The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Wes Moore made history by being elected. Now, he must govern.

Wes Moore walks to the Maryland State House with his wife, Dawn Flythe, and their children, James and Mia, before his inauguration as governor on Wednesday in Annapolis. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

It should not be such a political milestone that Wes Moore is Maryland’s new governor. In a blue state, he ran as a mainstream Democrat against a MAGA Republican who was in the crowd during the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. With state and national GOP leaders all but ceding the race, Moore was expected to win in a landslide — and did just that.

But history was indeed made on Wednesday at Moore’s inauguration, because he is just the third African American to be elected governor in the nation’s history. There was L. Douglas Wilder in Virginia from 1990 to 1994. There was Deval Patrick in Massachusetts from 2007 to 2015. And now there is Moore.

As Wes Moore is inaugurated, two trailblazing Black governors reflect

The day’s events in Annapolis gleamed with the importance of the moment. Moore was introduced by Oprah Winfrey. He was sworn in on a Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass. There were references to other Marylanders who had played major roles in African American history, including Harriet Tubman and Thurgood Marshall. Moore had hardly walked through the doors of the governor’s mansion before speculation began about his viability as a presidential candidate.

Slow down, everybody. Give the man a chance to catch his breath.

The Post's View: Wes Moore, Maryland's first Black governor, show's the state's potential

At just 44, Moore has compiled a stunning résumé. Born in Takoma Park and raised in New York, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University. He went on to Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, earning a master’s degree in international relations. He served in the Army and fought in Afghanistan, rising to the rank of captain. He served as a White House Fellow. He worked on Wall Street at Deutsche Bank and Citibank. He wrote a best-selling memoir, “The Other Wes Moore.” He produced a documentary for PBS. He ran a massive New York nonprofit organization, the Robin Hood Foundation.

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But one thing he has never done is hold elective office, and another is run a bureaucracy on the scale of the Maryland state government. There is no reason, given his accomplishments, to doubt he can succeed. As Winfrey, a close friend of the new governor, said on Wednesday, “Wes Moore has been a public servant his entire adult life.” But every new governor, no matter how talented, faces a learning curve.

Thousands of Marylanders, politicians and celebrities attended Wes Moore's inauguration on Jan. 18. Moore was sworn in as the state's first Black governor. (Video: Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post)

And Moore has set for himself the highest expectations. Maryland is one of the nation’s wealthiest states but tolerates appalling disparities between rich and poor. Moore has pledged to bridge that gap — to make the state more equitable while also growing the economy. He promises to reduce the violent crime that plagues Baltimore, which is still in search of a postindustrial path to prosperity. He promises to address the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans. He promises to make Maryland a leader in the fight against climate change.

Maryland is also one of the nation’s most diverse states, and its new government reflects that fact. Newly inaugurated Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) is an immigrant from India who took the oath of office with her hand on the Bhagavad Gita. Anthony G. Brown (D) was sworn in earlier this month as the state’s first Black attorney general. Brooke E. Lierman (D) is the first woman to serve as Maryland’s comptroller.

Mindful of the challenges facing the state, Moore told the crowd that “I’m asking you to believe Maryland can be different.” It was one of those days when it was easy to suspend disbelief.

But now, after the soaring poetry of ceremony, comes the prose of governing. Moore has yet to spell out his legislative priorities — a blueprint for how he intends to start fulfilling his pledges. And he has no time for basking in the moment.

The 90-day session of the Maryland state legislature, which is controlled by Democrats, has already begun. On Friday, Moore is scheduled to announce his first state budget plan, which will show what problems he intends to tackle first. The fact that Democrats have majorities in both legislative chambers will make life easier for Moore, but he will still have to deal with regional claims and ideological shadings.

And everything he does will be under an intense spotlight, precisely because of the great expectations that attend him. Moore said repeatedly during the campaign that his “assignment is not to make history,” but his inauguration embraced the fact that that is what he has done. His successes and failures will be evaluated — prematurely — in the context of a potential run for higher office.

My advice would be for him to keep as a touchstone the promise and potential of his inauguration day — because, as any governor can tell him, there will be days when he wishes he really was some other Wes Moore.