"I do, I do," says two-term Maryland state Del. Shawn Tarrant (D-40th District), when asked this morning if he has launched a write-in campaign to keep his seat, confirming that he's "raising and spending" money on the effort "to make sure I have people at the polls" on Election Day next Tuesday.
"I'm asking people to skip the first candidate on the ballot, Frank Conaway Jr., because of his confirmed issues" that came to light in media coverage of YouTube videos Conaway Jr. recently posted of himself talking ad nauseum about very strange topics. The videos, Tarrant says by phone, show that "he's not fit to serve."
Tarrant, a chief deputy majority whip in the Maryland House of Delegates, lost with 4,034 votes in June's Democratic primary in the 40th District, putting him in fourth place behind Antonio Hayes (4,921) and incumbents Conaway Jr. (4,324) and Barbara Robinson (4,243). His most recent campaign-finance report, filed yesterday and covering the period from Aug. 20 to Oct. 19, shows a balance of $554.50. He says his write-in effort "started as soon as the Sunpaper article came out" about the videos on Oct. 22, three days after the closing date of the reporting period.
Conaway Jr. is "not effective, he has not served his community, and he's not fit to serve, and now he's actually showing you," says Tarrant, adding that "this is a guy who put in a bill to make a state walking stick, and people are waking up. I've been getting calls from people all over. This is where the rubber hits the road with the people, because they are fed up."
Asked whether Hayes and Robinson are joining his effort to try to oust Conaway Jr., Tarrant says, "I haven't reached out to them. It's very sticky for them to actually join me in this, because he was elected in the primary. I wouldn't put people in that situation, because if it doesn't work out, they still will have to work with the guy."
Tarrant chalks up his loss in the primary to ballot placement. "I can't help that my name starts with a 'T' and I was 10th on the ballot, at the bottom of the list," he says, "so voters are exhausted by the time they get there." In the general-election polling, he's asking for extra effort by voters: They'll have to select "Other Write-Ins," and then key in his name on the electronic voting machines. Success is rare. According to this 2010 Baltimore Sun article, it has only happened once in Maryland: for a Prince George's County Council seat in 1990, after an incumbent was scandalized by a criminal conviction within a week of Election Day.
When asked for prior indications of Conaway Jr.'s "issues" (other than this 2006 City Paper article that reported on court documents portraying his mental illness), Tarrant provides three anecdotes.
"Robinson had a bill dealing with liquor stores," Tarrant recalls, "because they were opening too early and staying open too late, and [Conaway Jr.] was a co-sponsor. But then he went to the table at [the] Economic Matters [Committee] and told the committee, in public, that 'I need to be off this bill'—he went from being a co-sponsor to being opposed to it, which is kind of unheard of."
More generally, Tarrant says, he's seen Conaway Jr. "at the delegation meetings we have on Fridays, berating the people who come in to speak to us. He's very argumentative and attacking in his approach to people at these meetings, and he would sit in the audience rather than at the table, at his assigned seat with his name on it."
Finally, Tarrant continues, Conaway Jr. was "the only delegate that didn't vote for the transportation tax, and we know we need this in order to get the billion dollars in schools-construction funding [that passed in 2013], that was part of the deal. But he says, 'no new taxes.' Well, then you should be a Republican if you want no new taxes. This is about our school kids."
City Paper reached out to Conaway Jr. to ask him for comment about Tarrant's suddenly active write-in candidacy, and for his responses to what Tarrant said about him, but he did not respond. If he does, this post will be updated. In the meantime, City Paper has posted his response to the current flurry of media coverage here.