2018: The winners and losers in Maryland politics

Two thousand and eighteen in the year of our Lord is one for the record books in Maryland news, politics and state government.

Winners:

Gov. Lawrence Joseph Hogan Jr.  

What more can be said or written about Larry Hogan that hasn’t already been said and written? I guess you could write a check to attend the governor’s second inaugural gala (if you haven’t already done so).

The moderate Republican governor proved that rejecting partisan extremism and political hackery is a potent cocktail for winning elections as a Republican in a blue state.

The second Republican governor re-elected in Maryland history defied conventional wisdom. He built a political brand to be replicated – one that national Republicans should consider adopting if they intend to have a prayer over the next 10 to 15 years.

Despite the political attacks launched at Gov. Hogan by some of Maryland’s far-left ideologues and rightwing Trump sycophants, Larry Hogan danced to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and surfed the “Blue Wave,” winning the November election by double-digits and running a virtually flawless campaign.

Hogan has an uncanny ability to humanize politics. He didn’t have to work hard to make people like him. He allowed Marylanders to get to know the real Larry Hogan. He didn’t get into the weeds of national politics.

No matter how many times Ben Jealous and Rich Madaleno argued that Larry Hogan is akin to Donald Trump and Chris Christie, he ignored the comparison – and most Marylanders didn’t buy the intellectual dishonesty. Because there is no comparison.

Gov. Hogan’s historic win isn’t a big secret in election politics: He showed up in every nook and cranny of the state; he conducted himself like a gentleman; he endeared himself to voters, and he raised money, significantly more than his Democratic opponent.

Finally, he won the hearts of Democrats who believe their political party is moving too far and too fast to appease the extremes of the Democratic Party.

What’s left to write about Larry Hogan?

Four years of news, I suppose.

Comptroller Peter Franchot

The most popular elected Democrat in Maryland.

Repeat: The most popular elected Democrat in Maryland.

(Look up Franchot’s midterm vote totals. Of course, Washington County, my native home, just had to be one of the three outliers. Of course, Washington County, of course.)

The consummate disruptor of stodgy, machine-driven Annapolis politics has shown that bipartisanship wins. Bar none.

Maryland’s tax collector and small business promoter is an enigma for some partisans who operate within the framework of the Maryland establishment, especially those who run the Annapolis Machine; they’ll never get Franchot, and they’ll never seek to understand him.

The comptroller is precisely popular with Marylanders because he doesn’t buy into the same intellectually bankrupt Annapolis Machine that demands loyalty above all else and expects it in return – and, in most cases, doesn’t return it.

The far-left disdain, aimed at Franchot, who is and has always been a pragmatic progressive, has seemingly run its course.

Franchot dares to use bipartisanship in a complete sentence – an idea that many subscribers of the hard-left claim to champion and wish more of existed; but, of course, when the time comes to put up or shut up, their ideology and dogmatism disallow it.

The Annapolis Machine can try and strip Franchot of his powers, and it can even go so far as to kill legislation that reforms Maryland’s craft beer industry.

Good luck.

It won’t work; in fact, the more the Annapolis Machine seeks to torment Franchot into submission, the more popular he becomes with everyday Marylanders.

If there ever was a little guy up against an all-encroaching Goliath, that little guy is Peter Franchot in this epic battle, whom even the most conservative Republicans dub as “their favorite Democrat.”

Also, smart elected officials surround themselves with all-star teams.

Team Franchot has hired some of the most intellectually savvy gals and guys in state politics, young wonks of erudite understanding of policy, led by their inimitably cunning commander, Len Foxwell, the most talented Maryland political operator and strategist in decades.

A possible Franchot 2022 gubernatorial bid will remain a constant water cooler discussion amid politicos over the next four years. Whatever Franchot’s political future holds, the renegade Democrat’s mission remains the same: Advocate for the Maryland taxpayer.

Peter Franchot, like it or not, remains the most popular elected Democrat in Maryland.

That’s hard for the Annapolis Machine to swallow.

A tall ice-cold craft beer might help.

Maryland Matters

Gripping news, smart commentary and political insight define one of Maryland’s hottest new online media outlets.

Maryland Matters’ excellent reporting and political coverage of all-things politics and state government kept Marylanders informed throughout this political cycle.

