Josh Kurtz: Generally Speaking (Part 1)

By Josh Kurtz

First of two parts

Ever since Doug Gansler started being seen as a serious candidate for governor in 2014 — and that happened right after he was elected attorney general in 2006 — it’s been widely assumed that state Sen. Jamie Raskin, Gansler’s close personal friend, will try to replace him in the AG’s office when the time comes.

Raskin told me last week that he’s still thinking seriously about it and hopes to make up his mind sometime in the fall (his most immediate electoral priority, he said, is preserving the same-sex marriage law and the DREAM Act on the ballot in November). But it’s interesting: despite the fact that Gansler is almost certain to run for governor in 2014, very few people are talking publicly about their interest in his job. More ambitious Democrats are lining up to run for comptroller — even though the incumbent, Peter Franchot, is not as sure a bet as Gansler to move on and seek the big prize in two years.

Still, some early movement can be detected in the Democratic primary for AG if you drill down deep enough, and a few potential candidates are actually close to mobilizing in a preliminary fashion. And if you talk to enough political people, some big names are starting to emerge on the list of possibilities — if only in a mostly fanciful way (Katie Curran O’Malley, anyone? How about Ike Leggett?).

There is also a widely-held belief that while his current plan is to run for governor in 2014, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman could determine at some point that it’s a hopeless cause and run for AG instead. In that case, he would surely be formidable — for, among other reasons, the huge head-start he’s had on fundraising over any other potential contender ($1.3 million in his campaign account as of January).

But for now, let’s accept that Ulman isn’t running for attorney general — and look first at the three people who are probably closest to taking steps toward making the race soon.

Raskin, a Harvard-educated constitutional scholar and law professor at American University, would have a serious claim on the job. He had $105,000 cash on hand in January.

“What appeals to me is the opportunity that the AG has to fight for the public interest in so many different domains of the law, including consumer enforcement, environmental enforcement, voting rights, anti-trust and so on,” he said. “The first job I had after law school was as an assistant attorney general [in Massachusetts] so there would be a logic to my running.”

But Raskin called his Senate work “enormously gratifying” — and he has proven to be as skillful a tactician there as a polemicist, playing multiple roles in the chamber. So that’s a consideration, along with the issue every parent of teenagers (Raskin has three) must confront: how do I pay for college? Sometimes even a high government salary isn’t enough.

And in a funny way, a Raskin candidacy could present some problems for Gansler as he’s running for governor. It’s unlikely that the Democrats running for the top job in 2014 will try to put together slates, but each will need to put a premium on diversity up and down the ticket. Two close friends who are liberal Jews from Montgomery County, and exactly the same age, won’t be anyone’s idea of diversity. Gansler, the more polished of the two, and with more to lose, may see himself pulled to the left in the voters’ minds just by his close association with Raskin.

Regardless of what Raskin does, another Montgomery County lawmaker is looking at the race: Del. Bill Frick. Frick has worked on consumer and financial reform legislation in Annapolis and counts Elizabeth Warren as a role model.

“The state attorney general is Maryland’s chief legal advocate,” Frick told me recently. “That’s what I do as a legislator and lawyer, and that’s what I would love to be as the Attorney General — the chief advocate for Maryland consumers, for Maryland workers, Maryland’s local businesses, and Maryland’s prosperity.”

Expect Frick, who had just $13,000 in his campaign account in January, to test the waters this spring and fall. At 37 years old, he’s Hollywood handsome and a delightful conversationalist with a dead-on assessment of all that ails state government and politics. But as one shrewd elected official recently told me, “He’s a white boy from Bethesda” at a time when minorities are trying to flex their muscles in state politics like never before.

That’s a problem that another delegate who’s also 37 would not encounter: Aisha Braveboy of Prince George’s County. Braveboy has begun telling political associates that she probably doesn’t want to stay in Annapolis beyond 2014 and is seriously eyeing the AG’s race.

But Braveboy has sung that tune before: she came close to running for Prince George’s County executive in 2010, then pondered a bid for state Senate, before deciding to remain in the House. In 2014, she could probably waltz into the Senate, with Uly Currie’s career almost over. As the next election approaches, an easy promotion to the Senate may seem like a better bet than an uphill statewide race. She had just $2,200 on hand in January.

Another Prince Georgian will also be part of the conversation: former State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey. Some of his sheen may have worn off after abandoning his challenge to U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D) earlier this year, and it isn’t clear whether he’ll want to dive into a statewide race so soon after his congressional bid. But he’s still well liked and well respected in political circles, and prosecutors probably have an advantage in most AG’s races. So keep an eye on Ivey and see how politically active he stays in the months ahead. He had $44,000 in a state account in January and $75,000 in a congressional account — most of which can be transferred to the state account — as of March 31.

Speaking of prosecutors, at least four will rate consideration for AG if they’re interested: State’s Attorneys Angela Alsobrooks (Prince George’s), Gregg Bernstein (Baltimore City), John McCarthy (Montgomery) and Scott Shellenberger (Baltimore County).

McCarthy has been the most active when it comes to seeing and being seen outside of his jurisdiction; he had $73,000 in the bank in January. Bernstein, who had $42,000 on hand in January, will be finishing his first term in 2014, but if he ever wants to move up it may make sense to try to do so sooner rather than later, because he’s 56 now and the state’s attorney job in Baltimore can take its toll politically. Alsobrooks, meanwhile, more likely to want to run for Prince George’s County executive — in 2018. She had $22,000 in the bank in January.

Coming Wednesday: Part 2

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtz92@gmail.com.

Recent Center Maryland columns by Josh Kurtz:

Charm Offensive

Bad Karma in Annapolis II — Limbo Edition

Heather Mizeur, Superstar

Striking Back at the Empire

Bad Karma in Annapolis

More Than a Protest Vote

Doug Duncan’s Next Act