Jim Brochin's political conversion

Like Saul on the road to Damascus, politicians on the campaign trail often experience conversions.

According to the Acts of the Apostles, Saul traveled to Damascus to persecute Christians. Outside of the city, Jesus appeared to Saul in a blaze of light, blinding him and commanding him to be baptized. Saul’s vision was restored three days later, when Ananias laid hands on him and caused the scales to drop from his eyes. Saul was baptized and subsequently became a seminal figure in world history. We know him today as Saint Paul.

In our political tradition, conversion is less sacred and more profane. Sometimes a strategist appears before a politician with charts and graphs and suggests a pivot to help the politician appeal to voters, and sometimes the politician comes to a revelation alone. Marylanders witnessed such a conversion last month.

State Senator Jim Brochin is a conservative Democrat who has spent 15 years standing with Republicans against working families. In a jaw-dropping reversal, Mr. Brochin asked Gov. Larry Hogan to call a special legislative session to create health insurance subsidies for individuals who are losing federal aid. Mr. Brochin said the state must stand up for “the people who can least afford to get hit” by President Donald Trump’s efforts to destroy Obamacare.

In 2007, the General Assembly passed the Working Families and Small Business Health Coverage Act, which expanded Medicaid and created insurance subsidies for small businesses. The bill helped families making under $21,000 a year who could not afford insurance and businesses with fewer than 15 employees that could not afford it for their workers. At that time, Mr. Brochin was evidently unmoved by those “who can least afford to get hit.” He was one of three Democrats to join Republicans in opposing the bill.

This year, the General Assembly passed the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, which would require businesses with more than 15 employees to provide a basic sick leave policy to their workers. Again, Mr. Brochin was evidently unmoved by those “who can least afford to get hit” with an unexpected illness. He was one of four Democrats to join Republicans in opposing the bill, which the governor vetoed.

Mr. Brochin represents a center-right district in northern Baltimore County. His constituents voted for Mitt Romney and Donald Trump in the last two presidential elections, and Bob Ehrlich and Larry Hogan in the last four gubernatorial contests. His district is disproportionately white, well-educated and affluent compared to the county and the state.

Representing this district, it would have taken courage for Mr. Brochin to vote to expand health care and worker protections. Instead, he consistently embraced expediency, pandering to his district knowing his vote would never negatively affect the outcome.

So why the newfound passion for health care? As theologians can trace Saul’s conversion to the road outside of Damascus, political observers can trace Mr. Brochin’s to Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017, when he entered the Democratic primary for Baltimore County executive. A cynic might go so far as to suggest Mr. Brochin’s bid for countywide office caused the scales to drop from his eyes.

Mr. Brochin has spent his career wooing a disproportionately wealthy, white electorate composed of voters who could say he was the only Democrat they ever supported. Now, he faces a racially and economically diverse primary electorate, which backed Barack Obama twice and Hillary Clinton once. It is unfamiliar territory for someone whose record indicates he is more comfortable at country clubs in northern Baltimore County than community centers on the west side.

Mr. Brochin must demonstrate his conversion is not merely a campaign ploy. The legislative session presents two opportunities for him to do so.

First, he must repudiate Mr. Hogan, Maryland Republicans and corporate interests by voting with Democrats to overturn the governor’s veto of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act. Second, after he pre-files legislation to create health insurance subsidies for individuals who are losing federal aid, he must work with his colleagues to pass the bill.

Absent these outcomes, the cynics — and, more importantly, the voters — will see Mr. Brochin’s act for what it was: not the conversion of a penitent man committed to charting a new course, but the shallow posturing of an opportunist following his polling in order to grab headlines in the local press.

Pat Murray is a former executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party and a former aide to the presiding officers of the Maryland General Assembly. His email address is patrickhmurray@gmail.com.

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