Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Senator Allan Kittleman: "Free At Last"

The 2011 session of the Maryland General Assembly has just started, but it’s already easy to predict who one of the first “winners” of the session is: Senator Allan Kittleman.

Today Senator Kittleman voluntarily relinquished his position as Senate Minority Leader in response to concerns within the caucus about his plans to introduce legislation allowing civil unions in Maryland as an alternative to gay marriage.

Though Kittleman surrenders his post, what he gains more than offsets that loss.

First, he defines himself as the kind of fiscally conservative/socially moderate Republican who appeals to suburban swing voters. This formula has worked most reliably for upwardly-mobile Republicans in Maryland (including Bob Ehrlich, three-time nominee for governor).

Second, Kittleman positions himself for a “See, I told you so” moment. In other words, if gay marriage proponents succeed in enacting it into law, unhappy opponents may give him retrospective credit for offering a reasonable middle course. If gay marriage fails as a ballot referendum in 2012, supporters unhappy that they ended up with nothing after years of effort may do the same thing.

Third, he raises his profile in a manner beyond the level that continued service in an obscure legislative post would have allowed. 

Often times, I have heard Kittleman’s name mentioned as a future candidate for higher office. However, most of that chatter hinged upon the goodwill surrounding his family name, or his youth and successes in increasingly Democratic Howard County.

Should he continue to define himself as an outspoken moderate and critic of fiscal irresponsibility, he will serve as an important walking contraction to Democrats who attempt to portray all Republicans in Maryland as ideologues beholden to Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, or other political bogeymen.

I read a lot of history. Kittleman’s decision, and the opportunities resulting from it, reminds me of an anecdote I once read about President Lyndon B. Johnson.

During the push to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, an activist asked LBJ why he, a Southerner, was working so hard to pass legislation he had fought so ardently before.

“I’m going to answer that by quoting a friend of yours,” Johnson replied. “‘Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I’m free at last.’” No longer beholden to a conservative constituency in Texas or the Southern Democrats who ruled the Senate, Johnson was free to act on principle.

Now that Senator Kittleman no longer has to worry about managing the members of a tiny legislative caucus, he can speak his mind, build his brand, and take his place on the bench of Maryland’s rising Republican stars.  

1 comment:

  1. I was disappointed about his decision to step down. If the republicans have any hope in this state at all its in emulating people like him -- fiscally conservative and socially moderate.