By EMILY HAILE
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Steve Warner stopped commuting to Washington from Southern Maryland so he could make pancakes for his children every morning. But the 41-year-old construction manager is prepared to start commuting again—if it's to the Capitol.
Warner is running as a Green Party candidate for Congress in Maryland's 5th District against the area's longest-serving congressman and second-ranking House Democrat, Steny Hoyer.
Some say he's crazy to run against such a powerful incumbent, but Warner is undaunted. He's worked hard his whole life.
He and nine siblings grew up milking cows by hand on the family's hobby farm in Connecticut.
After a five-year stint in the U.S. Naval Construction Force and a few years in the family construction business, he got a degree in engineering from Arizona State University and started his own company. He now manages finances for Duball LLC, a Virginia-based development firm with offices in California, Md.
Warner lives nearby in Solomons with his wife of 10 years, Shuchita Warner, their 5-year-old daughter, Saejal, and 7-year-old son, Sheanan.
He builds furniture and tinkers with his white, 1962 Ford Thunderbird convertible in his spare time.
Though he's never run for office or been formally involved in any civic or professional associations, Warner says his experience managing multi-million-dollar development projects has given him the ability to get things done on a grand scale.
A few years back, he was a senior project manager for the development of Gallery Place, a $200 million retail space in the heart of Washington, D.C.
Warner wants to get "new blood" into Congress. Though he can't pinpoint what exactly drove him to run this year, he said a combination of his turning 40, improving the world for his young children and his frustration with the handling of various issues propelled him into the race.
He talks passionately about working class people forced to live paycheck to paycheck, and wants politicians to be held accountable to them.
"He's had to work very hard for really everything that he's achieved in his life," said his wife, who met him while he was working his way through school.
In 2001, the couple moved to Southern Maryland to raise their family. About six months ago, the local Green Party agreed to back him.
That support came without dollar signs: Warner has raised less than $2,000 to Hoyer's $1.8 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Given the limited funding, his style is grass roots. He's campaigned at Metro stops, held signs at busy intersections and handed out fliers at local Loews, Home Depots, Targets and K-Marts.
"He's put a lot of energy into his campaign," said Chris Schmitthenner, a member of the Green Party's Southern Maryland chapter. She described Warner as "a regular guy," a family man who is very approachable. She said he's serious about the issues, but also has a sense of humor.
Even that energy may not be enough to overcome Hoyer's power of incumbency.
"There are a lot of very competitive races in this area and this is not one of them," said Zach Messitte, a political science professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland.
Hoyer is much more than an entrenched officeholder, said Messitte. "He's the godfather of the Maryland Democratic Party."
Moreover, his protection of the Patuxent Naval Air Station has earned him respect across party lines.
If Warner is running to win, it's "silly," Messitte said, but if he's running to raise awareness about issues that he feels are particularly important, that's more credible.
"I believe I do have a chance," Warner said. "You don't have a chance if you don't involve yourself."
Foremost on Warner's list of issues is cleaning house.
"Career politicians become polluted by the system and can no longer function as representatives of the people," he said.
Infighting and catering to special interests has eroded public trust.
"(Hoyer) is one of the top leaders of the 'Do-Nothing Congress'," said Warner, using Hoyer's catch-phrase to describe the Republican-controlled House.
"He's become part of the problem."
Warner is so idealistic that he's rejecting money from environmental groups because he says they represent causes or corporations, rather than people. He only accepts donations from individuals.
Messitte says that's not the way the game is played.
"Raising money is a fact of politics," said Messitte. "Even the Supreme Court has said so."
Values are more important, Warner said.
"Just because something is a challenge doesn't mean it shouldn't be done," he said. "With persistence, Goliath fell."