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A Preview of Maryland’s June 26 Gubernatorial Primary

Jun 04, 2018 12:00AM
By Mark Croatti

Maryland holds gubernatorial primary elections on June 26. Governor Larry Hogan is running unopposed in the Republican primary. Several candidates are running in the Democratic Party primary, more than profiled here. The criteria for inclusion in this article came from two January 11 television polls by WBAL and WJZ, where only Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, former NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz (who has since passed away)  received support above single digits.

Republican Party

Larry Hogan

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan—just the second Republican chief executive elected since 1966—has kept his promise to govern in a bipartisan manner. He has supported a ban on fracking and claims credit for bills aimed at combating the heroin epidemic and tax fraud; he has implemented manufacturing tax credits and lowered many tolls and fees without reversing all of the new taxes he inherited; and he has allowed oyster protection and energy efficiency bills to become law without signing them. He has criticized President Donald Trump repeatedly, scoring points with Democrats without angering Republicans eager to see him re-elected. Governing as a centrist has paid off; while no Republican governor has won re-election since Theodore McKeldin in 1954, Hogan enjoys a 67 percent approval rating, including 85 percent within the Republic Party and 59 percent among Democrats.

Democratic Party

Rushern Baker III

Only Prince George’s among Maryland’s counties can brag about having the state’s flagship public university, the state’s largest amusement park, the NASA Goddard Space Center, Andrews Air Force Base, and an NFL team (not to mention being the former home of an NBA team and an NHL team; indeed, Prince George’s County was home to  three professional sports franchises briefly in 1997). Throw in a Potomac River shoreline with a sparkling National Harbor, an outlet to the Chesapeake Bay, and a strategic location between the nation’s capital—connected by a metro line—and the state capital, and Prince George’s County enjoys an utter embarrassment of riches. There’s not a county in Maryland that wouldn’t be ecstatic to have one of these jewels; in the 1990s, Prince George’s had all of them, propelling the County Executive, Dr. Parris Glendening, to the governor’s mansion in 1994. 

However, for almost two decades, that’s where the county’s bragging ended. Glendening’s successor, Wayne Curry, soon faced a series of budget shortages even as Prince George’s became the wealthiest majority African American jurisdiction in the United States. While Curry pleaded unsuccessfully with the County Council to raise property taxes in support of cash-strapped schools and clashed with the owners of the NFL’s Washington franchise over stadium funding, the professional basketball and hockey franchises left for Washington, D.C. and the county began to be perceived as anti-business; retail chains stayed away and the neighborhoods around the stadium sites went largely undeveloped. Prince George’s soon nosedived to the bottom of Maryland’s county rankings when it came to per capita income, public school performance, and average life expectancy. Curry’s successor, Jack Johnson, accelerated the decline as predatory sub-prime home loan lenders flooded markets like Prince George’s; in 2009, at the height of the national recession, the foreclosure rate in the county was 4.19 percent versus 1.87 percent  in Maryland and 2.21 percent in the rest of the country. Jack Johnson was eventually convicted of extortion, solicitation of bribery, witness tampering, and destruction of evidence, ultimately serving seven years in prison. Prince George’s County had hit rock bottom.

Enter Rushern Baker III, elected county executive in 2010 after serving 10 years in the Maryland House of Delegates. “Rushern Baker inherited a mess,” says David Iannucci, one of Baker’s advisers. With boundless enthusiasm and eternal optimism, Baker began to raise the county’s economic standing, including creating a $50 million Economic Development Incentive Fund, securing a Triple A bond rating, making transit-oriented development a top priority, appointing an International Business Strategy Advisory Council, creating a Foreign Trade Zone, and increasing the aerospace and technology sectors. Today, the USDA Center in Beltsville is the world’s largest agricultural research complex. Perhaps his crowning achievement as county executive was opening MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino. Although the colossal complex sits squarely on the site of Articles of Confederation President John Hanson’s crypt, which had been demolished to make way for it—with the remains of Hanson still unaccounted for—MGM joins five other casinos that together generated over half a billion dollars in revenue for the state’s Educational Trust Fund in 2016. However, unrealized goals counter this impressive recovery. Poverty in many of the county’s neighborhoods remains entrenched. 

Out of 23 counties plus Baltimore City, the county has the highest number of annual HIV cases (tied with Baltimore City); trails only Baltimore City with the highest annual murders; and ranks 14th out of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions in per capita income, 16th in overall health,  19th in life expectancy, and 23rd in  public school performance (trailing only Baltimore City). If elected governor, Baker promises to boost Maryland’s economy, improve its public schools, lower crime rates, and create jobs without hurting the environment. Incumbent Governor Larry Hogan is running on roughly the same issues and has already criticized Baker for overseeing only minor changes in some quality-of-life indicators rather than presiding over a steady record of  broad, significant improvement.  Even if Baker wins the Democratic Primary, if he wants to refute those arguments and defeat the governor come November, he’ll need to demonstrate to voters exactly what he can do for Maryland that Hogan has not tried to do, or done, already.

Benjamin Jealous

Benjamin Jealous was born in 1973 in California to activists fighting segregation. After growing up in California and Baltimore, Jealous continued in their footsteps, joining the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense Fund as a student at Columbia University before becoming a reporter for The Jackson Advocate in Mississippi. He returned to Columbia and received a Rhodes Scholarship, after which he became the Executive Director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association before leading the Human Rights Program at Amnesty International. After briefly moving on to head the Rosenberg Foundation, he returned to the NAACP as president in 2008 and served until 2012. 

