Tuesday, July 1, 2014

2014 Primary Season: Five Disappointments, Three Blessings

I have been pondering the results of the 2014 primary elections here in Maryland. So much has been said about it already that I questioned whether I wanted to enter the din myself.

I had lunch with two connected Democrats a few weeks ago, and between the three of us we pretty much agreed on all the outcomes. I experienced the same phenomenon when I went on WYPR on election night and found that my fellow panelists and I pretty much all came to the same conclusions as to who would win which race.

For me, there weren’t very many surprises, but there were both disappointments and blessings. So, I decided to focus on them here, starting with the disappointments.

1) Steve Schuh defeating incumbent Anne Arundel County Executive Laura Neuman. From a party building standpoint, Laura Neuman was the GOP’s candidate of dreams: Wife, mother, entrepreneur, rape survivor, and talented administrator who amassed a creditable record during her tenure in office.  Nonetheless, the Republican voters in Anne Arundel County reverted to form when they nominated the next rich white Republican male in the queue, Delegate Steve Schuh.

Schuh’s victory demonstrated the clannish, insular nature of Anne Arundel County Republican politics, where being part of the club is more important than one’s record on issues such as the rain tax, which Schuh voted for twice. It also demonstrated the triumph of sleazeball politics, as demonstrated by the Schuh campaign's attempts to win the election by calling rape survivor Neuman a liar.  

I think Schuh is more than capable of being a good county executive, but he lacks the upward mobility of his charismatic opponent. As David Craig demonstrated, able service as a county executive doesn’t automatically guarantee you a promotion.

2) Abysmal voter turnout. I had been expecting a twenty percent voter turnout, but the actual number was closer to 22 percent. OK, so it was better than I expected, but still remarkably bad. Some of the blame goes to the Democratic establishment’s decision to park the primary in June – an attempt to build in some healing time for what they expected would be a divisive Democratic primary. But I think the uninspiring nature of the choices in the governor’s race is a culprit as well. 

The biggest shock to me was the fact that turnout in good governance-minded Montgomery County – which had two current and former local officials running for governor, a contested county executive’s race, and a state senator who ran for, and ultimately won, the Democratic nomination for Attorney General – was only 16.2 percent, the lowest in the state. Anyway, Dan Rodricks and Josh Kurtz already articulated what a freaking embarrassment this is, and all I can do here is to concur with both of them.

3) Outgoing Delegate Wade Kach defeating Councilman Todd Huff in Baltimore County. Wade Kach was elected to the House of Delegates in 1974, back when I was beginning the second grade. During forty years of undistinguished service, Kach developed a reputation as a loner as well as an ideologically pliable doofus who often did the will of the Democratic establishment. 

My former boss, then-Congressman Bob Ehrlich, once told me a hilarious story of how Kach broke down in tears on the House floor one night while paying an emotional tribute to a recently deceased house cat, and was roundly mocked by many of his hardscrabble colleagues as a result of this girly-man behavior. 

Anyway, Kach’s House career was effectively killed when he flip flopped on marriage equality, so this career pol went shopping for another elective job. After pondering a state senate run, Kach decided to challenge freshman Councilman Todd Huff. Though a DUI incident and some controversial zoning decisions undermined Huff’s popularity, he had otherwise amassed a solid record in office. A previous councilman, Sam Moxley, experienced two drunken driving incidents during his tenure in office, in effect turning his county vehicle into a missile of doom barreling down area highways, yet still managed to win. Kach and his wild-eyed wife waged a campaign founded upon bitter personal attacks and improper use of state resources. He won by a resounding 2-1 margin.

Wade Kach, keepin' it classy. I would have preferred he answer what's perhaps the biggest mystery in Maryland politics: What did this man do in Annapolis for 40 years?

This result leads me to two conclusions. 

First, I’m glad I no longer live in that part of Baltimore County. 

Second, if they hadn’t chosen politics, Wade and Evelyn Kach would likely be the top AMWAY salespeople of the Mid-Atlantic region.

4) The Ehrlichs won’t go away. As the Baltimore Sun reported, former Governor Bob Ehrlich can’t seem to help himself when it comes to interjecting himself into local political matters. In 2014, he broke out of his political tomb in order to use candidates’ fundraising events as platforms from which to peddle his latest book. 

I wrote about the Ehrlich phenomenon in a recent piece for the Frederick News Post.  The reality is, Ehrlich still carries weight with some primary voters, as the Schuh – Neuman result demonstrates (both Ehrlichs were loud and active Schuh supporters). 

But, it also reinforces the perception that the MDGOP’s future – such as it is – is being driven by personalities from its past. Consequently, The Daily Record’s Bryan Sears and others in the media have come to speculate whether Anthony Brown versus Larry Hogan is actually Ehrlich versus O’Malley III, only this time it is being waged by surrogates.

Despite Ehrlich’s cache among GOP primary voters, it’s hard to see how the support of a governor who ended his career amid a 15 point loss and a voter suppression scandal will help any state Republican in November.