Josh Kurtz is the brains behind Maryland Matters. He’s an old-school (not that old, mid-50’s) gumshoe reporter with a knack for details. Kurtz is unafraid and unrelenting when reporting a story. His encyclopedic knowledge of Maryland politics is truly something to behold.

Maryland Matters has grown its readership precipitously over the last year; it has become a consummate go-to source for breaking news in state government.

It’s not easy to start a news outlet from scratch. Kurtz did, and he’ll keep moving forward in 2019.

Angela Alsobrooks; Johnny Olszewski; Marc Elrich, Calvin Ball; Steuart Pittman, and Jan Gardner

Maryland’s Democratic county executives from Maryland’s largest and most populated counties.

It was a clean sweep for the rising political stars.

Who would have thought a year ago that Allan Kittleman and Steve Schuh would go down in defeat, losing to Calvin Ball and Steuart Pittman, respectively?

What to make of their losses? Was it the Trump trickle-down effect that ousted the popular Allan Kittleman? Did Steve Schuh’s rush to overdevelop Anne Arundel County contribute to his political takedown? That’s for you to decide.

Keep an eye on the new county executives, who may launch their own bids for governor in 2022.

Robin Ficker

The perennial Montgomery County political candidate may have lost his bid to lead Maryland’s most populated county (as expected). However, because of his efforts and hard work, term limits were placed on the ballot and went into effect this cycle.

It’s worth noting that 70+% of Montgomery County voters supported term limits in 2016.

Whether you choose to concede a win to Ficker or not, it’s still a win. Because of Ficker, Montgomery County has a brand-new County Council. Some say for the better.

Adam Pagnucco

Montgomery County’s brightest political analyst and deep-sea data diver.

There is certainly no smarter analyst in Montgomery County than Pagnucco, who can break down data and present it in a way that makes sense to the average person.

Pagnucco’s almost daily columns in Seventh State blog were must-reads if you endeavored to understand the function of County politics and the numbers behind the numbers, especially in an election year.

Later in the year, Bethesda Magazine publisher and editor-in-chief Steve Hull smartly brought on Pagnucco to write a column for his publication. Pagnucco’s Bethesda Beat opinion pieces are some of the most-discussed and talked about columns, and with the greatest number of comments!

Pagnucco’s weekly columns are often quoted by politicians and surrounding news outlets. Some of his work has likely changed how Montgomery County government does business – for the better.

If you want to understand the inside scoop on Montgomery County government, Pagnucco is the go-to source, and 2018 saw Pagnucco’s finest work.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day

Jake Day, the talented first-term mayor of Salisbury, the gateway city to Maryland’s Lower Shore, has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that he knows how the hell to run a city – and bring one back to life.

The revitalization of Salisbury’s downtown and its marketing overhaul has rejuvenated a city that longed for its untapped potential to shine.

Day, alongside his city council, are the example of responsible municipal governance.

Public Financing

Public financing opened the floodgates for new candidates to run for office in Montgomery County, the majority of whom took advantage of the relatively uncomplicated system.

Most of Montgomery County’s nine-member Council used public financing to their benefit.

Moreover, County Executive Marc Elrich, who is a champion of the public financing model, proved the effectiveness of the new system.

After all, Elrich’s 77-vote upset over David Blair in the Democratic primary and Nancy Floreen, a Democrat-turned-Independent, in the general election, respectively, proved that the system worked. Both Blair and Floreen funded their campaigns through traditional campaign funding.

Evan Glass 

Glass is Montgomery County’s first openly gay councilmember-at-large, who, arguably, ran one of the best campaigns in Montgomery County history.

A former journalist who covered national politics, Glass was narrowly defeated in 2014 by Councilman Tom Hucker, now Glass’ colleague on the Council.

In his 2018 comeback, Glass didn’t stick to the down-County bubble. Instead, he adopted an all-county approach, spending significant time in up-county and listening to voters’ concerns. It was a winning strategy.

It never hurts to have a former journalist run for office and win.

Jesse Colvin

While Colin lost his congressional bid to Andy Harris, he demonstrated how moderate Democrats can still run effective campaigns in Republican territories.

