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All in the Family

05.13.2014

By: Josh Kurtz 

Of course Jon Cardin is going to exploit his family name for political gain as he runs for attorney general.

The surprise and outrage, the wringing of hands, the protestations that it isn’t fair – well, what did anyone expect? All is fair in politics, and Cardin is traveling down a very well-worn path.

After all, Ben Cardin – who most voters, no doubt, think is the one who’s running for AG – had, at the age of 23 and just out of law school, a legislative seat handed to him by his uncle Maurice, who had held it for 16 years. Ben Cardin’s dad, Meyer, had also served a term in the legislature, back in the 1930’s, and went on to become a judge.

Ben Cardin has now held political office for 48 straight years, and Jon Cardin is the beneficiary. This was the case when he first ran for the House of Delegates in 2002, and it remains so today.

Is Jon Cardin qualified to be attorney general? Compared to Brian Frosh, who has truly been one of the most productive and progressive legislators in Annapolis for the past quarter century – and is a heck of a nice guy – Cardin seems callow, presumptuous, and out of his league. His contention last week, following a Baltimore Sun investigation, that he missed three-quarters of his committee votes this year for family reasons, seems like a convenient and not altogether convincing excuse.

But the good will that Uncle Ben has accumulated through the decades – not to mention his good work – now accrues to the nephew, and it’s not as if Jon Cardin has been completely ineffective in the legislature and as a statewide candidate. Rather than whining about Cardin’s unfair advantages in the AG’s race – and they are unfair advantages, but that’s political reality – it’s incumbent upon Frosh’s supporters to make the case why their man is the better choice in the Democratic primary.

Frosh and his closest allies have been spoiled operating in Montgomery County. That’s a place where candidates are more likely to win on the merits – and on the basis of their brainpower – than they are most other places. Consider what happened in 2002, when Chris Van Hollen won a congressional race by making the case that he was a worthier candidate – and a subtler case that he was smarter – than Mark Shriver, another political legacy.

That argument doesn’t work in most congressional districts, especially against a Kennedy, and all the glitz and glamour a Kennedy candidacy brings. It only works in places with a highly educated electorate. But Frosh is trying the same trick now against Cardin.

Of course, most people forget that Brian Frosh himself is a political legacy – his dad, the late Stanley Frosh, spent a single term on the Montgomery County Council in the 1960’s and later became a judge. This doesn’t blunt the argument that Frosh is a worthier contender for AG than Jon Cardin, but it does muddy the picture a little bit.

Then again, there’s political nepotism in every corner of Maryland, beginning with the very top of the ballot, where the leading Republican contender for governor is Larry Hogan, son of another Larry Hogan, who served as Prince George’s County executive and also spent six years in Congress. A top candidate for lieutenant governor is Jolene Ivey, who was elected to the legislature eight years ago after her husband spent eight years as Prince George’s state’s attorney.

The mayor of Baltimore, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, is a legacy. The state has the Kittlemans of Howard County, the Youngs of Frederick County – Democrats and Republicans, both – the Mitchells, the Bostons and the Conaways of Baltimore, and the Sarbanes from all over.

The House of Delegates currently has Mike Weir Jr. and John Olszewski Jr. It has Eric Bromwell , Jim Gilchrist, Ben Kramer, Kris Valderrama and Mary-Dulany James. James and Olszewski are running for seats in the state Senate. James could wind up working in a building named for her dad.

And the ballot this year is full of more familiar names: Rushern Baker IV, son of the Prince George’s County executive, running for a seat in the state House; Paul Edwards, son of state Sen. George Edwards, running for a seat on the Garrett County Commission; Flynn Ficker, son of Montgomery County provocateur Robin Ficker, running for a seat in the House of Delegates while his father runs for state Senate; Brooke Lierman, daughter of former Maryland Democratic Chairman Terry Lierman, running for a House seat; Renee McGuirk-Spence, daughter of the old South Baltimore powerhouse Harry McGuirk, running for a House seat in territory that covers Baltimore and Howard counties; Marilyn Mosby, wife of Baltimore City Councilman Nick Mosby, running for state’s attorney; Meagan Simonaire, daughter of Anne Arundel County state Sen. Bryan Simonaire, running for a House seat; Daniel Slade, son of former state delegate and judge John Slade, running for a House seat in St. Mary’s County; Carin Smith, daughter-in-law of state Transportation Secretary and former Baltimore County Executive Jim Smith, running for a House seat in Baltimore County.

No doubt there are others that we’re missing.

They won’t all be successful. Some are worthier candidates, and will make better lawmakers, than others. But in every case, the last name is an advantage.

So as you can see, Jon Cardin isn’t alone. He’s just trying to ride the name and good will of his forebears farther than anyone else this year. The ride may be getting bumpier, the knives extended against him a little sharper, as the campaign enters its final weeks. But does anybody want to bet against him?

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at joshkurtzw92@gmail.com.