Kelly Schulz, a former state delegate in Frederick County and the state’s secretary of commerce, announced Wednesday she is running for governor.
Schulz, 52, is the first Republican to enter the race. If elected, she would be the first female governor in Maryland history.
The Lake Linganore resident said in an interview Wednesday many people asked her to run since Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was re-elected to a second — and final — term. But she said she has been focused on leading the Department of Commerce.
A decision was pretty much finalized over the holiday season, she said.
“There was a lot of thought and a lot of prayer between me and my husband and my children and my extended family just to say, ‘Is this something that we all think could be a possibility to do?’” Schulz said. “And we kind of came to that conclusion.”
Schulz was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2010, representing District 4A, which encompassed much of the northern half of Frederick County, minus the city of Frederick.
In the Republican primary, she defeated then-Del. Paul Stull by six votes. It was a “trying time,” which she reflects on almost every day.
“I say if it weren’t for those last six houses when I thought my day was over and knew that I just needed to knock on just a couple more doors,” she said about that initial campaign. “[And] I think that’s kind of where we are with our campaign. We’re not done until we’re done ... [and] it’s always going to be about, how much more can we get done before the end of the day?”
Schulz was then re-elected to District 4 in 2014, which spanned much of the outer rural ring of the county and a small sliver of Carroll County. Hogan then tapped her to serve as the state’s secretary of labor, licensing and regulation in 2015 and selected her as the state’s secretary of commerce in late 2018. She’s worked in that role since January 2019.
Political insiders in recent years have seen Schulz as a potential candidate for the state’s top elected office. During her time in the House of Delegates, she quickly earned the respect of colleagues from both sides of the aisle.
Lawmakers and politicos see Schulz as a hard worker and skilled legislator but also as someone who is personable, knowing how to separate tough policy discussions from personal conversations with delegates, senators and other state officials.
During her time in office, Schulz worked on legislation to help farm breweries modify business regulations.
But it was Slayer’s Statute that she called a “game-changer” and “defining moment” of her time as a delegate. That bill, which passed in 2013, prevents someone who killed or worked with someone to kill a family member or friend from benefitting from the victim’s estate and/or other belongings. The law is named after Ann Sue Metz, a Frederick resident killed by her husband Marshall in 2009.
The husband sold Ann’s house while in jail, The Frederick News-Post previously reported.
“We changed people’s lives that day when we passed that bill so that other people did not have to go through similar types of situations,” Schulz said. “When we talk about public service, that’s the meaning of public service: to be able to change lives for the better.”
Schulz’s qualities and work ethic are something Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore and Harford), the outgoing minority whip in the House of Delegates, thinks will make Schulz a tough opponent in the gubernatorial race next year.
“On top of all that, she’s a really nice person,” Szeliga told the News-Post in 2019. “So she’s easy to get along with. And that’s important. You can have someone that takes office who’s a real policy wonk, yet they lack the interpersonal skills. So Kelly really is the whole package.”
On Wednesday, Szeliga said she’s excited for Schulz and lauded her business background and overall work in the Department of Labor and Department of Commerce. Working in Hogan’s cabinet only helps her chances, she said.
“I think Gov. Hogan’s leadership style has certainly rubbed off on Kelly Schulz,” Szeliga said. “The people of Maryland are looking for a middle- and mild-temperament person.”
Szeliga and Sen. Michael Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll) both entered the House of Delegates alongside Schulz in January 2011. Hough noted he and Schulz were also elected to the Frederick County Republican Central Committee, running on the same campaign slate in 2006.
Hough said Schulz was very “studious” in the House of Delegates, which included researching studies and other sources about an often-called “rain tax” proposed by former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and passed by the General Assembly in 2012.
That tax required the state’s 10 largest jurisdictions to impose a stormwater remediation fee to clean up the state’s waterways. Republicans quickly named it a “rain tax,” and many believe that’s why Hogan won in an upset in 2014.
Several of the past elections for governor have been competitive, Hough said, despite Democrats holding a supermajority in the statehouse. And it’s great a local name is running for the state’s top office, he added.
“It’s good for the county to have one of our people running at the top of the ticket,” Hough said.
Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s) also knows Schulz well, as he served with her on the Economics Matters Committee. Davis said she asked good questions during committee hearings and was easy to get along with outside of legislative work.
“She fought passionately for the things she believed in,” he told the News-Post in 2019. “But then when it was over, you could go have lunch or a beverage or whatever with her, and it was just over. So people liked that way about her, that she kept it professional.”
The gubernatorial election will likely be crowded next year: Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D) and Montgomery County resident Jon Baron (D), an executive at Arnold Ventures—a philanthropic organization focused on health care, higher education and criminal justice, among other causes—have all announced they’re running.
Many more Democrats, including U.S. Reps. Anthony Brown and David Trone, former Democratic Committee Chair Tom Perez, former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. all are considering running.
Schulz first needs to win a Republican primary next year before focusing on a general contest in largely blue Maryland.
The GOP primary in Maryland is seen by many as a litmus test for where the state’s Republican Party is headed following former President Donald Trump’s time in office. Political observers believe former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman are potential Republican contenders.
Current Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford announced Wednesday he wasn’t running for governor.
Schulz said she’s “gotten good feedback” from the Maryland Republican Party and has had the opportunity to travel to every county and Baltimore in her roles in Hogan’s cabinet, learning what the key issues are in each jurisdiction.
“At this point in time, I’m not running against anyone. I’m not running in a Democratic primary right now against Peter Franchot,” she said about her chances in a heavily Democratic state and possible political opponents. “Peter Franchot is going to have his own campaign to go through for the Democratic primary, so we’ll see how all those candidates come through.”
For Del. Davis, it doesn’t matter who Schulz ends up running against.
“I’m just glad I won’t have to run against Kelly, because she’s going to be a handful whatever race she gets in,” he said in a 2019 interview.