Laslo Boyd: The Democratic Dilemma

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By: Laslo Boyd 

A year before the General Election for governor, it’s looking more as though Anthony Brown will coast into office without facing any serious challenge or having to make the case for his selection. A year is a long time and lots of things could change, but there’s no certainty that they will.

The candidate who was assumed to be Brown’s major competitor, Attorney General Doug Gansler, has recently run a gauntlet of damaging news stories that raise questions about his fitness for office. The question now is whether he can climb out of the hole that he has put himself in, find some images to replace the one of him at the teen beach party, and start raising substantive challenges to Brown’s candidacy.

Gansler still has lots of campaign money and a determination to stay in the race. He does not look panicked as a result of the media pounding that he has endured. And, with the rest of the year being dominated by holidays, he may have gotten himself the equivalent of a bye month.

Clearly, Gansler has the money for a serious television ad campaign. Beyond that, the best opportunity for him to climb back into the race may come in the form of the attention that will be focused on Brown during the 2014 General Assembly session.

Will Brown be able to stay in the background and rely on photo ops as part of the O’Malley-Brown Administration? Or will he stake out his own positions on challenges facing the state? Put differently, will he continue being the Lt. Governor or will he be a candidate for governor?

In a recent column, I argued that none of the three candidates for governor has presented clear positions on the key issues facing the state. That observation produced a reaction from Heather Mizeur’s campaign, noting that I had not credited her with a series of stands on educational issues. The statements on her web site are thin, but her campaign is correct that I didn’t fully take note of them.

Since then – certainly not in response my column – Mizeur has also issued statements on other issues, including tax reform, a 10-point program to stimulate the Maryland economy, and a 10-point jobs plan.

However, when I asked to interview the candidate, I was told that she would be happy to discuss issues, but wouldn’t agree to the interview if I asked her about her viability as a candidate. Their rationale was that I wouldn’t have asked either of the other candidates that question.

Try telling that to Doug Gansler, who is being swamped with questions and commentary about whether his candidacy remains viable. Mizeur’s response to me suggests a candidate who is too insulated and has an inflated opinion of her standing. I am far from the only commentator who has questioned whether she can win or even attract a significant number of votes. I would have been delighted to have her make the argument to me about why that view is wrong, but it’s certainly far from a self-evident case.

The former political science professor in me would love to believe a candidate for governor could win purely on the strength of her ideas and positions. The history of elections gives little support to that view however.

The other name that has popped up in the commentary about the governor’s race recently is that of Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger. He appears to be toying with the press, suggesting he could win if he ran but that he is unlikely to do so. Too bad, because he would add a lot of energy and interest to the race and because he brings one qualification that none of the others has.

Ruppersberger has actually governed. He was a well-regarded County Executive for eight years and has a first-hand familiarity with the challenges facing the state that none of the other candidates has ever had to address.

As is my custom, I’ll skip over the Republican field because the Party has shown no ability to be competitive in the State. It doesn’t matter who the nominee is.

Which gets us back to Anthony Brown and my reference to the Democratic dilemma. Just about every Democratic elected official from the Atlantic Ocean to the West Virginia border has endorsed Brown, as have numerous labor groups. Brown is working to create an air of inevitability and he may succeed.

The problem is that – after his many years in public life as a delegate and lieutenant governor – we still know little about him in an executive leadership role, where he is completely in charge. Yes, the governor has designated Brown to take the lead on such issues as BRAC, and he’s played a role in health reform. But from this record, it remains hard to say whether he will be a good governor.

Elections should be about learning whether various candidates are capable of doing the job for which they are running. That’s not always the result and we have elected lots of people who weren’t up to the task, but the cost of discovering that after an election is high. You can only hope that we learn a lot more about Anthony Brown as well as the other candidates before one of them gets elected.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.