Letter to an independent Washington Post reader

[Note: I sent this as a letter to the editor to the Washington Post in October. They’d recently run another letter of mine on the economic issues at stake in the Hogan/Brown contest, so I’m not surprised they passed, but I’m going ahead and publishing it here, slightly expanded]

Petula Dvorak (Oct. 14) well describes how Maryland’s gubernatorial election leaves many independent voters feeling torn. They worry that Democrat Anthony Brown, who presided over the disastrous flop of the state’s health exchange website, would not manage finances responsibly in our job-challenged state, even though he vows not to raise taxes. And they worry that Republican Larry Hogan might push a divisive social agenda, though he vows not to reopen issues like same-sex marriage.

If the tension between these fears is hard to resolve in theory, it is easy in practice. Whoever we elect as governor, the Maryland legislature will remain much as it is now, overwhelmingly Democratic. Its leaders have backed tax and spending increases and would press the same priorities on a Governor Brown, offering political cover for him to acquiesce in new taxes. At the same time, the legislature has zero interest in rolling back its own recent choices in social policy, and such a rollback would be dead on arrival in Annapolis if for some reason a Governor Hogan were to go back on his vow and try it.

Because of the makeup of its legislature, Maryland’s fiscal locomotive is going to have an accelerator no matter what. The question is whether it could use a brake. Up and down the Northeast, voters elect moderate Republican governors to serve as a check on strongly Democratic legislatures. That is a compelling reason this year to select Larry Hogan.

One more point: Larry Hogan, like Democrat Heather Mizeur before him, chose to forgo big-ticket fundraising and opt for the alternative of public financing, even though it ensured (as in Mizeur’s case) that he would be heavily outspent by his adversary. Anthony Brown has chosen instead to scoop up millions from businesses, unions, state contractors, and other groups with a direct financial stake in Maryland legislation, as well as outside groups seeking to make an ideological point. Reasonable people can take different views of public financing, but isn’t it worth noticing when a Democratic candidate dives gleefully into the big money pool while the Republican stays out? If you’re serious about the problems of big money in politics, shouldn’t this be another factor in your vote?

— Walter Olson, New Market, Md.

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