WASHINGTON – State Del. John Morgan thinks it just might take a rocket scientist to beat Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer for Maryland’s 5th District seat – and he is aiming to try.
A senior research engineer at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, Morgan is known by many of his Statehouse colleagues as “the rocket scientist,” because of his work investigating cruise missile failures.
The Prince George’s County Republican said his scientific background places him in a “very unique position” to strengthen the scientific voice in the attorney-dominated Congress.
“I’d like to push for strong intellectual property rights [and] strong patent rights,” he said. Morgan said he would like to use his technical expertise on the House Science Committee to help decide the future of the nation’s defense system and NASA.
His background would also help him present a new perspective in dealing with environmental issues, said Morgan, who announced for the seat Oct. 7. He said he understands the technical side of issues such as emissions.
Many of Morgan’s colleagues in Annapolis said he is hard- working and intelligent, but some question the 31-year-old’s ability to defeat an eight-term congressman.
Morgan has to “show that he’s going to be more than just another Gingrich clone,” said Richard Parsons, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.
State Del. James Rosapepe, a Prince George’s County Democrat who joined Morgan in fighting plans to build a Redskins stadium in Laurel, said defeating Hoyer would be difficult because he “has established himself as a very good congressman who is in touch with his constituents.”
State Del. Gerald Curran, D-Baltimore, said Morgan is “bright, conscientious and hard-working.” But Curran said the government shutdown under the Republican Congress will work to Hoyer’s advantage.
Morgan, of Laurel, is undaunted. “It’s a big challenge, but I don’t think it’s impossible in the least,” he said.
State Sen. Martin Madden, R-Prince George’s, agreed. “People have consistently underestimated John,” he said.
Despite a district that leans Democratic, Madden said Morgan has a good chance to win because “Democrats have already shown a propensity to vote for John Morgan.” He was elected as a delegate representing Prince George’s and Howard counties in 1990 and 1994.
“I think John’s chances are the best of any Republican candidate,” Madden said of Morgan, whose party affiliation is displayed on his navy blue elephant-patterned tie.
Morgan is the only Republican who has filed to run with the state elections board.
The 5th District includes Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties, as well as parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties.
Joyce Lyons-Terhes, chairwoman of the Maryland Republican Party, said Morgan offers “a sharp contrast to Steny Hoyer … believing in less government, less taxes, being tough on crime and then doing what’s necessary to really have quality schools.”
But Martin Frost, a Texas Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Hoyer has a firm hold on his district.
Morgan became involved in politics in 1988, when, as voter registration chairman for the Howard County Republican Party, he registered 10,000 voters. The following year, he served as chairman of the Citizens’ Advisory Committee of the county Board of Education.
In 1990, the same year he was elected to the House of Delegates, he earned his Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Johns Hopkins University.
In the Statehouse, the battle to keep the Redskins out of Laurel was one of his favorite issues. “I thought he took a very constructive, aggressive leadership role that made an impact in protecting the community,” Rosapepe said.
Although the stadium would not be in his district, Morgan said he was concerned about safety and noise because a high volume of traffic would be traveling through the district’s neighborhoods to get to the games.
His favorite legislative battle in Annapolis has been a continuing one since 1992, to give citizens a right to initiate legislation in the Statehouse. “That’s my baby,” he said.
Although Morgan’s bill has not passed, it gains more votes every year, Madden said. He said Morgan’s advocacy of citizens’ rights will appeal to voters.
In his nine months outside the Statehouse, Morgan usually returns to his position at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, where he has worked since 1984.
But, now, he is working under a fellowship subsidized by the American Physical Society, creating new patent legislation for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican.
This work allows Morgan to combine his political and scientific interests for the first time, he said.
If elected, Morgan said he would support some Republican efforts to balance the budget by 2002 and ban politicians from accepting gifts from lobbyists.
He also has some of his own plans to pursue. He said he supports a flat tax with deductions for charitable contributions and mortgages, as well as an individual deduction that would keep the working poor off the tax rolls.
He’ll have to overcome a huge fund-raising deficit. As of June 30, Morgan had $3,270 in the bank and Hoyer had $203,489.
Morgan said he hopes to raise half of what Hoyer raises. But, he said, money is not a big factor because his most of campaigning consists of grassroots efforts.
“John’s going to be outspent. We know that,” Madden said. “But John’s out there every morning getting his name out on the side of the road … waving to commuters.”