Josh Kurtz: The Future Is Now?

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – You pop in late to the Maryland Democratic Party’s fancy lunch at the spectacular, glass-enclosed Mint Museum in Uptown Charlotte the other day, and the first thing you hear is Steny Hoyer’s stentorian voice, full of historical self-reference (“I first met Sargent Shriver in 1962…”), barbs against Republicans, flattery for fellow Maryland Democrats, a mention of his late wife Judy, and jokes about how young/old he is.

So you can’t help but think, “Here we go again.” This is a speech that could have been delivered in 2002, 1992 and 1982 – and probably was.

Then you look around the bright and airy room, first longingly at the shrimp lunch that you will not be able to eat and the white wine you so badly want to pour down your gullet, then at all the faces you’ve grown so accustomed to seeing in all your years of covering Maryland politics: Ben Cardin. Parris Glendening. Ike Leggett. Colleen Martin-Lauer. Elijah Cummings. John Willis. Joanne Benson. Fraser Smith. Greg Pecoraro. A metaphor involving “The Picture of Dorian Gray” inevitably comes to mind (of course, someone could say the same about you – and no doubt has).

Every media person in the room is hot on the “Martin O’Malley 2016” story, and so are many other reporters covering the Democratic National Convention. But the storyline seems played already.

Among Maryland Democrats here, the panting anticipation ahead of the 2014 elections is palpable. But the talk is all small ball:

“Doug Gansler played golf with Mike Miller today!” “

“Anthony Brown’s T-shirts were made in Jordan!”

“Jim Rosapepe is the only candidate for comptroller who bothered to show up!”

As if divining the meaning of these non-developments will somehow unlock the key to the entire 2014 narrative.

So the self-loathing takes over. You flash on James Stockdale’s memorable line, “Why am I here?” Or maybe Hunter Thompson’s question, at the start of his indispensable book, “Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72”: “Is this trip really necessary?”

And yet. And yet. And yet.

Occasionally, evidence breaks through that the tired old Maryland Democratic Party scene may not be so tired after all.

Close to two-thirds of the state delegates are attending their first national convention, a suggestion that – yes! – there’s fresh blood out there. The diversity in the delegation is real, awe-inspiring and moving.

At the packed Mint Museum lunch, the officeholder who got the biggest applause – a standing O, in fact – was Donna Edwards, the highest-ranking practitioner of regularly extending a middle finger to the state party establishment. That’s something to contemplate.

With Calvin Ball’s efforts to organize minority county officials in Maryland, with Karen Britto’s push to elect more minority candidates in Montgomery County, with Emerge Maryland, the new women’s political group, you can almost see the future.

And speaking of the future, the excitement over the 2014 election is justified – even if some of the candidates seem like they’ve been around forever and much of the early skirmishing seems trivial, if not outright ridiculous. Around the state, 2014 is shaping up to be a time of great political upheaval, unmatched since 1986 (or at the very least, the more modest shakeup of 2006).

Back in '86, the governor’s and attorney general’s offices were open. Two House members were running for Senate, so their seats were up for grabs. Congressman Parren Mitchell retired, paving the way for Kweisi Mfume’s election. Three counties chose new executives. And the presiding officers in both legislative chambers were seeking higher office, so their jobs became vacant.

Assuming Peter Franchot runs for governor, all three statewide positions will be up for grabs in 2014 – the first time that’s happened since who knows when? (All three offices turned over in 2006, but only because two incumbents lost.) Several candidates are already running for comptroller and AG, and, of course, governor, which means people are starting to mobilize to replace the would-be replacements, and on and on down the line.

Four of the six county executive slots will also be open in two years’ time – Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard and, if Leggett keeps to his plan to retire, Montgomery. And the state this year will almost certainly elect one new member of Congress this year, John Delaney.

Four of the five potential Democratic candidates for governor – Anthony Brown, Doug Gansler, Heather Mizeur and Ken Ulman – are currently younger than 50. Bob Ehrlich and O’Malley were in their early '40s when they were elected governor, and their youth added a little excitement (along with an element of brattiness) to the proceedings in Annapolis – never a bad thing.

You move around delegation events, and there, in a bar on a Monday night, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is looking like any fashionable 30-something out for a night on the town. Other young leaders, like Hans Riemer and Guy Guzzone and Lisa Gladden and Brian Grim, are making the scene.

Brown was feted Monday night along with a dozen or so other political rising stars at a party in a trendy art gallery in a converted warehouse, sponsored by an electric car manufacturer and a video game company. Among those sharing the stage with him: Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, the frontrunner in the 2013 mayoral race, and a young Georgia state senator named Jason Carter, whose grandfather happens to have been the 39th president of the United States. Everyone on that stage had more than a dash of glamor to them.

Cardin and Miller and Hoyer and Cummings and Barbara Mikulski and Mike Busch and Dutch Ruppersberger have been around forever, and to the lament of many up and comers, aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they appear to be immortal. But some kind of change is just around the corner.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Michael Row the Boat Ashore

Influencers: The Readers Speak

Will Battaglia Run for AG in 2014?

Chrys-field

You Can Still Probably Bet Against Roscoe Bartlett

Ten Years After

Influencers, Part II

The Influencers, Part I

Left, Right and Center
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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.