Josh Kurtz: Generally Speaking (Part 2)

By Josh Kurtz
Second of two parts

(Click here to read Part 1)

Looking ahead to the 2014 attorney general’s election, it’s hard to imagine a leading candidate not emerging from the Baltimore region.

Baltimore powerbrokers have always been very protective of their political turf, and after 20 years of Joe Curran in the AG’s office, Doug Gansler had to tread carefully when he was first elected in 2006. But Gansler did a good job of ingratiating himself with the Baltimore legal community, and he was never quite seen as the regional interloper by the Baltimore establishment that Parris Glendening was when he was elected governor after years of Schaefer, Mandel et al.

So who might run? Why not Jim Smith, the erstwhile judge and Baltimore County executive? He’ll be 72 in 2014, but he continues to kibbitz in local politics and had a robust $574,000 on hand in January.

Del. Jon Cardin, who had $123,000 in the bank at the beginning of the year, is said to be taking a look at both the AG and comptroller races, and he has a famous last name. But a high-ranking Democrat who knows Cardin well said his current priority is his newborn baby. And the strange and embarrassing way he proposed to his wife, which wound up involving Baltimore police, could hurt him in an AG’s race.

Stu Simms, the former Baltimore city state’s attorney and Glendening administration cabinet member who was runner-up to Gansler in the 2006 Democratic primary, is another possibility. He’s 61 and has told friends that he’d like one more gig in public service, but whether he wants to mount another high-stakes campaign is very much an open question. If the U.S. attorney’s job for Maryland opens up soon, he’d no doubt like to be considered.

How’s this for a big Baltimore name: Katie Curran O’Malley, judge, Maryland first lady and of course daughter of former AG Joe Curran. Her name is in the ether when it comes to the 2014 race, and she is a more than plausible candidate, someone who’s been unafraid to speak out on certain issues despite her position on the bench.
But how would her candidacy, if it ever came to pass, affect her husband’s putative White House bid? Anthony Brown’s campaign for governor in 2014 will already be seen to a degree as a referendum on the O’Malley administration. Can the governor afford two surrogates on the ballot in 2014 as he attempts to boost his national profile ahead of 2016? Judge O’Malley could be a great candidate — but it could set off more political cross-currents than anyone can bear.

But there are more enticing big names out there, from other parts of Maryland: How about Ike Leggett, the Montgomery County executive? By most accounts, Leggett, who will be 69 in 2014, is looking forward to teaching and traveling when he leaves office.

But Leggett is incredibly competitive and still enjoys the political game. The news that his predecessor, Doug Duncan, is thinking of running for county executive again has Leggett at least contemplating a third term, according to some Rockville insiders. And Leggett also has a string of firsts to his name: First African-American Montgomery County councilman. First African-American chairman of the Maryland Democratic Party. First African-American Montgomery County executive. Why wouldn’t the old Howard University law professor look favorably on the idea of becoming the state’s first black attorney general? He was sitting on $489,000 in his campaign at the start of the year.

And don’t forget about Tom Perez, who has been fighting the good fight as head of the Civil Rights Division of the Obama Justice Department. He’s unlikely to return to Maryland politics so quickly if President Obama wins a second term, but if Obama loses, who knows? Perez, a former Montgomery councilman and state labor secretary, ran a highly-regarded campaign for AG in 2006 before being knocked off the ballot on a technicality.

If party leaders are looking for a potentially solid Latino candidate for AG and Perez is not available, they may want to turn to Leon Rodriguez, a friend and former colleague of Perez’s who currently heads the civil rights office of the Health and Human Services Department in Washington. Rodriguez served as county attorney in Rockville during the early years of the Leggett administration. And his nomination to head the wage and hour division of the Obama administration Labor Department was held up by conservative Republicans — a potential badge of honor in any Democratic primary.

Lastly, the race for attorney general could potentially draw candidates trying to rehabilitate their political careers. His brutal loss in the 6th district Democratic congressional primary on April 3 probably hasn’t diminished state Senate Majority Leader Rob Garagiola’s ambitions. He may envision himself as a viable contender for AG. Whether others would is another matter entirely.

And though he was only recently appointed to a state judgeship, former U.S. Rep. Frank Kratovil was telling people last year that he’d consider running in the Democratic primary for AG if a couple of liberals jumped in the race and he could carve out a solid position in the political center. That possibility certainly still exists.

When the filing deadline for the attorney general’s race rolls around in early April of 2014, chances are that only three or four viable Democrats will make it to the starting gate. It’s pretty quiet out there now — but the seeds of an exciting race are already being planted.

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:

Generally Speaking (Part 1)

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