Josh Kurtz: Louie, Louie

By Josh Kurtz

Just minutes after the Anne Arundel County Council appointed Laura Neuman county executive last week, a politically plugged-in friend sent me an email, suggesting Neuman would make a fine running mate for Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) in the 2014 gubernatorial election.

“Not bad,” I thought. “Maybe for Anthony Brown as well.”

And so it begins: the 2014 running mate guessing game.

Taking the most generous possible view, 16 months before the Democratic primary and 20 months before the general election, one of maybe six people will be the next governor of the state of Maryland. But possible next lieutenant governors? That number approaches infinity. And that’s why it’s so much fun to speculate.

Today we’ll take a look at potential running mates for the four Democrats currently running for governor. No doubt the list will be revisited frequently, here and elsewhere. And we’ll also take a look at possible Republican No. 2’s down the line.

Even if the job is worse than the vice presidency, and the vice presidency isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit, it’s still coveted. It’s true, no Maryland LG in the 40-year history of the modern office has been elected to a higher position (Joe Curran‘s move from LG to attorney general in 1986, arguably, was a lateral move). But two of the last three LG’s ran for governor and the other was the 2006 Republican nominee for Senate. Brown, the current LG, is a frontrunner in the 2014 gubernatorial scrum.

And for the ex-LG’s, there is life after losing: Michael Steele has a nice sinecure on MSNBC. Mickey Steinberg is of counsel to one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Annapolis. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is…still a Kennedy. So why not take the job if asked?

As we advance this list of possibilities, we have no special insider information. We’ve consulted a few Maryland political wise guys and gals and considered the imperatives each candidate for governor might be facing as they approach the selection process.

To be very crass about it, a big question for two of the contenders, Ulman and Attorney General Doug Gansler, is whether they need to “go black” — select an African-American running mate, as each of our last two governors did. Ulman, the only one of the four contenders who will try to claim to be “the Baltimore candidate,” also has to decide whether to “go Baltimore,” to reinforce the notion. Gansler almost certainly has to “go Baltimore.” Brown, the only African-American candidate in the race, may have to as well.

The fourth Democratic candidate, Del. Heather Mizeur, is white, but as an open lesbian she is probably less obligated to find an African-American running mate than the straight white males. In fact, a ticket with a lesbian and a black person may be a bridge too far for some voters (which is why we also wouldn’t expect to see a Brown-Mizeur ticket, though that would no doubt excite some Democrats).

Before we get to the list, let’s eliminate a few other possibilities. A Brown-Ulman ticket? Very formidable — but highly unlikely. Ulman has more money in the bank than Brown and a record that, in his own mind and in the minds of many political insiders, gives him at least as big a claim on the governor’s job as Brown’s does.

We’d also like to eliminate a few other political heavyweights whose names get bandied about occasionally: Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker and Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks. All are tantalizing targets for the gubernatorial contenders.

But for Rawlings-Blake, Baker and Kamenetz, being LG would probably be seen as a demotion from their current gigs. Alsobrooks could probably waltz into the attorney general’s job next year if she wanted to — but more likely she’ll stay put and try to succeed Baker as county executive in 2018.

So who are the contenders?

A lot of people see Del. Keiffer Mitchell as a logical choice for Gansler. They’re friends. Gansler worked hard to elect Mitchell mayor of Baltimore in 2007. Gansler, more than Brown and Mizeur, needs a No. 2 with legislative experience. Mitchell comes from a storied African-American family. And Gansler’s top political staffer, Antigone Davis, has ties to Mitchell.

But if Mitchell passes on the opportunity, the roster of African-American elected officials from the Baltimore area who are LG possibilities is woefully thin. Gansler might instead want to look at Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball. In his day job, Ball is on the faculty of Morgan State University, where he earned his doctorate, so he has that Baltimore connection.

If Ulman decides to “go black,” he’ll probably have to look more toward the D.C. suburbs than the Baltimore area. Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, Prince George’s Dels. Jolene Ivey and Jay Walker, and former Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey are solid possibilities.

If he decides to solidify his Baltimore ties with a white running mate, Ulman could reach out to former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, state Sens. Bill Ferguson and Bobby Zirkin, Del. Dan Morhaim, state Sen. Ed DeGrange, and, of course Neuman, his former economic development director who is now running Anne Arundel County (and is a registered Republican). That group could rate some consideration from Brown as well.

Anyone looking for a Baltimore-area candidate might also want to think about Del. Maggie McIntosh. She’s about as qualified a pick as you can find. But would she accept the job or does she still have designs on succeeding Mike Busch as House speaker? And why shouldn’t be Busch be on some candidates’ LG lists? He wouldn’t be the first presiding officer of the legislature to move to the executive branch.

Brown’s association with the O’Malley administration is a mixed blessing as he forges his own path. He’ll be evaluated by voters, interest groups and editorial boards in part by the O’Malley record and his role in shaping it — and he’s also got an eight-year legislative record of his own.

With that in mind, Brown may not want to select a legislator or county official, someone whose votes can be picked apart. Instead — and to reinforce his own military background and no-nonsense bearing, which could sell well after eight years of rock star O’Malley and four years of loosey-goosey Bob Ehrlich — Brown may want to turn to a prosecutor or law enforcement officer.

Here are three possible sheriffs for him to consider: Jesse Bane of Harford County, Jay Fisher of Baltimore County and Ron Bateman of Anne Arundel. Bateman is the most flamboyant and media savvy of the bunch.

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg Bernstein is very well respected, but he might be a tough sell in certain segments of the black community. Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger would also be a solid choice, but he and Brown disagree on the death penalty. Former Congressman Frank Kratovil, an ex-prosecutor and current judge, could also fit the bill for Brown.

As for Mizeur, as the underdog in the field at the moment, she may find it challenging to find an established elected official willing to risk a safe seat to run with her. She then needs to decide whether to seek out an eminence grise who could bring gravitas to her ticket — someone like Baltimore County’s Smith comes to mind — or go for someone young and progressive, as she is, to maximize the activist turnout (Anne Arundel Councilman Chris Trumbauer fills that bill — though he’s close to Gansler)?

And what about the state’s small but emerging Latino vote? Would some demographically future-looking candidate consider state Sen. Victor Ramirez, Del. Jocelyn Pena-Melnyk or Councilman Will Campos of Prince George’s, or Councilwoman Nancy Navarro of Montgomery County as their running mates?

In the end, no one we mentioned may wind up being selected, though many will probably be considered. Who, after all, expected Chuck Larson to be Townsend’s running mate in 2002?

A final note, to all gubernatorial candidates: I’m available.

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

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