Retirement inevitably brings change. In most cases a replacement steps in. The retiree usually moves on to a quiet, tranquil life free of constant demands and pressure.
Politics is no different. Except that ambition draws a number of potential replacements who seek a higher-level office and much greater prestige. In some instances, politicians termed out of office, but still afflicted with the political bug, jump into the sweepstakes.
Eleven days ago, former Gov. Larry Hogan surprised Maryland’s political world by announcing he was running in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, now occupied by the retiring Democratic Senator Ben Cardin.
He had said previously that he had no intention to run for Senate.
I always thought that Hogan, an immensely popular two-term governor, saw nothing exciting or exhilarating about being a federal legislator and coping with the minutiae and maneuvering so integral to operating effectively in the upper house of Congress.
He seemed resigned as governor to deal unsuccessfully with veto-proof super-majorities in the Maryland House of Delegates and the Senate.
From an outsider’s perspective, Hogan did not seem to relish legislative battles. Unlike former Gov. Martin O’Malley and Gov. Wes Moore, he never personally promoted one of his bills before a legislative committee. He enjoyed serving, however, as an executive.
I thought that Hogan’s performance during the pandemic was first-rate. He reacted responsibly and effectively. Marylanders benefited. He communicated clearly and consistently.
So, I was puzzled. Hogan is entering the fray despite his distaste for the hyper-partisan environment in Washington. He had decided not to run in the Republican primary for president. He disassociated himself from a No-Labels initiative.
Hogan is not an automatic choice to win the general election should he prove victorious in the primary. He will seek no help from the state GOP due to its fealty to former President Trump.
Hogan disdains Trump, a fact applauded by Democrats and Independents. Any swipes directed at Hogan by the former president draw little or no reaction.
The former governor would face significant obstacles. Maryland
Democrats would be loath to lose a seat in the U.S. Senate now held by one vote by the Democrats. They cannot be certain that the culture wars he avoided as governor would not engulf the cautious Hogan. Yet, he is a strong, likable candidate.
Though it would be unlikely I would support Hogan, I like the possibility of a vigorous two-party campaign in a state that favors Democrats 2-1. Citizens would have a clear choice. Hogan would run a vigorous, well-funded campaign.
Due to Hogan’s announcement, John Teichart, a retired Air Force general endorsed by former Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, just dropped out of the race. I suspect that pressure from GOP elders forced his decision. Hogan has the best chance of winning against a Democrat.
I find it interesting that Hogan said he overcame his initial reluctance to run for Senate and possibly join the Capital Hill combat zone because he believed he could change the fractious tone. This was the same reasoning offered by State Sen. Sarah Elfreth when she announced her campaign for the 3rd Congressional District.
The Second Congressional District, long dominated by Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, a moderate Democrat, is now up for grabs. He is retiring. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, a progressive Democrat, is seeking to replace Ruppersberger.
I have always liked Ruppersberger. We played high school lacrosse together. He was not flashy, just dependable. He developed a reputation in Congress for his expertise in intelligence matters.
The cyclical nature of politics produces change due to age or disinterest. While Cardin (80) and Ruppersberger (78) could point to age to justify their exits from elective politics, the 61-year-old John Sarbanes, the Third District representative who announced his retirement at the end of October 2023, simply wants to perform another sort of public service.
Sarbanes said upon his announcement of departing the political wars that he never intended to pursue unending political service. His late father, Sen. Paul Sarbanes, served 36 years in the nation’s capital.
I believe that congressional service, whether in the House of Representatives or the Senate, is arduous and frustrating. Bipartisanship and compromise are archaic concepts rarely practiced.
Civility has become extant.
Job satisfaction is a distant hope.
To reinstate compromise and civility as desirable and beneficial benchmarks in both congressional chambers would be an amazing cultural change. Hogan undeniably has an independent streak. Elfreth, an effective and industrious state senator, would strive for bipartisan solutions until the odds became impossible.
Simply, toxicity seems to be the major opponent. And the most tortuous.
The public benefits accidentally from congressional combat.
Retirement is claiming three exceptional public servants. Maryland will suffer from their loss, benefiting from capable replacements.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.