2022 | Politics

MCPS teacher, local professor challenge incumbent District 14 state lawmakers

Upper Montgomery district would have Democratic primary for delegate, senator

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Joshua Dowling, left, is running for state delegate and Collins Odongo is running for state Senate in District 14.

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This story was updated at 11:55 p.m. Jan. 19, 2022, to add an additional candidate for state delegate.

Two northeastern Montgomery County residents who work in education — an MCPS middle school teacher and a professor at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park — are challenging incumbent state lawmakers in District 14.

The MCPS teacher is Joshua Dowling, who teaches eighth-grade U.S. history at A. Mario Loiederman Middle School in the Wheaton area. He is running for state delegate.

Dowling, 30, said in an interview that he believes there is a lack of investment for school-aged children in recent years.

At first, he was curious to see if Del. Anne Kaiser was going to run again after she stepped down as chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. But he decided to run for the seat given his passion on local education issues, and aim to continue the policies championed by Kaiser.

Kaiser, a delegate since 2003, filed in May to run for another term as delegate. Five months later, she said she was giving up her committee chair position.

Even though she has filed to seek another term, Kaiser said Tuesday that she is undecided on whether she will run again. She said in an interview that she is close to publicly making a decision, likely within the next two weeks.

“It’s really just deciding if it’s something I can continue to do, with all the different time commitments that I have,” Kaiser said.

Four Democrats have filed so far for three delegate seats — Kaiser, Dowling and incumbents Eric Luedtke and Pam Queen.

Tom Smith, 37, of Burtonsville, has not yet filed, but has set up a website stating he’s running for delegate. The website says Smith served in the Air Force in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Dowling said Tuesday that as a gay man, he appreciated Kaiser’s work in the legislature on progressive issues. He wrote an email to Kaiser — who also is openly gay — in November thanking her for her service.

Dowling, who lives in Brookeville, is focused on three issues.

One is improving education, especially through expanding the community school model. That model is where public schools serve not only as educational facilities, but also community hubs.

Dowling said making sure students have adequate mental health resources is vital. He said there needs to be a cap on class sizes — around the mid-20s for core subjects and 30 to 32 for physical education and everything else.

Second, he’s focused on climate change issues, including preserving green space and making sure land and energy use policy fits those goals.

Lastly, he wants to make sure the county and state stay affordable, especially so young children can choose to stay if they want to, when they become adults. 

Dowling said he respects the three incumbent delegates. He said, however, he would be a “fresh face” in Annapolis.

“I grew up low-income, … I know what it’s like to be hungry. I know what it’s like to be worried about rent and bills and putting food on the table,” Dowling said.

“I look forward to connecting with people. I plan to knock on as many doors as possible … to make a case for myself, and a broader campaign for our kids,” he added.

Senate race

In the state Senate race, Collins Odongo is challenging incumbent Craig Zucker for the Democratic nomination.

Odongo, 47, is originally from Kenya and has lived in Montgomery County for 15 years.

Odongo, a professor at Washington Adventist University, teaches business management, communications, public relations and similar subjects.

He said in an interview that he wanted to bring more diversity to the state legislature, and bring a new outlook in multiple policy areas.

Odongo said if he wins, he would serve no more than two terms, then serve as a mentor to other up-and-coming leaders. He said he’s interested in improving equity in public schools and in the community at large. 

The state legislature might seem diverse, but it is not addressing the root cause of issues in many different areas, Odongo said.

“Currently, we have a diverse population, but there seems to be a lack of knowledge on cultural competencies,” he said, referring to cultural biases that can hurt segments of society, especially in education and economic development.

Like Dowling, he said he would bring a new perspective to the State House.

“This concept of incumbency, this concept of long-term service … goes against the concept of accountability and it creates some sense of entitlement,” said Odongo, who ran unsuccessfully for the Board of Education in 2020. “We must create some room for others to grow.”

District 14 currently covers the entire eastern border of the county, running from Damascus through Laytonsville, Brookeville and Olney down to Burtonsville and Fairland.

A new proposed map by a state legislative commission would keep the district mostly the same, except for removing the northern section of the district — including some of Damascus — and putting it in a new district that extends into Howard County. The map proposal advanced a step in the General Assembly on Tuesday, clearing a Senate committee.

The filing deadline for this year’s elections is Feb. 22. The primary election is scheduled for June 28, and the general election is set for Nov. 8.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com