Who Does the Truth Hurt — Gansler or Brown?

By Barry Rascovar / August 19, 2013

THAT OLD ADAGE, “the truth hurts,” could prove a double-edged rapier for Maryland’s main gubernatorial contenders, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Yes, Gansler was too blunt in addressing a group of volunteer supporters. He dared voice what many have been saying privately — that Brown’s sparkling resume masks the fact he has only a smattering of substantive accomplishments.

Attorney General Doug GanslerAnd yes, Gansler blurted out what is all too clear but rarely discussed so openly — that Brown hopes to win election by touting the fact he would be Maryland’s first black governor.

As the attorney general put it, such a “first” is a “laudable goal” but “you need a second sentence” that describes what you’ve done to earn it.

Brown’s Response

Brown’s camp Immediately sought to sensationalize Gansler’s comments. A Brown spokesman said the attorney general was “out of control,” that he should not “attack other Democrats,” that Gansler is “the only one talking about race,”  that Gansler had “belittled the record of a war veteran who served in Iraq.”

Oh, please. Cue the national anthem.

Apparently it would be unpatriotic, un-Democratic, and downright racist to vote for someone with loose lips like Gansler.

While this attack-dog rhetoric makes for a neat propaganda pitch, the truth isn’t nearly so one-sided.

Brown’s campaign promotes the fact he’d be the first black Maryland governor. (Although with a Swiss mother and a Jamaican father it is a stretch to call him an African American.) His followers are trying to rally black voters to his cause by making that very claim. On Friday, the candidate himself even encouraged black county officials to support their own kind.

It’s no small point, either, with up to a third of the Democratic primary vote likely to come from African Americans.

Segmenting the Vote

Brown is quite openly targeting the state’s large African American vote centered in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. To deny that obvious strategy is to deceive Marylanders of your true intentions.

There’s nothing wrong in segmenting the voting populace that way. Gansler is seeking support from the state’s Jewish voters and lawyers. Del. Heather Mizeur is going after the gay and lesbian vote. (This would be another “first” for Maryland.) It is a time-honored tradition — you solicit backing from demographic groups where there is a personal affinity.

Lt. Gov. Anthony BrownAt this early stage, we don’t know what else Brown will add to his demographic strategy. He’s been mute on his campaign platform other than continuing O’Malley’s liberal social spending policies. He’s yet to outline what he’d do differently or how he’d pay for new initiatives.

But we do know Brown’s main objective is to win a lopsided vote from Maryland’s blacks. That is his key to victory.

So when Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, an ardent Brown supporter, goes overboard and accuses Gansler of “playing the race card,” she had better re-examine how Brown is running his own campaign. The lieutenant governor already is playing that game.

What Has He Done?

Gansler’s second point — Brown’s thin list of achievements next to his own — is what he wants to impress on voters.

Brown’s tenure in the House of Delegates wasn’t marked by great personal accomplishments. His nearly seven years as lieutenant governor have witnessed lock-step loyalty to O’Malley’s programs, continuous speech-making and a few items he claims credit for. It’s not a gourmet menu he offers voters.

Even Brown’s military service has been greatly magnified.

While stationed in Iraq for a year as a colonel in the Army Reserves, Brown wasn’t battling armed Shiite dissidents. Instead, he was shuttled by armored caravan from the heavily fortified U.S. headquarters in the Green Zone to a government-protected building where he  educated Iraqi lawyers on how to run a democratic justice system.

It was important work that seriously disrupted his home life and required enormous personal sacrifice. But this alone doesn’t qualify anyone to be Maryland governor.

The Fallout, Pro and Con

Will Gansler’s “gaff,” as newsies are calling it, damage his gubernatorial chances?

Yes and no.

He has given the Brown camp juicy ammunition that will help pump up enthusiasm for Brown in African American communities. Gansler’s words will be repeated often during Brown’s get-out-the-vote drive next year.

On the other hand, whoever leaked the tape of Gansler’s remarks may have done him an enormous favor.

Gansler is now talking openly about looking beyond a candidate’s race, ethnic origin or sexual orientation to the issues. It’s now mandatory he prove to voters his record in public service (as attorney general and state’s attorney for Montgomery County) is superior to Brown’s.

It may come with the added necessity of going negative — telling Democratic voters what Brown hasn’t done during his two terms as lieutenant governor.

Gansler already is seeking to put Brown on the defensive by asking what the lieutenant governor would do about Maryland’s prison crisis. Thanks to Gansler’s “gaff,” the campaign for governor could develop a sharpened focus sooner than anyone expected. It also guarantees next year’s gubernatorial debates will be humdingers.

Politicians as Truth-Tellers

What the attorney general told his volunteers was refreshing in its directness and honesty. He didn’t demean his opponent or call him names. (Listen to the tapes.) He simply made a statement about Brown’s record and campaign strategy.

Such truth-telling can be a hit with voters. Just ask New Jersey’s outspoken governor, Chris Christie, perhaps the most popular Republican in America. Look at the notoriety Vice President Joe Biden receives when he lapses into political candor.

And remember this state’s fascination and love affair with William Donald Schaefer when as governor and mayor he said what was on his mind, even if it wasn’t politically correct.

Remember, too, that we’re still in the “dog days of August,” many, many months removed from the time when voters look seriously at the candidates.

But we now can say that the first “shot across the bow” in Maryland’s gubernatorial campaign has been fired.

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