She Stood Up: Women are United for Maryland
Since the 2014 upset election of Governor Larry Hogan (R), devoted Democrats in Maryland have been all too aware of the affects of a 2020 redistricting and the subsequent vulnerability of their veto-proof majority in the state’s General Assembly. With that concern, comes the overwhelming need to take back the governor’s mansion in the 2018 elections, a task that won’t come easy.
This is the “bite-sized portion” of resistance Betsy Halsey of Montgomery Co. decided to conquer. While it could be argued that unseating a governor with an approval rating that lingers around 60%. is a bit more than a “bite-sized” portion, Halsey is not alone in this battle. In fact, she has over two-dozen organizations behind her, creating the coalition known as United for Maryland.
United for Maryland is a coalition of diverse grassroots organizations dedicated to informing the public, encouraging debate and organizing support for leading candidates in the 2018 gubernatorial race. Our mission is to identify and support strong gubernatorial candidates for Maryland who are committed to inclusive and responsive government and to the principles of transparency, equity and fiscal responsibility, according to their website.
The inspiration for this coalition came from witnessing the wasting of resources in previous primaries, leaving the Democrats disadvantaged for the general election, as well as some personal advice from Congressman Jamie Raskin.
“We went to the Sierra Club lobby night in Annapolis. I had already been thinking ‘Oh my gosh, we have got to get Hogan out of office,’ that idea was already brewing in my mind,” she told me. “I was so impressed by [Congressman] Jamie Raskin. So I introduced myself and told him how worried I was about getting Gov. Hogan out of office.”
This conversation led to a longer discussion with the District 8 Congressman about how Democrats could win in 2018. After discussing some of the issues from the 2014 election, such as split resources within the Democratic Party and candidates that couldn’t stand up strong against GOP candidate Hogan after expending resources in a competitive primary, Halsey set out to create what is now United for Maryland.
“We want to give candidates an opportunity to be heard early on,” she says about the intent of United for Maryland’s early gubernatorial forums. “Ultimately we will push the questions ‘How can you beat Hogan?’ and ‘If you are not elected in the primary, how will you support and unite behind the elected Democratic gubernatorial candidate?’”
United for Maryland’s first gubernatorial forum will be held on October 14th at Globe Hall in Montgomery County. Rushern Baker, Ben Jealous, Kevin Kamenetz, Rich Madaleno, Alec Ross, and Krishanti Vignarajah will all be participating. Creating a full circle in the evolution of this organization, Congressman Jamie Raskin will be giving closing remarks.
About the President:
Betsy Halsey may try to pass for a newbie in the political game, but her roots go much deeper than she lets on, albeit in variety of unexpected directions. With a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Maryland, she worked for Americans for Democratic Action for a brief stint before she shifted to ministry.
“I realized that I don’t really like politics,” she admitted. “And I began to think, you know, the world is not actually going to change until the hearts and minds of individuals change.” This road eventually led her to clinical psychology, a field in which she now has a private practice. “My purpose in life is to work for transformation. How I’ve done that has morphed over the years.”
After Trump’s election, however, Halsey felt she needed to be doing more. “This is a crisis situation, we are really at risk of losing core elements of our democracy,” so she sprung to action. “Nothing should be taken for granted, I think that sums it up.”
The leadership of the organization is made up of many similar stories. While the coalition isn’t limited to women, there is an undeniable trend of female energy taking the lead on this mission. Women make up the majority of the Board and, when asked about this, Halsey noted that much of her contact list for the group is made up of women too. “When we put out announcements, its women who show up,” she said of the organic creation of female-driven leadership.
Aryani Ong, a community activist from Rockville who will be moderating the forum on Saturday, spoke with similar praise about the organization’s leader, saying “While scores of people were energized to become civically involved where they hadn’t been previously, few decide to lead. Betsy is among the special people who had a vision, raised a call to bring like-minded people together and persevered through the challenges of working with busy volunteers to make a forum happen.”
The Future for UfM and a Better Maryland
Although the coalition started in Montgomery County, Halsey and the rest of the United for Maryland has ambitions to spread throughout the state, staying consistent to a grassroots model. The group held a picnic in August to help network and expand, offering support and collaboration to groups in other areas of Maryland, hoping to eventually hold forums and debates for the candidates. To help preserve the resources of the Democratic Party and the candidates within it, United for Maryland aims to provide a platform for the candidates to speak on substantive issues and “get back to what matters.”
When originally asked about the inspiration for this group and the moment she stood up, Halsey said, “It started with despair,” and went on to describe her state of mind immediately after the 2016 election. Nevertheless, she’s come a long way since November and there was no hint of despair in our conversation. Her energy and passion for the work she was doing exuded with each story. She spoke of her partners in the group with admiration and excitement. When talking about the parts of the Trump-era that alarmed her, she spoke with conviction. “It’s a passion project. Despite what Trump will say, I’m not paid. None of us are paid. We are just compelled to do something.”