Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. (Photo: MarylandReporter.com)
Lets get this out of the way up front: The answer to the headlined question is no. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown didnt graduate cum laude from Harvard and later from Harvard Law without having substantial intellectual chops.
Yet that inelegant question does Brown have what it takes to be governor? could become a defining issue as Marylands aimless gubernatorial campaign enters the stage where voters start paying attention.
Attorney General Doug Gansler keeps fumbling the rhetorical ball whenever he tries to raise the subject of Browns readiness to run the state of Maryland. He must be onto something, though. because the Brown camp is ultra-sensitive to charges of empty suit-ism.
Not that his handlers will allow Brown to escape from his self-imposed cocoon to rebut Ganslers charges. They let surrogates and campaign officials go on the counter-attack instead.
Brown is following the Rose Garden strategy favored by front-runners, appearing at events where his handlers can control the candidates every move and keep him on script.
After all, Brown is very good at reading a scripted speech. Its when unscripted, detailed questions start flying that Brown hastily looks for the exit.
Gansler sought to stir things up by questioning the notion that Browns year in Iraq as a military lawyer qualifies him to be governor.
He was trying to point out that being chauffeured in an armored caravan to Iraqi government buildings to educate Iraqi officials on American jurisprudence isnt the same as taking on the Taliban in gun fights. Counseling Iraqi officials does not teach you much about running the state of Maryland.
But Gansler stepped in deep doo-doo when he blurted out that this wasnt a real job as though service in the military doesnt count.
Brown and his veterans supporters pounced on Gansler for that faux pas. Why hes insulted the military! Hes a loose cannon! Hes out of control!
Thats a great way to divert attention from the central point Gansler was trying to make Browns good-sounding resume gets a bit thin when examined in detail.
His decades of military service are not only admirable but courageous. Hes led men on missions. Hes got lots of service ribbons.
But his year in Iraq, while a difficult personal sacrifice, was quite secondary and far from the battles waged by Gen. David Petraeus that made an American exit possible.
Browns service as lieutenant governor also looks better at a glance than it does under a microscope.
Thats not as much his fault as a quirk of the office.
No fun being No. 2
Nearly every lieutenant governor winds up outside the governors inner circle. Hes not included when key questions are decided. He isnt given substantial duties to run parts of government.
So Marylands elected No. 2 spends his time touring the state, giving speeches that mimic what the governor has already said. The lieutenant governor isnt an executive decision-maker. Hes just there in case the governor drops dead.
No wonder Browns predecessors all seven of them failed to become governor. Its a jinxed office. As comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to say, I cant get no respect.
So Brown, despite being the early front-runner, has his work cut out.
Questions for Brown
Can he handle ad lib queries from reporters on a wide array of topics?
Can he show where he has been an effective policymaker?
Can he rebut charges that he botched oversight of the states much-maligned health care exchange rollout?
The spotlight is turning toward Anthony Brown, who must persuade voters he has not only the resume but more importantly the substantive accomplishments and breadth of knowledge that merit election as governor.
Were eight weeks from the June 24 primary that almost definitely will determine Marylands next governor. At this point, the job is Browns to win or lose.
Barry Rascovar is an independent journalist whos been covering Maryland politics for over 40 years, first with the Baltimore Sun and then the Gazette of Politics and Business. His personal blogsite is marylandpolitics.com. He can be reached at brascovar @ hotmail.com.