Colvin conducted himself like a gentleman and ran on a bipartisan policy platform.

Look for Colvin to quickly emerge again soon on the Maryland political scene.

Kathleen Matthews

The former head of Maryland’s Democratic Party led the Party to a great victory this political cycle.

Democrats managed to pick up eight additional state House seats, and they held off the Republican effort to pick up five seats in the state Senate.

Moreover, several county councils switched from Republican to Democratic control. Plus, Kittleman and Schuh, both Republican county executives, were defeated by Democrats.

Matthews’ reward: She was ousted from the chair position on Dec. 1 by party activists.

She’s a winner by every metric.

Len Lazarick; Bryan Sears; Michael Dresser; Bruce DePuyt; Danielle Gaines; Lou Peck; Erin Cox, and The Capital Gazette

Journalists Len Lazarick of MarylandReporter.com, Bryan Sears of The Daily Record, Michael Dresser of The Baltimore Sun (who just recently retired), Bruce DePuyt and Danielle Gaines of Maryland Matters, Lou Peck of Bethesda Beat and Eric Cox of The Washington Post (who previously worked for The Baltimore Sun) became (or were already) household names throughout thousands of Maryland households.

These all-star journalists kept us informed about state and local government. They are the best of the best.

With respect to The Capital Gazette:

I am not qualified to speak and write about the lives of the slain journalists, who were murdered at work while they were doing their jobs.

The personal pain and anguish I still feel in the aftermath of this horrific nightmare is a combination of anger, dread, and despair. I don’t have the right combination of words to even remotely beguile or mitigate a loss that is so overwhelming, so palpable.

But it is during times of profound sorrow and paralyzing tragedy, Marylanders, especially, have manifestly demonstrated resolve and resilience.

We will overcome.

Referring to any journalist, ever, as “The Enemy of the People” is an insult that I simply cannot ignore or tolerate. And neither should you.

In 2018, journalists around the world had some of their finest hours.

The Maryland Politics Facebook group

Criticize Barry O’Connell all you want (and many do), but, there has been no Facebook group or online medium more provocative, more pervasive and more proactive in discussing Maryland politics in a free and open way than the Maryland Politics Facebook group.

Barry O’Connell, the group creator, doesn’t hide his political standings, and he isn’t afraid to call out Maryland’s political establishment.

Yes, O’Connell gets under the skin of some politicians and progressive activists. And, yes, O’Connell, a classical liberal and a Democrat, can go on the attack. It’s all part of his schtick. Get to know O’Connell and you’ll quickly discover he’s no joke.

Whatever you think of O’Connell is your business, but you cannot deny he’s cultivated one of the most influential online forums to discuss Maryland politics.

David Moon’s Old Bay Joke

If you don’t get it, you still won’t get it. It was hilarious.

Losers:

Ben Jealous

The former NAACP chief who surprised the Maryland political establishment by upsetting the proverbial apple cart when he won the Democratic nomination over former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (and others) simply didn’t have the magic sauce to compete against Larry Hogan.

The well-intentioned progressive was his own worst enemy, wounding himself repeatedly on the campaign trail and committing a series of gaffes that only a rookie candidate would make in a race against the second-most-popular governor in America.

There are numerous reasons why Ben Jealous lost in November. Too numerous to count. Winning a statewide race requires money and a smart political team – and Ben Jealous had neither.

It’s unlikely you’ll see a comeback from Ben Jealous, in the state of Maryland, at least.

Some Zeppelin lyrics to soothe Jealous’ loss:

“Made up my mind to make a new start
Going To California with an aching in my heart.”

The Maryland Republican Party

After losing eight seats in the House of Delegates and the unquestionable failure of the “Drive for Five” campaign, a clever plan to elect five additional Republicans to the Maryland Senate, Maryland’s Republican Party was reduced to a smoldering ash heap.

The problem: Poor leadership; incompetent management; Donald Trump.

It speaks volumes that state Republicans re-elected its chairman, Dirk Haire, after a humiliating defeat.

Earlier this year while attending a Republican dinner in Hagerstown, Haire was quoted by local media calling Md. Attorney General Brian Frosh “evil.” Even an intemperate remark did not dissuade Maryland Republicans to vote to re-elect a pronounced defeated leader.

