Recent Deaths of Bogley, Burns Highlight Disappearance of Socially Conservative Dems
Samuel W. Bogley III, who spent an awkward four years as Maryland’s second lieutenant governor after a career in Prince George’s County government, died on March 10 of undisclosed causes. He was 80.
Bogley’s passing, along with the death this week of former state Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr., serves as a reminder that socially conservative Democrats are quickly disappearing from the Maryland political scene. Both were strong foes of abortion rights, and Burns was a particularly vocal critic of the gay rights movement.
“In some ways, it is a passing of the guard,” said former Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who served on the Prince George’s County Council with Bogley in the 1970’s and became governor the same year Burns entered the House of Delegates in 1995.
Bogley’s political career was especially defined by his opposition to abortion. Yet he was also known for diving into the minutiae of local government.
A lawyer by trade, he began his government service as a a zoning enforcement officer in Prince George’s County for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. Between 1964 and 1968, he was the chief clerk of the Peoples’ Court in Upper Marlboro, and later served as the State House lobbyist for the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce.
Bogley was elected to the Prince George’s County Commission at the age of 28, and became a County Council member when Prince George’s became a charter county in 1970.
“He was a genuinely nice guy, a good guy,” said Glendening, who was elected to the County Council in 1974. “I know that might not be big political news these days. But what I and others who worked with him on the local level thought was, he was the genuine thing.”
One habit Bogley had, Glendening recalled, was bringing treats for his colleagues at meetings — often snacks prepared by his wife, Rita. But despite those personal courtesies, he slowly became “isolated” from his fellow councilmembers over the issue of abortion, Glendening said.
Rita Bogley had been an active abortion rights opponent, and her husband converted to Catholicism after they married. The couple would have eight children.
In 1978, Harry R. Hughes, a former state senator who had been the Maryland Transportation secretary, launched what was thought to be a long-shot bid for governor and tapped Bogley to run with him as his candidate for lieutenant governor just hours before the filing deadline.
“He was picked by Harry Hughes to be his running mate when no one thought Harry Hughes had a chance,” said Leonard L. Lucchi, an attorney and lobbyist and veteran of Prince George’s County government.
The ticket, featuring two mild-mannered candidates, improbably won. The lieutenant governor position in Maryland hadn’t existed in over a century until it was created in 1970, so Bogley became the second person to hold the job.
“It was still kind of a new thing,” said Lucchi, who grew up in Bowie, where Bogley lived. “So it was kind of exciting when he won.”
Even as lieutenant governor, Bogley remained very quiet and grounded, Glendening said. He would return to Prince George’s government buildings for visits or to attend local civic meetings “and would just sit in the back row, never wanting to be recognized.”
Hughes, according to State House lore, won a pledge from Bogley that he would never oppose the administration’s policies. But that pact quickly fell apart when Rita Bogley began campaigning against an abortion rights measure that Hughes — and his wife, Patricia Hughes — supported. Bogley was quickly “marginalized” in the Hughes administration, Lucchi said.
“You couldn’t really tell in public that there was discord between them, even though there was,” he remembered. “Their wives were much less low-key.”
When Hughes sought reelection in 1982, he replaced Bogley on his ticket with J. Joseph Curran Jr., a state senator who was considerably more liberal (and would go on to spend 20 years as attorney general). Bogley signed on as the No. 2 on a ticket headed by then-state Sen. Harry J. McGuirk (D), who had famously called Hughes “a lost ball in the tall grass” four years earlier.
The Hughes-Curran ticket trounced the McGuirk-Bogley ticket in the Democratic primary, 67% to 22%.
Bogley, then just 40 years old, returned to his private law practice. But in the late 1980’s, President Reagan nominated Bogley to a seat on the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board. Congress never took up his nomination, but Bogley served in the position as a recess appointment. He left the post when George H.W. Bush became president and returned to his law practice.
Bogley stunned the political world in 2018 when he entered the race for Prince George’s County executive on the night of the filing deadline.
Bogley gave no interviews during the campaign. He did not create a campaign website. He reported no spending on the race.
He offered brief comments on his pitch to Prince George’s voters in an email to Maryland Matters that spring, saying his experience in federal, state and local government made him uniquely equipped to reduce county government taxes and spending.
“The federal squeeze put on our High Tax State of Maryland and Prince George’s County and its 28 municipalities requires that we hold on to our existing and increase the number of taxpayers,” he said.
Bogley wound up finishing ninth in the nine-way Democratic primary, winning 308 votes total — just 0.2% of the vote.
But he remained a visible presence in the community. Lucchi said he last chatted with Bogley, who was gardening in front of his house, in 2019, when Lucchi was running for mayor of Bowie.
“He was a gentleman, a great person to work with,” Lucchi said.
Burns: Abortion is ‘morally wrong’
Burns, who was elected to the House of Delegates to represent a Baltimore County district in 1994, died Thursday from complications of a fall, according to media accounts. He was 81.
Like Bogley, Burns was a Democrat with conservative views on social issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights — views that also were largely informed by his religion. Burns was the founding pastor of the Rising Sun First Baptist Church in Woodlawn — which he started 40 years ago in his living room.
Burns grew up in Mississippi and was a protégé of Medgar Evers, the slain civil rights leader. He moved to Baltimore in 1979 to take a job with the national office of the NAACP. And during his 20-year tenure in the legislature, he is best known as the prime sponsor of the bill that named BWI Airport after the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.
But despite his strong civil rights record, he confounded LGBTQ activists by vehemently opposing gay rights legislation that Glendening proposed and championed. And in a Baltimore Sun candidate survey in 1994, he called abortion “morally wrong.”
Glendening said that even though he found Burns’ opposition to gay rights frustrating, the lawmaker was extremely pleasant in social settings — and never discussed their political differences.
The former governor, who spent decades as a political science professor at the University of Maryland, said marking the passing of conservative Democrats like Bogley and Burns must be paired by lamenting the political departures of “progressive Republicans” in Maryland like the late U.S. Sen. Charles “Mac” Mathias and former Reps. Constance A. Morella and Helen Delich Bentley.
“With moderate Democrats and progressive Republicans, you could build a coalition and do a lot of things,” he said.