Rushern Baker to Enter 2022 Race for Governor

Former Prince George's County executive Rushern L. Baker III plans to seek the Democratic nomination for governor again. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Former Prince George’s County executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) intends to enter the 2022 race for governor.

In an interview with Maryland Matters, Baker said his work with local leaders from around the country who have been battling the pandemic — through the executive leadership program at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy that he heads — inspired him to get back into politics.

He also cited disparities in education and health care.

“I believe that public service is a way of not accepting the status quo and making change for everybody,” he said. “I’m wired in my DNA to run toward a problem and stay there until we make things better.”

After falling short in his first two bids to become county executive, Baker took office in 2010 following a scandal that landed his predecessor, Jack B. Johnson (D), in prison. In addition, he confronted ongoing concerns about the county’s under-performing school system.

Both issues created a sense of deep unease among the Prince George’s electorate.

Baker said the ability to deal with multiple crises simultaneously will be part of his pitch to voters. “I’m running because I think we can do better.”

Baker has been out of office since 2018, when his second term as county executive ended. In addition to his work with the university, he has been doing advocacy for an Alzheimer’s organization and teaching at Bowie State.

He was appointed to the University of Maryland Medical System board three years ago in the wake of the scandal that led to the departure of several top officials.

Despite being backed by much of the party establishment, Baker lost the crowded 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, coming in a distant second with 30% of the vote, 10 points behind winner Benjamin T. Jealous.

The 62-year-old former state legislator said he had been getting a slow but steady stream of calls from supporters about a potential 2022 bid.

But their desire to see him run for the State House again accelerated after they read an analysis of the 2022 contest last week in Maryland Matters, Baker said.

The commentary suggested that the Democratic primary race remains very fluid, despite the presence of four-term Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), who released a series of campaign platform pledges on Thursday.

The number of calls “increased after… [the] article about the governor’s race came out,” Baker said.

Baker under-performed in 2018 in large measure because of a lackluster fundraising effort, most analysts concluded at the time — an assessment he accepts.

His campaign account has just $8,715, meaning he will start his 2022 bid from scratch.

“The only way to get past that is to actually raise the money. There’s no doubt that we didn’t raise the amount of money that we should have,” he said.

Baker said his campaign’s lack of resources flowed from the rigors of being county executive, a lack of commitment on his part, and a county prohibition that existed at the time limiting how much money candidates for county executive could raise from developers.

“The ethics reform stopped the ability to raise a lot of money quickly,” he said, adding that people have a right to be skeptical of his ability to fund a robust statewide campaign.

“That is a legitimate question: Can you raise the money to be competitive?” he said. “And the only way to answer that is actually raise the money.”

Baker’s decision to run for governor again — not previously reported — came only after consulting with Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D), his successor.

“We’re genuinely friends,” he said. And “our supporters are the same.” The pair talked about the 2022 race on Wednesday.

Alsobrooks told WAMU-FM talk show host Kojo Nnamdi last month she intends to seek a second term.

“I have some things I have promised Prince Georgians and I am going to continue to work to make sure that I deliver those things,” she said.

The 2022 primary is scheduled for June 28. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) is term-limited and cannot seek re-election.

As Baker prepares a second bid, an array of potential Democratic candidates — a mix that includes veteran elected officials and an unusual number of people who have not sought office before — will need to decide in the coming months whether to jump into the race. Besides Franchot, who announced his plans in 2020, and Ashwani Jain, a 31-year-old former Obama administration official who announced his bid in January, several other Democrats are beginning to mobilize:

  • Former state attorney general Douglas F. Gansler, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination in 2014, is expected to announce that he’s running later this month.
  • Wes Moore, the author and anti-poverty activist, is interviewing potential staff and consultants ahead of a likely bid.
  • Former Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez is ramping up conversations about a possible bid and published an op-ed piece in The Baltimore Sun this week about promoting offshore wind energy.
  • Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. held a major virtual fundraiser on Tuesday and is expected to make a final decision about running for governor after his proposed county budget wins approval from the county council next month.
  • Jon Baron, a former Clinton administration official and policy analyst, announced an exploratory committee in March for a possible bid
  • Former U.S. Education secretary John B. King Jr. has been a regular virtual presence in Annapolis during this year’s legislative session, promoting a variety of progressive initiatives through his advocacy group Strong Future Maryland. King slowly has been announcing members of the group’s advisory council and put out a video this week featuring most of them. Some of them would presumably become prominent supporters of his gubernatorial campaign should he decide to run. The 17-member advisory council includes the Rev. Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore City NAACP; Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics; Brooke Harper, a Maryland-based environmental justice advocate; and Tom Coale, a Howard County lawyer and Democratic activist and co-host of the “Elevate Maryland” podcast.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.