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Maryland’s next governor doesn’t have to be from Baltimore, but must care about it | COMMENTARY

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele chats with then-Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez in the spin room ahead of the first Democratic presidential primary debate for the 2020 election at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida on June 26, 2019. Mr. Perez has declared himself a candidate for Maryland governor in 2022. Mr. Steele may yet join him in the race. Both are from the D.C. suburbs. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images).
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele chats with then-Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez in the spin room ahead of the first Democratic presidential primary debate for the 2020 election at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami, Florida on June 26, 2019. Mr. Perez has declared himself a candidate for Maryland governor in 2022. Mr. Steele may yet join him in the race. Both are from the D.C. suburbs. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images). (Drew Angerer // Getty Images)

The field of contenders seeking to become Maryland’s 63rd governor so far includes a dozen men and at least one woman who vary in age, race and life experience with some having served in elected office and some not. But there’s one thing that most of the Democrats and Republicans in the field have in common: The vast majority aren’t from the Baltimore region. With the exception of author Wes Moore and businessman Mike Rosenbaum, who both live in Baltimore, the field of candidates for 2022 is so far dominated by the Washington suburbs. From Montgomery County alone, there’s Comptroller Peter Franchot, former Attorney General Doug Gansler, former U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr., former Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, and former Obama administration official Ashwani K. Jain. From neighboring Prince George’s County there’s Rushern Baker, the ex-county executive and former state delegate who also ran for governor in 2018.

Even Frederick County, with a population of 260,000, is better represented in the field than Baltimore and its surrounding counties of Anne Arundel, Howard and Harford, which have a combined population of 1.9 million. Frederick has two GOP candidates to those Baltimore suburban counties’ zero: Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz who is likely to have the backing of Gov. Larry Hogan and Del. Daniel L. Cox who is more closely aligned with the party’s Donald Trump wing. A year ago, one or more of several high-profile Baltimore area politicians was expected to throw a hat in the ring including Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman. All three have since declined (Mr. Ball and Mr. Olszewski are seeking reelection and Mr. Glassman is running for comptroller instead). Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who got his start in state politics on the Howard County Republican Central Committee, said no, too.

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Other candidates may yet emerge, of course. Former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (another with Prince George’s County roots) is often mentioned, and the deadline to file for a party primary isn’t until Feb. 22. But these circumstances raise the question: Will whomever gets the nod for governor in 2022 care about, or even understand, the needs of the Baltimore region? You can bet they’ll all campaign here. Our votes still matter.

The growth and affluence of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, with nearly one-third of the state’s 6 million residents, has boosted their political influence over the years. But the traditional Democratic formula for winning statewide in the general election has long been to capture those two counties along with Baltimore City by hefty margins; take Baltimore County to a draw and stay competitive elsewhere. (For Republicans, the strategy has often relied on running against weak Democrats in a state so dominated by one party — and perhaps to rally Democrats on an anti-tax platform, as Mr. Hogan did, to win two terms.)

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But when push comes to shove, will the winner take office feeling obligated to act in the best interests of this part of the state? It’s hardly a theoretical discussion considering how Governor Hogan, the Prince George’s County native that he is, has so frequently failed Baltimore, from denying funding for the Red Line light rail project to his unwillingness to support efforts to reform and better fund public education, a core issue for city voters.

That’s not to suggest that Baltimore can only prosper if the next governor is from the region (which, in turn, is not to disparage Messrs. Moore and Rosenbaum who are both clearly credible candidates), but it does suggest that hard questions need to be asked of everyone running for governor: What are your plans for Baltimore? What actions will you take to grow jobs and prosperity, to address systemic discrimination based on race and socioeconomic standing, to improve housing and medical care, to upgrade the region’s public transit lines?

It’s a mistake to think those outcomes matter only inside the city’s borders. The health of Baltimore’s surrounding counties and the state as a whole are tied to the health of the city. Our next governor needs to recognize that their office has a vested interest in it, regardless of the holder’s hometown.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.

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