Photo By Tom Williams/Roll Call
Entering House race in Maryland, Lesley Lopez seeks to ‘build on’ Trone’s work
Lopez tells JI she’s not yet ready to lay out an approach to the BDS movement or other key Middle East policy questions
The race to succeed Rep. David Trone (D-MD) is becoming increasingly competitive as several new candidates have recently launched campaigns for the open House seat covering western Maryland.
Lesley Lopez, a state legislator from Montgomery County, was the second Democrat to enter the primary earlier this month, weeks after Trone announced he would run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD).
“I saw this as an opportunity to really build on some of the great work he’s doing,” Lopez, 39, said in an interview with Jewish Insider on Tuesday. “I really respect how Congressman Trone has created a great standard for constituent services and been a leader on opioids.” Through his position on the House Appropriations Committee, “he’s brought a lot of great money back to the district that’s made a difference,” she added. “I’ve worked with his office a lot.”
But Lopez was unable to clarify her positions on one of Trone’s top issues: Israel. The three-term congressman, an AIPAC “minyan” donor, has been a staunch supporter of pro-Israel causes during his time in the House, where he is among the most outspoken critics of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
For her part, Lopez said she was not ready to explain her approach to the BDS movement or other key Middle East policy questions such as U.S. security funding to Israel. “I just don’t really know enough to even know what I don’t know yet,” she acknowledged. “I would need to do a little bit more research before really going into the details.”
Lopez said she is now in the early stages of engaging in outreach to inform her views on such issues. “Those conversations are ongoing, and they’re a part of me just developing more of an understanding of the nuances,” she told JI, but declined to share specifics. “I certainly believe in a two-state solution. But outside of that, I think there’s obviously a lot of nuance to the situation and a lot of information to process.”
The two-term legislator is one of five Democrats now competing in the primary, including Mia Mason and George Gluck, both former congressional candidates; Stephen McDow, a Maryland businessman and self-described Blue Dog Democrat; and Joe Vogel, a Montgomery County lawmaker and Jewish activist who has called himself a pro-Israel progressive.
Lopez said she considers herself a “pragmatic progressive,” claiming that “every bill” she had passed in the state legislature drew backing from members of both parties. “That’s going to be really important in this district,” she said, “being able to advance these ideals in a way where you can gain bipartisan support and work across the aisle with folks.”
Among other efforts, Lopez cited bills in which she worked to address healthcare shortages, ban the sale of ghost guns and improve hate crimes reporting. “I’ve been working on issues in the state legislature that lend themselves to a lot of federal policy,” she told JI. As a member of Congress, for instance, Lopez said she “would follow the same path of looking to partners within law enforcement and within the various communities that get targeted by hate crimes.”
Lopez said she has worked with the Jewish community “pretty extensively” during her time as a lawmaker. “It’s been a really effective tool, I’ve seen, to reach different populations by reaching out to leaders of the faith communities to do constituent services,” she said, recalling that she had conferred with a local rabbi as well as an imam, a priest and a reverend to write a prayer she delivered on the chamber floor. “That’s kind of a nice thing, a symbolic thing that shows the unity between all of those communities.”
Lopez grew up in Southern California and comes from what she described as “a long line” of military veterans, including a great uncle who served as an interrogator during the Nuremberg trials. “He’s an inspiration to me in a lot of ways,” she said.
Lopez, who now works as a media and communications consultant, graduated from U.C. San Diego and received her master’s of public administration from The George Washington University. Before entering politics, she held various positions in broadcast journalism. Later, she served as a communications director for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and as a press secretary for Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), among other roles.
In 2018, Lopez was elected to Maryland’s House of Delegates, where she has been president of the Women’s Legislative Caucus. She is currently a member of the Health and Government Operations Committee.
Lopez believes she is well-positioned in the primary, alluding to a list of nearly 40 endorsements from local elected officials that she expects to roll out over the next few months.
But the race could draw some candidates with potentially wider name recognition, including former Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner and April McLain-Delaney, a deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Commerce and the wife of former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD). Tekesha Martinez, the mayor of Hagerstown, “will have an announcement about her plans by the second week of July,” her adviser, Brett Guessford, told JI on Tuesday.
Len Foxwell, a Democratic strategist in Maryland, said the district “has a propensity for electing centrists” like Trone and Delaney, who held the seat between 2013 and 2019.
The House Republican campaign arm sees the race as competitive, even as it has yet to attract any marquee candidates to the primary in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, which extends to rural and conservative portions of the state.
Like Vogel, Lopez won’t have to give up her current seat if she loses because she is only at the beginning of her second four-year term. If elected, her top priorities in Congress, she said broadly, would include healthcare reform, infrastructure investment, reproductive choice and combating the opioid crisis.
Meanwhile, as the race progresses, Lopez said she is “in the process” of arriving at her own positions on issues relating to Israel and the Middle East. “I want to make sure that I’m not rushing.”