Frank DeFilippo: In Lead-up to Campaigns for Governor, Candidates Galore Diddle and Dawdle

By choosing not to run for governor in 2022, Boyd K. Rutherford, right, with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. in the foreground, becomes the latest Maryland lieutenant governor who won't be elected governor. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Eliot’s April is the cruelest month for Maryland voters. Politicians think about, ponder, pander, ruminate, consider and mull – the foreplay of campaigns. Occasionally they decide.

It’s the pregnant pause of politics, the blank space between the General Assembly’s release and the crank-up for next year’s elections. This season brings with it a slight variation, though, as there are wide-open slots at the top and below, mainly through term limits and the upward urge.

And soon candidates and cicadas will compete at alternate noise frequencies. And they can only hope that the COVID-19 menace recedes in time for the all-out launch of statewide campaigns, whose 2022 primary is next June 28.

First off the plank was Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, wingman to Gov. Larry Hogan for eight years. No huffing-and-puffing, or diddling from Rutherford.

Frank A. DeFilippo

In a cold open, Rutherford took himself out of contention for the governorship. In different statements, Rutherford said he lacked the fire in the belly necessary for the year-long endurance contest and that it was “in his family’s best interest” to forgo the contest.

As a coda to his valedictory statement, Rutherford said he’ll resume his legal career and possibly return to playing the trumpet. (One trumpet player to another – good luck with the chops.)

So Rutherford extends the curse – by choice, of course. He joins the seven previous lieutenant governors who – since the office was reconstituted in 1970, dating back to Blair Lee III – will not ascend to the governorship. Six of the eight tried and failed.

Filling the vacuum, lickety-split, to succeed her boss was Kelly Schulz, Hogan’s commerce secretary, former labor and licensing secretary, and a former delegate from Frederick County.

That Schulz pounced so quickly created the appearance of mimicking many Republicans at the national level. Schulz seemed to be maneuvering to gain advantage as the heir-apparent to the Hogan constituency and popularity, as many presidential pretenders are jockeying for Donald Trump’s leftovers.

Her on-line statement of candidacy had an inclusive embrace as well as a familiar sound: “I’m running for governor so we can continue to build upon all of our past successes and fulfill the great promise and potential of our state.”

The lure on the Democratic side of the lineup resembles a cattle call because of the open-seat opportunity to reclaim the governorship after eight years on the outside looking in. Except for two, or maybe three, most of the 11 speculatives are mulling – the favorite word of headline writers because of its brevity, or even shorter, the verb form “mull” – or waiting for the sound of applause at the mention of their names.

Truth be told, the waiting list is expansive because many of the rumored candidacies are stoked by reporters’ phone calls. Almost any response to an inquiry is likely to be, “I’m thinking about it” or “Lots of people are encouraging me to run.” Others, around the margins, to be charitable, run simply to get it out of their systems.

The latest to walk the high wire without a net is Rushern Baker, former Prince George’s County executive who knows what it’s like to lose as he did the primary election in 2018 to Ben Jealous by double digits. Baker declared his candidacy without a single mull. Baker’s belly is lit like a bonfire on a cold night.

But it’s Peter Franchot who’s been running for governor for at least 15 years, since he was elected comptroller in 2006, but only formally declared about a year ago. No mulling, considering, or slip-sliding, but only many cantankerous and unnecessary brawls with the General Assembly to the point where they finally tired of it and stripped Franchot of some of his job description even as he tried to expand the comptroller’s franchise.

As of the last accounting, Franchot had $2.2 million in seed money, about 10% of what a modern campaign costs in Maryland these days.

The main challenge of being state comptroller is to make an easy job look tough. The comptroller’s principal function is as one of three members of the Board of Public Works – governor, comptroller and treasurer – which authorizes billions in state contracts every year. The vendors’ list is a fundraising gold mine.

The assignment also provides the comptroller with visibility, especially during the many spats and disagreements among the three members. Franchot, a Democrat, has been criticized for being too accommodating with Hogan, the Republican governor, though lately he’s displayed several degrees of separation.

Another declared entry is the politically unfamiliar name of Jon Baron, a Montgomery County Democrat and head of Arnold Ventures, which specializes in philanthropic endeavors in areas such as education, health care and criminal justice.

And here’s where the fun and the guessing-game unpacks, the list of names – the great and the near-great – who are, you guessed it, mulling.

