Eric Swalwell, a member of the Class of 2006 and a freshman member of Congress, was once a Division I collegiate soccer player. That figures, because tracing his path to Capitol Hill is a lot like following a bouncing ball.
The California native upset 20-term incumbent Pete Stark on Nov. 6 to win a seat from the Golden State's 15th Congressional District. He was helped by two fortuitous changes to state law: an independent commission that redrew the Congressional maps, putting Stark in a mostly new district; and a new primary system that pits the top two primary finishers, regardless of party, against each other in the general election. Swalwell and Stark are both Democrats. After that, it was up to Swalwell and his campaign supporters to grind out the campaign.
"We started as longshots back in September of 2011," he said, "but we went out there, did all the work, and talked to the voters."
He also got help from his law school friends, even ones back on the other side of the country.
"When I learned Eric was running for Congress, I immediately offered to support his campaign," said classmate Susanna Samet, who co-hosted two fundraisers at her home in Washington with help from classmates Kevin Madagan and Azim Chowdhury. "Not only because he is a friend, but because he is smart, open-minded, and optimistic about government and its ability to be a force for positive change."
Another classmate, Mitch Rothenberg, took a detour while on a West Coast business trip to volunteer on a phone bank.
Swalwell is an Alameda County prosecutor, a career goal he had from the time he enrolled in the University of Maryland School of Law. Part of his preparation for that experience was by serving as a public defender in a clinic overseen by Professor Jerome Deise. The experience not only gave Swalwell an appreciation for the role and work of the criminal defense bar, but it opened his eyes to the plight of many defendants.
Swalwell recalled working with one client, "Kenny," who faced charges related to heroin sales. "I want to get clean so I can get a job," the man told Swalwell. He liked cars, and knew he could make money washing them. So Swalwell set up Kenny with soap, water and rags, and encouraged other students to bring their cars to a fundraiser for the man's treatment program. "He really proved himself," recalled Swalwell, who was also impressed by "the compassion of my classmates."
He enrolled at UM Carey Law after finishing his undergraduate studies at University of Maryland, College Park. He enrolled there only after his collegiate soccer career was cut short after his sophomore year by an injury. Swalwell had picked Campbell University in North Carolina because it offered him a chance to play right away on a Division 1 program. He stayed on the East Coast that summer in order to work in the Washington office of Rep. Ellen Tauscher, who represented his hometown district back in Dublin, Calif. Another employee in the office, a UMD grad, suggested he continue his studies there.
Among other things, Swalwell used his time in College Park to help create the position of student liaison to the College Park city council. When that effort succeeded he became the first student to fill the position.
"I think everyone who knew Eric in law school knew that he was passionate about public service and would find ways to be involved in his community, whether through his service as a local prosecutor or in elected office," said Samet.
And now that he's pulled off what started as an unlikely quest, Swalwell said, " want to work hard on what I told the voters I would do," including job creation, promoting green energy, immigration reform and constituent service.
Also on Nov. 6, two other University of Maryland Carey School of Law graduates in Congress won re-election by comfortable margins.
Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, Class of 1976, has represented parts of Baltimore since 1996. He collected three out of every four votes cast in his District 6 race against Republican Frank Mirabile and Libertarian Ronald Owens-Bey.
Senator Ben Cardin '67, who served 10 terms in the House before winning a Senate seat in 2006, won his second term in the upper chamber by taking 53.5 percent of the vote against spirited challenges by Republican Daniel Bongino and independent candidate Rob Sobhani.
Both Cummings and Cardin are Democrats who served in the Maryland House of Delegates before seeking national office. While he was speaker of the Maryland House, Cardin promoted a requirement, which ultimately bore his name, that all full-time UM Carey School of Law students must take courses that provide practical, hands-on experience in the law, and preferably provide direct professional contact to citizens who are poor or otherwise lack access to justice.
Lynne A. Battaglia, a member of the Class of 1974, handily won election to continue on the Court of Appeals, Maryland's highest court of review, with 86 percent of the vote. She has represents much of Western Maryland on the court since January 2001.
And while Gov. Martin J. O'Malley, '88, was not on the ballot, a slate of initiatives that he supported were all approved. These measures included: the DREAM Act, providing a path to in-state tuition at state universities for undocumented immigrants; legalization of same-sex civil marriages; and expansion of gambling in Maryland.