Brown for governor

The Sun endorses Anthony Brown for governor.

During the last eight years, we largely supported Gov. Martin O’Malley’s policies and continue to believe they were the right ones for the times. But the state faces a new challenge today. A historic retrenchment of federal government spending has put Maryland’s economy at risk, and a course correction is needed if the state is to maintain its prosperity. During the last few months, we have struggled with the question of which of the two major candidates for governor is best able to deliver it. We have real reservations about both, and supporting either requires a leap of faith.

Republican Larry Hogan’s commitment to making Maryland more business friendly is beyond question, but his ability to deliver at this level is untested — he has never held elective office before — and his views on many of the other issues a governor must face are unformed or unknown. Democrat Anthony G. Brown is saying the right things about making Maryland’s business climate more competitive, but it’s hard to know how much faith to place in those promises of a new direction after his eight years as Mr. O’Malley’s lieutenant governor and after the strikingly dishonest campaign he has run. It’s also hard to judge how well he would be able to deliver on them after his role in the disastrous launch of Maryland’s health insurance exchange website. After much deliberation, we concluded Mr. Brown is the better bet.

A few words first, though, about Mr. Hogan. He is a genuine and appealing candidate and by no means the “dangerous” monster the Brown campaign has sought to portray. The unrepentant mendacity of Mr. Brown’s attacks on the Republican’s positions on abortion and school construction is nearly reason enough to endorse Mr. Hogan. In truth, his agenda is strikingly moderate and modest: Look for savings in the state budget that can be achieved without cutting essential programs, use the proceeds to support tax cuts in as much as possible, and look for ways to help businesses navigate the state’s regulatory process.

However, he has displayed little interest in and less knowledge about a wide variety of other topics, from education to public safety to social services. Even within the realm of his core issues, the sloppiness of his error-riddled budget savings plan was disturbing. We understand he is running a shoestring campaign, but he needs to do better. We are also concerned about his commitment to enforcing Maryland’s 2013 Firearm Safety Act. He has given inconsistent answers on the topic, and the promises that earned him a National Rifle Association endorsement remain a mystery.

Mr. Brown, by contrast, is well versed in all aspects of state government, and his views are clear. After eight years as lieutenant governor and eight as a delegate before that, he knows how to get things done in Annapolis. His promise to make Maryland the No. 1 business climate in the nation may sound laughable, given Mr. O’Malley’s evident disinterest in the topic, but Mr. Brown is a different person with different experiences. His time on the House Economic Matters Committee gave him a window into the private sector that Mr. O’Malley never had, and he speaks with greater specificity about what needs to be done to improve Maryland’s regulatory climate than Mr. Hogan does. His call for a comprehensive reform of the state’s tax structure to make it better reflect Maryland’s modern economy is long overdue.

As for gauging Mr. Brown’s ability to actually implement the changes he’s promising, we believe his career in the military is more important than his role in the health exchange debacle. Though he was officially the state’s point-person on Obamacare implementation, he appears to have had little real responsibility. Such is the fate of lieutenant governors — a pity, given the risk that the manifest talents of Mr. Brown’s running mate, Ken Ulman, will be similarly wasted. But in the Army, Mr. Brown learned how to effectively and efficiently manage a large organization in pursuit of well defined goals. That’s what he needs to do in Annapolis.

Mr. Hogan has performed an invaluable service by forcing Mr. Brown to address the most important issue of this campaign, which is making the policy shifts necessary to secure Maryland’s economic future. If not for Mr. Hogan’s intense focus and pointed criticism, we doubt Mr. Brown would have pledged not to raise taxes or to transform Maryland’s regulatory culture. We give Mr. Brown our endorsement, but we intend to hold him accountable for keeping his promises and for running the government with far more intellectual honesty than he has this campaign.  

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