Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Maryland Governor's Race, or, Politics as Usual

Maryland's governor can't run again, opening up the field for this year's election. So here I am, perusing the candidates' web sites and wondering why I am always presented with the same set of choices. First, the Democrats.

The front-runner and likely next governor is Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, who would be Maryland's first "black" governor -- actually his skin looks like mine when I have a tan -- but is otherwise running the most boring possible mainstream campaign. Click on the Vision tab of his web site and you get this:
Anthony believes that creating a brighter future for all Marylanders is built on the foundation of stronger schools, safer neighborhoods, a cleaner environment, more opportunities for families and a growing economy. Anthony understands that we’ll only succeed by working together to take on the tough issues facing our state – that’s why he’s laid out a detailed vision to build a better Maryland for more Marylanders in the years to come.
There is also a tab for Real Results. If you like the status quo, he is your guy. Since most Marylanders do -- and why not, since we just passed Connecticut to become the state with the highest median income -- he will probably win.

For challengers, we have a moderately interesting progressive lesbian, Heather Mizeur, who has managed to be pretty successful in Annapolis despite looking like a suburbanite's nightmare vision of the lesbian progressive future. She speaks better than the other candidates because she is always absolutely clear where she stands on every issue: the left side. She is strongly for marijuana legalization, an issue that Brown seems to have dodged, and has a "comprehensive plan" that involves using marijuana tax revenue to fund universal preschool. Mizeur comes from Takoma Park, which used to be a nuclear free zone, and in keeping with local tradition she has lots of positions about things like the Keystone Pipeline that have nothing to do with Maryland.

Also Doug Gansler, the Attorney General, who likes to portray himself as a fighter for regular people like you. There are big banners all over his web site saying FIGHTING FOR YOU. But he seems to have trouble making up his mind about what that means, and his web site is full of statements like:
Protecting the Bay should not come at the expense of our farmers and our agriculture industry.
He also has a detailed economic plan, called THE SOLUTION, which doesn't impress me very much but does show that he cares a lot about the unemployed. Gansler has the endorsement of some black groups because, frankly, Anthony Brown seems too busy grooming his career to keep in touch with poor black folks and Gansler at least acts like he cares. So far as I can tell, though, his actual platform is nearly identical to Brown's, and since he went to Yale his populism is a bit forced. He seems to me to be a driven, high-energy crusader in search of a mission. The Baltimore Sun summarized his campaign like this:
The attorney general, 51, says he's running for governor as a candidate who will change the status quo. 
Those are the real candidates, but one of the fringe offerings caught my interest. If the lesbian organic farmer from Takoma Park as not far enough left for you, there is also Cindy "Heather Mizeur is NOT a progressive" Walsh, whose web site proclaims,
She is best known as a labor activist and progressive blogger, and she promises that as governor she will keep blogging to draw attention to issues like police brutality and international trade deals. She compares Mizeur to Obama in 2007, running as a progressive but really a corporate shill.

Among Republicans, the front-runner is probably Harford County Executive David Craig, who has tried to neutralize his being the oldest, whitest guy in the race by taking on the youngest, most attractive woman in the House of Delegates as his running mate. The first item under his Issues tab is Second Amendment. Not until the third do you get to Fiscal Responsibility, and here Craig does have a good record, cutting taxes in his county while maintaining a decent level of service. Otherwise his program is pretty generic Republican: lower taxes, less regulation, lots of this sort of blaph:
David Craig would emphasize consumer choice over bureaucracy when it comes to providing health care coverage and insurance.

Two of my neighbors have signs out for businessman and former cabinet secretary Larry Hogan, running as the angry conservative. He is also focused almost exclusively on taxes, spending and regulation, and makes this promise:
Every decision Larry Hogan makes as governor will be put to a simple test – Will this law or action make it easier for families and small businesses to stay in Maryland and will it make more families and businesses want to come to Maryland?
In some ways Hogan seems refreshing to me, and he has certainly put his finger on what I regard as the state's biggest challenge -- even though salaries here are high and unemployment is low, people are moving out, mainly because housing in safe white neighborhoods is very expensive. (Massachusetts and greater New York City have the same problem.) However, his plan is full of the same no hard choices pablum; he claims to have identified $1.75 billion in "waste, fraud and abuse" in the state budget.

