been exceptionally nice, and kind, but I needed more time,” he said.
Since resuming full-time campaigning, Baker has attended a small event with firefighters in Harford County, a parade in Cheverly, and a candidate forum — and he has resumed fundraising.
Rather than deliver an opening statement at the forum, he thanked those who had offered support.
“It was a bit surreal,” he said. “But once we got started, it was pretty much the same.”
Recalling that his wife was a civil rights lawyer who fought to overturn the death penalty, Baker encouraged his rivals to continue their campaigns.
“She was political,” Rushern Baker said. “She’d be the first one to want everybody who is running to keep doing what they’re doing. We need to have your voices out there.”