Analysis: A Change Is Gonna Come

Change is coming to the Maryland State House and to the state's overall political dynamic. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

As he agonized in recent weeks over whether to seek a third term in 2022, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) told associates that he didn’t want to be “one of those old white guys who hangs around for too long.”

It was a rare moment of self-awareness for a profession — politics — where candor and selflessness are often in short supply. And even though many people urged the attorney general to run again, Frosh, 75, opted to retire next year rather than attempt to extend his decades-long political career.

His retirement announcement Thursday capped a consequential week in Maryland politics: State Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp (D), 77, who has held the job since early 2002 and has spent half a century working in Annapolis, said Monday she will step down at the end of the year.

Under any circumstances, nearly simultaneous retirement announcements by the attorney general and treasurer would be a big deal. But Kopp and Frosh were such long-standing friends and allies — and avatars of policy-driven, progressive good government who represented the same Bethesda-based legislative district together for many years — that their looming departures seem especially epochal.

More than anything, last week’s news underscored what already seemed obvious: The pace of political change in Maryland is accelerating.

But with these developments come questions — not just about the political direction and management of state and local government, but about Maryland’s standing in national politics; about whether a fresh crop of state and local officials are ready to meet the myriad challenges facing everyday Marylanders; about whether the state’s political leadership will truly reflect the diversity of the state; about political divisiveness and partisan posturing and internecine ideological battles with the GOP and the Democratic Party and so much more.

Maryland’s current cycle of political change began in 2016 with the retirement of trailblazing and record-setting U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D). It continued with the election of new executives in the state’s five biggest counties and a change in the top three elected positions in Baltimore City. It intensified, dramatically and tragically, with the deaths of the longest-serving presiding officers in the state Senate and House of Delegates. The Republican House and Senate caucuses in Annapolis have also selected new leaders in the past year.

Come January, Maryland will have a new state treasurer. By early 2023, the state will have a new governor, a new lieutenant governor, a new attorney general, and a new state comptroller. The forthcoming round of redistricting could alter the makeup of the state’s congressional delegation and the legislature.

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), still relatively new on the job, will continue to assert more control over the respective chambers — and that could mean significant change in the lineup of committee chairs and other leadership positions.

Two of the state’s “Big Seven” counties will automatically have new leaders come December 2022: Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) and Frederick County Executive Jan H. Gardner (D) are term-limited. And at least three of the county executives who were elected in 2018 — Calvin Ball (D) in Howard, Marc B. Elrich (D) in Montgomery, and Steuart Pittman (D) in Anne Arundel — face tough reelection battles, either in the Democratic primary (Elrich) or the general election.

Transformative elections past and present

In all, 2022 is shaping up to be as transformative as the elections of 1986 and 2006.

The former saw the installation of a new governor, a new lieutenant governor, a new attorney general, and a new U.S. senator. Half the state’s delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives turned over. Montgomery, Baltimore and Howard counties elected new executives.

Both legislative chambers in Annapolis got new presiding officers immediately after the 1986 election — including Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D), who would go on to serve until 2019, as Senate president. A new state treasurer also took over in the aftermath of that election.

1986 was also consequential for several long-serving Maryland political leaders: It was the year Mikulski was elected to the U.S. Senate, where she would serve for 30 years. Democrats Benjamin L. Cardin and Kweisi Mfume and Republican Constance A. Morella first won their congressional seats. J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) won the first of his five terms as attorney general. Frosh, current Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) and the late House speaker Michael E. Busch (D) won their first terms in the House of Delegates. Current U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) won his first election to the Baltimore County Council. Former Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett (D) won the first of his four terms on the county council.

2006 saw the election of a new governor, a new lieutenant governor, a new attorney general, a new comptroller, a new U.S. senator and one new U.S. House member. Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Howard counties elected new executives.

At the precipice of the 2022 election, the Maryland General Assembly is likely to select a replacement for Kopp as state treasurer during its expected special session on congressional redistricting in early December. Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George’s), the chair of the House Economic Matters Committee, is the overwhelming favorite to replace her — and that development would create a series of dominoes of its own.

