This story was updated at 11:20 a.m. Feb. 4, 2023, to add comments from Jason Woodward.
A sitting delegate, a real estate agent and an executive at a home building firm are vying to replace Susan Lee in the state Senate in District 16, which covers Bethesda, North Bethesda, Cabin John, Potomac and other nearby areas.
Members of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee must fill the vacant seat per county and state laws after Gov. Wes Moore appointed Lee—who had served in the state Senate since 2015 and as a delegate from 2002 to 2015—to be his secretary of state.
These are the three Democrats applying for the opening, according to Teresa Woorman, secretary of the county’s Democratic Central Committee:
- Del. Ariana Kelly, who has served in the House since 2011, representing District 16
- Scott Alan Webber, a local real estate agent and technology business consultant
- Jason Woodward, chief operating officer of OPaL, a local custom home builder
In a brief interview, Kelly said more than a decade serving constituents in the House qualified her to serve in Annapolis’ upper legislative chamber. She’s focused on reproductive rights and health care, along with behavorial health and the overall health workforce.
During her career, Kelly said she’s been focused on family economic security issues, which include access to health care, childcare and their overall affordability.
“It’s really issues that have to do with whether families have the resources they really need,” Kelly said.
In an interview, Webber said he applied because of his work with the county’s Democratic Party and his interest in District 16 issues, including housing, civil rights, public health and public safety.
A self-described “activist” and “policy wonk,” Webber said his work as a real estate agent and technology consultant provides a unique skill set.
“I’m comfortable digging into the weeds of statute, court rulings and regulations, and finding holes or issues that affect ordinary citizens in their day-to-day life,” Webber said.
Woodward said in an interview on Saturday that District 16 has had superb leadership in recent years, and that he applied because he felt it was a good time to serve his community in elected office.
The father of two Montgomery County Public Schools students, Woodward said he’s interested in education issues, particularly when it comes to addressing special needs. One of his children has special needs, so he’s personally seen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic when it comes to socialization and learning loss.
Paying teachers better is part of the solution, but there also needs to be more resources put toward special education and those support systems, Woodward said.
“From a special education perspective, while we’ve done a very good job of proving adequate resources, I’m very concerned about the gaps that have developed during the pandemic,” he said.
The District 16 state Senate appointment process is underway as some in the central committee have called on their colleagues and state lawmakers to change the procedure in order to allow for special elections or to make the process more democratic.
The county’s Democratic Central Committee has filled multiple vacancies in recent years, the most recent being Bernice Mireku-North, who now serves as delegate in District 14 after Eric Luedtke stepped down to become Moore’s chief legislative officer.
Webber said he would support special elections. In the current process—in which the central committee votes to send the name of a replacement delegate or senator to the governor to confirm—many central committee members who live outside of District 16 pick who represents the district, he said. That’s not as democratic as letting District 16 voters decide, he said.
The cost of running special elections is worth it, given that it is a better representation of democracy, Webber said.
Kelly acknowledged that the appointment process is “imperfect.” But she added that the county’s delegation is more diverse and representative of the county’s population as a result.
And there is debate within the Democratic Central Committee between those who feel special elections would be more democratic versus those who feel turnout would be low and that certain minority groups could be most adversely impacted.
“The goal should be balancing those interests,” Kelly said.
Woodward also said that the appointment process deserves examination and potential revision. Special elections should be considered, but there is an extra cost and more infrastructure needed to run those, he added.
Woodward added he’s confident that central committee members will be deliberate and give full consideration to all three candidates.
The county’s Democratic Central Committee will hold a public forum at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8. They will accept letters of support for any of the three candidates by 5 p.m. Feb. 9. Committee members are scheduled to vote to send one of the three applicants to Moore’s desk for approval during a meeting at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14.