The Paradox of Finding a Candidate for Lt. Governor

June 1, 2021

By: Josh Kurtz

Read the full article here

2018 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Benjamin T. Jealous (second from left) with his running mate Susan W. Turnbull, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (left) and U.S. Rep. Jamie B. Raskin at an October 2018 rally in Silver Spring. Photo by Josh Kurtz.

When state Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) publicly attacked Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) about the state’s 911 emergency system recently, cynical political watchers nodded knowingly. “Aha!” they said. “She’s campaigning to become Wes Moore’s running mate.”

Never mind that Kagan has been riding Franchot’s office on the issue for the past six months, and has worked obsessively to improve the state’s 911 system for several years. Or that Moore, the former foundation CEO, author, military veteran and anti-poverty advocate hasn’t even declared for governor yet. It felt to a degree like a naked political play.

‘Tis the season, one supposes.

With candidates for governor finally emerging, it means chatter about who will wind up joining their tickets as candidates for lieutenant governor is growing louder. And with, incredibly, nothing but men running for governor on the Democratic side, it means most of the candidates for LG will inevitably be women, just as they were in 2018.

Which means chances are pretty good that Maryland will either have its first woman governor, if Republican Kelly M. Schulz, the state Commerce secretary, is elected, or its second female lieutenant governor in history if a Democrat wins. Nothing is stopping Schulz from assembling an all-female ticket, either — which would be a nice and none-too-subtle poke at the Democrats — and could result in the first woman governor and the second woman LG simultaneously.

The beauty of speculating about LG candidates is this: To be charitable, one of a dozen or so people will be the next governor of Maryland come 2023 (though really, half that many candidates are truly viable). But as of now, the pool of potential lieutenant governors is unlimited. So the imagination can run wild.

Naturally, some conventional pols were candidates for lieutenant governor in 2018. But so was the leader of a teachers’ union. So was the co-owner of a craft brewery. So were a couple of government technocrats who had never been elected to office.

So candidates for governor can think creatively about who to pair up with by the time the late February 2022 candidate filing deadline rolls around.

They may have to.

It wasn’t so long ago that state Senate presidents were tapped to be candidates for lieutenant governor: Democrats Steny H. Hoyer in 1978 and Melvin A. “Mickey” Steinberg in 1986. Hoyer’s ticket, led by Blair Lee III, himself a lieutenant governor who served as acting governor for a year and a half, lost the Democratic primary. Steinberg was elected on a ticket headed by William Donald Schaefer and soon became miserable in the job, a condition that would last for an interminable eight years.

Hoyer has done all right for himself in the intervening years; Steinberg unsuccessfully sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1994.

Since then, it’s become increasingly difficult for gubernatorial candidates to find running mates of such political stature — with all due respect.

And here’s a little-known consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic: A bill that would have changed how candidates for governor pick their running mates didn’t make it to the finish line in the truncated 2020 legislative session, which means the selection process status quo is in place for the 2022 election.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) and Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), would have set up a ballot initiative asking voters whether candidates for governor should wait to select their running mates until after securing their party’s nomination.

This would allow gubernatorial nominees to choose from a wider, and potentially more substantive, pool of potential candidates for lieutenant governor — including vanquished gubernatorial primary rivals. It would also allow potential LGs, who in many cases must weigh whether to sacrifice safe political seats in order to join a gubernatorial ticket, a better sense of the ticket’s prospects. Because it’s safer to join a nominee’s ticket than it is to pair with a gubernatorial candidate who still has to get through a party primary.

The bill as introduced in 2020 would have required a ballot question last November for the provision to take effect in time for 2022. Though the measure was reintroduced this year, there was no action, because it would have been too late for 2022. So maybe it will come up again next session and go before the voters in 2022, in time for the 2026 gubernatorial election.

There’s no understating the risk factor for potential candidates for lieutenant governor who hold safe seats in the legislature, say, or on a county council. We didn’t see a single elected official who was in cycle join a Democratic gubernatorial ticket in 2018; in 2014, the two Democratic frontrunners for governor, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and then-Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, tapped officeholders to serve as their No. 2s: For Brown, it was then-Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, who had been contemplating a run for governor himself and was term limited in Ellicott City, and for Gansler, it was then-Del. Jolene Ivey of Prince George’s County.

Ulman’s political career has stalled since 2014, though he has remained prominent by doing high-profile real estate and economic development work. Ivey resuscitated her political career by winning a seat on the Prince George’s County Council in 2018 (just as Brown enjoyed a political resurrection by winning a seat in Congress in 2016 and Gansler is running for governor again in 2022).

Would Ivey be in a better place politically today if she had stayed put and won her re-election race in 2014 instead of giving up her seat in the House of Delegates for a chance at lieutenant governor? We can only speculate. But she took the gamble.

That same cycle, then-Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Middle Shore) gave up her safe legislative seat to run for lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by then-Harford County Executive David Craig. Craig lost the GOP primary to now-Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. — who quickly scooped up Haddaway-Riccio (and Craig) for prominent roles in his administration after he was elected.

But their experience is something for every wannabe lieutenant governor to ponder — and that starts with the women of the General Assembly.

Does Kagan, who is vice chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee want to risk a relatively safe seat to become someone’s running mate? Is there a chance she could wind up as the chair of that committee if the current chair, Pinsky, retires or is defeated in 2022? Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s) is also being eyed as a potential running mate for certain candidates for governor. But she also seems to have an unlimited future in the Senate. Which is the preferred route for her?

There are any number of women in the legislature who should rate a look for LG by the candidates for governor.

This might be a somewhat easier calculation for these politicians if lieutenant governor hadn’t proven to be such a dead-end job in Maryland. Since the position was created in its current form in 1970, zero lieutenant governors have been elected governor.

Is that an anomaly? Contrast Maryland to neighboring Virginia, where four of the last nine lieutenant governors have been elected governor and the current lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, is competing in the Democratic gubernatorial primary now (LGs in Virginia are elected independent of the candidates for governor, which gives them more time to establish political identities and operations).

So candidates for governor may not be able to find an incumbent officeholder who is in cycle in 2022 to join their tickets. They may instead have to turn to term-limited officeholders (on the Democratic side, Frederick County Executive Jan H. Gardner or Montgomery County Councilmember Nancy Navarro come to mind), or municipal officials, from Baltimore City to the smallest town, who wouldn’t have to sacrifice their seats in 2022 to run for LG.

Or a craft brewer — not that there’s anything wrong with that.