Davis has led the powerful Economic Matters panel since 2003, and his likely departure would create an opportunity for an up-and-coming lawmaker to take over — and for Jones, who inherited all of Busch’s committee chairs when he died in 2019 — to begin to refashion her leadership team (Charles County Del. C.T. Wilson is seen as the leading candidate for that gavel right now). Davis’ legislative seat, which he has held since 1995, would also come open, and the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee would nominate a replacement (the central committee is already in the process of nominating a replacement for former Del. Erek L. Barron, who recently became U.S. attorney for Maryland).

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) is term limited in 2022, and the race to replace him is well under way, with nine Democrats and four Republicans competing so far, though both fields could see late entrants. With Franchot, who has held the job since 2007, among the Democrats seeking to replace Hogan, the comptroller’s office is also open, with Glassman, the Harford County executive, Bowie Mayor Timothy L. Adams (D) and Del. Brooke E. Lierman (D-Baltimore City) competing for that post.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) is up for a second term next year, but unless Hogan reverses his multiple professions of disinterest and enters the race, Van Hollen seems like a safe bet for reelection.

Frosh’s retirement announcement is the latest change in the 2022 landscape, and candidates are already mobilizing to try to replace him. The list of possible contenders is led by U.S. Rep. Anthony G. Brown (D), who could announce his political plans as early as this week.

A Brown campaign for attorney general would create an unanticipated and later-than-usual congressional vacancy, and could attract several candidates, including Del. Jazz M. Lewis (D-Prince George’s); former Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D), the runner-up to Brown in the 2016 Democratic congressional primary; and Prince George’s County Council Chair Calvin S. Hawkins II (D). There is some speculation that former Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D), who held the seat for almost a decade before running unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2016, may try to win her old job back.

Most other potential candidates for attorney general, if they enter the race, will affect a down-ballot election.

For example, if Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), the chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee in Annapolis, decides to run, which of the House members in the heretofore close-knit District 20 delegation might jockey to run for his Senate seat? Who would take over as Judicial Proceedings chair if Smith is out of the legislature in 2023? The number of political questions expands exponentially as more and more candidates enter the race.

More diverse leadership?

But will the aftermath of the 2022 election in Maryland bring more diversity to the state’s political leadership? The state’s 10-member congressional delegation is all male. Could that change next year?

All nine Democratic candidates for governor right now are men — though on the Republican side, Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz is a leading contender and the establishment favorite. Lierman is the early betting favorite in the race for comptroller. But are Lierman and Schulz all there is?

Most of the names identified as potential candidates for attorney general are men. So are most of the potential candidates to replace Brown in Congress if he runs for AG. Davis is expected to replace Kopp as state treasurer. All the candidates for county executive in polyglot Montgomery County are white men. The dramatic gender imbalance at the highest levels of state politics — with the notable exception of Jones as House speaker — persists.

Even if younger political leaders are poised to move up the ladder, some of the old warhorses persist: Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D), the 82-year-old U.S. House majority leader, is favored to win another term. He’s been in Congress since 1981 — the longest-serving Democrat in the House of Representatives — and won his first election to the state Senate in 1966. Cardin, 78, remains the state’s senior U.S. senator. His political career, like Hoyer’s, began in 1966. Ruppersberger, 75, and Mfume, 73, are also favored for reelection. Mfume, who is in his second tour of duty in Congress after a 24-year hiatus, first won election to the Baltimore City Council in 1979.

And if Franchot emerges victorious in next year’s gubernatorial election, it means Marylanders will have turned to a man in his mid-70’s with 36 years of political office under his belt.

With all the moving pieces and all the uncertainty heading into 2022, two related things have become abundantly clear: Anthony Brown, who already pondered a second run for governor this cycle and is now close to entering the race for attorney general, is evidently eager to move on from Congress, despite occupying a seat that he could undoubtedly hold for years. And any announcement by Brown that he is running for AG rather than reelection will reinforce the national narrative that Democrats are all but certain to lose the majority in the House of Representatives next year.

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