ROCKVILLE – At a time when candidates running the Democratic primary for Maryland’s 8th Congressional District have shown little difference on policy positions, newcomer Dan Bolling is campaigning as an outsider to his own party.
The Bethesda resident, the ninth and final Democrat to successfully file candidacy papers for this year’s election, is calling for an upheaval in how Congress functions, advocating a ban on parties’ naming their own majority and minority leaders.
Instead, Bolling said, Congress should organize itself in a fashion similar to the state legislature in Nebraska, where legislators vote by secret ballot for the unicameral body’s speakership.
He would like to see committee chairmanships established the same way.
Bolling’s never visited Nebraska, he confirmed during a Tuesday morning interview at Crem Cafe, so he’s never seen the Cornhusker State’s legislature operate in person.
That’s one potential drawback for a candidate who’s banking some of his most pronounced ideas on reorganizing the Congress.
“I think that what will differentiate me is fixing Congress as a first priority,” said Bolling, later adding, “I would get rid of the official, institutional structure of the party system” in Congress.
He explained the way to win votes on the issue is to appeal to members of both parties’ “desire to be meaningful.”
“You got here because you’ve got some chops,” he said, making the case members want to control their own votes more than follow the commands of party leadership.
“I’m not saying it’s a cakewalk. But the payoff could be so huge,” he added.
Bolling is not new to electoral politics; he placed fourth out of five candidates competing for Indiana’s Sixth Congressional District in 2012 with 14 percent of the vote, although he still split residency between Indiana and Maryland at the time.
Born in Richmond, Indiana, a graduate of Indiana University, the 65-year-old Bolling moved to Montgomery County in the late 1980s, where he worked in the biotechnology field.
He called himself an “independent-minded” Democrat and trained negotiator with a similar demeanor to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D).
Bolling said he firmly moved from considering himself an independent to being a Democrat in 2008 when U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) picked onetime Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) as his running mate.
The Bethesda resident said his parents still owned property in the Indiana district, so he ran with that as his residence to qualify for the ballot in the open seat formerly held by Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R).
“If you try to run for Congress, you look for an open seat,” said Bolling, who acknowledged voters “knew I was carpet-bagging.”
U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-8) is vacating his seat to run for U.S. Senate, creating an open seat in the Eighth District.
Bolling credited his website with keeping him competitive in the Indiana race, though he didn’t launch it until 12 days before the primary.
When Bolling filed for office last week, his website redirected to his LinkedIn page, which featured few policy position details outside of links to stories about Nebraska’s legislature.
“Well, the website will be up within a week. You can’t win with a LinkedIn page, but it’s a pretty attractive placeholder in the meantime,” he said.
Bolling starts the campaign with three volunteer advisers. He acknowledged he has low name recognition in a district engulfed in the Washington, D.C., media market, one of the most expensive in the country for purchasing advertising time on television and radio.
He’s also running against three state legislators in state Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-20) and state Dels. Kumar Barve (D-17) and Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-18), former television news anchor Kathleen Matthews (D) and Total Wine and More co-owner David Trone (D) along with three other competitors: Will Jawando (D), David Anderson (D) and Joel Rubin (D).
“Jeb Bush clearly shows that money does not determine outcome in races,” said Bolling, referring to the former Florida governor campaigning for president.
He later added, “When you have a very divided field, historically, there’s a case where the winner won with 19 percent… That precedent inspires me.”
With reform of Congress as his chief issue, Bolling said he would allow three constituents every week to follow every move he made in Congress: one Republican, one Democrat and one independent.
The only exception would be for sensitive constituent service requests. Bolling said he would even open his email account to constituents though he acknowledged that could create privacy concerns for constituents who send him emails they expect to be kept private.
“Observation changes behavior,” said Bolling. “They will dog me all day long.”
Bolling also supports a bill by U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-6) for candidates in all congressional elections across the country to run in open, nonpartisan blanket primaries instead of allowing the parties themselves to nominate their candidates.
It’s a system used in California and Louisiana. Delaney said he authored his bill, H.R. 2655, “because we need election reform in this country and we need a Congress that better represents the interests of the people.”
Delaney noted the bill calls for the nationwide use of independent redistricting commissions, creates open primaries so independents can vote and makes Election Day a holiday “so more working people and parents can vote.”
In a “jungle” primary, all of the Republican, Democratic, third party and independent candidates run together on the same ballot as if they all qualified for the general election.
The two candidates who win the most votes then move on to face each other in the actual general election.
So that means two Democrats or two Republicans or a combination of both or neither major party could advance to the general election instead of a more traditional ballot of one Democrat, one Republican and any third-party and independent candidates.
Bolling initially said he wanted the top four vote earners to advance to the general election but backtracked when told that could create a situation where the final winner is chosen more often by a plurality than today.
While some states do allow plurality winners in a general election without a run-off, most of the 2014 congressional winners claimed victory with at least 50 percent of the vote, making plurality victors rare in Congress.
Bolling also supports reforming the way congressional districts are drawn. He credits
“The only other candidate that I know to be well-versed and motivated in this area, who has written for decades about the evil of gerrymandering, creating districts where you have no competition, is Jamie Raskin,” said Bolling.
The primary is set for April 26. Bolling confirmed he will participate at The Sentinel’s candidate debate Feb. 27 in Rockville.