Stepping into Cold Water
First-time candidate Mitchelle Stephenson hopes to put her people skills, knowledge of the issues and local contacts to work for voters
You’re more likely to growl your revenge at a politician than kick a dog. Dogs have got a vast grassroots constituency rooting for them. Politicians not so much. On preferential polls, politicians rank below dog poop.
So why would you want such a job?
This election year, Bay Weekly is asking that question of politicians of various stripes. Among them: first timers, try-a-second-timers and winners turned losers trying again.
First-timer Mitchelle Stephenson of Edgewater says she’s stepping up because no one else did. Read on to learn more about the 48-year-old education activist and newswoman.
Bay Weekly — Why are you venturing into politics?
Mitchelle Stephenson — In my family, you were involved.
My mother, Karen ‘Mike’ Worden, ran our family gas station in Stuart, Florida, on her own after my father died. I was 13 and my brother four years older. At the same time, she managed to be a very involved citizen. She was the first woman Kiwanis in town, and she worked on everything from the Boys and Girls Club to the cemetery committee.
My husband and I have daughters 12 and 17, and over the last decade, I’ve been very involved in education, starting as a PTA class volunteer. I’m one of 12 parents, one from each high school, on the Anne Arundel Public Schools Parent Advisory Committee. I’m also Anne Arundel County’s representative on the Maryland PTA legislative Committee, where I do advocacy work and read and testify on bills.
And I’ve worked for years as a reporter, getting to know all kinds of people.
Bay Weekly — How did you decide to run to represent District 30B in the Maryland General Assembly?
Mitchelle Stephenson — When this seat became available, I saw it as an opening for someone who had a wide understanding of South County.
This is a new all-South County district created after the 2010 census. Bob Costa [now representing District 33B], who’s retiring, does live within its boundaries.
It’s also a single-member district; most of 30A is above the South River.
I hoped somebody decent would step forward. Nobody else stepped up, so I did.
I don’t expect opposition from another Democrat in the primary. Seth Howard is running as a Republican.
Bay Weekly — What makes you think you’re the right person?
Mitchelle Stephenson — I’m already an advocate. For my major issues — family, children, education — a lot of the advocacy I did focused on the General Assembly. I thought siting on the other side might be more effective. I saw the General Assembly as achievable and a way to make a difference.
Bay Weekly — As one of 141 and a newbie at that, what difference do you expect to be able to make in the House?
Mitchelle Stephenson — I do realize that it will be uphill for a new person in a single-member district. But I have people skills, good knowledge of the issues and good contacts in the district. I know how to research and inform myself and other people about issues. I hope that those skills would be useful in the General Assembly and valued.
Bay Weekly — What do you rate as your best skill?
Mitchelle Stephenson — PTA has such good organization. I’ve learned listening, appreciating, incorporating people’s ideas. Bob Costa has been like that: able to hear constituents and be a citizen advocate.
Anne Arundel Legislative District 30B
To reach population equity with Maryland’s other 46 legislative districts, Anne Arundel Legislative District 30B covers a lot of territory: much of the county south of Route 214. Only on the west does it fall below Rt. 214. In the east and north, it extends to the South River with the exclusion of Woodland Beach. In the northwest it again crosses Rt. 2 to include much of Riva and Parole.
Bay Weekly — What are your goals in your district?
Mitchelle Stephenson — I’ve always felt there has been a kind of unity among the citizens of South County you don’t see in other parts of the county. We don’t see hostility between social and economic classes, racial groups, watermen vs. farmers. South County kind of lets all get along, and I think Bob Costa represented that. I really like the idea that 30B unifies South County.
Bay Weekly — Beyond education, what issues are important to you?
Mitchelle Stephenson — Farm and watermen issues and sustainability, rural heritage, growth: issues I’ve covered over the years as The Capital’s South County local columnist, then in the beginning of Patch in Edgewater and now in South River Source. Having gone through Lyme disease, I’m involved in health issues, chronic pain and health for women, as they are underrepresented in terms of attention.
Bay Weekly — What have you done to get in shape for the race?
Mitchelle Stephenson — I go to the gym, I do Bikram yoga.
Politically, I’m in the 10-month Emerge Maryland training class for Democratic women politicians because I’ve never run a campaign. A big part of the training is coming up with a campaign plan; fundraising for your tuition is part of the learning.
Bay Weekly — What’s your strategy to win?
Mitchelle Stephenson — Lots of hard work: knocking on doors, being at as many places at once as I can. My sixth grader has the idea for a two-places-at-once machine; I’m hoping she’ll have it done by the end of the campaign.
We’ve got great people signed on as consultants — people I respect and was so humbled they would say yes — on both issues and the campaign. Soon my older daughter will be able to drive for me, and we’re going to bring teens in.
Raising money is a big issue as we don’t have any huge industry down here, and I want to be particular about where our money comes from. I want to be realistic, but I’m a bit idealistic. So I’m counting on lots of individual contributions, and that means making lots of phone calls.
I know how many votes I need to get and where they are; now I have to go out and get them.
Bay Weekly — What’s your campaign going to cost you in terms of what you’ll give up?
Mitchelle Stephenson — Campaign manager Laura Carr and I talk about how it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I try to schedule during times when kids are in school and schedule family time. We belong to a CSA, and my husband and I both love to cook; we eat dinner almost every night at the family table. But it’s already costing me time on South River Source.
Bay Weekly — As you enter politics, are you prepared to be disdained, distrusted and dismissed?
Mitchelle Stephenson — No. I’d prefer to be distinguished, deliberate and decisive. I do think my reputation precedes me through my hard work with citizens and on issues and as a straight-shooter.