Mr. Smith Goes to Annapolis

You might call it "Mr. Smith goes to Annapolis."

Former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, part of an old Reisterstown family, has jumped into state government by accepting an offer to become Maryland's secretary of transportation.

The post is one of the state's most important. With a budget of $4.4 billion and 10,000 employees, MDOT, as it's known, casts a huge shadow over the Maryland economy.

Thanks to approval of a series of gas-tax increases this spring, MDOT's construction portfolio will be brimming during Smith's tenure.

Look for plenty of projects to widen sections of the Baltimore Beltway.

A bigger undertaking will be the start of a key east-west subway, the Red Line, with stops at the Social Security Administration headquarters complex, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services headquarters and Security Square Mall - all in Woodlawn.

This was not Smith's first choice on the state level.

He looked at running for governor and was under consideration by several candidates as a lieutenant governor running mate.

He wisely decided against both options, instead waiting until Gov. Martin O'Malley had pushed the gas tax package through the General Assembly before accepting the MDOT post.

So instead of pleading, haggling and horse-trading with state legislators to raise the gas tax, Smith starts with a clean slate and a mountain of money. It could be a dream job.

He brings eight years of management experience as county executive where he proved to be a fiscal conservative who showed sensitivity toward social programs.

As a former County Councilman representing Reisterstown and northern Baltimore County, he also understands issues from a legislative perspective.

Additionally, his work in the Maryland Association of Counties, known as MACO, will come in handy when he visits each county in the fall explaining the state's Consolidated Transportation Program.

That O'Malley gave Smith this plum is no surprise. The governor owes his election in 2006 to Smith's vigorous campaigning and vote-getting for O'Malley in Baltimore County, where native son Bob Ehrlich - then the incumbent governor - was held to a draw.

Smith's selection as transportation chief also helps O'Malley's lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown, who is running to succeed his boss next year.

If Smith wants to keep his state job, he knows he will have to lead Brown's effort in Baltimore County, which could play a pivotal role in the election.

For now, Smith gets to familiarize himself with the inner workings of MDOT and transportation policies. He'll be looking for money-saving steps and innovative financing ideas that stretch taxpayer dollars.

Rest assured, though, there will be plenty of ribbon-cuttings and road opening celebrations for Smith to attend. His new position gives him lots of opportunities to celebrate Maryland's progress and to make a solid contribution to the state.

Barry Rascovar, a resident of Reisterstown, is a longtime political columnist who writes a political blog at politicalmaryland.com. He can be reached at brascovar@outlook.com.

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