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From serving in uniform to serving in office: Wes Moore is first veteran to be elected Maryland governor in 36 years

One is a Republican, the other a Democrat. Both have run for local public office, one successfully, the other not.

But as military veterans, they both have high hopes and warm words for Wes Moore, who on Tuesday became the first former service member to be elected governor of Maryland in 36 years. The last was William Donald Schaefer, a World War II veteran.

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“I applaud [Moore] because of the selfless service he has provided,” said Ed Rothstein, 59, a former garrison commander of Fort Meade who himself was elected Tuesday night, to a second term as Carroll County commissioner.

“He’s the 9/11 generation, and I truly believe they are the next Greatest Generation,” said the retired Army colonel, a Republican.

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Scott Goldman, 41, an Afghanistan veteran, said the desire to continue to serve underlies The 6th Branch, a nonprofit he heads. It’s led by Iraq and Afghanistan vets who bring skills honed in the military to a mission on the homefront, partnering with neighborhood groups to turn vacant lots in East Baltimore into green space.

Moore is among those who have supported and volunteered with the group, said Goldman, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for a Baltimore City Council seat in 2016.

Scott Goldman stands in a sunflower field in the Broadway East neighborhood that was planted last year by The 6th Branch, a local group of military vets who use their skills to rebuild broken communities in their own city rather than in Afghanistan or Iraq. Goldman, an Afghan war vet, is a lawyer who helped train Afghan law enforcement and prosecutors to arrest and convict Taliban insurgents.

“If you joined the military after 9/11,” Goldman said, “once we were engaged in two wars, you knew what you could be getting into. It was no longer an abstraction. You were making a very specific decision of defending the country. The 9/11 generation of veterans were really motivated by a sense of service.”

Moore’s path to the military began when he was an underachieving, misbehaving 12-year-old whose widowed mother sent him to military school, where he rose to become commander of its cadet corps. After earning a bachelor’s degree at the Johns Hopkins University and a master’s degree at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, he went on to serve as an Army captain and paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan.

Despite a packed resume — Moore, 44, is also a bestselling author, a former investment banker and the one-time CEO of one of the country’s largest anti-poverty nonprofits — he made his military service a centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign.

“You know what I never asked my soldiers?” he said repeatedly on the campaign trail. “‘What’s your political party?’”

In his writings, Moore expresses gratitude to the military for “saving” him, and giving him a sense of purpose. He led paratroopers in special operations in Afghanistan, often under “constant, harrowing uncertainty,” he wrote in his 2015 book, “The Work.”

“My time in Afghanistan energized me,” he wrote. “For the first time in a long time, I felt like I mattered. … That sense of purpose and relevance was something I’d been yearning for.”

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Moore’s service proved convincing to Evander McLean, 34.

Wearing fatigues as he voted on Election Day at Thomas Jefferson Elementary/Middle in Baltimore’s Hunting Ridge neighborhood, McLean said Moore’s military achievements should help him in his new role.

Evander McLean, 34, and his mother, Sharon Cook, both of Edmondson Village, are seen here on Election Day. McLean, a sergeant with the District of Columbia National Guard, had just voted at Thomas Jefferson Elementary and Middle School in Hunting Ridge; Cook, who met him at the site, was about to go inside and vote. McLean confessed one reason he made the time on his busy schedule to vote: "I didn't want my mother to cuss me out," he said, and laughed.

“Because I’m in the military, I know what it takes to get to that rank of captain, and it’s not easy,” said McLean, a sergeant and human resources official with the District of Columbia National Guard.

“He had to have real leadership to be able to head up a unit in such an elite force. And being a paratrooper? That’s really legit,” he said. “He should be able to transfer what he learned doing all that into his job as governor.”

Goldman, a lawyer who served in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps, said the kind of teamwork, leadership and shared purpose required in the military is what the current fractious political climate needs.

“The military is one of the last institutions where your politics don’t matter,” Goldman said. “You work in teams, you’re serving a mission much greater than yourself. It’s the antithesis of the shallowness of politics today.”