Gov. Hogan knew to keep his distance from a state Republican Party that is far more in tune with Donald Trump than with his own brand of politics.

Unless Maryland’s Republican Party is willing to moderate itself, good candidates will continue to lose. Or the good candidates will simply ignore the Party apparatus.

Andy Harris

Mr. Harris won re-election. Beyond that, he’s Donald Trump’s most reliable Maryland friend, aside from David Bossie, of course.

If I could find a legislative accomplishment to name, I would.

What will be Harris’ explanation to his constituents if the government shuts down in a few hours?

David Trone’s children’s inheritance

The multimillionaire wine mogul spent a fortune – nearly $30 million – running for Congress over the last two years.

Trone won the 6th Congressional District seat in November and will be entering Congress as a member of the majority party – the enviable position that his soon-to-be predecessor, Rep. John K. Delaney, never had the luxury of experiencing during his three terms representing the heavily gerrymandered district.

Trone could probably afford to hire Alanis Morissette to sing at his swearing-in ceremony. Morissette’s hit 90’s hit song “Ironic” would be apropos for the occasion, considering that two years from now, the Potomac millionaire may be redistricted out of the seat he spent millions to win, effectively serving only a single term in Congress.

Washington County

The rural Western Maryland county is engulfed with corruption and crippling mismanagement.

County employees’ morale is at an all-time low, exacerbated by, employees say, senior county officials’ – the county’s administrator, HR director and chief operating officer – extreme paranoia and ongoing verbal abuse.

The all-male, all-white, all-Republican commissioner board was embroiled in scandal after scandal throughout 2018.  Additionally, the putrid stench leftover by a former commissioner’s misdeeds during a South Korean business development trip and the subsequent investigations in its aftermath has left county residents feeling less than confident.

While county residents had an opportunity to dramatically alter its five-member commissioner board in the November election, instead, voters opted to re-elect an all-white, all-male, all-Republican group, including the former commissioners’ president, who this summer was credibly accused of domestic violence against his soon-to-be ex-wife.

Meanwhile, county residents rejected qualified women for county office and turned down a brilliant state’s attorney candidate, for no other reason than they had a “D” in front of their names on the ballot.

Some things never change.

Political Extremism

The far-left and the far-right in Maryland politics, both of whom share a mutual disdain for moderation and pragmatism, were utterly defeated in this Maryland political cycle.

Trumpian ideology and the inflexible Our Revolution crew were categorically rebuked by Maryland voters.

Nonetheless, the polarizing extremes of both parties still grumble incessantly on social media with the comfort of self-containment, all operating well within their limited political bubbles.

Instead of seeking to understand why most Marylanders reject political extremists, the hard ideologues seemingly haven’t learned how to operate effectively within Maryland’s political walls. The two-party ideological adherents will show no grace to moderates, and they’ll close the entranceway to their tents, disallowing anyone inside who doesn’t sniff the purist glue.

For that reason (and others), Maryland’s dutiful political extremists will continue to lose elections and nominate incorrigible candidates.

Sad news

The death of former Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz in May upended Maryland politics.

Kamenetz’s death was such a shock to all of us who follow politics and see one another at the various events too numerous to count. Kamenetz developed his own style and technocratic approach to government. He wasn’t known for being touchy-feely – and that’s okay. Because the late Kamenetz was an exceptional manager.

Whether Kamenetz would have won the gubernatorial primary, we’ll never know. But his death transformed the gubernatorial primary in a way no one could have imagined.

His death was a terrible reminder of how fast all of us can be here one day and gone the next.

He leaves behind his wife, Jill, and his two boys.

My heart grieves for his family. May God bless them and keep them comforted, especially during the holidays.

On a personal note

It was an interesting and productive year for A Miner Detail and A Miner Detail Podcast.

Readership skyrocketed, for which I am incredibly thankful.

I managed to scoop some big stories by simply being in all the wrong places at all the right times. I’m truly humbled by anyone who clicks on the site to read it. It’s my goal to inform, to report and to give you the straight, unvarnished truth of what’s going on in Maryland politics.

Also, my wife, Kimberly, and I were married in St. Michael’s this past April. I’m the luckiest man alive.

Thank you for reading!