A sit down with Steve Schuh: Reflections on his term and Trump's influence on the election

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

It was a surprise to many Republican supporters when County Executive Steve Schuh lost his re-election bid for county executive on Nov. 6.

He was defeated by Democratic newcomer Steuart Pittman, who received about 52 percent of the vote.

Schuh was another political casualty smothered under the Democratic blue wave that flipped the U.S. House of Representatives from Republican to Democrat.

That wave led Democrats into control of the Anne Arundel County executive seat, the County Council, the State’s Attorney Office and the Clerk of the Circuit Court. They also fended off multiple Senate challenges and gained delegates.

Since the defeat, Schuh took a vacation to the Caribbean and has since returned to work. He is now wrapping up the final days of his administration and the transition to Pittman’s administration.

The Capital sat down with Schuh to talk about the election, his time as county executive and his future plans.

What have you been doing since the election?

Well, this came as a surprise. It’s been a little bit of a scramble to first and foremost make sure all of the employees who will not stay with the new administration have jobs. We have been working on that.

Things are going very well in that department. I’ve begun to think about what I want to do next. I’ve started to put some feelers out. We will see what turns up. I might continue public service in some capacity. Or go back into business full time. Maybe go into nonprofit management, which is a way to continue in my service mode.

What does it look like when trying to get people jobs. What are you doing personally in that scenario?

It is pretty clear who is going to go. It is the immediate fourth-floor senior staff. Those jobs are always, you know they come and go with the county executive.

Steuart Pittman is going to want to bring in his core team. His own kitchen cabinet. It is a matter of making phone calls and sending resumes to people.

Is there a benefit of having a Republican governor?

Oh yes. I expect a few of our folks to end up at the state.

Are you looking for a state job?

I would consider it. That is another way to continue in public service. I’m very disappointed with the electoral outcome. I consider it a privilege each and every day to serve in this capacity. It has been an incredible professional and personal experience.

I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by an absolute “A” level team of people. And I’m very proud of what we accomplished. We got a lot done in four years that most administrations do in eight. It will be really exciting in the years to come to see a lot of the projects we initiated come online and become functional. Some of these investments in public safety, the central booking facility, police academy, 5th police district. I’m really looking forward to having Crofton High School open.

When you look back at your four years here, what trajectory did you put the county on long-term and do you think that is at risk?

I think we established a fiscal policy that demonstrated a large jurisdiction like Anne Arundel County could be run efficiently even with moderation in taxes and fees. I think that is probably at risk, just given some of the commitments made by the new administration.

In terms of public safety, we have made some of the most significant investments in public safety in 50 years, probably ever. We never had a central booking facility, now we will. Our police academy is 50 years old, now we will have a state of the art facility. We are now in development process for the fifth police district. Those are all very important legacy items.

In terms of recreational amenities, I’m really excited about the direction of our bike-share program and our regional park efforts. I don’t know whether it expanding the system of regional parks is going to be a priority of the new administration, I hope that it is.

North county desperately needs a regional park. It is the largest concentration population in the entire county and it is the only large population center that does not have a regional park. Now we have that opportunity with Bell Grove Park.

West county also desperately needs parks. And Franklin Point State Park, combined with Turtle Run, will create, along with improvements at Beverly Triton, all of those will make for a much better and functional park system for south county residents as well.

The waterway clean up effort is going to continue for years to come until the Chesapeake Bay is restored. I think it will continue at its current level for the foreseeable future.

What is Pittman going to find surprising about development when he takes office?

He is going to find out people have property rights. That the zoning map is the zoning map. You can’t exercise arbitrary power to deprive people of their property rights. I think that at the end of the day he and I don’t have materially different approaches to development.

We both agree in smart growth and preservation of rural lands. I think it was effective campaign rhetoric to suggest I was attempting to turbo-charge development. We never attempted to do that. Development happens in the county because people have property rights, credit is available and people want to buy homes here.

All the county does is make sure the development that does happen conforms with zoning law. We don’t allow or disallow development, that is not the job of county government. We make sure the development that does happen is consistent with law and regulation. I don’t think you are going to see any material difference in development under either administration.

The key to getting development under control in the county — and it does need to be tamped down — is properly managing the next General Development Plan. Through the GDP a lot can be down to prevent overdevelopment by not expanding developable zoning categories.

And traditionally that is what happened in this GDP. Large areas of new land are opened up through zoning. Once a developable category of zoning has been applied to a parcel of land, it is just a matter of time before someone comes by to try and develop it. The GDP is the one tool county government has to slow down development.

