COLLEGE PARK — District 21 Maryland House of Delegates candidate Ray Ranker, the first and only person to run for this position as an Independent, received 350 individual donations as the only candidate not accepting campaign contributions from Political Actions Committees (PACs) or corporations.
“For me, the biggest issue by far is the outside influence of big money over our politics and politicians and I was one of many who has just been hoping there would be a change in the system and just watching that never materialize,” Ranker said. “It was time to stop complaining and start doing something about it.”
Ranker is running for District 21 delegate which consists of Laurel, Beltsville, College Park, Adelphi, Odenton, Piney Orchard and Gambrills. He is up against democratic incumbents Ben Barnes and Joseline Pena-Melnyk, democratic candidate Mary Lehman who currently holds Prince George’s County Council District 1 office and republicans Chike Anyanwu and Richard Douglas. Three people will be elected for the position.
The biggest reason Ranker is running without taking any corporate funding is to show that the conventional wisdom that candidates have to take corporate and special interest money to win an election is wrong. He said he sees that people are dissatisfied with the current system and want things to change. He wants to be that change for state residents.
It has been an uphill battle for his campaign to take small donations of only $5, $50 and sometimes as little as $3 instead of taking a $6,000 check from a large corporation. Initially, Ranker said he hoped to get his opponents on board with the plan in order to make a difference in the election system together but he ended up being alone in the endeavor. He was even told by a current delegate that he had to do what it takes to get to the table and not taking special interest money was not going to get him there.
Despite this, Ranker held strong in his determination to run an entirely publicly financed campaign and so far it has paid off by reaching 350 individual donations.
“Ray is a very authentic guy and I think in our politics many people, including myself, are fed up with the lack of authenticity and personally knowing him he’s very genuine, he’s very authentic,” said Matt Aujero, campus minister at the University of Maryland Catholic Student Center.
Aujero got to know Ranker working at the school, where Ranker is a Lutheran pastor, and has always been struck by his great love for people and his ability to work with people of different backgrounds. He said he loves that Ranker is running without special interest contributions and truly believes in it.
“I think when people take contributions from big organizations it can sway our judgement so I appreciate that he’s trying to do it the right way and I believe more people should do that,” Aujero said. “It would totally level the playing field in our politics.”
Ranker said he has gotten very positive reactions from the community who like that he is running a very grassroots campaign. Out of the thousands of people he has talked to, only three have said they wouldn’t consider him because he is not running as a Democrat or Republican.
“We’ve knocked on thousands and thousands of doors, we’ve had thousands of conversations and events, every night I’m out there,” Ranker said. “People really appreciate that I’m not taking corporate or special interest money. No matter where they are on the map there is universal positive feedback on that.”
Publicly financed elections is not something that only Ranker is advocating for. The Prince George’s County Council recently voted to pass fair elections legislation, a bill that Ranker has been very supportive of and believes will be huge part of fixing the elections system on the county level.
“I’m not willing to wait until there’s a change in the law at the state level to run in the way I think is best for our community,” he said. “What we’re doing by foregoing something that is perfectly legal, collecting those contributions, what we’re saying is we’re going to make this change whether leaders in Annapolis make it happen or not.”
Fair elections legislation has already been passed in Montgomery County, Howard County and Washington, D.C. and Baltimore City will vote on a referendum in November to go forward with legislation. The bill was introduced in Prince George’s County in January and there have been three briefings on it. The county council voted to pass the bill on Tuesday, Oct. 23.
“Money influences, right?” said Suchitra Balachandran, chair of the Prince George’s County chapter of Our Revolution who has heavily advocated for fair elections in the county. “I think we all know that. It may not be very overt, but I think people end up being grateful to those who have contributed and at least lend their ear more willingly to those who have contributed.
“I think it took him a lot of effort to get the signatures because he is running as an Independent candidate and that was his first success that he was able to qualify and the fact that he was able to raise $25,000 I think is really impressive.”
Ranker ran as an Independent because of the growing polarization of partisanship that jeopardizes the common good for the county and the two party system that leads people to vote for the lesser of two evils.
As pastor and chaplain at University of Maryland, he strives to serve, listen to, respect and love anybody who comes in the door and plans to take that mentality into office as a delegate to the community as well as those he is running against who he doesn’t see as opponents but as potential colleagues who he hopes to work with respectfully.
“I want to get away from this language that I’m the good guy and everybody else is the bad guy. Whoever else would be elected with me, I would work hard with. I would expect we’d have great conversation and we’d do what we can for the people of the 21st district of the state.”
Having been an activist in Annapolis and Washington, D.C. lobbying around various justice issues, Ranker’s goals as delegate, should he be elected, are to focus on first and foremost education as well as affordable health care, the environment and better infrastructure and transportation in addition to changing the narrative around funding elections.
“My hope is that we can be a part of a movement and show people all around the state there is a new conventionalism,” Ranker said. “You don’t need to take that money to win.”