From the distant ripples of Virginia and New Jersey, and the ripples from Annapolis and Frederick, Democrats in Maryland are conjuring a political wave next year that will sweep Republican Gov. Larry Hogan from the State House and even Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman from office.
There aren’t many elections nationally in odd-numbered years, but Virginia and New Jersey do choose their governors and legislatures. In Maryland, some municipalities elect their mayors in partisan elections, as do the old cities of Annapolis and Frederick.
Democrats were particularly cheered by the victory in Virginia of Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam over Ed Gillespie, a former chair of the national GOP. The party also picked up at least 15 seats in the House of Delegates, and thus moved closer to overcoming the Republican control of the House.
These victories at the grassroots level were especially encouraging for Democrats, because they showed the depth of the anti-Trump effect.
In Annapolis, Democrat Gavin Buckley, a restaurateur with a thick Australian accent, trounced the young Republican Mayor Mike Pantelides (but more on that race in the Anne Arundel column that follows); in Frederick, three-term Republican incumbent Mayor Randy McClement lost to Democrat Michael O’Connor.
All the Democratic victories were by larger margins than were expected, except the New Jersey race, where Democrat Phil Murphy beat Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. She was trying to succeed who pollsters have found to be the most unpopular governor in America, Chris Christie.
Tying Hogan to Trump
The Maryland Democratic Party has consistently tried to tie Hogan to Trump without a lot of success to show for it, as the governor continues to be popular in polling. But Democratic partisans do not need to have a lot of success to reclaim the State House.
Hogan won by only 65,500 votes, just 51%, amidst the lowest Democratic voter turnout in years. Kittleman won by 2,600 votes, also 51%.
Will opposition to Trump and the Republican Congress generate the kind of enthusiasm that will drive Democrats to the polls? Trump is on the minds of voters, local candidates report. It would not take a major surge of Democrats to unseat Hogan or Kittleman, neither of whom has shown any fondness or support for Trump, which may be leading some Republicans to withhold their support.
Ball Challenges Kittleman
Democrat Calvin Ball, an 11-year veteran of the Howard County Council, hopes to cash in on some of that anti-Trump effect. Last month, he announced his long-expected bid for county executive.
Joined by most of the elected Democrats in the county and a crowd of more than 200 supporters in Columbia’s Kahler Hall, Ball promised an election that focused on “unity, hope, civility and our very best selves.”
“I’ve been surprised and dismayed by the silence of some of our leaders here in Howard County as President Trump and his administration have sought to demean and divide us,” Ball said, taking a veiled swipe at Kittleman — who did not support Trump’s election, but has been mostly silent about the Republican president.
But Ball also said, “Like most citizens of Howard County, I believe our current county executive is a good and decent man.”
“There will not be a barrage of personal attacks in this campaign. We’ve all had enough of that negativity,” he said.
Ball has reached his limit of three terms on the council. He has tangled with Kittleman on numerous issues, such as Ball’s attempts to promote Howard County as a sanctuary for immigrants and to deny tax breaks for Columbia’s downtown redevelopment.
Howard Can Be Better
“Things are good here in Howard County but I believe they can be even better,” Ball said. He said the county needed to “reach higher,” like the outstretched arms of the figures in Columbia’s People Tree sculpture.
He noted that Howard County “ranks as one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the nation, with one of the finest school systems and some of the highest property values,” but needed to spend more on schools and curb overdevelopment.
Swearing off negativity may be making a virtue of necessity. Kittleman has generally been seen as a successful executive, particularly his handling of the terrible July 2016 flooding on Main Street in historic Ellicott City that shut down the old town down for weeks. Kittleman’s three budgets have also passed the Democrat-controlled County Council unanimously, including Ball’s vote. These budgets have funded teacher pay hikes, but not everything the school board has asked for.
Former Howard County Democratic Party Chairman Michael McPherson noted that defeating an incumbent county executive is hard work, since the incumbent can do a lot of things a challenger can’t.
