Candidate v. Campaign

As the General Election for Governor of the State of Maryland and virtually all of the state and local offices in our state except the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore approach, it is clearer than ever how the manner in which campaigns in this country and in our state are conducted affects the initiation and implementation of public policy once the election is over.

The modern political campaign has evolved into almost a separate entity from the candidate who creates and staffs it.  This is true for both political parties and is evident to anyone who has observed both primary and general election campaigns beginning in the last quarter of the past century.  It was highlighted in the last ten days when the Republican Party candidate for Governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, Jr. and the Democratic Party candidate, Anthony Brown clashed in two debates and in television ads which preceded and followed those debates.

With the volatility of the economic news and the expanded terrorist threat to our Homeland as well as the “Ebola Crisis” dominating the headlines and the 24/7 news cycles reporting a widening and deepening disillusionment with both political parties and their candidates around the country including in our state, I am sure that the strategists and the managers of both the Brown campaign and the Hogan campaign must have concluded that in light of the uncertainty about both candidates and their intentions if elected that their only real chance to effectively address, if not exploit, this uncertainty in a campaign context, would be through negative ads and campaigning.  This strategy dictated a focus which we saw in the last month in ads and speeches on “character issues” and negative comments about the candidates ability to lead.

All of us imperfect human beings who inhabit this planet are in my opinion far more complex characters than either our admirers or our detractors would like to believe.  This reality drives the dichotomy between us and our images particularly if our images are designed by campaign consultants.

The candidate and the campaign are two separate entities which for tactical reasons are employing separate strategies hoping one or the other will gain traction with the voters.  The campaign is made up of consultants, ad men and woman, staff, and surrogates.  Campaigns usually don’t have principles except as the late football coach George Allen said “Winning isn’t everything — It’s the only thing.”  The candidate however is more often than not a complex and intelligent human being who is more complicated than she or he really wants to be at least while the campaign is still going on.

The candidate wants to be in this case Governor, but not necessarily at the expense of his or her principles.  Often however, those principles may appear to stand in the way of the candidate’s ambition.

The candidates must answer the question of “Who is Anthony Brown” and “Who is Larry Hogan, Jr. “ if they are not the murky, dangerous, or at least “risky” candidate painted by their opponents campaign.

The threshold question to be answered therefore is when the campaign is over who will govern and how will they govern our state.  Will the campaign with its consultants, pollsters and surrogates whose focus will naturally be on preparing for the next campaign and election morph into an administration primarily driven by political considerations and theater when developing public policy or will the thoughtful candidate him or herself along with a mature staff and advisors experienced and knowledgeable in a wide range of disciplines emerge to govern in the public interest.  There is certainly nothing wrong with calculating the political impact of policy decisions particularly in a democracy.  An elected leader would be a fool not to consider political factors. But political considerations and theatre should not alone drive policy development.

As I have expressed in this column before, as I get older, gain more experience, and continue to watch the process of developing public policy and governing in our constitutional representative democracy, more and more I believe that who is in the room both literally and figuratively when policy is made is the single most important factor which determines the quality of executive decision-making both in the private and public sectors.  That having been said, a candidate’s or even a Governor’s personal expertise and positions in one or more policy areas may ultimately matter less if he or she surrounds himself or herself with independent, intellectually curious, knowledgeable, economically and psychologically secure, ideologically balanced and flexible advisors.

That means we should be asking each candidate for Governor of Maryland –Who will be your advisors? – Who will be your staff? — What is their background and expertise?  Who will be in the room literally and figuratively when you make decisions on who will be judges, on what your economic policy and environmental policy will be, and how the criminal justice system will be staffed.

These questions are seldom asked and even less often answered clearly and candidly in campaigns.  In fact they are avoided.  They should be asked and answered early and often before November 4, 2014 so the people of this state understand their choices and so they can “choose carefully”!