In 1950, incumbent Democratic Gov. William Preston Lane Jr. was seeking reelection in Maryland. Lane had won the office four years earlier by a wide margin. But by 1950, he was in trouble. He had committed his administration to taking on the numerous infrastructure improvements that had been delayed by World War II — including the Bay Bridge. Lane financed these improvements with a sales tax increase. Few could dispute the need for the improvements, yet the tax hike proved to be quite unpopular. In 1950, Lane was challenged for the Democratic nomination by George Mahoney. Mahoney was a conservative Democrat who appeared often on ballots during that era. Lane survived the primary but emerged weakened.
In the general election, he faced off against the former Republican mayor of Baltimore, Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin. McKeldin trounced Lane 57 to 42 percent. At the time, it was the widest victory margin for any gubernatorial candidate ever in the state, and it remains the high water mark for GOP candidates for governor.
McKeldin was an effective and successful chief executive. He was what many today would call a New England or Rockefeller Republican. He did not dismiss government as evil or even as a necessary evil; rather, he believed it served an important purpose. For McKeldin, that purpose was largely related to infrastructure, and Marylanders benefit from his legacy any time they travel I-695, I-495 or Route 50. McKeldin was re-elected in 1954 and, after temporarily leaving public life in 1959, was again elected mayor of Baltimore from 1963 to 1967. He was the last two-term Republican governor in Maryland, and the last Republican Mayor of Baltimore.
So what does any of this have to do with 2014 and the Maryland Republican gubernatorial nominating contest? I would argue that there are several things to be learned from McKeldin and the 1950 election. One important lesson: Unpopular policies can harm a candidate even if voters agree with the need for the policies. Lane was seriously harmed by the increased sales tax even as voters recognized the good that was coming from the revenue. Over the past seven years, Marylanders have been subject to numerous tax increases — sales, income, gas, fees. Voters in this blue state may support the programs being funded, but that doesn’t mean they’re not smarting from the lost income.
The increased sales and gas taxes may be the most onerous. Voter anger weakened Lane and created an opening for McKeldin.
[Continue reading Todd Eberly’s post at The FreeStater Blog.]
Todd Eberly blogs at The FreeStaterBlog. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.