Mikulski’s Retirement Sets Off Scramble for Her Seat
Policy + Politics

Mikulski’s Retirement Sets Off Scramble for Her Seat

There is already a scramble among Maryland politicians to succeed Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD), the longest serving woman in the Senate and the first female to have ever chaired the powerful Appropriations Committee.

The feisty and diminutive Mikulski, 78, announced Monday she’ll retire at the end of next year. Her first foray into politics was when she fought a proposed highway project for the East Baltimore neighborhood where she grew up. She went on to serve on the Baltimore City Council and then in the House of Representatives before winning her first Senate term in 1986.

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Shortly after arriving in the upper chamber, she won a coveted assignment to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which up until then had been pretty much an exclusive men’s club that doled out federal funding. With her gruff, pragmatic style, she soon gained the respect of committee titans including the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-WVA) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK).

Mikulski became committee chair following the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) in December 2012. She served as chair until January, when the Republicans reclaimed Senate control. Former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) famously once said, “Senator Mikulski knows only one speed, and that is full speed ahead.”

With major government research and NASA-related facilities in her state, Mikulski over the years has championed the U.S. space program as well as the National Institutes of Health and other government-financed research facilities. She has also used her perch on the Commerce, Justice, and Science subcommittee as well as others to funnel cash to Maryland highway projects, homeland security at the Port of Baltimore and cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay, according to the Almanac of American Politics.

Mikulski became the second female senator to announce her retirement this year. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), 74, announced in early January she would retire at the end of her current term.

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An emotional Mikulski, joined by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), said at a news conference in Baltimore today that she had to “face the reality of a clock” ticking on her upcoming reelection bid. She said she wanted to spend the next two years focused on the Democratic legislative agenda instead of campaigning.

“I had to ask myself, Who am I campaigning for? For me or my constituents? Do I spend my time raising money or raising hell? Do I focus on my election or the next generation? Do I spend my time promising what I’ll do, or doing it now?”

The Hill is reporting Mikulski’s decision to retire will touch off an intense rivalry to succeed her. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, contemplated a Senate bid in 2006 and could decide to jump into the race. He had nearly $1.7 million in his campaign war chest at the end of 2014.

Other possibilities include Rep. John Delaney, a wealthy Democrat, and former Gov. Martin O’Malley, currently contemplating a long-shot run for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Former Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who lost a bid for governor last year, might also look at the seat. 

Meanwhile, Republican Larry Hogan’s surprise victory over Anthony Brown in last November’s gubernatorial election has whetted the GOP’s interest in going after an open seat in majority Democratic Maryland. One possibility is former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R). Another is former GOP National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, Ehrlich’s previous lieutenant governor, who lost to Cardin in the 2006 Senate race.

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