5) Heather Mizeur comes in third in the Democratic governor’s race. Delegate Heather Mizeur’s political philosophy is very different than mine, but I concur with Professor Todd Eberly of St. Mary’s College, WYPR’s Fraser Smith, and other political observers who dubbed her the most interesting gubernatorial candidate during this cycle. As her rivals tore into each other, she ran an issue-focused campaign, and came across as likable, well-informed, substantive, serious, and passionate. 

As Attorney General Gansler stumbled and Mizeur seemed to surge in the final week of the campaign, I thought she might actually come in second. While she came close, she missed the mark as Gansler polled 24.3 percent to Mizeur’s 21.6 percent. Still, I think she emerges from the race with options.

As for the blessings…

1) Bad guys lost.  During the past few months, voters were treated to the antics of pols that thoroughly embarrassed themselves and their constituents through their own bad behavior, yet still would not relinquish the stage. Drunken driver/boater Don Dwyer refused to give up his Anne Arundel County-based delegate seat. On the Eastern Shore, man about town Senator Richard Colburn was seen by many as a lock for reelection despite a salacious divorce scandal. In the end, both members of the miscreant caucus lost, with Dwyer registering a minuscule 7.1 percent of the vote and Colburn receiving a 14 point beat down from Delegate Addie Eckhardt.

Seeing voters step in and flush the toilet has always affirmed my faith in the political system, even in one-party dominated Maryland. And for soon to be former Delegate Dwyer, there is a silver lining: At least he now has time to pursue a pilot’s lessons.

2) Good guys won. There are a lot of hard-working, talented legislators on both sides of the political aisle serving in Annapolis. Fortunately, many of them were re-nominated last Tuesday. I was personally glad to see Delegates Kelly Schulz, Sue Aumann, Justin Ready, Kathy Szeliga, and Herb McMillan win their races, as well as Senators J. B. Jennings (who was unopposed) and Jim Brochin (who easily dispatched former Ehrlich foe Connie Galiazzo DeJuliis).

3) People who didn’t deserve comebacks didn’t get them. Once upon a time, I had a spooky encounter with former state delegate and Maryland Parole Commissioner Carmen Amedori. So I was amused to see that she decamped from exile on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and returned to Western Maryland in an attempt to reclaim her old delegate seat. Unfortunately, her former constituents dropped a house on her ambitions, and Amedori came in last with 6.7 percent of the vote.  I’m sure that, in reprisal, there is a bunny rabbit simmering in a pot somewhere. Meanwhile, Julius Henson, convicted and jailed for conspiring to violate Maryland elections laws pursuant to the infamous robocall scandal, lost badly in his quixotic challenge to Senator Nathaniel McFadden.

At least we’ll be able to take a sabbatical from politics for the rest of the summer until this fall. Then the dance will start anew. Does Larry Hogan have a chance? Will there be any surprises among state and local races? Stay tuned, folks.


  1. Richard,
    your comments concerning the race for County Executive in AA County indicate a real lack of depth to your analysis of the two candidates. While I respect Ms. Neuman, I do not believe that she is the "shining star" that many portray her to be. OK, we have nominated another "rich, white, Republican male" but does that mean that he is not qualified or that we should promote diversity simply for diversity's sake? I think not.
    Steve Schuh did vote to send the "rain tax" to the county, but Laura Neuman let it become law with no push-back at all.

    1. Dr. Pelura:

      With respect, I think you should read what I write a bit more closely before you critique it.

      I never said that Steve Schuh was "not qualified" to be county executive. What I said was he has what it takes to serve in that capacity and will likely never advance beyond it. Time will demonstrate whether you and I are wrong. But, the political landscape is littered with the corpses of former GOP county execs who thought they could go higher but never did.

      As for Ms. Neuman's upwardly mobile potential, well...I guess we'll never know now, will we?

      Another thing: You stated that Laura Neuman gave no "pushback" to implementation of the rain tax. Well, she did. It's called a "V-E-T-O." Perhaps you should familiarize yourself this with basic legislative concept.

      Hope you and Marianne had a great holiday. See you at Tawes maybe.


    2. Richard, I hate to do "tit for tat" commenting, however, you should review the legislative process. Granted, Neuman vetoed the FIRST rain tax bill, but let the SECOND bill go into effectt without her signature or, more importantly, without any push-back. I think that if she were philosophically against the rain tax concept, she would have at least used the bully pulpit to show her opposition.

  2. Dr. Pelura:

    Ok, I'll bite...

    I assume that, if Delegate Schuh was against the rain tax, he wouldn't have voted for it twice. Am I wrong?

    I'm intrigued by your use of the term "pushback." This term was - as I understand it - yanked straight from Schuh campaign mailers. How exactly and specifically would YOU define "pushback"? For me, a veto in the face of a recalcitrant council is a strong message.

    Given a choice between someone who voted for the rain tax twice, and a county executive who vetoed it once, then I'd still choose the latter.

    Have a great summer.