Baltimore lawyer Jim Shea enters Democratic race for Maryland governor

Baltimore attorney Jim Shea joined the increasingly crowded Democratic race for governor Thursday night, seeking to turn the Larry Hogan game plan against the incumbent Republican.

The former chairman of the law firm Venable LLP formally declared his candidacy during a fundraiser at the Baltimore Museum of Industry. Shea, a former chairman of the University System of Maryland's Board of Regents, became the fourth Democrat to enter the June 26, 2018, primary contest.

"I know how to make things happen," Shea told The Baltimore Sun Thursday. "I've done it in my business. I've done it for the organizations I've led."

Superficially, the Baltimore attorney and Hogan have much in common. Both are white men in their 60s with a track record of success in the private sector. Neither held elected office before setting out to win the state's top job.

"Jim Shea appears to be taking a page out of the Larry Hogan playbook," said Melissa Deckman, who chairs the political science department at Washington College. "It's not entirely implausible that a political outsider could do well."

Shea, 65, enters a race that includes Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, former NAACP President Ben Jealous and tech entrepreneur Alec Ross.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno of Montgomery County are expected to join the race. Former Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler is considering a run. U.S. Rep. John Delaney said Thursday he will announce his plans in late July.

"They're a very good and capable group of people and we all share the same progressive set of goals," Shea said.

Shea opened his campaign with a withering assessment of the governor's record — similar in tone to Hogan's 2014 attacks on Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Hogan is "facilitating and enabling" Donald J. Trump with his hesitancy to openly criticize the president, Shea said.

"Trump won't be stopped until Democrats and Republicans stand up to him," he said. "Maryland needs a governor who will say 'don't take our health care away, don't eliminate our jobs, don't reduce our research funding and help us restore the bay.'"

Shea's criticism came as Senate Republican leaders in Washington unveiled a plan Thursday to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Amelia Chasse, a Hogan spokeswoman, said the GOP plan did not work for Maryland and urged Congress to "go back to the drawing board in an open, transparent and bipartisan fashion to craft a bill that works for all Americans."

Hogan goes into the race riding high in the polls and enjoying a strong local economy, but Shea contends he's taking credit for things he had little to do with.

"My sense is that Maryland has improved as the nation has improved," Shea said. "For one governor to take credit, you have to show specific facts to show you in particular have improved the economy."

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the governor's record "speaks for itself."

"Since he took office, Maryland has created nearly 100,000 new jobs and has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation," Mayer said. He said Hogan "dramatically increased" education funding and is "aggressively attacking the opioid crisis."

Shea criticized the governor's record on drugs, crime and schools. He pointed to a steep increase in heroin and opioid overdose deaths on Hogan's watch even though the governor has made the issue a priority.

"There is a tremendous difference between the recognition of the problem, the promise to solve it and the negative results that we're getting," Shea said. He added that Hogan "has failed to use the resources available to him" to counter the spiking homicide rate in Baltimore.

Shea said the governor has been funneling money to private schools that should go to public education. He blamed Hogan for making up only half of a formula-driven $42 million decrease in state funding for Baltimore schools.

Shea said his commitment to fully funding schools would continue even if the economy falls into a recession such as that of 2008-2009, when O'Malley slashed transportation and other programs to preserve K-12 and higher education spending.

"We need to invest in education come hell or high water," Shea said. "If other things have to wait, they'll wait."

Shea promised to rescind Hogan's executive order requiring local school systems to start the school year after Labor Day.

"That protects vacations for the privileged and profits for Ocean City developers, but it doesn't do anything for the schoolchildren of Maryland," Shea said.

Shea said he has no intention of raising taxes but wouldn't rule out such a move entirely.

A former chairman of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance, Shea criticized Hogan's decision to scuttle Baltimore's $3 billion Red Line light rail project and vowed to see whether he could revive it.

Shea, who grew up in the Towson area and lives in Owings Mills, has been married to his wife Barbara for 39 years. They have four children.

A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Virginia Law School, Shea became Venable's managing partner in 1995 and chairman in 2006. He was a strong supporter of O'Malley, who named him to the Board of Regents in 2007 and made him chairman of the board in 2012. He left the board in 2016.

Wally Pinkard, a friend of Shea's since childhood, said that the first-time candidate is well-known in legal circles and the business community.

Pinkard, senior adviser in the Cushman & Wakefield commercial real estate firm, said Maryland voters will learn that Shea is a "no-nonsense, get-it-done kind of person."

"Jim Shea does not suffer fools gladly and I think he will be very direct on what he believes," Pinkard said.

Deckman said Shea faces a steeper challenge in getting through his party primary than Hogan did.

"The Democratic Party is more entrenched," she said. "It has a deeper bench."

If Shea were to win, Deckman said, he would have a difficult time tying Trump to Hogan. The governor did not support his party's nominee in the 2016 presidential election.

"Hogan has done enough to separate himself from Trump that he's going to be less vulnerable to the charge he's closely aligned with the president," Deckman said.

Shea said his fundraising is off to a strong start — reaching seven figures in 21/2 months. He believes he has a solid base in both the Baltimore and Washington areas because of the strong presence of his law firm in both cities.

"All too often we look at Baltimore and D.C. as two separate entities," he said. "We should merge the two areas. They're only 40 miles apart and each has tremendous strengths that complement each other."

mdresser@baltsun.com

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