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Maryland's Out Candidate for Governor Ready for Battle With 'Unhinged' Trump

Rich Madaleno

Rich Madaleno, who kissed his husband in a campaign ad and said, "Take that, Trump," wants to lead the resistance at the state level.

With a Republican governing Maryland and Donald Trump in the White House, Rich Madaleno sees the state and nation going backward on many things -- and he believes he can help reverse that trend by becoming Maryland's governor.

"Donald Trump's election demonstrated how important states were, and governors, in actually keeping up the progress we've made," says longtime state legislator Madaleno, who if elected governor would become the first out gay man voted into that office in Maryland or any state in the nation. (Another openly gay man, Jared Polis, is running for governor of Colorado.)

That, combined with Maryland having a Republican governor, Larry Hogan, and "slipping on some of the things we'd done well, providing strong public schools, giving people an opportunity to pursue dreams," led Madaleno to pursue the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he says. The state will hold its primary Tuesday.

He sees much progress that has been threatened or already reversed by Republicans at the state and national levels. Maryland's public schools were once rated the best in the nation, he says, but that has changed. The state was implementing the Affordable Care Act with an eye toward universal coverage, but now the ACA is in jeopardy. For LGBT people, he notes, "It seemed like we'd come so far, with victories for freedom to marry, momentum for national antidiscrimination laws, and then, boom! That all seemed to stop" with Trump taking office as president.

But it's no time to just despair, he says. "For me, it was time to stand up and say no, I'm going to fight the best way I know to protect the gains we've made," says Madaleno.

For Madaleno, the place to fight is the political arena. After holding administrative positions in various government bodies, in 2002 he became the first openly gay person elected to Maryland's House of Delegates (another delegate, Maggie McIntosh, had come out in 2001, while already in office) and in 2006 was elected as the first out gay member of the Maryland Senate.

He faces a tough primary contest. The front-runners are Rushern L. Baker III, the Prince George's County executive, and Ben Jealous, the former president of the NAACP. Madaleno has been running third in most polls in a field that totals eight candidates. In the Republican primary, Hogan is unopposed.

Madaleno says his "record of experience and accomplishments at the state level" is the reason Marylanders should vote for him. He's touting the idea of "promotion from within," choosing a state lawmaker over someone from a different level of government or a political outsider.

Education and infrastructure, being the factors that provide economic opportunity, are among his top issues, and he says they don't seem to be priorities for the Republican Party at any level. He's also focused on the environment, civil rights, and more. And it's important to have a strong Democratic challenger to Hogan, he says.

Hogan has positioned himself as a moderate Republican in deep-blue Maryland; he recently signed into law a ban on the use of "ex-gay" therapy on minors. But hundreds of times, Madaleno says, he has let bills become law without his signature -- Maryland has a "pocket signature" as opposed to a pocket veto, so if the governor does nothing, a bill passed by the legislature becomes law.

Several of these "pocket-signed" bills upheld reproductive freedom, and Madaleno says he believes Hogan would have vetoed them if he didn't know his veto would be overridden by the Democratic-controlled legislature. He says that if Hogan wins a second term, there won't be political pressure on him to govern as a moderate, as term limits prevent him from seeking a third.

"We cannot have a politically untethered governor, especially when we have an unhinged president," Madaleno says.

Madaleno famously got in another pointed jab at Trump earlier this month when an ad for his campaign aired during the president's favorite news program, Fox & Friends, in the Washington, D.C.-area market.

In the 30-second ad, Madaleno lists several of the stances he's taken that would infuriate Trump, such as defending Planned Parenthood, supporting a statewide assault weapons ban, and standing up for public education. At the end, he says, "What's the number 1 way I piss off Donald Trump and the Republicans?" and then kisses his husband, Mark Hodge, adding, "Take that, Trump." It may be the first same-sex kiss ever featured in a campaign ad.

"I wanted to demonstrate that I'm proud of who I am, proud of the work I've done to be able to call [Hodge] my husband," Madaleno says of the ad. He had championed the marriage equality legislation that passed in Maryland in 2012 and then was upheld by voters after opponents forced a referendum on it.

He also wanted to show he'd defend his family and all families "against the encroachments of the Trump administration and the modern Republican Party," he says. "I wanted to make sure that we demonstrated to the other side, the side that is increasingly living in their own Trump bubble, that there still is a diverse world sitting out here and their neighbors aren't going away."

Madaleno and Hodge live in Silver Spring, not far from D.C., with their two children, Katie, 14, and Jackson, 11. Hodge is a nurse who works for the local public health department.

Because he's running for governor, Madaleno couldn't seek another term in the state Senate. He says he hasn't made plans for what he'll do if the gubernatorial run doesn't work out, preferring to focus on the race at hand.

In Maryland, the candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run as a slate, and Madaleno's running mate is Luwanda Jenkins, who was a member of former Gov. Martin O'Malley's Cabinet as secretary of minority affairs. "The two of us have more experience at the state level than any ticket that's run before," Madaleno says.

Madaleno is one of several gubernatorial candidates trying to make LGBT history this year. Besides Polis in Colorado, whose primary is the same day as Madaleno's, there's Christine Hallquist, a transgender woman seeking Vermont's Democratic gubernatorial nomination, and Lupe Valdez, a lesbian who's already won the Democratic nomination for governor of Texas and will face deeply anti-LGBT Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in November. All have the endorsement of the LGBTQ Victory Fund. Kate Brown, who is bisexual, broke the rainbow glass ceiling when she became governor of Oregon in 2015. New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey wasn't out when elected, and when he came out as gay in 2004 he immediately resigned.

With the primary coming up in a few days, Madaleno continues to express optimism about breaking his state's rainbow ceiling, and he's eager to have another chance to say, "Take that, Trump." He urges voters to remember this: "The Republican Party is the party of Trump."

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