Josh Kurtz: Maryland’s Moment?

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A new General Assembly session opens tomorrow amid much hand-wringing over the state of the economy and the government’s depleted coffers. All the short-term options seem bad; the mid- and long-term options not much better.

To break out of the budgetary doldrums, lawmakers appear to be setting themselves up for a good old-fashioned slugfest over gay marriage. The rhetoric – especially with the legislature’s No. 1 anti-gay crusader, outgoing Sen. Alex Mooney, now at the helm of the state GOP – is sure to be ugly.

And if that isn’t enough to dampen the spirits of new and returning legislators, the shooting a world away of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is sure to contribute to a spirit of fear and sobriety as the Assembly checks in. Look for more security and less access – and more jitters – around State Circle in Annapolis.

But in crisis comes opportunity. With national Democrats defeated and dispirited, with Democratic ranks decimated in many state Capitols, Maryland Democrats may find themselves in a unique position to do some big and important things – even if they don’t realize it yet. It just may be Maryland’s time to shine.

There aren’t many statehouses left that are still dominated by Democrats – California comes to mind, and Illinois and Massachusetts and Hawaii and maybe a couple of others.

California, with one of the biggest economies in the world, has such a dire budget situation that it could take the state a full generation to recover – if it ever does – even with the wily Jerry Brown now, improbably, back as governor. Illinois, still feeling the sting of the Rod Blagojevich scandals and with unpopular and overmatched Gov. Pat Quinn (D) beginning his first full term, appears poised to enact a dizzying array of tax increases.

States like California and Illinois, because of their size and their world-class cities and their larger-than-life personalities, both in politics and other walks of life, are always going to get national attention.

But in a Republican nation, with their president on the ropes, with no reliable Democratic National Committee playbook to turn to, and with the federal spigot about to be shut off, Maryland Democrats have an opportunity to strike out on their own and prove they’re capable of tackling the crises confronting the state.

It won’t be easy. Maryland government isn’t used to being innovative. Annapolis is a sea of entrenched interests and old hands, some of them dating back to the Mandel administration – including Marvin Mandel himself. And you look at the legislature, and you think of Mike Miller entering his 25th year as Senate president, or of Joe Vallario and Sheila Hixson being House committee chairmen since 1993, you can’t help but conclude, how can anything new and entrepreneurial ever be tried?

But there are a lot of young and energetic – and ambitious – elected Democrats in Maryland right now. You figure you pool the talents of Gov. Martin O’Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, County Executives Rushern Baker and Kevin Kamenetz and Ken Ulman, and a couple of dozen smart legislators and local officials, and you get some hope for this state. For the elected officials, who are looking ahead to that next political opportunity, there are obvious benefits – you do well for yourself by doing good.

The depth of the financial crisis in Maryland alone is enough to demand different, more innovative solutions than everything that has been tried before. Long-term structural problems have been ignored for too long and also desperately need to be addressed.

If Maryland somehow gets it right, we could serve as a model for bold, progressive Democratic governance for the rest of the country. Now, more than ever, that seems like something our leaders need to strive for.

We may never get the attention that California or Illinois do. But we’re close enough to D.C. so that if good things start happening here, policy makers and opinion leaders will take notice and spread the word.

The cynic in us says our politicians will never get it right. But, here, at the start of a new gubernatorial term and a new legislative session, why not dare to dream and think big? As the great writer Delmore Schwartz once observed, “In dreams begin responsibilities…”

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

Previous Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Happy New War

Nobody Asked Me, but…

To the Mooney...

Can Baker Cook Up Real Change?

Preppies at the Gate

Marylanders (Still) on the National Stage

We Don’t Know Jack: Fallout from Johnson Arrest Could be Far-reaching

After Ehrlich

Tomorrow Never Knows

To Be Frank (Part 2)

The More Things Change....

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Polls Apart

Van Hollen's Burden

Not Rhee-a-listic

Tomorrow’s Headlines Today!

20th Century Comes to Baltimore County

Primary Colors

Murphy the Smurf

A Gene for Public Service

No Agnew Here

The Full Montgomery

Shock and Tawes

Uly's Gold

Death and Deadlines

Bad News for Democrats From Washington to Washington County

Mr. Smith Goes ... Where?

End of the Line for Vallario?

Mission: Control

Post Plays Favorites

Red Storm Rising

Michael & Me

Wanted: Fresh Blood


Black and Blue?


Take Me Back to Old Virginny

The Political Lives of Peter Franchot

Bob and Weave

How to Make Prince George's County King

Kane is Able

To Be Frank

Gay Rights and Political Wrongs?

The Washington Post Goes to War

Snow Job

Unsolicited Advice for Ehrlich — Wait Till 2014

The Early Bird Gets the Worm?

Wayne's World May Be Another Planet

Miller Time Comes Early

Owings Owes an Explanation
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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.