With all these improvements, why did the local races turn out the way they did if things are so good?

It has everything to do with Washington. It has nothing to do with local anything. If you look at the state as a whole — or Anne Arundel County in particular — you see the same pattern of party line voting by Democrat voters.

And a switch by independent voters from leaning Republican to leaning heavily Democrat. That is a result of concerns about Washington and the political environment of Washington.

If you look at clerk of the court, sheriff and county executive and state’s attorney, all those races finished within spitting distance of one another. Somewhere between 47 to 50 percent going to the Republican. And the majority going to Democrats except for sheriff.

The only reason I believe sheriff just got over 50 percent is Republicans always enjoy a couple of extra points on public safety. The public generally views — if they don’t know the candidates — there will be a couple point bump for Republicans. If you adjust for that, all the Republicans who ran countywide got the same percentages.

In the case of Doug Arnold, he ran against someone who didn’t really campaign. And Doug is an excellent candidate. He worked hard. He did mailing, he door-knocked a million doors. It didn’t matter. He just got the base Republican vote.

Is that the prime example of that down-ticket voting happening?

Steuart Pittman ran a vigorous race; I ran a vigorous race and we kind of canceled each other out. And it just went to the natural base vote.

In the case of Doug Arnold, he ran a good race against someone who didn’t campaign and he got the same exact number I did. Same as Wes Adams. He ran a vigorous race, much more than his opponent. He got the same number I did. They just went down the ballot.

Except for Larry Hogan. He is a unique political phenomenon. We will probably never see anything like it again. A lot of Democrats came to the polls that day. Democrats came to the polls and said I’m going to vote for Larry Hogan and that is the only Republican I’m voting for.

What makes Hogan a phenomenon?

He is not viewed as a partisan politician. I think voters generally perceive his party affiliation as incidental and not terribly relevant to the ways he conducts himself and political philosophy. He famously distanced himself from the Trump administration early on.

That was a smart political move for the governor. His comportment during his cancer was inspiring to everyone in Maryland. Take all those together … all combined to put him in an extraordinary position here in Maryland. Maybe in nationally.

Could he make a run nationally?

I think if he wanted to he certainly could. He’s cracked the code in how to appeal to a broad range of voters. I don’t know if Trump will be president for two more years or six more years, you can make a pretty good case that the country is going to be ready for a unifier. Someone who can bring everybody together, which is what Larry Hogan does.

The Trump administration has been a specter hanging over the race, how is this anger different than Republicans against President Barack Obama?

The antipathy people have toward President Trump is much more deeper and more visceral than anything I have ever seen in my life. I remember how much people of the left despised Ronald Reagan, but it was never like this. They despised George W. Bush but it was never like this.

Many Republicans very much disagreed with President Obama on policy but I don’t believe it was anything like the anger and hatred directed at Donald Trump. Everybody likes Obama. People don’t like his policies. He is a nice person. Good Dad. Never done anything unethical. Always lived his life on the straight and narrow. Conducted himself gracefully. There is nothing to hate about the guy. I would love to have a beer with him or play basketball.

There is a lot to like about Donald Trump’s policies and there is a lot to dislike about his personal conduct. It was the key factor. It was everything.

When you were at the Republican National Committee in 2016, you said everyone had gotten behind the nominee Donald Trump. Were you talking strictly Republicans or a broader unity?

I don’t think there has ever been a time he has unified the country. He’s always been a very divisive figure from the day he was elected. It has not gotten any better or any worse.

Did you think it would get better?

I thought after the Annapolis elections that I sensed a dissipation over the last year in the anger toward the Trump administration. And I thought that voters were more and more inclined to look at him separately than the rest of the Republican establishment.

But I don’t think they do. I think people put everybody in the same basket.

Why was that hard to see coming?

All of the polling statewide was wrong. The Republican polls were completely wrong throughout the state. They were wrong between 10 (percent) and 15 percent across the state. Every single poll. It’s that the modeling, the polling did not anticipate this incredible surge of Democrat voters.

Republicans voted in the same numbers they did last time. Democrats surged by something like 40,000 votes. Democrats surged to the point they almost equaled their presidential numbers. In my case I got the same number of votes than I did last time.

That is because a giant surge of Democrats very angry at Washington came out with the same energy you would only normally see in a presidential year. When Democrats turn out like that Republicans get swamped.

It isn’t complicated. Democrats surged and they wanted to send a message to Washington and that swamped all of our numbers.

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