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June 27, 2006

The Running Mate Decision

Kevin E. Dayhoff

As the July 3rd filing deadline approaches, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr., will officially announce his candidacy for re-election tomorrow in Arbutus.

The big question is will he, at that time, announce his new running mate considering Lt. Gov. Michael Steele has set his hopes of serving the next six years from an office in Washington.

Days after the veto hearing last Tuesday, there has been speculation that the governor will opt to get two news cycles out of kicking off his official campaign and announce his running mate at a later time.

In a textbook approach, staging two announcements would make sense, however, Annapolis and the world of Maryland politics these days defies any semblance of textbook politics. As 2006 continues to unfold, the opera we know as Maryland politics continues to get curiouser and curiouser.

Keeping the running mate choice a secret until a second announcement is possible, but is it probable? The upside is that as soon as the governor announces, speculation over the lieutenant governor decision will be a news cycle all to its own.

Meanwhile, lost in the recent flurry of activity over the latest machinations and theatre over mitigating the electric rate increase when the 1999 electric deregulation caps come off for Baltimore Gas and Electric on Saturday, has been just who the governor will choose.

Montgomery County Executive Doug Duncan’s sudden withdrawal from the Democratic gubernatorial race last Thursday further distracted political insiders and pundits from speculating as to the governor’s choice to help him run the state for the next four years.

After the longstanding Democrat U. S. Senator Paul S. Sarbanes surprised many and announced his retirement, Lieutenant Governor Steele was immediately expected to run for the vacated seat. Until then, Republicans were confident that a re-election campaign with Lieutenant Governor Steele was a sure winner, with the appropriate amount of hard work.

After Mr. Steele officially announced for the Senate seat, there was much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth on the part of Republicans as to who could fill his slot in the gubernatorial campaign of Governor Ehrlich.

Immediately there was spin promoted that the slot was not really that important to the governor’s re-election bid. Nobody really bought it.

Considering the continuing erosion of the Democrat base in the African-American community and because that constituency commands one-third of the vote in Maryland, gubernatorial hopefuls Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Duncan quickly scoured the state for an appropriate African-American running mate.

Even as younger African-Americans continue to register Republican, the challenge for the governor has been where to find an African-American leader with the necessary experience and state-wide name recognition and credentials; especially since Lt. Gov. Steele had worked hard to turn the job of lieutenant governor into a highly visible and meaningful position.

In 2002, candidate for governor and Congressman Ehrlich thought outside the box to tap Mr. Steele, then head of the Maryland Republican Party, for the lieutenant governor slot. For insiders, who were familiar with Mr. Steele, the choice made perfect sense, because of his leadership and consummate grasp of statewide issues.

Once the news media kicked into gear, and folks got to know him, the fact that he was a conservative African-American leader helped seal the election victory.

So, what will the governor do this time?

It would certainly be nice for Maryland’s powerful African-American constituency to be once again have representation in the statehouse.

One name among several always rises to the top, Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Victor Hoskins.

Then again – to state the obvious – one out of every two voters in Maryland is female. The one potential female candidate out there with the necessary vision, ideas and leadership skills remains the Howard County Republican Sen. Sandra Schrader.

Although Secretary Hoskins is an extremely accomplished gentleman of enormous intelligence and capability, the wild card is whether or not he has the appropriate passion for the political arena: a frothing theatre, as Blair Lee best put it, “in the midst of a tricky re-election year and besieged daily by a hostile, biased media…”

An environment where character assassination is a casual pastime for the political writers of Baltimore’s Sun and the Maryland Democratic Party. In the end, will Secretary Hoskins want to subject himself and his family to that world? If he chooses the direction of politics, he will excel, but why would he want to? He has accomplished great things in the Department of Housing and Community Development, a world of finance, housing, revitalization, and visionary urban planning where it is performance that counts.

Fortunately, recognition of the importance of respecting the needs of African-American citizens is no longer the anomaly that it once was. In the end, quality of life, opportunity, public safety, access to a good education, and family values are everyone’s issues and the lieutenant governor could be a red-haired, left-handed Aleut of Hungarian descent as long as African-Americans and all Marylanders have access to the American dream.

Meanwhile, Senator Schrader’s accomplishment has been in the difficult world of politics, where as a centrist, she is popular and has gained the respect of both parties. She certainly knows the issues and would be an excellent statewide spokeswoman for furthering the Ehrlich Administration’s initiatives.

If there was anything lacking during Governor Ehrlich’s first administration it was having someone with the experience of having served in the legislature working the delegates and senators Assembly with the clout of the lieutenant governor’s office. Senator Schrader can do that and besides, she will make an excellent governor after the 2010 elections.

Conventional wisdom and smart money is on Senator Schrader. We will soon know whether or not this speculation is correct.

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

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