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Ad hominem attacks [Commentary]

The next governor of Maryland has big shoes to fill. He or she will follow an administration that has made Maryland a model for effective, progressive governance. One of the candidates running for the position, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, has served as the second highest-ranking official in this administration for seven years. That is why I was so surprised to hear Attorney General Doug Gansler question Mr. Brown's qualifications once again.

I have been continually disappointed by Mr. Gansler's persistent ad hominem attacks on Lieutenant Governor Brown and his readiness for office. I had hoped Mr. Gansler would change tacks and stick to the issues after the two of us spoke in January. I can see that my hope was misplaced.

The most recent incident occurred Monday at a public forum, when Mr. Gansler disparaged the military service of one of the highest-ranking elected officials in the nation to have served a tour of duty in Iraq.

At the Maryland Tech Council Forum, Mr. Gansler responded to a question about Mr. Brown's record in office by making the following statement: "You know, I'm running against somebody who has never managed anybody, never run anything. You know, his ads are about how he was a lawyer in Iraq, and that's all fine and good, but this is a real job."

Since when is serving your country in a war zone not a "real job"?

To begin with, Mr. Brown's biography is impressive. As a student at Harvard, he chose service by joining the Army ROTC. After graduation, Mr. Brown he spent five years in active duty, followed by 25 years of reserve duty. In 2005, at the age of 43, Mr. Brown earned a Bronze Star during his deployment to the war in Iraq.

His career in public service has been formidable. He began his career as a successful lawyer and state legislator. As lieutenant governor, Mr. Brown has worked with Governor Martin O'Malley to amass an impressive track record of legislation that has improved our health, strengthened our schools and helped our state weather the recession. He personally led the successful effort to reduce domestic violence related assaults by 20 percent, and he spearheaded passage of a public-private partnership law that will create thousands of well-paying jobs. I was particularly impressed by the grit he showed in fighting the state's racially biased death penalty, while Mr. Gansler spoke out in support of it.

Given this resume, I would never have expected Mr. Brown's opponents to question his qualifications for public office, of all things. Yet in a move straight out of Karl Rove's playbook, that is exactly what Mr. Gansler has done — and has continued to do.

Last summer the Washington Post reported that Mr. Gansler was caught on tape telling a room full of supporters that Mr. Brown has a "thin record of accomplishment and is trying to rely on his race to get elected." A few months later, in January, he doubled down in an interview with the Post. When asked by the paper about Mr. Brown's qualifications, Mr. Gansler sarcastically replied, "He's a resident of Maryland. He's old enough to be governor."

I spoke with Mr. Gansler in late January, shortly after his statement to the Post. We had a productive conversation, and I expressed my hope that he would stick to the issues and not resort to ad hominem attacks. Yet a few weeks later, at a public forum in February, Mr. Gansler argued that Mr. Brown's running mate would be a better candidate for governor because this "isn't a sixth grade class election." 

After his remarks this week disparaging Mr. Brown's distinguished service in the military, I felt obligated to speak out.

It is deeply disappointing that Attorney General Gansler has continued to resort to divisive character attacks against a public servant of distinction and service. These attacks are akin to the worst of what President Barack Obama faced from his fellow Democrats during the 2008 primary season. My prediction is that these kind of attacks will fail as thoroughly here as they did against the president.

Benjamin Todd Jealous is the former president & CEO of the NAACP; he has not endorsed anyone for governor. He is currently a Partner at the Kapor Center for Social Impact. His email is BenJealous@kaporcenter.org.

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