Opinion: Winners and losers in 2017 Maryland politics
Dec 31, 2017 | 7:00 AM
Gov. Larry Hogan. In Maryland, President Donald Trump is about as popular as a fungal infection, and the Democrats gunning for Mr. Hogan take every chance they can to try to tie our Republican governor to the Republican in the White House. But Governor Hogan has been about as deft as he could be in creating distance between himself and his party’s leader on issues ranging from the environment to health care to the Muslim ban. A reputation for independence has always been essential to Mr. Hogan’s success in deep-blue Maryland, and the Trump presidency has given him plenty of opportunities to cultivate it. Or, as Goucher political science professor Mileah Kromer puts it, the crazier President Trump is, the saner Governor Hogan looks.
Attorney General Brian Frosh. This was the year of Frosh in the General Assembly, with lawmakers not only handing the attorney general more authority to sue the Trump administration — a power he wasted no time in using — but also following his lead on enacting first-in-the-nation anti-price-gouging legislation for generic drugs. Mr. Frosh also remained instrumental in the movement to reform Maryland’s pretrial detention practices.
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It looked for a moment like the former U.S. attorney for Maryland had forgotten to bring his integrity with him to Washington when he wrote a memo President Trump used as a pretext to fire FBI Director James Comey. But much to the president’s chagrin, Mr. Rosenstein followed that up by appointing Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate whether the Trump campaign worked with the Russian government to influence the election.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch. After he struggled through the legislative session in obviously poor health, rumors swirled this spring and summer that the longest-serving House speaker in Maryland history would soon resign. But after a liver transplant from his sister, the speaker is back, strong as ever.
Rushern Baker. In a crowded field of Democrats looking to take on Governor Hogan, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker is an early stand-out. He’s got a good story to tell about his successes in turning his county around after the corruption-plagued years of his predecessor, and he’s got some big early endorsements from two of the best gets in Maryland Democratic politics, Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Attorney General Brian Frosh. Other candidates are making some noise — notably former NAACP head Ben Jealous, who has been racking up organized labor endorsements and taking full advantage of his close relationship with Sen. Bernie Sanders — but for now, Mr. Baker is the one to beat.
Gov. Larry Hogan. He’s got sky-high approval ratings, but polls consistently show fewer than half of Maryland voters would pick him over a generic Democrat. It’s early, of course, and Gov. Hogan is a terrific campaigner. But it’s worth noting that the Republican governor in a blue state to which he is most often compared, Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, is absolutely killing his prospective Democratic opponents. A WBUR poll last month found him up by at least 34 points over any of his rivals, whereas Mr. Hogan notched just a 7-point lead over Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker in an October Mason-Dixon poll. Other Democrats, including Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, former NAACP head Ben Jealous and Sen. Richard S. Madaleno weren’t much further behind. Governor Hogan is certainly the favorite in 2018, but it’s no slam dunk.
Former Annapolis Mayor Michael Pantelides. Why should Governor Hogan be worried? He needs look no further than the 2017 mayoral election in Annapolis. Four years ago, Republican Mike Pantelides narrowly won a hard-fought election to unseat the Democratic incumbent. This year, he got about as many votes as he did the first time. Trouble is, about 1,600 more people showed up at the polls, and he got swamped by a previously little-known Democrat, Gavin Buckley, who beat him by 13 points. Might this be a harbinger of a tough year for Maryland Republicans in 2018?
Del. Dan Morhaim and Sen. Nathaniel Oaks. Delegate Morhaim, a Democrat, was formally reprimanded by his House colleagues in March for his role in advocating for policies that could benefit medical marijuana companies without disclosing that he worked for one. He then issued a letter questioning the notion that he had done anything wrong. Worse, though, was the case of Senator Oaks, also a Democrat. He was indicted in April on federal wire fraud charges for allegedly accepting cash in exchange for using his position to further a development project. Three days later, he showed back up in the Senate for the last day of the legislative session, showing that whether or not he is guilty, he is certainly shameless — and unconcerned with preserving the public’s esteem for the legislature.
Mayor Catherine Pugh. One year after her inauguration, Mayor Pugh has made progress on a number of her signature campaign initiatives, including mobile job vans and more street lights. But whatever she has accomplished, it has been overshadowed by the relentless violent crime in Baltimore and by a police department rocked by corruption and the unsolved killing of a homicide detective.