Josh Kurtz: Conviction Politics

By Josh Kurtz

Admirers of Anthony Brown are frequently pointing out what an asset his wife, Karmen Walker Brown, is going to be in his campaign for governor.

Warm, vivacious, beautiful and poised, great at a podium and in one-on-one situations, she’s someone who humanizes this rigid lieutenant governor with the military background, the theory goes. They had a sweet mid-life courtship that they enjoy talking about, and they look GQ-perfect together.

But based on Brown’s announcement event in Largo Friday night and his swing through Silver Spring Saturday morning, there’s another woman poised to play just as big a role in Brown’s campaign. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone else making his case as forcefully and effectively.

We’re talking about Congresswoman Donna Edwards, who was the warm-up act to Brown in both Largo and Silver Spring. To put it mildly, Edwards blew the roof off at both events.

“He cares about the things we care about,” Edwards said Friday night. “He just knows how to get stuff done.”

Edwards continues to be a phenomenon in Maryland politics. I’ve been at a handful of Democratic events in the past nine months where she’s gotten far and away the loudest applause of any elected official, whether she’s speaking or merely being introduced. It seems the more her fellow politicians grumble about her behind her back — her office is too disorganized, she doesn’t work or play well with others, she’s too focused on national liberal causes and not on the home front, etc. etc. — the more popular she becomes with party activists and key constituent groups.

Edwards’ full-throated endorsement of Brown, at a time when most Maryland pols, with the notable exception of Gov. Martin O’Malley, are sitting on the sidelines and watching the Democratic race develop, is noteworthy.

“I lay my cards on the table,” she told the crowd unapologetically on Saturday morning.

Contrast Edwards’ commitment to Brown’s campaign with those of African-American leaders like Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and members of the Legislative Black Caucus. Baker will almost certainly publicly come out for Brown at some point, and Rawlings-Blake probably will, too — even if it’s only as a favor to O’Malley.

You’d think black caucus members would be rushing to the side of the man who has a very good chance of making history as the state’s first African-American governor. But it hasn’t happened yet.

To be sure, many African-American legislators from Prince George’s County were on hand Friday night and are presumably Brown supporters to one degree or another (the overall crowd was heavily black). In fact, it’s fair to say that just about every black and Latino legislator from Prince George’s who doesn’t have a shot of winding up on Attorney General Doug Gansler’s ticket was there, with a couple of notable exceptions.

At Brown’s announcement event Saturday afternoon in Baltimore, where Gansler undoubtedly is also casting an eye for an African-American running mate, the turnout included three black state senators, half a dozen black delegates, and three black members of the City Council. Of course, one’s mere presence at an event doesn’t equate support.

Most black caucus members will “probably step up for” Brown eventually, state Sen. Joanne Benson told me Friday night. But does it look bad for Brown that he hasn’t locked in support from the whole caucus? I asked her. Are members holding out for promises from the candidate, or trying to cut deals?

“That’s the way they do,” Benson replied dryly.

Which makes Edwards’ all-in advocacy for Brown at this early stage a grown-up play seldom seen in Maryland politics these days.

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When I’ve been asked over the past several days what I think of the decision by Montgomery County public employee unions to picket the county Democratic Party’s annual spring ball the other night, all I can say is, “A plague on all their houses.”

In a way you have to admire the unions’ chutzpah, and their success in disrupting the spring ball, which nevertheless was about three-quarters full.

But you also have to wonder what they really accomplished, other than confirming their ability to be churlish. After all, “effects bargaining,” which was the central point of the protest, has already been stripped away in Montgomery County, twice — first by the County Council in a unanimous vote, then by voters, by a 20-point margin.

So it’s not as if the unions were trying to extract concessions from county leaders at this point in time. In fact, many county workers just got a pretty decent contract out of Rockville.

The solidarity with organized labor that many Democratic officeholders put on display was touching. A picket line is a red line that many Democrats, admirably enough, refuse to cross. But one wonders how many of the Montgomery pols who walked the line on Saturday night or stayed away from the spring ball actually voted to ban effects bargaining in the privacy of the voting booth. Their fellow Democrats — and The Washington Post – had told them that it was a perfectly acceptable thing to do. Did Brown or Sen. Ben Cardin make a peep about the county government’s move while it was taking place?

On the other hand, the self-righteous indignation of some of the Democratic stalwarts who decided to make a show of crossing the picket line was also a little stomach turning – along with their warnings that the sky was falling due to the labor-county party schism.

It took County Councilman George Leventhal, a former county Democratic chairman, to strike as close to the right tone as you could find in this unfortunate situation. The unions, he wrote in a Facebook post, “have the right to mount a protest but no right to decide for others who may attend the event.”

Leventhal also made this interesting, relevant and unreported point about the protest: “Young Democrats,” he wrote, “are protesting longtime officeholders who treat their seats as an entitlement.”

Perhaps the most unfortunate consequence of the brouhaha was that Dave Kunes did not get his moment in the sun. Kunes, the president of the Montgomery County Young Democrats, was supposed to be presented with the “Democrat of the Year” award at the dinner. But he did not hesitate to pull the Young Dems’ sponsorship of the spring ball when the unions cranked up their protest.

If you hang around politics for any amount of time, you meet no shortage of young, eager beavers — who may have some passion for public service, but are mostly slick careerists waiting to make their next move.

Kunes is the antithesis. He’s in politics for all the right reasons. And he’s soft-spoken and methodical and slightly roly-poly, not the blow-dried and showy aspiring young pol who you meet so often.

Just 24, Kunes dropped out of high school in upstate New York to work on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. He’s moved from one activist gig to another since then.

Kunes, who works as an aide to Del. Tom Hucker (D) during legislative sessions in Annapolis, doesn’t rule out a political career someday. But in his mind, there are more important battles to fight.

So here’s to Dave Kunes, like Donna Edwards, a conviction politician. It’s a pity that there aren’t more like them in the political game.

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:

Union Powerbroker Taking New Role

Why the Rush (Hour)?

House Cleaning

Reality Check (in Four Parts)

Winners and Losers

Filing Deadline Quietly Changed to Early January