Josh Kurtz: 25 Republican Rising Stars

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Leaders of the Maryland Republican Party made a tactical mistake.

By inviting Donald Trump to headline their annual “Red, White and Blue” Dinner the other day, they stepped all over their message -- and made it difficult to focus on the fact that their titular leader, Gov. Larry Hogan (R), just announced that he has cancer.

Sure, Trump put fannies in the seats and drew media attention, and at least he had the good graces to publicly wish Hogan well.

But even with Hogan's sad and sobering diagnosis, Maryland Republicans for once have a few things to celebrate: a new governor whose first five months in office have been a success, and who is only going to engender more good will for the foreseeable future; the most robust farm team in memory; and an intriguing cast of up-and-comers from just about every corner of the state, and representing every GOP faction.

So it seems like a good time to spotlight some of the state’s Republican rising stars, who didn't get their due at the dinner.

The three newly-elected county executives – Barry Glassman in Harford County, Allen Kittleman in Howard County, and Steve Schuh of Anne Arundel County – aren’t on this list, because they’ve already arrived. All could be contenders for statewide office some day.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford (R) is more of a talented government manager than a traditional political figure. But he could certainly have a bright political future if he wants one -- and we'll be learning a lot about him in the coming months, as he fills in frequently for the ailing governor.

And while she is suspect to some of the more conservative elements of her party – and that could impede any political advancement – former Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman (R) has valuable business experience, a compelling personal story, and undeniable star power.

The people we’re spotlighting here are a rung or two down the political ladder – or are political leaders who don’t hold elective office. All will be worth watching in the years ahead.

We offer the usual caveats about how this isn’t meant to be a definitive list, and how we are undoubtedly leaving plenty of good people off. But without further ado, here are 25 Republicans to watch, in alphabetical order:

Steve Crim: It was inevitable that Gov. Larry Hogan’s campaign manager was going to be a big deal after guiding Hogan to his stunning upset last November. But it’s interesting that Crim, who could be so valuable to so many national Republicans – presidential contenders, candidates for Senate, etc. – has chosen to stay close to home for now, as Hogan’s director of public affairs in the State House and leading political adviser.

Diane Croghan: Schuh’s chief of staff, who has worked in Anne Arundel politics and for top Republicans in the State House, may be the most sought-after GOP strategist in the state these days after Crim. You could see her career going in any number of different and interesting directions.

Michael Esteve: Social media-savvy millennial who co-founded the group Maryland Republicans for Marriage Equality, should be a key voice in the party’s moderate wing for years to come.

John Fiastro: Chief of staff to State Sen. Steve Hershey (R), former Baltimore County GOP chairman and son of a Cuban immigrant is barely 30. He’s going places.

Henri Gardner: Smart, well-rounded Bowie city councilman is a registered Democrat. But he endorsed Hogan for governor and it would not be surprising to see him wind up in the administration – or on a GOP ticket down the line.

Mike Gill: He may not have political aspirations of his own, but Hogan’s secretary of Business and Economic Development will be integral to Hogan’s success.

Robin Grammer: Part of the GOP sweep in Baltimore County’s legislative Dist. 6 last fall, this freshman delegate is a former steelworker who turns 35 later this year.

Marina Hardy: A top consultant for Hogan’s Change Maryland organization, she’s now a sought-after Annapolis lobbyist and strategist.

Steve and Wendy Hershey: Two for the price of one! He: State Senator. She: Top aide to Hogan.

Patrick Hogan: Was it just a coincidence that he decided not to seek a third term in the House of Delegates in the same year his big brother was running for governor? Now a trusted adviser in the governor’s legislative affairs shop, but he’s only 36. With two politicians for parents, it would not be surprising to see him run for office again – maybe for Congress in Dist. 6 or for Frederick County executive.

Michael Hough: Ousted a sitting senator in a contentious 2014 GOP primary. He’s conservative, but doesn’t wear his ideology on his sleeve. At 35, he should rise in Senate GOP leadership, but could also have several other political options to consider down the line.

J.B. Jennings: State Senate minority leader, 41, is already being mentioned as a future candidate for Congress.

Nic Kipke: The state House minority leader is only 36, but he’s already a seasoned and savvy legislative veteran who has impressed both Republicans and Democrats since he rose to his leadership position. And he represents Anne Arundel County, which means other intriguing opportunities may be available to him.

David Marks: 42-year-old Baltimore County councilman hailed for his bipartisanship, could also wind up running for Congress one day.

Johnny Mautz: 44-year-old freshman delegate from the Eastern Shore, a tavern owner with deep roots in his community and a friendly personality that could carry him far.

Mike McKay: Savvy 46-year-old businessman from Allegany County arrived in Annapolis as a freshman delegate this year with his wife and eight children – who are home-schooled. Previously served as president of the Board of County Commissioners.

Christian Miele: 34-year-old freshman delegate from Baltimore County, a lawyer and Towson grad, has rising star written all over him.

Warren Miller: He’s only 50, and already he has a wealth of political experience – 13 years representing Howard County in the House of Delegates, work in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, and on national and congressional campaigns. Plus, as a stockbroker, he has intimate knowledge of the nation’s financial system. A savvy political operator and a good guy to have in a foxhole.

Matt Morgan: 42-year-old former professional drag racer, who grew up on a tobacco farm, zoomed past political scion Daniel Slade (D) to win the St. Mary’s County House of Delegates seat long held by Democrat Johnny Wood.

Mike Pantelides: It’s been a bumpy ride for Annapolis’ 31-year-old mayor, but he confounded Democrats by upsetting their own young incumbent in 2013, and he’ll confound them again if he can win reelection in 2017. If that happens, he could have a very bright future.

Justin Ready: Newly-appointed state senator, and previous delegate and Annapolis staffer, with just the right conservative profile for Carroll County – and maybe beyond.

Kelly Schulz: Now settling in as secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, where she is uniquely situated to advance her pro-business agenda, after a term in the House of Delegates. It would not be surprising to see her run for Congress or Frederick County executive – or on someone’s gubernatorial ticket – before long.

Graham Shafer: Baltimore-based partner in the powerhouse national GOP consulting firm OnMessage Inc., has worked with clients around the country and at every level of government -- including Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who just launched a presidential bid. Also works with sports industry clients. 

Kathy Szilega: Delegate and longtime aide to Congressman Andy Harris (R), has legislative and organizational chops – and it helps being the one non-bomb thrower in your district’s House delegation.

Matt Teffeau: Maryland Farm Bureau lobbyist and former Harris staffer with political smarts and boyish good looks.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.

But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.

The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.

In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.

Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.