Franchot Said He’d Support the Democratic Nominee for Governor; That Was Then

Maryland Comptroller Peter V. R. Franchot (D) was frequently in the news during the General Assembly’s 2018 session. The biggest dust-up, arguably, came when Democratic leaders gutted a bill, late in the session, that was originally intended to reform the state’s school construction process. As amended, the three-member Board of Public Works would have lost its ability to hear appeals from the counties and Baltimore City when school construction and renovation requests are rejected by the Interagency Committee on School Construction. The measure passed both chambers after contentious debate, amid accusations that the move was a ploy to extract retribution against Franchot, a close political ally of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).  Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) at a rally in Annapolis during the General Assembly session. File photo Backers of the revised legislation defended it on the grounds that the BPW’s decades-old “beg-a-thon,” during which local leaders schlep to Annapolis to plead for additional funds, was embarrassing and anachronistic. Hogan vetoed the measure with relish, slamming it with his official stamp and drawing a big red X on it while cameras clicked and Franchot, seated to his left, sat beaming. Within hours, both chambers overturned the veto and the measure became law, though Hogan claimed he would reverse the Assembly’s actions in a second term. At the time, more than two months before the primary, Franchot was asked by a Maryland Matters reporter if he planned to support his party’s gubernatorial nominee. “Yes,” he said. “I’m a Democrat.” That was then. Franchot told WYPR-FM earlier this month that he has decided to stay neutral in the gubernatorial race. “I think I’m probably going to remain neutral in that race — simply because it’s important for me to get along with whoever is elected,” Franchot told the station.   While he didn’t mention Democratic nominee Benjamin T. Jealous by name, Franchot explained his stance by saying that Maryland voters “don’t want higher taxes, they don’t want higher fees, they don’t want pie-in-the-sky programs that sound great” but are too expensive. In a recent interview with Maryland Matters, Franchot dsicussed his about-face in more detail.  “What changed is: A) I realized what a good relationship I had with Hogan, B) that the Board of Public Works is a very small body, [just] me, the treasurer and the governor. And C) that it was important for me, to be a good Comptroller, to be on good terms with either Jealous or Hogan.” At the time Franchot made his commitment to support the Democratic nominee for governor, there were three candidates polling consistently ahead of the others — Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III and Jealous.   Kamenetz died, suddenly, in mid-May, resorting the contest just weeks before the primary.  Informed of Franchot’s explanation, several Democrats made involuntary snorts of derision, though none of the party leaders would criticize him on the record. On WYPR, the comptroller insisted, “I am proud to be a Democrat,” and he emphasized in the more recent interview that he “will be campaigning for Democrats all over the state, in other offices.” “I’ve had some great conversations with Jealous,” Franchot added. “I’m going to get together with him, to brief him on the state’s economic situation, so I’m playing it right down the middle and I’m very comfortable where I am.” Franchot ran unopposed in the primary and has only nominal opposition in November. Interestingly, Franchot and Jealous share campaign media consultants — Washington, D.C.-based political gurus Tad Devine and Julian Mulvey. Not that that is likely to help Jealous, who is struggling to get the enthusiastic support of some of the state’s most high-profile Democrats. The Washington Post reported on Friday that Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett, a former chairman of the state party, is withholding a formal endorsement until the two men have a chance to meet. Leggett told the paper he has concerns about how some of Jealous’ fiscal and education proposals will impact his county, the wealthiest in the state.   Montgomery County is currently wooing e-commerce giant Amazon, and Leggett spoke highly of the cooperation he’s received from Hogan.  Miller, meantime, “offered only tepid backing for Jealous while praising Hogan for ‘governing from the middle,’” the Post reported, hardly the sort of rave that Democrats will be tempted to include in campaign literature.  Todd E. Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College, sees a rational basis for Franchot’s new stance. “If you look at what Jealous is proposing, Jealous does not get pretty much anything that he wants without a fundamental overhaul of the tax structure of Maryland, and to try things that really have not been tried, to try things that other states have rejected… that is probably a bridge too far for him. “And I think [many] people will probably say, ‘If he’s not endorsing, there’s got to be a reason. He’s always taking about fiscal responsibility, that’s probably the reason.’” [email protected]

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