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Goldman remembers being in Afghanistan in 2013 when U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican, helped lead a shutdown of the government — at one point reading Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” during a filibuster.

“It seemed so stupid and far away. It was like, really?” Goldman said. “Everything today is politics and everything in politics seems like life and death.

“In the military, you’re forced to face things that really are life and death.”

Come January, there actually will be two veterans in top state posts. Also elected Tuesday was Anthony Brown, the former lieutenant governor and congressman who served as an aviator and a JAG officer and retired as a colonel in the Army Reserve.

Then Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, left, speaks with Army Lt. Col. Tony Boone of Fort Meade at the National Labor College, where he announced a state partnership in 2010 with the "Helmets To Hardhats" initiative, which connects veterans with training and employment in the construction industries.

The number of veterans in the upcoming Congress also will be rising after hitting a historic low. Between 78 and 87 veterans will serve in the upcoming 118th Congress, according to the University of San Francisco and Veterans Campaign, which helps train those interested in entering public service.

After the 2020 election, Congress had 74 members with military backgrounds, the lowest in the past century, said Seth Lynn, founder of Veterans Campaign.

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“The veterans’ community is very proud of the fact that so many veterans were on the ballot this year, and not just in this race but in races for various offices across the country,” said Frank Armiger of Towson, national executive director of the 29th Infantry Division Association, an advocacy group.

While noting he was not endorsing any specific candidates, Armiger said those like Moore who have commanded elite military units are well-suited to make the transition to elected office.

“You have to make decisions quickly and accurately if your troops are going to survive,” he said.

This election, Moore was one of 10 gubernatorial candidates, out of a total of 72, with military service in their background, according to the Pew Research Center. Of the 50 current governors, Pew said, six are veterans.

The number of veterans in office has declined over the years. The peak was decades ago, at least for Congress, for which there are more complete statistics on the number of veterans in its ranks. Astonishingly, at least to modern eyes, 75% of U.S. representatives were veterans in 1967, while 81% of senators were veterans in 1975. Currently, veterans make up 17% of the combined chambers, according to Pew.

But that decline doesn’t reflect a parallel decline in how voters view veterans running for office — polls show the military consistently among the most trusted of U.S. institutions. Rather, it’s simply that there are fewer former service members in the population.

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“We stopped making massive numbers of veterans after World War II,” said Jeremy M. Teigen, a political science professor at Ramapo College of New Jersey who researches veterans in politics.

Subsequent conflicts have not required anywhere near the 16 million Americans who fought in that war, he said.

Even with fewer veterans in Congress, Teigen said, they actually are overrepresented for their numbers in the general population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 7% of the population have served in the military.

“There are just far fewer veterans in the population today than in the past,” Lynn said.

The biggest reason for that is the end of the draft in 1973 and the transition to an all-volunteer armed forces, said Lynn, a 2002 graduate of the Naval Academy.

Additionally, he said, public perception of the military went down during the Vietnam era, improving after 9/11. While those who served after the terrorist attacks now make up a considerable part of the younger members of Congress, Lynn said, he doesn’t anticipate the number of veterans in office rising to past heights.

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Nor is that necessarily something he’d want to see.

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“For that to happen, it would take a really, really horrible war,” Lynn said.

Jon Soltz, chairman of VoteVets, a PAC that supports progressive veterans running for office, said the end of the draft produced a “self-selected” group of veterans.

The group rushed to Brown’s defense during the primary when his opponent, Katie Curran O’Malley, ran an ad questioning his qualifications to be attorney general. It spent about $40,000 on an ad countering that, and was prepared to do the same for Moore, Soltz said.

Soltz called questioning a veteran’s qualifications for public office “a trope” used by those who haven’t served, or whose own background is exclusively within the political system.

“The one thing you learn in the military that you don’t learn in the statehouse is how to be an executive, how to be in command,” he said.

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“In the military, you’re in charge of African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, white people, gays, straight people,” Soltz said. “Wes Moore is someone who is going to be your governor whether you live in Garrett County, Prince George’s County, Salisbury. You have an obligation to lead all the constituents in the state even if they didn’t vote for you.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Sam Janesch contributed to this article.


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