State Sen. Jamie Raskin was at home one recent Thursday, standing in front of a U.S. Government class at Frederick Community College.
Raskin, the Democratic candidate seeking to succeed 8th District Rep. Chris Van Hollen, is a constitutional law professor at American University.
In late September, he spent an afternoon in Frederick guest-lecturing for FCC and Hood College classes.
In a white shirt with his suit jacket slung over a front table, Raskin took his first question at the FCC class: Is a federally mandated minimum wage constitutional?
Raskin, who supported Maryland’s minimum wage increase, began to lay out his answer. First, he walked through each of the powers set for Congress in Article One of the Constitution. That was followed by a synopsis of decisions by the Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the federal minimum wage after years of legal wrangling.
Raskin has represented Montgomery County’s District 20 — an area with a liberal progressive bent, including Takoma Park and Silver Spring — since 2007.
Raskin, the majority whip of the Maryland Senate, decided to run for Congress soon after Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) announced her retirement.
Raskin said when Van Hollen (D) called to ask whether Raskin would endorse him, Raskin offered to dive in further: “I said, ‘Not only will I endorse you, I’ll run for your seat,’” Raskin said.
“I knew immediately it was something I wanted to do because I feel as if so much of the progress we’ve made on various issues [in Maryland] is put at risk by the paralysis in Washington,” he said.
He said his experience in Annapolis, particularly on issues that came down to close or bipartisan votes will help him navigate Washington.
“I’m a middle child,” Raskin said. “I like to bring people together. I’m pretty good at compromise and moving things forward.”
Even so, Raskin is a staunch opponent of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“I think Donald Trump and the extreme right-wing forces ... that have been brought into the mainstream of American politics need to be decisively repudiated by the American people,” Raskin said, rattling off comments from Trump he considered offensive. “... This is the most important election of our lifetime, bar none.”
Despite calls from all sides, including the Republican governor’s office, during last year’s General Assembly session, the Legislature failed to advance a proposal to reform Maryland’s congressional redistricting process. There were at least half a dozen proposals related to this reform movement, but none succeeded.
Raskin introduced one of the bills, called the “Potomac Compact.” It would create one independent commission to redraw congressional districts in both Maryland and Virginia and move to a “ranked choice” form of voting. Under “ranked choice,” voters can choose multiple candidates, in order of preference.
In Congress, Raskin said he would like to see election and campaign finance reform tied to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — which extended the right to vote to women — in 2020.
Some of the “structural reforms” he envisions include adopting mutli-member congressional districts, which would give greater pools of voters more choices in their representatives.
“That’s going to allow Republicans to elect some people in places like Montgomery and Prince George’s County [and] allow Democrats to elect some people in more conservative parts of the state, like the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland,” Raskin said. “As it should be.”
He’d also like to see movement on climate change and gun safety and on redirecting funding to improve the country’s infrastructure.
He would support a “Green Deal” for the country: an infusion of funding for infrastructure to make improvements in an environmentally sustainable way.
Raskin said there are clear lines between him and Republican candidate Dan Cox, particularly on gun control.
“I’m a person who was instrumental in passage of Maryland’s great gun safety law, so we’ve got a pretty clear distinction,” he said.
“There are things that we can do about that that don’t impair in any way anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” Raskin said.
Raskin said he’s working to learn about the broader 8th District; he knocked on more than 13,000 doors during the campaign and held 169 small events in supporters’ homes as fundraisers.
“My campaign showed you don’t need to raise the most amount of money and you don’t have to spend the most amount of money,” Raskin said. “But you do need to raise enough money to kind of pierce the sound barrier and get through to your core constituency.”
He said he supported a proposal by Rep. John Sarbanes, D-3rd, that would create a combined small donor and public financing system for congressional elections.
Raskin has raised $2.1 million during the campaign and won out in a nine-candidate Democratic primary that was the most expensive House primary campaign in U.S. history. While most of Raskin’s donations have come from individual contributions, he’s also received 9 percent of his funding from political action committees, including from the Freethought Equality Fund and the National Education Association.
In the most recent campaign finance reports, which disclosed donations between April 7 to June 30, Raskin raised $301,604, while Cox took in $22,262.
Raskin attracted 605 do nors, including just a handful from Frederick County. Cox’s donations came from 27 donors, with more than half coming from Frederick and Carroll counties.
All of Raskin’s top ZIP codes for fundraising were from Montgomery County and Washington, D.C., according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Raskin has faced questions about his support from the Freethought Equality Fund, a sister organization of the American Humanist Association. In response to questions about his religion in light of the support, Raskin told The Washington Post he is Jewish and a member of Temple Sinai in D.C., though he agrees with humanist philosophies.
Raskin said he’s proud of his representation in Annapolis on issues important to women and minorities.
He embraces the term “feminist” and notes women in his life who’ve influenced him: his mother, the writer Barbara Bellman Raskin, and his wife, Sarah Bloom Raskin, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
He has two daughters and one son.
In Annapolis, he was a floor leader in the debates over legalizing same-sex marriage and abolishing the death penalty. More recently, he was involved in a bill that restored voting rights to former prisoners.
The general election is Nov. 8. Also on the ballot are Libertarian candidate Jasen Wunder and Green Party candidate Nancy Wallace.