Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said Tuesday that he is moving “closer to a yes” on whether to run for Maryland governor in 2018, but won’t make a final decision until after the legislative session in Annapolis ends in mid-April.
In an wide-ranging interview with The Washington Post, Baker, 58, said he has been touring the state to assess whether a gubernatorial run is the next step for him after his second and final term governing Maryland’s second-most populous jurisdiction.
“I think there are some things I’d like to do” as governor, said Baker (D), who served eight years as a lawmaker in Annapolis before being elected chief executive.
“The way I make decisions is deciding whether in fact I think I can do a better job than the person in there or whether I think I can do the job to move either the county or the state forward. Once I make that decision, I go.”
Baker is one of several Democrats weighing whether to seek their party’s nomination to challenge first-term Gov. Larry Hogan (R), a moderate who is one of the most popular governors in state history.
In addition to approval ratings above 70 percent, Hogan has more than $5 million in his campaign coffers, 20 times what Baker has on hand.
But Baker seemed undaunted by those numbers, noting that Hogan himself lacked campaign cash and name recognition when he ran an upstart campaign three years ago against then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D).
Citing the enthusiasm he witnessed at the Women’s March in Washington this weekend, Baker said reinvigorated Democratic turnout in Maryland and elsewhere could carry candidates like him into office in the 2018 midterm elections.
Baker said Hogan “hasn’t made any mistakes” of significance during his two years in office, but also has failed to take advantage of his popularity to advance a broad vision or agenda.
“I don’t know what he’s done,” Baker said of the governor, who has said he will seek a second term. “If you’re at a 74 percent approval rating, you use that to change the issues you care about. It is not simply for reelection, it is about what do you change. That’s the problem I have with it.”
Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, disputed Baker’s characterization, pointing to the governor’s actions on Tuesday, when he unveiled a set of proposals to fight the state’s opioid crisis.
The governor respects Baker and “has appreciated their productive working relationship over the last two years, which includes providing record funding for education across the state and in Prince George’s County as well,” Mayer said.
In the interview, Baker criticized Hogan for not funding schools beyond existing formulas, and staked out different positions from him on key transit projects as well.
The Democrat said he would have approved the proposed Red Line light rail system in Baltimore, which Hogan killed in 2015 and declared a “wasteful boondoggle,” and said he would revive the project if elected governor.
He also said he would not have hesitated, as Hogan did, in supporting the light-rail Purple Line project in the Washington suburbs. Hogan told project planners to cut costs and insisted that Montgomery and Prince George’s counties contribute more money to the light-rail line.
“You need transportation that allows people to get to the job centers and expand the commercial tax base,” Baker said.
Baker said he’s been encouraged by recent visits to Baltimore City and Baltimore, Frederick, Montgomery and Charles counties, where he said he had conversations with prospective voters on public education, economic development and transportation concerns.
If he decides to run, he said, he believes that his record boosting economic development, reducing crime and rebuilding neighborhoods in Prince George’s, and asserting more control over the county’s public schools, would form the foundation of his campaign.
That record would leave him open to criticism, however, about continued problems with education, poverty and public safety in the county. Baker has also suffered some stinging political defeats as county executive, including a failed attempt to dramatically raise property taxes to generate more money for public schools.
The key to his decision on the governor’s race, Baker said, will be: “Do I have a passion to do something and do I have the talent to do it?”
He said he decided to run for county executive after watching his political mentor, the late Wayne K. Curry, lead Prince George’s, and was so determined to capture the office that he ran and lost twice before winning in 2010. His potential opponents in a Democratic primary include Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (D), U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) and others.
“When [Hogan] ran, he didn’t have any money or any name recognition and the person that was supposed to win was Anthony Brown,” Baker joked. “And I think Hillary Clinton is president?”