Josh Kurtz: Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside

By the time he was elected governor in 1986, the super high-profile William Donald Schaefer (D) had been mayor of Baltimore for 15 years and had been a fixture on the Maryland political scene dating back to the mid-1950’s. Parris N. Glendening (D) had been Prince George’s County executive for a dozen years when he was elected governor in 1994 and had been in elective office since the early 1970’s. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) had a 16-year political career before being elected governor in 2002, including eight years as a state lawmaker who bonded with fellow jocks of both parties in Annapolis. Martin J. O’Malley (D) had 15 years in Baltimore city government under his belt when he was elected governor in 2006. On top of that, he was related by marriage to the legendary Curran family of Baltimore politics, and through his mother he had ties to then-U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D) and the Rockville courthouse crowd. And for all his talk that he was “a small businessman who became disgusted with the direction of our state” when he decided to run for Maryland’s top job in 2014, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) had spent a lifetime in the political world by then. As a boy he worshiped his dad, the former congressman and Prince George’s County executive also named Larry Hogan, and went to work for him as soon as he graduated college. He ran for Congress twice and served in Ehrlich’s cabinet. He moved easily in political circles and was close with both Republicans and Democrats, including the redoubtable former state Del. Timothy F. Maloney (D-Prince George’s), one of his oldest friends and one of the most powerful behind-the-scenes players in Maryland.  William Donald Schaefer had 30 years in Baltimore politics under his belt before he was elected governor.  Now consider the Democratic nominee for governor, Benjamin T. Jealous. Experience in elective office: Zero. Experience in state and local government: Zero. Time active in Maryland politics and advocacy, his national profile as a longtime civil rights leader notwithstanding: A minute and a half, relatively speaking. Which explains, in a nutshell, some of the trouble Jealous is having as the general election lurches toward Labor Day. Forget, for a minute, the $1.2 million in unanswered negative ads from the Republicans – including the one that made Jealous look like the darkened, scowling O.J. mugshot on the cover of Time magazine. Forget his progressive policy prescriptions that make certain Democrats jittery. Forget the mistakes of a novice candidate and whatever missteps his campaign has made. Forget Hogan’s unshakable astronomical popularity. Part of the reason why Democratic insiders have been slow to publicly embrace Jealous can be boiled down to this: He isn’t one of them. He’s not part of the club. He hasn’t gone through the rituals and the dues-paying and the hazings of Maryland politics. He hasn’t kissed enough asses. The insiders don’t understand him and they’re pretty sure he doesn’t understand them. Was Jealous’ decision to skip the Maryland Association of Counties conference in Ocean City last week a mistake? Yes. But it was amplified by the tut-tutting of the insiders, and the media, too, outraged that he would dis so hallowed a Maryland tradition. Wouldn’t a quick public coming-together of the Democratic family have been preferable to Thursday’s endorsement rally, two whole months after the primary, featuring a couple dozen lawmakers? Shouldn’t state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) – who are, for better or worse, the public faces of the Hogan-era Democratic Party – have signaled their support earlier? Of course. Show us a voter who really cares about the timing of that endorsement rally at Suitland High School. Yet it was late enough for the Republicans to pounce. Well before the program was finished, Douglass V. Mayer, Hogan’s deputy campaign manager, issued a biting statement that said in part, “If you were watching carefully, half the people forced to attend this press conference were blinking S.O.S. in Morse Code – and who can blame them. No one gets on a sinking ship voluntarily.” Some media outlets Thursday suggested Miller’s endorsement was pretty tepid. He repeated the assertion he made over the weekend that Jealous was more likely to ensure full funding for education reforms than Hogan, but he didn’t say much else about the candidate. Busch’s endorsement was considerably more emphatic and came with a denunciation of GOP attack ads on Jealous. These guys are the ultimate political insiders, with a combined 80 years in the legislature and a combined 48 years as the General Assembly’s presiding officers. On an ideological spectrum, Miller is undoubtedly closer to Hogan than he is to Jealous. Busch has moved gradually to the left, as the House Democratic caucus has, in his 16 years as speaker. So the endorsements were, perhaps, about what you’d expect. But what we’re witnessing is undeniable: When a politician isn’t part of the club, its members are less inclined to embrace him – or just as significant, to rush to defend him. Ben Jealous got 40 percent of the vote in the crowded Democratic primary. The favorite of many party insiders, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), took 29 percent. If you tote up all the votes of nontraditional candidates in the gubernatorial primary, they got 53.5 percent – or 61.8 percent if you count attorney James L. Shea, an establishment figure but a political novice, as nontraditional. So something is happening with Democratic voters in Maryland. Is the party getting the message? Not that political experience has always guaranteed popularity with the insiders. Even though he had been president of MACo, even though he courted local and state officials assiduously in the run-up to his gubernatorial campaign, even though they admired his political cunning, Glendening was despised in certain political quarters. Huge swaths of the Baltimore establishment, including Schaefer’s allies, saw Glendening, the first governor elected from the Washington, D.C., area since the Civil War era, as an interloper who drifted inexplicably to the left. In time, many of those Schaefer Democrats became Ehrlich Democrats. And now they are Hogan Democrats. While the Democratic Party is on the road to becoming something else. Party Like It’s 2002 In Montgomery County politics, where it’s a little harder to distinguish between the outsiders and the insiders, Richard Parsons has, if nothing else, been a fixture and an important player for two decades. After weeks of rumors, it’s official now: Parsons will become the campaign manager for Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, who has left the Democratic Party to wage an independent bid for county executive – a development first reported Wednesday night by political blogger Ryan Miner. Most recently, Parsons served as a senior strategist to businessman David Trone for Trone’s victory in this year’s 6th District Democratic congressional primary. And early in his political career in Maryland, from 1995 through 1997, he was executive director of the state Democratic Party. But for most of his time in the local political scene, Parsons has been a canny and sharp-elbowed strategist for business groups and their allies who call for more development and more highway construction. His resume is a continuum through some of Montgomery County’s most epic political battles. There may not have been a stronger advocate for building the Intercounty Connector highway than Parsons. He is a founder of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, funded by business interests, which is pushing aggressively for the widening of Interstate 270. In 1998, he was campaign manager for then-county executive Douglas M. Duncan (D). After Duncan’s reelection, he was the Maryland lobbyist for the Greater Washington Board of Trade. And for five years he was president and CEO of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. Which means Parsons was present for the planning and execution of Duncan’s “End Gridlock” slate in 2002, which swept a largely pro-growth County Council into power – including one Nancy Floreen – by bludgeoning slow-growth candidates, including one Marc B. Elrich, who is now the Democratic nominee for county executive. So it’s easy to imagine Floreen, whose candidacy is likely being bankrolled by real estate and development interests (we’ll have a better idea next week, when campaign finance reports are released), using the very same playbook. And that Elrich ought to prepare for another round of bludgeoning. The Washington Post editorial board has already started using the club. It’s all starting to feel a little like the movie “Groundhog Day.” [email protected]

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.

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