Kittleman was endorsed last month by the Howard County Fire Fighters Association, the first time the union has endorsed a Republican for county executive; green-shirted leaders of AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, were a visible presence at Ball’s announcement.
Kittleman also has the fundraising advantage that most executives have with the business community. This year’s fundraising totals for state and local campaigns will not be available until mid-January. Last January, Kittleman had $725,000 in his campaign account, eight times more than Ball’s $89,000.
Hester Challenging Bates
With a similar buzz about the Virginia election in the room, Democrat Katie Fry Hester, America’s director of The Partnering Initiative, announced Nov. 14 that she is running for the state Senate in District 9, currently represented by Republican Gail Bates.
“I am running as a centrist and citizen legislator,” Hester said on her website. “I have worked with civil society organizations, governments, companies and international agencies around the world to implement strategies that are good for business, good for the environment and good for communities.
“I know that differences of opinion can get in the way of collaboration,” she said, “yet underneath these differences are shared common values.”
Hester promises to fight for quality health care for all who need it, especially where there are gaps in federal assistance. She stresses bringing education funding for all children, and ensuring colleges and universities are affordable. She also wants incentives to grow jobs and development that is “socially and environmentally responsible.”
Hester also wants ”to eliminate the drawing of district lines that result in an unfair advantage for any political party.” This is precisely what Democratic leaders at the State House did in 2011 to make it difficult for any Democrat to defeat Bates, who was seeking her second term in the Senate after three terms in the House. District 9 is mostly packed with Republicans and Democrats who vote Republican in General Elections, making it a fairly safe seat for any Republican. This allows the county’s other two legislative districts, 12 and 13, to be safely Democratic.
District 9 now includes western Howard County, Ellicott City and a small part of Carroll County. It has been represented by Republican senators for 30 years, most recently by Bates, Allan Kittleman and his father Bob, and Chris McCabe.
Sen. Guy Guzzone, who has become the most visible Democratic leader in Howard County, said the race will be difficult, but doable, requiring at least $100,000.
Follow Voting Patterns
For Democrats running, they will tout party registration to make the race look winnable, since Republicans have only a slight edge. But party registration is deceptive; how people actually vote in general elections for governor and president is what counts.
Election results show District 9 is solidly Republican. In 2014, Republicans had a 2,100 voter edge in registration there, but Larry Hogan beat Democratic Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown by more than 16,000 votes in District 9.
“Ah!” you say, but Brown was a weak candidate with a bad campaign.
So how about 2016, Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump? Republicans had only 265 more registered voters, but Trump beat Clinton in District 9 by almost 3,500 votes. “Ah!” but Clinton was a weak candidate too, you say. Yet, she carried Howard County by 55,000 votes.
Hester seems a smart, articulate candidate, but it will take a miracle for her to defeat any Republican, no less a Republican incumbent, who has run and won in the district in four elections.
District 9B, the single-member delegate district in the Ellicott City area that is one-third of District 9, is a different story. Democrats have a slight edge in registration, but in 2014, Hogan beat Brown 58%-42%, and in 2016, Clinton beat Trump 60-40%.
Republican Del. Flanagan now represents 9B. Communications executive Dan Medinger and former county councilmember Courtney Watson are competing in the Democratic primary to challenge Flanagan, known for his prodigious door-knocking.
The Rule of Law
Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was the long-time U.S. attorney for Maryland before he got the hot seat in the Justice Department, spoke to the BWI Business Partnership at breakfast last month. While there were news stories about the event, Rosenstein broke no news, as might be expected from someone trying to keep the Department of Justice on track as President Trump criticizes the department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the special prosecutor Rosenstein oversees.
The most striking thing about Rosenstein’s forceful but bland speech was his emphasis on maintaining the rule of law and the impartial administration of justice. In the current atmosphere, it was reassuring that someone as level-headed, experienced and fair is the chief operating officer of the federal Justice Department.