Then there is Ron George, jewelry store owner and member of the House of Delegates, who has a Ten Point Plan for Maryland that actually has 48 points in it. (Under ten headings, but still.) This makes me wonder about his arithmetic skills, especially since he plans to fund his 10% cut in the state income tax by:
Requiring independent audits of all departments and agencies, including our Medicaid, Welfare, and state health insurance, and cutting any waste found by these audits; and Improve needed efficiency and effectiveness. Guiding money more directly to its intended target, cutting out government middlemen.
That ought to save about, oh, 0.01% of his tax cut. In a nod toward cranky conservatism, his 48th and final point is:
Protect your God Given Rights Guaranteed by our Constitution
There is also a black Republican in the race, Marine veteran and business executive Charles Lollar, who has a plan to eliminate Maryland's income tax; his idea is that eliminating this tax and cutting corporate taxes will generate so much economic growth that the plan will pay for itself. I can't find a proposal to cut spending on anything anywhere on his web site. On the other hand he says upfront that he opposes Marijuana legalization, which I much prefer to the way the other Republicans try to avoid the issue.

Look, I am willing to discuss the merits of taxation and government spending at any level; maybe Maryland's taxes are too high and could be cut. But if that is your plan, I want to see a detailed list of what spending you plan to cut to pay for it, and an explanation of why you think that would not hurt the state. Of the Republicans, only Craig has a realistic plan to reduce spending by anything like the amount that would be required to finance a big tax cut. I suspect Hogan also has some ideas, but he has avoided mentioning them; George and Lollar seem clueless about budgetary realities.

So there you have it. You can go with experienced party types spouting generic political tripe (Brown for the Democrats, Craig for the Republicans); visionaries from the political extremes (Mizeur for progressives, Lollar for conservatives); people with boring ideas trying to distinguish themselves through a distinctive style (Gansler for the Democrats, Hogan for the Republicans); or fools and cranks (Walsh for the Democrats, George for the Republicans).

Todd Eberly of the Sun wrote a month ago that any of the top seven candidates might have a chance in the race, because none of them had really impressed the voters. Polls in April found "No preference" running at around 65% for both Republicans and Democrats. The only candidate with any passionate support is Mizeur, and her supporters may be too far outside the mainstream to put her in the governor's house. One of the commenters added,
Imho, Mizeur is a loon, Gansler is a jerk, and Tony Brown is an empty suit.
The primary is June 24.


Anonymous said...

I'd like to point something out and I hope you'll take this in the positive, friendly spirit in which it is intended: referring to Anthony Brown as "black" (instead of black, no quotation marks) and then comparing his skin tone to yours when you have a tan as a measure, I presume, of his legit blackness, is pretty racially insensitive.

Here's why: nobody was ever forced to sit in the back of a bus, drink from separate water fountains, or attend segregated schools because they had a tan. Nobody was enslaved for being tan. There is no systematic disenfranchisement of tan people. Nobody blames violence or drugs on "tan culture."

Anthony Brown may be fairer than some African Americans, but he is still African American, he identifies as such, and most Americans would identify him that way on the spot. When white people suddenly propose to be "colorblind" or glibly say someone isn't really black, it's actually deeply offensive, since black folks - even lighter-skinned people- have usually had to cope with racism directed at them every single day. To imply that the category is meaningless, even as our African American countrymen have to cope with its profoundly insidious meanings, is pretty much a cop out.

Maybe you're OK being racially insensitive, I don't know, and if so, please disregard my little diatribe. But I'd like to think, in the 21st century, that this remark was just naive, not malicious. This is an intelligent blog, hope you'll consider a more diverse readership in the future.

John said...

Two things: first, racial discrimination against African Americans really was (and probably still is) harsher against people with dark skin. I recall a scandal from the 60s when some prestigious colleges were caught using photographs of applicants to let in only light-skinned black people. In post Civil Rights Act America, racial discrimination operates on a sliding scale, and a light-skinned man with a middle class accent does not face as much of it as some others.

Second, my beef with Anthony Brown has nothing to do with his skin color. It is his incredibly bland political persona and program. There is nothing of black activism or black cool or black anger in him, or at least in his public self presentation. As a politician, he is boring. His platform is more like a satire of state politics than a real blueprint for government. I mentioned Brown's skin color because I find it to be an arresting metaphor for his bland politics.

I have no desire to offend anyone with racial insensitivity, and I apologize if I have. My interest is in government, and I think Maryland could do better than Anthony Brown.