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Turnover in 2022: Maryland’s top statewide offices are about to get new occupants, a rare occurrence

Over the next year, each of the top statewide offices in Maryland will feature new faces, a rare occurrence in state history that may offer an opportunity for fresh ideas to take root — or not, depending on who wins.

When voters go to the polls this time next year, there will be no incumbents on the ballot for governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller or attorney general. And the state treasurer, who is appointed by lawmakers, is retiring with her replacement to be named next month.

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“I do think that 2022 is an exciting time because there is potential for change,” said John T. Willis, a former secretary of state who studies and teaches Maryland political history. “There is a potential for change in looking at how the state might progress into the 21st century. Different visions, different attitudes are going to be presented to the voters.”

The complete turnover of the top state-level offices is due to a combination of term limits, personal choices and generational change:

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  • Gov. Larry Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, both Republicans, are finishing their second, four-year terms and barred from running again due to term limits.
  • Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat, is running for governor.
  • Attorney General Brian Frosh and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, both Democrats in their 70s, decided to retire.

And if the next governor opts to replace the adjutant general and the secretary of state, as governors usually do, then every single one of the state offices established under the Maryland Constitution will turn over. The last time that happened was more than a century ago, following the 1919 election of Democratic Gov. Albert Ritchie, according to Jennifer Abbott of the Maryland State Archives.

In fact, the only statewide race that’s expected to feature an incumbent is one based in Washington, not Annapolis: Democratic U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen is expected to seek reelection.

Turnover at the top of state government will trickle down to the General Assembly, as well. Already this year, five lawmakers have stepped down for various reasons. Another is about to become a judge and yet another is seeking the treasurer’s job. And the list of those who have announced plans to retire or compete for other offices is running into double digits.

There have been other times when several of the top state offices changed hands, including 1934 and 1950. Like now, those were years of national tumult, Willis noted: 1919 was after the pandemic flu and the end of World War I, 1934 was during the Great Depression and 1950 was shortly after World War II.

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But the march of time has to do with the turnover, too, Willis said. Every four to six election cycles, or about 16 to 24 years, there tends to be change in politics, as officials age and opinions shift.

“It’s good for our system to have a chance to percolate,” said Willis, who was secretary of state from 1995 through 2003 in the administration of Democratic Gov. Parris Glendening.

The percolation can’t be forced by term limits in Maryland, as only the governor and lieutenant governor face the two-term limit. The other state offices can be held for long periods of time, and have been. The late Louis L. Goldstein was Maryland’s comptroller for 39 years before he died in office in 1998.

The state and national political climate will help determine who is elected. A recent Goucher College poll found slightly more than a quarter of respondents said the economy and jobs were the most important issue in determining their vote in the governor’s race. The next most-popular issues of concern, with roughly equal support, were health care, racial and social justice issues and taxes.

As all the changes shake out, advocacy groups hope to find more sympathetic ears in the halls of government.

Dayvon Love, public policy director for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, said the grassroots policy think tank’s proposals on issues such as criminal justice reform and economic equity have started to get some traction in the last few years. More politicians are interested now in racial justice, but Love said it’s incumbent upon activists and citizens to make sure candidates follow through on their promises.

“There’s going to be a lot of people who may intend on pushing what they think is racial justice,” Love said. “But I think it’s going to be important for the public to have high standards for what we accept as actual change.”

Candidates may give lip service to racial justice while supporting a standard of less-transformational change favored by donors, and activists should be wary, Love said.

Likewise, the group Progressive Maryland sees the 2022 turnover as an opportunity that could either be great or could fall short of hopes. Progressive Maryland launched a political action committee called New Era PAC earlier this year to offer financial backing to candidates that align with its goals, such as changes to drug laws, expanded paid leave and combating climate change.

Whether the political change boosts progressive interests “depends on what we make it and what we fight for and priorities,” said Larry Stafford, Progressive Maryland’s executive director.

“There have been moments of change in the past that produced the same status quo,” he said. “I’m more interested in what the results will be for working- class Marylanders, what the future looks like for generations to come.”

With the changeover of governor, comptroller and treasurer, Maryland’s powerful Board of Public Works will get a new look. The board meets twice monthly and approves state construction projects and contracts.

Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp, Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot hold a Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday in the State House.
Maryland Treasurer Nancy Kopp, Gov. Larry Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot hold a Board of Public Works meeting Wednesday in the State House. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun)

Minority- and woman-owned businesses have raised concerns that they don’t get a fair share of the money spent, so change at the board could be a positive, said Pless B. Jones Sr. of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association. He’d like to see the state do more proactive outreach to bring in minority contractors.

“We have a good relationship with the people that are in now,” said Jones, who owns a Baltimore contracting firm. “With new people coming in, that would give us an opportunity to get our agenda moved forward. I think that’s always good.”

Democrats have a significant voter registration edge in Maryland, with more than twice as many registered voters than Republicans. Democrats also have more voters than Republicans, independents and third-party voters combined.

That makes it an uphill battle for Republicans to win statewide office. But in 2022, Republicans will be coming off eight years with a popular GOP governor. They see opportunity to again elect a governor and possibly a comptroller, too.

Dirk Haire, the Maryland Republican Party chairman, expects to have strong candidates for those offices. Barry Glassman, the Harford County executive, is running for comptroller and there’s a competitive primary for governor.

“In general, I think Maryland voters have shown a willingness to take a serious look at Republicans running in offices that have a fiscal focus,” Haire said. “So governor and comptroller fit that bill.”

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Haire is also hoping that strong Republican showings in 2021 elections in other states, such as neighboring Virginia, bode well for his party’s chances in Maryland in 2022. Still, he noted: “Every year is a different election and candidates do matter.”

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Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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