Advertisement

Franchot for comptroller

No matter who wins the governor's race, one thing is clear: The state will run better if it has a comptroller with the ability and willingness to exercise independent judgment and the stature to act as a real check on one of the most powerful state chief executives in the nation. The incumbent, Democrat Peter Franchot, may lag his Republican opponent when it comes to accounting experience, but he is miles ahead in his ability to fulfill the comptroller's broader role within Maryland's government. For that reason, he has our endorsement.

The Republican in the race, William Campbell, previously served as the chief financial officer of the U.S. Coast Guard, assistant secretary for management and CFO of the Veterans Administration and CFO of Amtrak. If he and Mr. Franchot were applying for jobs within the bureaucracy of the comptroller's office, Mr. Campbell might be the better bet. But the job of comptroller itself requires a different skill set.

Advertisement

The comptroller is Maryland's chief tax collector and ledger keeper, among other roles, but the reason the post is and deserves to be one of just three independently elected, state-wide positions within Maryland's government is that he holds a seat on several key policy-making bodies, most notably the Board of Public Works. Few if any other states have anything quite like the Board of Public Works, which must vote on whether to approve most state spending, land sales, leases or purchases, and which can also approve cuts to the state budget when the legislature is not in session.

The governor chairs the board, and for the most part, matters are brought forward for consideration by members of his administration, meaning it is rare for him to question them aggressively. The state treasurer also sits on the board, and though the current holder of that office, Nancy K. Kopp, is well respected, she is elected by the legislature, not the people, and thus has a relatively low public profile. But the comptroller has traditionally been a visible public figure and one who stood independent from the governor and the legislature. That was the case with Louis Goldstein and William Donald Schaefer, and it is the case now with Peter Franchot.

We have not always agreed with Mr. Franchot when he has raised objections at the board — for example, in the case of a proposed purchase of Steinway pianos for a new music center at Bowie State University. Sometimes we think he goes too far — such as the time he demanded the resignation of Towson University President Maravene Loeschke over the way she handled the cutting of the baseball and men's soccer teams. But right or wrong, his willingness to speak up produces public dialogue about decisions when there otherwise would likely be none.

Mr. Franchot's quixotic effort to force Maryland schools to open after Labor Day, we could do without. But his willingness to use his role as chairman of the Board of Revenue Estimates to urge the O'Malley administration to act sooner rather than later to address projected revenue shortfalls was spot on. So was his effort through the auspices of the state's pension board, along with his co-chair, Ms. Kopp, to urge the legislature not to divert planned extra payments to the pension system to cover general budget shortfalls. And so have been his warnings through his role on the Capital Debt Affordability Committee about the state's willingness to pile up more debt during the O'Malley years.

Perhaps Mr. Campbell would also speak up on such occasions, but would anyone listen? Mr. Franchot's critiques of the Democratic powers-that-be in Annapolis are all the more powerful because he is a Democrat. Mr. Campbell, on the other hand, has revealed himself in social media postings to be a fairly strong partisan. Should Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown be elected governor, it would be much easier to dismiss critiques from a Republican who has called him "an incompetent O'Malley toadie" and observed that his name rhymes with "clown" than from a Democrat who publicly endorsed him. If Republican Larry Hogan should win the governor's race, perhaps Mr. Campbell would be just as independent as the incumbent has been, but why take the risk?

Maryland voters are used to a strong, independent, outspoken comptroller, and that's what we've got in Peter Franchot. Whether the next governor is Anthony Brown or Larry Hogan, we'll be better off having him there.

Advertisement
Advertisement