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Mizeur makes smart moves as candidate for governor

First, the pronunciation: It's Mizeer. For those of us who took several semesters of French and thought Jean-Paul Belmondo was even cooler than Steve McQueen, the temptation is to pronounce Heather Mizeur's last name as they would on the Boulevard du Montparnasse: Mee-Zurr, with a whispery "ah" on the end for effect. Mee-Zurr-ah.

But the name isn't even French. It's Belgian. And the pronunciation is Americanized because we like things simple. And simple is particularly good if you're running for office — say, for governor of Maryland — and you want your name to roll easily off lips.

"Like Miss, but with a z — eer: Mizeer," explained her press guy, Steven Hershkowitz. "Rhymes with 'deer' or 'cheer.'"

So there you go.

I'm doing this as a public service to Marylanders who have been seeing this name with greater frequency lately and wondering about it.

By "lately," I mean just the past week.

The recent Goucher Poll, which was conducted during the final four days of October by the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, had Mizeur dead last in name recognition among not only fellow Democrats but all gubernatorial candidates, Republicans included.

Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, a Democrat, ran first, followed by Doug "Party On" Gansler, the Democratic attorney general who, despite recent embarrassments, is still running for the nomination.

But the Goucher Poll was conducted before Mizeur made news — that is, to the extent that any candidate makes news eight months before a primary.

It wasn't Gansler-type news, either — you know, where you're accused of being an aggressive back-seat driver or a hypocrite on underage drinking — but news about a position on a matter of public interest.

Mizeur proposed a cut in state income taxes, something shocking for a liberal from Montgomery County. And she twinned that proposal with a considerable increase in the state's minimum wage.

It was a socioeconomic two-fer — on one end, an appeal to all but the wealthiest Marylanders (people who make $500,000 or more annually) and, on the other, to hourly workers who have been stuck in a long period of wage stagnation.

Without the tax cut, you'd dismiss Mizeur as a classic liberal content to get maybe 10 percent of the vote in next June's primary. But a progressive tax relief, a pledge to lower income taxes for 90 percent of Marylanders — that gets some attention for the previously little-known state delegate with the name I had to tell you how to pronounce.

Mizeur proposes cutting income taxes for joint filers who make up to $150,000 a year, and for single filers who make up to $100,000. Above those levels, tax rates rise, with the biggest increases for those who make more than $500,000.

On the other end, she proposes gradual increases in the minimum wage, up to $16.70 an hour. And she thinks the state should increase the base wage for workers who receive tips from $3.63 to $11.69. That would not happen overnight. Both those top rates would be in place by 2022, under Mizeur's plan.

While it sounds crazy, especially to the owners of small businesses, Mizeur believes it's in line with the true cost of living and supporting a family. And she has something up her sleeve for small businesses — the closing of a significant tax loophole for multistate corporations that make profits in Maryland but pay little or no taxes. Mizeur claims the closing of the so-called "combined reporting" loophole will generate up to $197 million annually and she wants to use it for small-business tax relief.

There's a lot more to her plan, the most detailed economic proposals we've seen from candidates so far.

And Mizeur's choice of a running mate is certainly the most interesting of the bunch — the 40-year-old pastor of a Baptist megachurch in vote-rich Prince George's County. The Rev. Delman Coates broke ranks with other African-American clergy last year in supporting the same-sex marriage referendum that Mizeur championed as a legislator.

No doubt, some Marylanders will find this selection odd, even a deal-killer — an ordained minister as lieutenant governor? But other clergy have run for and held statewide office. (Mike Huckabee is a Baptist minister and was governor of Arkansas for 11 years.)

I'll say this: Mizeur didn't have a prayer before; Coates gives her one now. (Ha! I kill myself!) And his selection shows she's willing to make Prince George's a battleground.

Of course, political junkies will find all this interesting and amusing, but they'll give Mizeur no hope of coming out of the high grass to win the nomination. No way, they say. Some wonder why she's still in the race. But shouldn't they be asking that question of Gansler?

The conventional wisdom gives the edge to Brown. He has the name, the money, the endorsements and probably the edge for votes in Baltimore that will make the difference in the primary.

But, I think it's too early to count anyone out, even Mizeur. For someone with low name recognition and a name that's hard to pronounce, she's made some smart moves.


Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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