Steele Running Against History

At a National Night Out event in White Plains, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele chats with Cameron Duncan, 4, and his dad.
At a National Night Out event in White Plains, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele chats with Cameron Duncan, 4, and his dad. (By Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
By Matthew Mosk and John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 7, 2005

The sweltering afternoon that Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele spent strolling the streets of La Plata last week, sipping lemonade in the office of a title attorney, shaking hands in the hospital cafeteria, offering advice to town officials, was not part of an as-yet-unannounced campaign for U.S. Senate.

It was, he said, just part of his job.

On the surface, few jobs in Maryland appear better suited to be a springboard to higher office than that of lieutenant governor. It bestows upon its incumbent widespread name recognition, the freedom to travel the state, a generous budget and on-the-job training.

And yet, in the 35 years since the position was created by constitutional amendment, no lieutenant governor has been elected to the governor's office or won a seat in either chamber of Congress.

Of the six who have held the title, only one has succeeded in ever again winning a statewide race -- and in that case, J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) set aside his gubernatorial ambitions to seek the job of attorney general.

Maryland's lieutenant governorship, said Allan J. Lichtman, a historian who closely follows the state's politics, has become the "broken diving board" of electoral hopefuls.

Consider the Chicago Cubs. Or (until last year) the Bambino's grip on the Boston Red Sox. Only this curse isn't in the batter's box -- it's at the ballot box.

The job has served as a "deep freeze" for budding candidates, said Lichtman, an American University professor who, it must be disclosed, is considering a U.S. Senate bid himself. When the candidates emerge, the results have been pretty dismal.

Consider Samuel W. Bogley (D), who from 1979 to 1982 sputtered through four years as Gov. Harry R. Hughes's second in command.

Bogley had been a Prince George's County Council member when his sway with voters in the Washington region helped him become Hughes's running mate.

But it wasn't long before that marriage of convenience lost its gloss. There was his antiabortion activism, which alienated his boss; his regular statements about possibly switching political parties; and his humiliation when Hughes, upon leaving the state, failed, except once, to name him acting governor.

Hughes dumped him, and when the governor won a second term, Bogley wasn't even invited to the inauguration. Higher office was forever out of reach. "You can sure be forgotten in a hurry," Bogley said.

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