Opinion: Maryland giving birth to a new political center
By Dave Anderson
The writer has taught political philosophy at five universities, is editor of “Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework” (Springer, 2014), and ran for Congress in the Democratic Primary in Maryland’s 8th District in 2016. He can be reached at [email protected] An earlier version of this commentary originally appeared in The Fulcrum.
Maryland should be moving toward a New Center. Our politics is extremely polarized, and we need a politics which respects the 30% to 50% of the country which does not align with pure versions of either the Republican or Democratic Party or certainly extremist right-wing and left-wing perspectives.
With 43% of the country identifying as independents according to a recent Gallup poll, the national dialogue about our red-coat/blue-coat war remains a serious distortion.
Maryland in recent years has been a laboratory of change, deliberately or unintentionally, on the part of the voters and the politicians. The legislature remains extremely Democratic, where both the House of Delegates and the Senate have supermajorities. Government House, the home of the governor, has been occupied by Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican.
Hogan is thus not to be confused with polarized Republicans on Capitol Hill or extremely conservative Republican governors in a range of U.S. states.
Governor Hogan has fought not to increase taxes and been pro-business. He is one of the few Republican governors and Republican politicians in general who has sharply criticized Donald Trump, both as president and former president. Moreover, Hogan has compromised on budgetary issues and policy issues throughout his tenure as governor and set a basically calm tone for Annapolis politics. The Democrats have pushed through major reforms for education and for African Americans.
Since 1916, the state legislature has had limited power to affect the annual state budget — as they can cut but not add to the budget except via various indirect ways. In January 2023 this will change due to a referendum from November 2021, giving the Maryland legislature, like all other U.S. state legislatures, power to both cut and add to the governor’s proposed budget. Yet the House and Senate have substantial power when it comes to passing bills about public policy.
In their movement toward a New Center, though, the legislature and the governor frequently do not explicitly agree to major public policies.
The legislature overrides Hogan vetoes on important policies, like paid parental leave. And Hogan at times lets bills become laws without signing them, as he did with a renewable energy bill. In this pattern, the state has been moving in a New Centrist direction as the legislature and governor have pushed and pulled each other in directions they themselves have not always wanted to go.
Maryland, lore has it, is “America in Miniature”: there is the combination of urban, suburban and rural life; the Chesapeake Bay and our beaches, mountains, rivers, lakes and caves; the very high percent of African-Americans and minorities in general; the very Democratic counties, Montgomery, Prince Georges, and Howard, and the majority of the 23 counties which typically vote Republican; the military bases; and now the biotech industry, Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky.
Maryland is a microcosm of the country.
The state government is neither New York nor Alabama, neither very blue nor very red. It is in the purple category although most Democrats statewide want to return to blue territory throughout the entire government and the Republican voters are hopeful they can retain Government House.
The race will no doubt gather national attention, as the Democrats have selected the outsider nonprofit leader Wes Moore to face off with the one term Trump-endorsed Republican member of the House of Delegates, Dan Cox.
Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, it is hard to argue with former Senator Barbara Mikulski, who said that Maryland is no longer “cobalt blue.”
The voters of Maryland, like the voters of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Illinois over the course of several decades, have frequently selected a Republican governor to either restrain or manage or lead the legislature. They have also elected supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature to push for progressive change on matters of education, health care, transportation and crime.
Because of its diverse population and its balance of industry and farming and tourism; because of its racial strife in Baltimore and progressive calls to fight crime and eliminate police brutality; because it is the home of former Governor Parris Glendening’s Smart Growth Movement as well as the National Anthem; and because it has been balancing progressive and conservative values the last eight years, Maryland is a model for the reshaping, renewal and redirection of America.