When Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) traveled to Newburg in November 2016 to announce that the state would fund the construction of a new Harry W. Nice Bridge connecting southern Charles County to the Northern Neck of Virginia, state Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton (D), who represents the district, was cordially disinvited.
On Saturday, less than two years after the snub, the old Potomac River crossing will be rechristened the Harry W. Nice/Thomas “Mac” Middleton Bridge – and Hogan himself, according to an invitation obtained late Wednesday by Maryland Matters, will lead the ceremony.
“I am pleased to invite you to the Nice Bridge Renaming Event with Governor Hogan in honor of Senator Thomas ‘Mac’ Middleton,” reads an email from Byron G. “Jeff” Tossi III, the government affairs director for the Maryland Department of Transportation.
After laying out details of the Saturday afternoon ceremony, Tossi’s invitation concludes, “Thank you all, and we look forward to seeing everyone at this wonderful event!”
What a difference two years make.
Back in 2016, when Hogan cut state tolls in half, Middleton, who had been seeking funding for a new or improved Nice Bridge for years, worried openly that the governor’s move would rob the state of adequate funding for a new span. In response, Middleton passed legislation guaranteeing state funding for the project – which Hogan vetoed.
Months later, Hogan put together his own funding plan for a new bridge, but administration officials told Middleton that he would not be able to speak at the announcement ceremony, even though he had been working to secure funding for years.
“If (Middleton) had not pushed the legislation that was specifically meant to somehow hurt the governor, he could have been a part of this,” a Hogan spokesman told The Daily Record at the time.
This year, Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles), a protégé of Middleton’s, introduced legislation to name the new bridge after the senator, citing his persistence in securing funding for the project. It sailed through both chambers of the legislature. The new span is due to be completed in 2023.
Since the legislative session ended, the politics in Charles County have changed dramatically – and Hogan and Republicans may be seeking to take advantage.
On June 26, Middleton, the chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, was upset in a racially-charged Democratic primary by Arthur Ellis, a CPA and former head of the local NAACP. Although Charles County has become a Democratic stronghold in recent election cycles and is close to becoming majority-black, Republicans believe Middleton’s defeat, and the bitter feelings it has engendered among some of the senator’s loyalists, have put his seat into play.
After the primary, Republican leaders moved to replace their little-known Senate nominee on the ballot with Bill Dotson, a wealthy businessman and chairman of the Charles County GOP, who had run for a House seat. They believe the race between Dotson and Ellis is close, and they hope that Democrats who are still mad about the Democratic primary outcome will move into the GOP column.
Could Hogan’s willingness to pay tribute to Middleton Saturday, after squabbling with him on bridge funding two years ago – not to mention over issues like earned sick leave – aid the Republican effort? Could Middleton and some of his supporters wind up endorsing Dotson over Ellis – or Hogan over Benjamin T. Jealous, the Democratic nominee for governor?
Some of Middleton’s friends at home may not have moved on, but a powerful Middleton ally has. Last week, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) headlined a breakfast fundraiser for Ellis at Harry Browne’s, the Annapolis power spot.