Maryland governor’s race could mark shift in political power from Baltimore to D.C. suburbs

Robert McCartney
Columnist April 23

Regardless of who triumphs in the Maryland Democratic gubernatorial primary June 24, the state’s Washington suburbs are almost certain to come out ahead.

In a sign of expanding regional clout, the three major primary candidates hail from our area. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown is from Prince George’s County. Attorney General Doug Gansler and Del. Heather Mizeur are from Montgomery County.

Robert McCartney’s column on local issues appears Thursdays and Sundays in The Post’s Metro section. View Archive

Given the Democrats’ dominance in the state, it’s therefore very likely that the next governor will come from our region for the first time in 12 years — and for only the second time in nearly a century and a half.

As a result, this year’s election could mark the tipping point in a change underway for more than two decades as the Free State’s center of political power shifts from its historical home in the Baltimore region to our more-populous, faster-growing area.

“When I was running, the general perception was you couldn’t win if you were from the Washington suburbs,” former governor Parris Glendening (D) said. He broke the curse, winning the governorship in 1994 and 1998 after serving as Prince George’s county executive.

But the pendulum swung back quickly. The next governor, Bob Ehrlich (R), was from the Baltimore suburbs. The incumbent, Martin O’Malley (D), though raised in Montgomery, made his career in Baltimore, where he served as mayor.

Now the Washington suburbs have become so potent politically that the three leading candidates for lieutenant governor are also from our area, or at least close to it.

Gansler’s running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey, and Mizeur’s, pastor Delman Coates, are from Prince George’s. Brown’s running mate, Ken Ulman, is county executive of Howard, where the Washington and Baltimore areas overlap.

A Washington area governor will be an important plus for our region in numerous ways, according to political observers including the county executives of Montgomery and Prince George’s.

Although O’Malley has been supportive of our area, it would be helpful to have a governor with more personal experience and a political base here.

It should help ensure that we get a larger chunk of state funds to build schools, especially to relieve crowding in Montgomery.

Our area isn’t getting its fair share of school construction money, considering its population. That’s partly because the rest of the state typically sees our region as a source of tax revenue rather than a place with needs of its own.

“What happens far too often, there’s a tendency among officials around the state to look at Montgomery as a huge, fairly wealthy community that they can call on to get resources without recognizing the challenges that it faces,” Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett (D) said.

But Leggett noted, “All three [major primary] candidates have indicated they are willing to address the school construction challenges that we have in Montgomery.”

The change should also lead to more attention being paid in Annapolis to the need for local road improvements and the Corridor Cities Transitway in Montgomery. (The Purple Line is already a high priority for everyone.)

It should affect appointments, so our area would be better represented in the state Cabinet, state agencies and regulatory bodies.

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D) said he’d welcome having someone familiar with his county’s need for economic development and transportation aid.

“In a selfish way, I think it makes it easier for us in the Washington region to make our case,” Baker said. “A lot of people assume we have these magical resources. Having someone who won’t look at you with a jaundiced eye when you walk in the door is important.”

I asked each of the three leading Democratic campaigns to comment on the effect of having a governor from the Washington area. Naturally, they were wary of saying anything that might be interpreted as slighting the needs of Baltimore and the rest of the state.

Brown’s campaign sent me a list of ways that the lieutenant governor has “made building a better Prince George’s and Montgomery County a top priority.”

A spokesman for Mizeur said she “doesn’t really subscribe to geographic politics.”

The Gansler campaign suggested that I talk to one of the attorney general’s supporters, Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery). He said any of the three would help the Washington area with such issues as school building funds. He also said Gansler would build an administration “that skews more to our part of the state.”

It’s overdue.

I discuss local issues at 8:50 a.m. Friday on WAMU (88.5 FM). For previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/mccartney.

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local