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December 8, 2005

The Lieutenant Governor Decision

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Now that Lt. Gov. Michael Steele is off and running to be our next U.S. senator from Maryland, many are wondering just who would make a good choice for a running mate for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich. Never mind that the election is almost a year away.

There is a great deal of work to be done before the governor needs to make that decision. Perhaps we should focus upon the immediate tasks ahead – say, for example, the next session of the Maryland General Assembly? Right, you remember that starts next month.

In the meantime, let’s take a look at the lieutenant governor decision despite the fact that folks are getting way ahead of themselves. Let’s examine the criteria for the choice; the “what” instead of the “who.”

Can you name a candidate for lieutenant governor who brings as much to the gubernatorial ticket as what Michael Steele did in 2002?

Now that we have watched Mr. Steele for a number of years, it is only natural to compare and contrast any potential candidate for the job with him. Having said that, surprisingly Lieutenant Governor Steele’s 2002 contribution seems to be the subject of discussion among some critical thinkers in the party – but not for me.

With African-Americans representing one out of every three voters in Maryland, not only did Michael Steele contribute a wealth of knowledge and a first rate intellect to the ticket – but also a long overdue recognition of the importance and clout of Maryland’s black community.

Perhaps many of us would be surprised to learn how many young black Marylanders go into that voting booth and vote for conservative talent the likes of a Michael Steele.

This is a great opportunity for the Maryland Republican Party. As the current generation of African-Americans chart their own course in their careers, there is no doubt that many are finding the principles and ideals of the Republican Party attractive. Is there another black leader like Michael Steele?

In addition – to state the obvious – one out of every two voters in Maryland is female. What female candidates are out there with the necessary vision, ideas and leadership skills?

As much as any credible gubernatorial ticket must be appealing to the voting clout of Baltimore City, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, many movers and shakers suggest that what really put Governor Ehrlich over the top in the 2002 election was voters in areas such as Carroll, Frederick, Baltimore, Howard and Harford County.

Of course, each and every rural vote in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore was important. Additionally, let us not overlook the significance of the suburban Hispanic and Jewish vote – often fiscally conservative but socially liberal. In this capacity, Governor Ehrlich came close enough on many of the social issues to siphon off enough votes to make a difference.

The fact that Michael Steele was a black leader from Prince George’s County was relatively insignificant. In the years before the 2002 election, Mr. Steele has made himself known to the public, many of whom admired his intellect, his vision for the future, and his ability to articulate the issues.

Maryland voters can be rather sophisticated and recognize talent when they see it. Otherwise, Kathleen Townsend would have been elected in 2002. Voters recognized that Michael Steele was not a “token” as moronically suggested in a Baltimore’s Sun editorial on November 4, 2002: "[Michael Steele] brings little to the team but the color of his skin."

It could easily be argued that Ms. Townsend and her running mate never gained the confidence of the voters because their campaign was essentially about Townsend being a “Kennedy,” and not about well-articulated ideas and vision as demonstrated by the Ehrlich-Steele campaign.

The Democrats are focusing early on the lieutenant governor issue as a way of rationalizing their loss in 2002. Much angst and hand-ringing is taking place on the part of the governor’s challengers as to whom to pick as a running mate, pretending that will make up for their lack of innovative ideas instead of the same old tax and spend solutions of their failed past.

What the Democrats don’t understand is that it’s about new visions and fresh ideas – not the superficiality of what the lieutenant governor looks like.

While they play politics, the governor needs to keep working.

Marylanders are looking for leadership, sound judgment and bipartisan consensus, not the petty politics of self-importance that passes for much of today’s Annapolis dialogue. A Republican is currently in the governor’s mansion and the Republican Party has a responsibility to continue that fresh wind of change and leadership.

The governor must be encouraged to build upon the record of credible leadership and the significant work done by Lieutenant Governor Steele. Mr. Ehrlich must reach out and tap one of the best and brightest leaders available to join him on the ticket next year.

That is – the best and brightest Republican. Although, whomever Governor Ehrlich picks should receive unwavering support. The selection must be – and have been – a Republican and not someone who switches parties at the last minute for cosmetic purposes. Voters are too smart for that. Just remember Charles R. Larson if you need an example to prove that kind of folly. Should Governor Ehrlich repeat anything out of Kathleen Townsend’s playbook?

Does Governor Ehrlich’s choice for the lieutenant governor need to be a black leader? Does the lieutenant governor need to be from Prince George’s County? Or a women? How about a left-handed, red haired Eskimo of Hungarian descent? Good grief. How about avoiding the superficial and pandering politics of the Maryland Democratic Party?

One can certainly understand political, geographical and demographic realities, but how about a really novel approach? Do as the governor did in run up to the 2002 election and pick the best available candidate.

The best and the brightest candidates are going to be advocates for minorities; support diversity and gender issues; support individual rights; for empowerment, and will honor each person’s dignity, freedom, and abilities. He or she will be fiscally conservative; will believe in personal responsibility; will work hard for businesses and the environment; will believe in market forces and facilitating self-actualization. The person the governor chooses will have ideas and vision and be able to articulate a future for Maryland.

Before we discuss specific individuals qualified for the lieutenant governor’s office, let’s have a discussion about the qualities we want that person to possess, not their gender or color.

The lieutenant governor question will fall into place in due time and then we will roll up our sleeves and get to work. Right now, let’s concentrate on the next session of the Maryland General Assembly.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at:

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