By Josh Kurtz
Add Baltimore attorney Jim Shea to the list of Democrats who are considering running for governor in 2018.
Shea – until recently the chairman of the powerful Venable law firm – is making the rounds and talking to Democratic leaders, party activists and potential funders about a possible run, multiple Democrats tell Maryland Matters.
Shea, who is now Venable’s chairman emeritus, did not respond to phone messages left at his Baltimore law office over the past few days. Last week, in response to a Maryland Matters email, he said he would be available to talk when he returned from a family vacation. He did not respond to a follow-up email Wednesday.
In an interview with the Baltimore Business Journal last summer upon the announcement of his retirement, Shea, who took over as Venable’s managing partner from former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti in 1995, suggested he was ready for something new.
“I’ve been managing partner or chairman for 22 years and it’s been a great run with a great group of people…but it’s time for a change. And it’s a good change,” he said.
Shea, who lives in Owings Mills, is a familiar figure in Baltimore and Maryland civic affairs. He has been chairman of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents; chairman of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance; chairman of the Empower Baltimore Management Corporation; chairman of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore; a trustee of the Hippodrome Foundation; and a board member of the Greater Baltimore Committee, among other roles.
Shea, 64, is also a major Democratic donor – suggesting he would have at least some ability to self-fund a statewide campaign. According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Shea has donated $227,600 to candidates for federal office, federal campaign entities and political action committees dating back to 1997.
He has been an especially generous donor to Democrats in Maryland’s congressional delegation, but has also given money to Democratic officeholders from other states – and has occasionally doled out contributions to Republicans.
According to records at the Maryland State Board of Elections, Shea has contributed $22,325 to candidates for state and local offices dating back to 2006.
The news about Shea’s interest in a possible gubernatorial bid comes as a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, released Wednesday morning, suggests that while Gov. Larry Hogan (R) remains popular, his re-election is no sure thing.
Sixty-five percent of poll respondents said they approved of the job Hogan was doing, compared to just 17 percent who disapproved. That’s a slight drop from his 71 percent approval rating when the poll was conducted last fall – but is still an enviable number for any politician.
But asked if they would definitely vote to re-elect Hogan in 2018, 41 percent of respondents said they would, while 37 percent said they would vote for the Democratic nominee. When the same question was asked in September, 46 percent said they would vote for Hogan and 30 percent said they would vote for the Democrat.
The poll of 914 Maryland residents, conducted March 16-19, had a 4-point margin of error.
“Even with such high approval ratings, he’s at risk of suffering from . . . what’s going on with the Republican Party,” Michael Hanmer, an associate professor at the University of Maryland and research director of its Center for American Politics and Citizenship, told the Post.
But Hanmer conceded that Hogan’s re-election is “going to depend on who the Democrats put forward and how much they can attach him to what’s going on in national politics.”
The list of potential Democratic candidates for governor continues to grow. It includes Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, U.S. Rep. John Delaney, former state Attorney General Doug Gansler, former NAACP president Ben Jealous, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, state Sen. Rich Madaleno, state House Appropriations Chair Maggie McIntosh, and Baltimore tech entrepreneur Alec Ross. Baker made his first foray to the Eastern Shore as a potential candidate last week.