2014 is about race and place -- Gazette.Net

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It’s the year of the cicadas. Soon these dormant pests will emerge from their holes in the ground to start making their annoying mating sounds. Then, once they’ve mated, they’ll disappear back into their holes, leaving only their body shells behind.

It’s also the kickoff year for Maryland’s next elections. Soon these dormant politicians will emerge from their holes in the ground to start making their annoying campaign pitches. Then, once they’ve been elected, they’ll disappear back into their holes, leaving only their lawn signs behind.

This election is a so-called “watershed” year because the governor’s seat is vacant. The term-limited incumbent, Martin O’Malley, is busy waging his quixotic run for the U.S. presidency.

A vacant top spot ignites a game of “musical chairs” as the next level of elected officials battle for succession, which creates even more vacancies and even more contests down the food chain. Finally, when the music stops on Election Day, some candidates will be safely seated and some will be left standing, out of a job.

So, as the contenders come to the starting gate, let’s handicap the Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls while mindful that next year’s primary is largely about race and place — about racial and regional rivalries and balance.

Anthony Brown

Lt. Gov. Brown kicked off his bid for the top spot last week. He has a solid gold resume (Harvard twice over, Iraq war vet, state legislature, etc.) and he’s African-American (ok, Jamaican-American) in a state where blacks can be up to 35 percent of the primary vote.

But his path to the governor’s mansion has some land mines: as O’Malley’s understudy he prepped Maryland for Obamacare. But what if Obamacare implodes next year as many experts predict? Brown also must overcome “O’Malley fatigue” and the lieutenant governorship’s Bermuda Triangle reputation for never-seen-again voyages to the governorship. Sure, Brown appears to be the party establishment’s favorite, but is that a plus or a minus to Maryland’s overtaxed, underwhelmed voters in 2014?

Apparently Brown’s strategy is to build a leftist coalition of blacks, guilty white liberals and remnants of the O’Malley machine echoing both O’Malley and Obama.

His kickoff speech used every O’Malley buzz word: “ No. 1 schools, tuition freeze, tough choices (taxes), wise investments (spending), moving forward, jobs.” Brown did everything but play Irish ballads on the guitar.

Meanwhile, he’s pitching Obama’s redistribution of wealth. He’ll make life “better for more Marylanders” by “closing disparities in health, wealth, education, etc.”

Who will pay for all this? The rich (which in Maryland means incomes over $100,000). And who will benefit? All those lower-income minorities whose votes Brown covets? And just in case minority voters miss the racial pitch, Brown’s campaign colors are, you guessed it, brown.

Brown says his campaign is “more about results than race,” but it’s really more about race than results.

Can Brown, who’s never run a campaign, has little money and, so far, hasn’t swayed fellow black officials, really get minorities to vote on a June 24 primary without Obama heading the ticket?

Doug Gansler

Maryland’s attorney general isn’t stuck with the O’Malley legacy and, consequently, is running a centrist campaign ceding most of the black vote to Brown.

Gansler is a savvy, ambitious politician who backed Obama and gay marriage long before either was popular. So, he’s inoculated with liberals, can possibly keep Obama from campaigning for Brown (who backed Hillary in 2008) and is free to oppose the death penalty, the gas tax and Maryland’s anti-business reputation (O’Malley/Brown liabilities).

In other words, Gansler’s running on Peter Franchot’s platform if Franchot had stayed in the governor’s race.

Nor is Gansler above a little demagoguery. When the Supreme Court upheld the Westboro slimeballs’ free speech right to protest near military funerals, Maryland’s attorney general grandstanded against the First Amendment. Disgusting.

Few political insiders like Gansler, but no one liked Parris Glendening, either, and he became a two-term governor. And, like Glendening, Gansler is a prolific fundraiser and relentless campaigner who has successfully run and won four state and local campaigns.

Ken Ulman

The young, term-limited Howard County executive is considering the No. 2 spot on Brown’s ticket. Message to Ulman: Once a gubernatorial candidate considers the No. 2 spot, he ceases being a gubernatorial candidate.

Heather Mizeur

If this House of Delegates member wins her long-shot bid she’ll be a “three-for”: Maryland’s first woman governor, first lesbian governor and first elected governor from Montgomery County. But most handicappers simply wonder whose votes she’ll drain and whether Maryland’s other gay politicians will grudgingly support her.

Next week: The Republicans, the other statewide offices and how race and place play out.