Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Maryland 2014 and the Nonsense of Geographic Balance

The latest stir in the Maryland governors race is the suggestion that Doug Gansler, from Montgomery county, made a mistake by not balancing his ticket with someone from the Baltimore Region. Gansler picked Jolene Ivey from Prince George's. Don Norris of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County said the pick, coupled with earlier controversies regarding the role of race in the campaign and the recent allegations about Gansler and his use of state vehicles, showed that Gansler is "knee-deep in quicksand."*  I have great respect for Don Norris, but knee-deep in quicksand? Maybe he's up to his ankles in a mud puddle. I've been arguing for two years that Brown is the favorite in this race, but that does not mean that Gansler is out of contention. And his "failure" to pick a Baltimore-based running mate has not placed him deeper in the muck and mire.

No one has suggested that Lt. Gov. Brown, from Prince George's, failed the regional balance test when he picked Howard County Executive Ken Ulman. This is apparently a balanced ticket. Nonsense! Let me be clear, the only folks who would argue that a PG/Howard ticket is geographically balanced while a MoCo/PG ticket is regional are folks who have never looked at a map of Maryland!

The reality is, we have two tickets representing what could best be described as central Maryland and the DC suburbs. The tickets represent the reality of the Democratic party in Maryland - it is comprised of a shrinking Baltimore City core that travels down the I-95 corridor before blossoming around the DC beltway in Montgomery, Prince George's, and Charles counties. Vast swaths of Maryland are essentially foreign turf to the Maryland Democratic party.

Map of Maryland Counties

None of the counties represented by the Gansler/Ivey or Brown/Ulman tickets offer a reasonable representation of the state. Montgomery and Howard counties are incredibly well-off and enjoy great schools and low unemployment - they represent an upper-income privileged Maryland quite unfamiliar to residents in Western Maryland, significant portions of Northern Maryland, and a lot of folks on the Eastern shore.

Demographics of MD, Montgomery, Howard, and Prince George's Counties
  Maryland Montgomery Howard Prince George's
White 53.90% 49.30% 62.20% 19.20%
Black 30.00% 16.60% 17.50% 64.50%
Asian 6.00% 13.90% 14.40% 4.10%
American Indian and Alaska Native 0.50% 0.40% 0.30% 0.50%
Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander 0.10% 0.10% 0.00% 0.10%
Multi-Racial 2.50% 4.00% 3.60% 3.20%
Hispanic or Latino 6.90% 17.00% 5.80% 14.90%
Number of Schools in Newsweek's Top 20 Best High Schools in the state        
  7 4 1
Placement among the 25 wealthiest counties in US   11 3 -
Unemployment (July 2013) 7.10% 5.30% 5.50% 7.10%

More than anything though is the nonsense that a ticket that sought to balance the Baltimore and DC region has been a long standing tradition in Maryland politics - one that Gansler has broken.

For over 100 years between 1867 and 1970 Maryland had no Lt. Governor. The office was abolished. So any tradition can only extend to 1970. In our first election with a restored Lt. Governor in 1970 Marvin Mandel of Baltimore City selected Blair Lee III of Montgomery County - and I guess a noble tradition of balance was born. Like so much else that came from the 1970s though, it's worth asking if we started a tradition or a fad.

Maryland's next governor, Harry Hughes, hailed from Caroline county over on the Eastern Shore (imagine that happening today). His first term Lt. Governor was Samuel Bogley from PG county and his second term Lt. was Joe Curran, Jr. from Baltimore City. So I guess Hughes continued the tradition by picking someone from each region for each of his two terms? I guess Baltimore area voters in 1978 just had to have faith that when he ran for re-election in 1982 he'd dump Bogley and deliver on the tradition of regional balance. We could split hairs and recognize that Hughes relocated to the Baltimore region in 1971 when he became Secretary of Transportation - but the vast majority of his political career was spent and his base were on the Eastern Shore. If we wanted to get that technical then we'd need to discuss Ivey's years in the Baltimore region.

This brings us to 1986 and the election of William Donald Schaefer. Schaefer, then Mayor of Baltimore City, selected as his Lt. Gov. Senate President Mickey Steinberg. Steinberg was from..... Baltimore County.  And how did voters react to this tragically imbalanced and very regional ticket? By electing and re-electing Schaefer with overwhelming margins.

PG county Exec. Parris Glendening returned to the tradition in 1994 and picked Baltimore area attorney Kathleen Kennedy Townsend - but Townsend, lacking any experience as an elected official, was picked based on name recognition and fundraising potential more so than any commitment to geographic balance. Glendening's return to tradition was greeted with a very narrow election victory. The Baltimore/PG combination held for the next two governing teams. Baltimore's Bob Ehrlich picked PG's Michael Steele (though it's unclear why a Republican team would look to the Baltimore/DC balance tradition) and Baltimore's Martin O'Malley picked PG's Anthony Brown.

Based on this history of elections since 1970 there has arisen this mythology of Maryland gubernatorial elections that a ticket must be geographically balanced. The simple reality is Maryland's population is moving. The Baltimore region, and especially Baltimore City, was once the central hub of political power in the state - that is no longer the case. The new power hub in Maryland is wrapped around the DC beltway. Montgomery and PG counties are crucial to any Democrat seeking office - Baltimore is no longer the crucial region it once was. By picking Ken Ulman as his Lt. Governor Anthony Brown very much acknowledged that transition. Howard county borders both 20th Century Maryland to the its north and 21st Century Maryland to its south. With his pick, Brown wanted credit for picking a balanced ticket that held to tradition - and the press has largely given him that credit.

But the simple truth is this - neither ticket is any more geographically balanced than the other. To say Howard county is in the Baltimore region is like saying Montgomery County is in Western Maryland - it doesn't pass the sniff test. I understand that the US Office of Management and Budget places Howard in the Baltimore-Columbia-Towson, MD Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), but Anne Arundel and Queen Anne's counties are there as well - I don't think anyone would suggest a running mate from Queen Anne's would've brought the Baltimore region into the race. Howard straddles the line between Baltimore and DC, it's no more one than it is the other. In fact, I miss my days as a Howard resident - I could get the Baltimore and DC stations on my cable and satellite service! Montgomery county is in the Washington–Arlington–Alexandria, DC–VA–MD–WV MSA, but so are Frederick and Calvert - and most folks still consider Frederick and Calvert as distinct from Montgomery and Prince George's. So the MSA groupings are less than useful measuring sticks. Especially given all of the afore mentioned counties are in the larger Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area... confused yet? The map below may or may not help....

Montgomery, Howard, and Prince George's Counties are very different from one another and each ticket offers voters with a team that does represent very different parts of Maryland. But the notion that PG/Howard is balanced while MoCo/PG is not is utter nonsense.

Rather than obsessing over geography we should be looking at the candidates themselves. Both Brown and Gansler have made incredibly impressive choices. Both Brown and Gansler are offering voters an incredibly dynamic team. Both Brown and Gansler have picked future leaders in state politics. The simple reality is this, whether Democrats nominate Brown/Ulman or Gansler/Ivey they will have nominated an impressive team. On many crucial issue there's not a dime's worth of difference between the teams. This is probably why we have been inundated with meaningless stories about the state of the campaign, and hollow scandals, instead of substantive stories about the issues of interest to voters.

Let's hope that changes soon.

*In an earlier version of this post I failed to note that Don Norris identified several factors other than the Ivey pick as evidence of the Gansler campaign troubles. I have now included the larger context of his quote. I regret the error.