Josh Kurtz: An Aligning Election

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By: Josh Kurtz 

Seems like the right time to quote from the classic political movie, “The Candidate”: What do we do now?

Larry Hogan, in his victory speech Tuesday night, was magnanimous for about 20 seconds. Then, he went on the attack, promising to “clean up the mess” in Annapolis.

Hogan did pledge on Wednesday to put together a bipartisan administration. But it’s easy enough in Maryland to find crypto-Republicans with a Democratic voter registration card to fill a check list.

I didn’t get to circulate among Maryland pols on Tuesday night, but I was struck by something Jolene Ivey said while she was providing election night commentary on News Channel 8: “We’ve got to make him a one-term governor.”

So, game on. No congratulations. No olive branches. We may be in for a wild ride over the next four years.

In the end, it wasn’t all that surprising that Anthony Brown lost. But the depth of Democratic defeats around the state was startling.

In the legislature, the numbers, for Democrats, could be worse: nine House seats lost, and two Senate seats. But it’s the quality of losers, and the constituencies they represent, that’s astonishing and, if you’re a Democrat, worrisome: Del. Johnny Olszewski Jr. – Johnny O – losing an East Baltimore County Senate seat to Johnny Ray Salling (R), a nonentity.

On the House side, Appropriations Chairman Norm Conway (D) and Del. John Bohanan (D), another leading appropriator who was thought to be a possible future candidate for speaker, and was given every break he could possibly have wanted from party leaders – gone. Del. David Rudolph (D), a longtime voice of sanity who managed to prevail in Cecil County for years despite constant political headwinds – poof. Del. John Donoghue (D), Western Maryland’s last link to Annapolis leadership – out. Tom Coale, a justifiably hyped newcomer in Howard County – pole-axed.

Move around the state: In Anne Arundel County, Michael Peroutka, a man who Hogan and other establishment Republicans have disavowed because of his crazy views, was elected to the County Council. Two Democrats who were thought to have easy Council races hung on by the skin of their teeth. Ditto for state Sen. John Astle (D), a political institution. Republican Del. Herb McMillan finished first in Speaker Mike Busch’s district.

Busch is one of the big losers of the election. His buddy George Johnson is annihilated in the county executive race, losing by 20 points. The aforementioned McMillan, remaining his district-mate. The Anne Arundel County Democratic organization, shell-shocked.

His protégé, Anthony Brown, whose election would only have increased Busch’s power in the State House, rejected at the polls. Now Busch finds himself forced to do battle with another brash Republican governor – one who lives in his backyard, no less.

It was hard enough with Bob Ehrlich, a dozen years ago. But Busch was the new speaker back then, and an old buddy of Ehrlich’s, and his leadership team was fresh and interesting. Now, Busch’s very static leadership team will bump up against Hogan & Co. It may seem like déjà vu all over again.

Of course, Senate President Mike Miller (D) didn’t fare much better on election night. His hand-picked candidates in Calvert County were clobbered. Former Prince George’s Sheriff Michael Jackson (D), drawn a tidy House subdistrict with him in mind, barely hung on for a win. Miller’s Democratic allies down the road in St. Mary’s County were wiped out. And in his own chamber, the ratio of moderate Democrats to liberals continues to diminish.

What we have witnessed here in Maryland is what the experts call an aligning election. Sure, poor turnout in Democratic strongholds helped doom Anthony Brown.

But more significantly, voting behavior in legislative and local elections started mirroring their districts. When Brown averages around 20 percent in all the Western Maryland counties except Frederick, when the Eastern Shore and St. Mary’s and Calvert counties are almost as hostile, when Anne Arundel, Harford and eastern Baltimore counties become killing fields for the top of the ticket, then of course down-ballot Democrats are going to suffer.

The Democrats’ 2-to-1 voter registration edge in Maryland has always been something of a chimera. There are plenty of Democrats in the state – call them Schaefer Democrats, or Bromwell Democrats, or Casper Taylor Democrats, or Norm Conway-Bennett Bozman Democrats – who don’t really behave like the modern definition of Democrats.

What party leaders must now come to grips with is that, when legislative districts like Kevin Kelly’s and Johnny Wood’s and Mary-Dulany James’ and Johnny O’s are lost, they’re probably never coming back. It’s like the Deep South, where Democrats almost never win anymore except in districts with high African-American population.

For Miller and Busch, this means smaller Democratic majorities – and also, more liberal caucuses. Which in turn likely means more contentious battles with a Republican governor like Larry Hogan.

As for Anthony Brown, the finger-pointing has already begun. But there are myriad culprits for his loss – and he, of course, must look in the mirror. This isn’t like 2002, when Democrats almost unanimously blamed Alan Fleischmann, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s close friend and campaign “CEO,” resulting in an extraordinary Washington Post article three weeks after the election that was like a group therapy session.

Certainly in many parts of the state, much of Martin O’Malley’s record has been an albatross around Brown’s neck. Now, as O’Malley pushes forward with his campaign for president, Brown’s loss becomes an albatross around his.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at .

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.