Jealous is credited for a major revival of the NAACP, led by his dynamic efforts to build new
coalitions and alliances, increase its budget and staff, root out corruption and stagnation, and successfully implement a variety of legislative initiatives related to prison reforms, voting rights, and expanded educational opportunities. Jealous announced his candidacy for governor in May of last year, running on a platform promising to “usher in a new era of shared opportunity, growth, and prosperity.” In addition to his strengths in the fields of criminal justice and civil rights, Jealous, like Kamenetz and Baker, wants to reform policies related to health care, education, the environment, immigration, and job creation, and also like the two county executives, his name recognition has kept him within striking distance of Hogan in the polls.

While Baker maintains a sizable lead over Jealous among African American voters, Jealous has picked up the endorsements of such organizations as the Communications Workers of America, Friends of the Earth Action, National Nurses United, Progressive Maryland, the Service Employees International Union, and United Here! He’ll need overwhelming support from the vast membership rolls of all of these groups to have any chance of pulling off what would be considered a major political upset. However, if the election of Donald Trump has taught us anything, it’s never to rule out the unexpected.

Kevin Kamenetz

EDITOR’S NOTE:
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, 60, died of cardiac arrest in the early morning of May 10, 2018. We print what follows in tribute to a man who devoted nearly 25 years of his life to public service: 

Baltimore County doesn’t have NASA, a military base, an amusement park, a Potomac River shoreline, or a professional sports team, but it does have UMBC. When the University of Maryland opened its Baltimore County campus in 1966, a half century of steady economic growth began. Baltimore County now has the third-highest population in Maryland, which along with its high visibility due to its close proximity to Baltimore City, has fueled many a political career. Since 1966, county executives who had previously served or who would go on to serve at the state or national level include Spiro Agnew (Governor and then Richard Nixon’s first Vice President); Dale Andersen, Donald Hutchinson, and Dennis Rasmussen (state legislature); and Dutch Ruppersberger, who currently serves in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

Under Ruppersberger, UMBC continued its rise by establishing the Conservation and Environmental Research Areas that include Bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park. In addition, former County Executive James T. Smith (Ruppersberger’s successor), was appointed to lead Maryland’s Department of Transportation when he left office. When four term-County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz succeeded Smith and became County Executive in 2010, he had some pretty big shoes to fill. Kamenetz immediately embarked on a series of ambitious projects. He led the effort to build or renovate 90 schools; he contracted with KCI to design a geodatabase of economic development features related to regulating, developing and overseeing non-residential land; and he lured Amazon to the 3,100-acre Tradepoint Atlantic site. That was all part of a jobs creation program that has led to the lowest unemployment rate in the county in nine years. Kamenetz also focused on police reform; he diversified the ranks of police and fire departments, provided body cameras for over 1,400 police personnel, and signed a first-in-the-nation law that required shopping center cameras. He has steered Baltimore County down a green path by installing solar panels on closed landfills and county rooftops to provide 21 megawatts of power; he has harnessed wind energy; and he has encouraged transit development rather than additional highway construction. Kamenetz has overseen his own share of UMBC growth; in 2014, the school signed agreements with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and the U.S. Army Research, Development, and Engineering Command, and in 2015, UMBC announced a partnership with Kyushu University in Japan for computer security research as well as several new endeavors with the U.S. Navy.

Challenges remain. Baltimore County was among the hardest hit jurisdictions nationwide for bank branch closures during the Great Recession; over a quarter of its bank locations were vacated. Out of 24 jurisdictions, Baltimore County ranks 11th in overall life expectancy, 12th in per capita income, 14th in overall health, and 19th for its school district. Last year, Hogan countered Kamenetz’s environmental credentials by announcing a $330,000 state effort to mitigate midge infestations in the Back River area of Baltimore County, claiming that Kamenetz had refused to act, and then earlier this year he questioned Kamenetz’s education credentials by suggesting that Baltimore County’s Interim School Superintendent Verletta White and the woman she replaced, Dallas Dance, be investigated for financial improprieties and grade tampering. Kamenetz then attacked Hogan for vetoing the paid sick leave bill and killing Baltimore’s red line east-west mass transit project. “I feel like this state is standing still, not getting anything done,” Kamenetz says. “We need to use high technology to make this state more efficient, with paperless police departments who type their reports on laptops; we need to make information more access-oriented through the use of government service apps We need to train people with job skills that are needed by employers and we need to solve the opioid crisis by stopping the importation of fentanyl along the I-95 corridor and go after the makers of this drug. Kevin Kamenetz is survived by his wife, Jill, and two teenage sons, Karson and Dylan.

Other Democratic Candidates Polling in Single Digits


Ralph Jaffe

A teacher who lost the Democratic Party primaries for Governor in 2014 and for U.S. Senator in 2016 (Chris Van Hollen) and 2012 (Ben Cardin), Jaffe has made increasing educational opportunities and decreasing political corruption
the pillars of his campaign.







Alec Ross 

An author on technology policy who served as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Innovation, Ross is running on comprehensive access to a quality education made possible by affordable daycare, universal health care, and a sustainable minimum wage.






 Krish Vignarajah

The CEO and founder of Generation Impact Vignarajah served as former First Lady Michelle Obama’s policy director and before that as a Department of State Senior Adviser for two former secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She is running on “improving education from cradle to career” by focusing on early childhood development, the “STEAM” disciplines (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), and free community college for all.





 Richard Madaleno 

A Montgomery County State Senator since 2007 and a Delegate from 2003–07, Madaleno is running on providing debt-free education, universal health care, and environmental protection.







 


Jim Shea

The former chairman of the Venable law firm and of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, Shea is running on fully funding the state’s education and transportation needs and treating the Baltimore-Washington DC metropolitan region as a single entity for economic opportunity.