Maryland AG Race Pits National Issues Against Local Crime

Republican and political newcomer Craig Wolf on left, incumbent Brian Frosh, a Democrat, on right. (Wolf photo: Savannah Williams; Frosh photo courtesy of Maryland Office of the Attorney General)
Republican and political newcomer Craig Wolf on left, incumbent Brian Frosh, a Democrat, on right. (Wolf photo: Savannah Williams; Frosh photo courtesy of Maryland Office of the Attorney General)

ANNAPOLIS (November 02, 2018)—Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, is running for reelection against Republican and political newcomer Craig Wolf—and the race has gotten tighter over the last few months.

Frosh, who was elected to the position in 2014 after a 28-year legislative career, has consistently pursued environmental protection issues, and has sued the federal government more than 20 times since the power of his office was expanded last year.

Wolf, who has been a federal, state and Army prosecutor and a CEO for Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, has focused his campaign on reducing crime in Maryland through increasing prosecution and strengthening the state's bail system.

A Goucher poll released mid-September showed 58 percent of respondents were planning to vote for Frosh, 26 percent were planning to vote for Wolf and 12 percent were undecided.

But a Gonzales Maryland Poll released in October put Frosh at 43 percent of the vote, and Wolf at 34 percent, with 23 percent of respondents still undecided. This put Wolf 9 percentage points behind Frosh

In 2014, Frosh won with about 56 percent of the vote against Republican candidate Jeffrey Pritzker, who received 40.7 percent of the vote, according to the state Board of Elections.

"I think at this point, it's probably, hopefully, above 9," Frosh said in an interview in late October. "There's a baseline of support for anybody running as a Republican, and I would expect that my opponent has somewhere around that baseline.

Frosh's campaign has been collecting money since 2015, so he raised $1.3 million more and spent $1.02 million more than Wolf through this race.

According to reports filed last week, in 2018 alone, Frosh's campaign raised more than $673,000 and spent $1.2 million, while Wolf's campaign raised almost $551,000 and spent about $515,000. At the time of the report, Frosh still had more than $508,000 in his campaign account, and Wolf had almost $36,000.

Wolf and Frosh are both concerned with fighting the opioid crisis, ridding the state of violent gangs and improving environmental conditions—even though their methods for achieving a better state differ.

The candidates' views clash most sharply on the primary role of the attorney general.

"I've been arguing for the last 10 months, whatever it is, that he's not doing his job. Essentially what he's doing is playing politics in Washington," Wolf said. "In every lawsuit he's involved in, there's at least one other AG from another case, or District of Columbia, involved. … If they're doing the case, we're covered."

Frosh holds that the nearly two dozen lawsuits he has filed or joined on behalf of the state against the Trump administration and other federal agencies have been pivotal to Marylanders' rights.

"From a very practical standpoint, they're trying to tear apart the Affordable Care Act," Frosh said. "There are 400-450,000 people in our state who would have no health insurance but for the Affordable Care Act. There are millions more, maybe as many as 3 million more, who have pre-existing conditions, who would either have no health coverage or would pay a lot more because of their pre-existing conditions."

The two also disagree over the extent to which the office can pursue violent criminals.

Wolf said he wants to hire new attorneys, use "the bully pulpit" to focus attention on violence and drug crimes in Baltimore and partner with the United States attorney's office to go after especially heinous criminals.

Frosh says Wolf's goals would bump into the jurisdiction of localities' state's attorneys, and that many of the lawyers in his office are paid by specific executive agencies, which would limit their mobility, even if they had the ability to prosecute low-level criminals.

"If you want to take somebody out of the health department and assign her to fight crime, even if she knew what she was doing, the secretary of health would say 'wait a minute. I'm paying for that person. If you're not going to use her for health stuff, she's out of my budget. You find a way to pay for her,'" Frosh said.

Wolf chalks this up to not asking for more money from the state, which he says he'd certainly do if he were elected.

In 2017, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan withheld a $1 million appropriation to the attorney general's office mandated by legislation. The money was earmarked for Frosh's office to hire new lawyers to prosecute the Trump administration.

Also under the purview of criminal justice, Wolf and Frosh disagree on the state's bail system, and both men say they'd want to work on pretrial standard procedure if elected.

Frosh said that when he took the office, he faced the problem of people who would be stuck in jail for shoplifting, and would be unable to meet bails as low as $100-$500 to go home before their trials.

On the other hand, he said, people who had been arrested for carrying illegal handguns could sometimes pay their $500,000 bail against all expectations, and leave jail to commit more violence before their trials.

Frosh took the issue before the Maryland Court of Appeals in 2017, and while the court didn't abolish paid bails, they did set a new standard of encouraging judges to consider other methods of holding those accused accountable for showing up to trial.

"High bail is stupid, and there's no reason for it, except to enrich bail bondsmen," Frosh said. "If you think somebody is a threat, and this is now the rule … lock them up."

Wolf said the new bail system is responsible for allowing criminals immediate access back to the streets where they were arrested, with no guarantees that they will reappear to face trial. He says sanctuary cities only complicate this issue.

Wolf and Frosh debated ( once in an untelevised event at University of Maryland's Carey School of Law in mid-October.

Wolf said he wanted to join the Army after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, but was told he was too old. In 2003, at age 40, Wolf learned how to enlist and serve as part of their legal team, where he worked both in defense and prosecution.

He served overseas where he was awarded the Meritorious Service and Bronze Star medals, according to his campaign website.

Wolf has a taste for adrenaline in his spare time and said he runs with his dog to stay in shape for his commitments to the Army.

He also said he's always been interested in flying, so he recently got a license to fly helicopters, which he enjoys even though the campaign has left him little time for it; and after watching "Sons of Anarchy," he got his motorcycle license.

Frosh said he has worn his trademark mustache off and on before 1972, and from that year, mostly on. He said he did shave it off for one day about 15 years ago.

"My children were horrified," he said. "I figured I better stick with it—started growing it again the next morning."

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