No sooner did the 2021 General Assembly adjourn in early April than the political floodgates opened with a rush as Republican candidates for governor and comptroller declared their intentions.
First, Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford announced he would not run for governor. Then, Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz said she would like to succeed Gov. Larry Hogan. The rumor really began to churn with the news that former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, now a television pundit unafraid to bash former President Donald Trump, was considering a run for governor.
After considering a race either for governor or the 1st Congressional District now occupied by the controversial Andy Harris, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman threw his hat in the ring for comptroller.
The Republican Party, buoyed by Hogan’s success and popularity in a distinctly blue state, is staking its claim for top-tier offices in Annapolis. Except for congressional seats in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, the GOP is alive and well in Maryland and offering strong candidates.
The politician who fascinates me the most is Mike Steele, whom I got to know during the four years of the Ehrlich Administration. He is bright, personable and charismatic. He has an unmistakable presence. Because of his unabashed comments about Trump and his political followers in Washington, he is considered a traitor to the party.
Keep in mind the Trumpian influence on the ouster of Rep. Liz Cheney from the top echelon of House Republican leadership, and you can easily understand the antipathy toward a person like Steele. He sees a less inclusive and more extreme party and says as much on national TV.
A former state delegate and loyal member of the Hogan cabinet, Schulz is well liked among her fellow Republicans. Though Steele’s potential entry into the Republican gubernatorial primary might seem to doom Schulz’s prospects, those who condemn his criticism of the national Republican Party and consequently consider him a pariah very well may torpedo his elective chances in favor of a candidate viewed as a more reliable loyalist.
Steele would provide a real spark of excitement. As noted, he has an electric personality and polished communication skills. He lost in 2006 to Democrat Ben Cardin in a U.S. Senate race. His stint as RNC chair lasted only one term despite his role in a successful 2010 congressional cycle.
A former state senator, Glassman is a savvy and likable person from a populous and conservative county. He has run a suburban county that must deal with fiscal and growth issues, environmental concerns and a slew of other pressing issues.
Meanwhile, I would hope that Del. Johnny Mautz and Secretary of Natural Resources Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio, Talbot County residents, would consider higher office, such as the 1st Congressional District seat occupied by the increasingly erratic Andy Harris. Mautz and Haddaway-Riccio are hard-working servant- leaders. They are accessible and competent.
As the district is now configured, winning requires political connections to Harford and Baltimore counties—and votes. If redistricted, perhaps including Annapolis, the 1st might again be more oriented to the Eastern Shore.
Though some disagree, I believe in a two-party system despite its current polarization. Were congressional districts more balanced nationwide, the polarization would be much less severe, requiring legislators to listen to. and accommodate constituents belonging to both parties.
This column in no way is handicapping the 2021 election season in the Old Line State. Instead, it is describing a vibrant Republican Party in a blue state.
My experience, far from empirical, is that Marylanders typically tend toward supporting genuinely personable and accessible candidates. That calculus can sometimes confound the pollsters.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.