Peter V.R. Franchot weighed the financial, emotional and political costs of running in a potentially bruising Democratic primary for governor in 2014 versus his current job as state comptroller.
“I had a lot of Democrats tug on my sleeve and say, ‘Look we’ve been waiting for a Democrat to come along and say I’m fiscally moderate,’” Franchot said in an interview Wednesday with The Gazette.
Perhaps sobering was an internal poll showed him running second among the potential gubernatorial candidates while winning re-election as comptroller handily.
“At the end of the day,” Franchot said, “I looked in the mirror and said, ‘I like being comptroller. It’s a dream job.’”
As comptroller, Franchot holds one of the three seats on the state’s Board of Public Works, along with the governor and state treasurer. The board oversees awarding major state contracts.
With Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) unable to seek re-election because of the two-term limit, Franchot was among a group of potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates for 2014. Others include Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, the front-runner in Franchot’s internal poll, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who was running third, Howard County Executive Kenneth S. Ulman and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Dist. 20) of Takoma Park. If elected, Mizeur would be the first openly lesbian governor in the nation.
Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Blaine R. Young, president of the Frederick County Commissioners, are seen as potential Republican candidates for governor.
“I can avoid being in a very bloody primary with people I like and respect as my opponents,” said Franchot, a former state delegate from Takoma Park who was elected comptroller in 2006 after defeating then-Comptroller William Donald Schaefer in the Democratic primary.
Franchot’s decision to run again for comptroller already has changed what had been viewed as a competitive race for an open seat.
Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park, one of several potential candidates, announced he would instead seek re-election to the state Senate.
“My travels around our state over the past year and a half, as I've explored running for comptroller, have allowed me to learn much more about the needs and aspirations of our people from the Bay to the mountains, from inner cities and outer suburbs to small towns and farms,” Rosapepe said in a statement.
While Rosapepe decided against running because of Franchot’s decision, Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 16) of Potomac, a tax lawyer and certified public accountant, told The Gazette on Thursday that he is eyeing a possible bid.
During the upcoming legislative session, he plans to talk to people from across the state and weigh whether he has enough support to challenge Franchot.
“We’ve had a good relationship, but I’ve never held that position as a lifetime position,” Feldman said of the comptroller’s post.
His experience as a tax lawyer and CPA make for an “ideal background” for a comptroller, he said. Feldman said he has disagreed with Franchot on several issues, including finding funds to meet the state’s transportation infrastructure needs. Feldman supports raising additional revenues to pay for transportation projects, while Franchot has opposed it.
Franchot, once known as a liberal bomb-thrower in the General Assembly, has evolved into a fiscal moderate as comptroller.
“That’s really because of the nature of the job,” Franchot said. “It’s a statewide job with a fiscal focus. I look every day at the revenues that come in as a tax collector. I vote every two weeks on expenditures at the Board of Public Works.
“You put all those together, you end up with a much more fiscally moderate comptroller,” he said. “Have I changed? Absolutely I’ve changed, but it’s absolutely because of the job and the tough economy.”
Franchot would have been a strong candidate in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in some parts of the state, said political science professor Matthew A. Crenson of Johns Hopkins University.
“He’s repositioned himself on the right-hand side of the Democratic Party,” Crenson said.
Franchot’s decision against running for governor opens up the field for the remaining candidates, but it also might encourage others to jump in.
Calls to several potential gubernatorial candidates were not returned. Franchot said he has heard from a few of those interested in running for governor, but he has no plans to endorse anyone in the primary.
Franchot also said he does not know if his departure will help any one candidate over the others.
“I didn’t poll the race without me in it,” he said. “But I can pretty much guarantee the voters are looking for somebody independent, and they’re looking for a fiscal moderate.”