Now hear this from John Olszewski, executive of Baltimore County: “I am overwhelmed with gratitude for those who have seen all that we have accomplished and encouraged me to consider a statewide run.”

And this, from Wes Moore, best-selling author and activist, who says – and you were warned about this – he’s “seriously considering” running for governor and will discuss a possible candidacy “with family and friends.”

And this, from Tom Perez, former Maryland labor secretary, former assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Obama Administration and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee: “I’m seriously considering a run for governor in Maryland, “ and he’s “taking a look at” running for governor.

And this, from John B. King, former education secretary in the Obama administration and head of Education Trust, in Washington, D.C.: Asked if he’s considering running for governor, King mulled: “I’m certainly thinking about how I can contribute best.”

And then among the mull-ers come the familiar names:

Rep. Anthony Brown (D), former member of the House of Delegates and lieutenant governor, who had his ass handed to him by Hogan in 2014, might be game for another try, but is still pondering, waiting for a zig-zag of lightning to strike, or: “Whatever and however I can put my skills and ability to the highest use on behalf of Marylanders or my neighbors then that’s what I’ll do.”

Nobody asked Rep. David J. Trone (D), who spent $30 million out of pocket on two campaigns for Congress, but his name is out there, big and bold, anyway. Here’s the unattributed lede on one story, which you can read into what you will: “Sources close to Rep. David J. Trone say the [second]-termcongressman is taking a hard look at running for governor in 2022.” Let’s hope Trone doesn’t strain his eyes as he mulls.

Doug Gansler, the former two-term attorney general who finished second in his race for governor in 2014, is lacing up his Nikes, either for a jog or another run for governor. To hear Gansler tell it, at this point only God knows: “With all the uncertainty in the world, people have been asking. People want an experienced progressive who can get things done. And after eight years of a Republican governor, they want someone who can win.” Anybody we know?

She may be pondering, contemplating or mulling, but Angela Alsobrooks, executive of Prince George’s County, has said very little about running for governor, but her name is mentioned with respect as among the top two or three likeliest. And she is one of the most successful fundraisers in the pack despite money-raising restrictions in her county, with nearly a million bucks tucked away for whatever destination the compass points to.

All of which trickles down to the empty chair Franchot is leaving behind in the comptroller’s office – a job that turns over a few times a century. There have been only three elected comptrollers since Louis L. Goldstein first won in 1959 – 62 years ago: Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Franchot.

Del. Brooke Lierman, of Baltimore City, declared for comptroller early and has a built-in advantage as a statewide candidate: Her father. Terry Lierman was the man who resuscitated the state’s Democratic Party and replenished its treasury after the election of Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2002, the first Republican governor in 34 years. Lierman, the father, is a fundraising powerhouse who likely still holds a swatch of IOUs.

Lierman, as a legislator, has made civil rights and the environment her twin seals of endeavor. She has promised to use the comptroller’s chair on the Board of Public works to advance the economic and social interests of minorities.

Tim Adams, the Democratic mayor of Bowie, is attempting a resume upgrade to comptroller on a platform of equity and justice as well as fairness to small businesses in the award of state contracts.

Adams, a government contractor and first-time officeholder, is the first Black mayor of Bowie, elected in 2019.

Adams is a disabilities advocate. “I may be in a wheelchair, but nobody pushes me around,” Adams said in a video release. “I might not be able to walk, but that’s never stopped me from running.”

The term-limited Harford County executive and home boy Barry Glassman carries the Republican banner into the race for comptroller, so far the only GOP candidate for the vacant slot.

Glassman’s campaign theme is the sum total of his experience in government as executive, a former delegate and senator as well as president of the Maryland Association of Counties.

“After all, the comptroller is the voice of all our taxpaying families and is also their watchdog,” Glassman said in announcing his candidacy.

Everybody into the pool.

Frank A. DeFilippo
Frank A. DeFilippo is an award-winning political commentator who lives and writes in Baltimore. DeFilippo has been writing about the comic opera of politics for more than 50 years. He reported on the Maryland General Assembly for 10 years before joining the administration of former Gov. Marvin Mandel (D) as press secretary and speechwriter. Between times, he was a White House correspondent during the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and he has covered six national political conventions. DeFilippo is the author of Hooked, an alleged work of fiction, and an unpublished manuscript, Shiksa: The Rise and Fall of Marvin Mandel.