Barry Rascovar: One election down, governor’s race ahead -- Gazette.Net


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So much for the 2012 elections. It’s on to 2014 and the race to succeed Gov. Martin O’Malley.

It will be a crowded field.

One big unknown is the fate of the current governor. Will he be asked to serve in the Obama Cabinet before the end of O’Malley’s term?

If the governor hitches a ride to Washington, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown automatically replaces O’Malley.

That would give Brown an edge in 2014. He would be the incumbent governor with a record of his own and far broader name recognition than in his current, nearly invisible job.

With time to separate himself from the governor’s policies, Brown might end the hex on Maryland’s lieutenant governors.

Since voters re-established the office in 1970 after a 102-year hiatus, every lieutenant governor has craved the top state spot -- Sam Bogley, Blair Lee III, Joe Curran, Mickey Steinberg, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Michael Steele. Voters never granted them their wish.

Right now, Brown faces the same roadblock Townsend confronted. He must defend each and every position taken by O’Malley. That could be a heavy burden if O’Malley finds he has to raise taxes yet again. There are pressing needs that can’t be addressed without a significant amount of new revenue, especially in transportation and health care.

Only if O’Malley makes an early exit can Brown become more than an O’Malley cheerleader in the eyes of voters.

Should the governor serve out his term Brown might have tough sledding. He’ll still have to defend eight years of sometimes-controversial policy decisions while establishing new positions for himself that don’t embarrass or contradict the current governor -- not an easy task.

Most governors leave office after two terms with high negatives ratings. They wear out their welcome. That could be O’Malley’s legacy to his lieutenant governor, too.

The other elected constitutional officers, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Attorney General Doug Gansler, will be Brown’s main opponents. We know little about what they’d be like as governor.

Gansler has run a large public law firm but has never had to make decisions on raising taxes, cutting social services or how to maneuver a long list of priorities through a rambunctious House and Senate.

He is a glib, high-energy campaigner, a relentless fundraiser and a consummate networker. He’s got mounds of campaign cash that could prove crucial in a close race.

Franchot is a political chameleon. His positions often depend on which constituency he’s trying to impress. During this year’s election, he locked arms with Penn National, the out-of-state casino giant seeking to block a gambling facility in Prince George’s County that would pose a huge danger to its lucrative West Virginia casino.

But Franchot and Penn National lost their bet. Backing a losing cause is never good politics. Franchot now has gained a reputation as a politician willing to ally himself with private-sector interests to kill an economic development project and deprive the state of hundreds of millions in tax revenue to keep a sixth casino from being built.

That’s not a winning position in most elections. And two years from now, voters may be even less impressed with Franchot’s position if full-scale casino gambling proves popular and profitable for the state.

Though he spent 20 years in the legislature as a Takoma Park liberal, Comptroller Franchot has staked out a conservative stance on many issues. In a Democratic primary that’s not where a candidate wants to be; the vast majority of primary voters are far to the left of center.

Franchot wants to be viewed as an official willing to criticize O’Malley. The comptroller has used the Board of Public Works as a bully pulpit to complain about a host of O’Malley initiatives that he says are wasteful and of questionable value.

Others are looking at the governor’s race, too, including liberal Del. Heather Mizeur of Takoma Park, who got a big boost from her vocal championing of same-sex marriage. She’s highly visible on women’s rights, environmental and social issues important to Democratic Party core groups.

Another wannabe is Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. He’s been a successful chief in that affulent subdivision but translating that into statewide viability could be daunting. There’s not much of a voter base in Howard for Ulman to build upon.

On the Republican side, the one candidate with a legitimate shot at being competitive with the Democrats is Harford County Executive David Craig. In difficult recessionary times, Craig steered his county through it with a minimum of pain. He made difficult budget choices but did so with compassion and common sense.

Craig, a retired teacher and school principal, was a popular state senator in Annapolis. His credentials are impressive and his sensible, pragmatic outlook toward governing could win over centrist voters.

But Maryland remains a decidedly Democratic state, as we saw last week. Unless the Democrats get into a bitter primary brawl, the winner in 2014 is unlikely to come from the GOP side.

Barry Rascovar is a political columnist and a communications consultant. He can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.