Pittman Launching Advocacy Group to Push Statewide Progressive Agenda

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) announcing an eviction relief package for tenants. Photo by Bennett Leckrone.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) announced Tuesday that he is launching a nonprofit education and advocacy organization to promote a progressive agenda in the region and state.

As Pittman envisions it, his new organization, Future Matters, will convene conversations with activists and everyday residents across the state on a range of topics and then propose and advocate for out-of-the-box solutions. The idea was borrowed from his days as a community organizer in Chicago and Des Moines, Iowa — which he has already tried to put into practice during his two years as county executive.

“Everything I’ve ever done that has been of value to my life is when I got a group of people together to get things done,” Pittman said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. “I’m most comfortable, when I’m governing from the inside, knowing that there are people outside moving an agenda by organizing.”

Pittman insisted that he is not setting up the organization to promote himself or a future statewide candidacy.

“It doesn’t hurt politically to have something like this going on,” he said. “But I’m not looking to run for higher office. I have every intention of running for reelection in Anne Arundel County [in 2022]. I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot in two years and that we have a lot more to do.”

Future Matters has been set up as a 501c4 organization, meaning it can do lobbying and other advocacy work, can support or oppose ballot measures, host candidate debates, conduct voter registration drives, and generate literature comparing candidates’ positions on issues. But it cannot directly endorse, fund or campaign for political candidates.

As a 501c4, the organization does not have to publicly disclose donors or expenditures. Change Maryland, the organization that Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) set up to spotlight and oppose the tax and spending policies of his predecessor, former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D), was a 501c4 that helped Hogan build support for his 2014 gubernatorial campaign.

Former U.S. Education secretary John B. King Jr. recently launched a 501c4 organization called Strong Future Maryland to promote progressive policy solutions at the state level. It is also seen as a vehicle for King’s possible gubernatorial ambitions.

Pittman said he envisioned Future Matters to be a smaller-scale version of Organizing for America, the group that grew out of President Obama’s campaign apparatus. He said he figured the organization would need about $250,000 for its first year of existence.

“We’ve got money in the bank, we need to get more money in the bank, and we will,” Pittman said. “We’ll raise money online and we want to get people used to contributing locally, both to causes and candidates, because that’s the best way to limit the influence of big money on the political process.”

Future Matters has a three-member board of directors now — led by William Rowel, a political strategist and key aide to Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley (D) and featuring Mike Davis, a retired tech executive who is the treasurer of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, and Martha Blaxall, a retired economist and Anne Arundel County nonprofit volunteer.

Pittman said the group will soon assemble an advisory board of policy experts. Ben Smith, the former executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party, is a senior adviser to Future Matters, and the Tidemore Group, the political strategy firm where Smith works, will provide  organizers for the early effort.

Future Matters unveiled a website Tuesday night and released a 3-minute introductory video featuring Pittman, Rowel and Maryland residents talking about their hopes, dreams — and fears — for the future.

Pittman said one of his goals for bringing people together is to bridge the gap between rural, suburban and urban residents — because he believes there is far more common ground than most people believe.

“The timing is perfect,” he said. “People are really concerned about the divisions in the country and their own neighborhood and sometimes in their own family. This isn’t about getting Republicans and Democrats together, it’s about getting people together.”

Pittman said Future Matters would organize around the following issues: restoring trust in government; bridging the urban-rural divide; confronting racism; promoting public health; improving education; building an inclusive economy; and curtailing suburban sprawl.

For each topic, the organization will put together a series of meetings, virtually at first, led by policy experts — first, to discuss the challenges, then to brainstorm solutions, then to develop a political battle plan, Pittman said. Future Matters may get involved in certain political races — even though it can’t endorse candidates.

The first meeting that Pittman convenes will be about the organization itself and its potential as a force for political change. He said he doesn’t expect Future Matters to be fully operational until early 2022 — around the same time his reelection campaign is ramping up.

Pittman is likely to be a prime target of Republicans in 2022, with County Councilmember Jessica Haire and state Del. Sid J. Saab among those pondering a bid for county executive.

But Future Matters, Pittman said, is not about his reelection.

“We are going to be driving people to issue campaigns,” he said.

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