Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) will not seek re-election in 2024


An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Maryland Rep. Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard) was the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Atterbeary is chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. This article has been corrected.

Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) announced Thursday he will not seek a 10th term in 2024, creating an open congressional seat and ending a tenure that earned him praise as a champion of campaign finance reform.

Sarbanes’s announcement, which surprised Maryland politics watchers, was posted in a statement on his House website that said he hoped to return to work with communities and nonprofits “to explore the many opportunities to serve that exist outside of elected office.”

Sarbanes, 61, said he intends to stay focused on the remaining 14 months of his term but announced his plans now so that potential successors have time for campaigns.

Sarbanes made a mark with his efforts to transform campaign finance laws, using his campaigns as a guinea pig to test out his ideas. He would set aside high-dollar donations and not touch them until he had raised at least $1,000 in small-dollar contributions from 100 precincts in his district.

He worked on a public campaign finance system for the better part of 15 years, known as the For the People Act. In his statement, Sarbanes said that Rep. Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.) “has agreed to shepherd the passage of the Freedom to Vote Act in the next Congress.”

A Baltimore native, Sarbanes worked for the Maryland State Department of Education before running for Congress, following in the footsteps of his father, the late senator Paul Sarbanes.

His 3rd Congressional District stretches through some Democratic strongholds in the central Maryland suburbs, including parts of Howard and Anne Arundel counties, as well as a sliver of more-conservative Carroll County.

His departure creates the third open contest in Maryland’s 10-person congressional delegation, with highly competitive races for the U.S. Senate and Maryland’s 6th District in Western Maryland already underway.

The announcement sparked a flood of well-wishes from the Democratic establishment and a behind-the-scenes scramble to weigh a congressional seat that until Thursday was widely considered occupied.

Potential Democratic contenders floated privately cover a roster of political heavyweights that includes legislative leaders and two sitting county executives: House Ways and Means Committee Chair Vanessa E. Atterbeary (D-Howard), Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D), Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D), state Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), state Sen. Dawn Gile (D-Anne Arundel) and state Sen. Sarah K. Elfreth (D-Anne Arundel).

Pittman and Ball released statements praising Sarbanes but without mentioning their future ambitions.

“John Sarbanes is the kind of American we need more of,” Pittman said. “His service over the last eighteen years in Congress has inspired me personally and many others, over and over again. Thank you, John, for fighting to get big money out of politics, working to restore our Bay, and confronting poverty and all of its impacts.”

Pittman said later in a text message he planned to continue in his post.

Ball declined to address whether he planned to run for the seat and pointed to his statement posted on X, formerly Twitter, calling Sarbanes “a steadfast partner in serving our residents. From serving our community through the covid-19 pandemic and the federal shutdown of 2019 to empowering our students, families and veterans, he has remained a valued leader.”

Sarbanes said in his statement that serving in Congress has been “a truly humbling opportunity to make a difference.”


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