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Lieutenant governor legislation a missed opportunity for Marylanders

As is often the case, this year’s Maryland General Assembly session, which closed its annual 90-day session on April 11, had a number of highs and lows.

Among the disappointments, in my view, was the failure of the Senate to take up a proposed constitutional amendment that would have established that the primary winners in Maryland’s gubernatorial race select their lieutenant governor running mates after the primary election.

Currently, running mates must be selected by candidates for governor at the time of filing for the primary election.

But under the proposal, which passed the House this year, the prevailing primary election candidates would select their running mates after winning the primary.

If the measure had been passed during this year’s session, it would not have affected this year’s primary or general election. Instead, it would have gone before voters in this year’s general election as an amendment to the Maryland Constitution, thus setting the stage, if approved, for a new process come the 2026 gubernatorial election.

The GBC was one of the first to suggest this change to the state’s election process back in 2018. Sen. Paul Pinsky and Del. Kumar Barve have sponsored the legislation in recent years. About six states follow this “after election” running mate selection process, including Colorado, Florida and New Jersey.

This is not a radical approach. U.S. presidential candidates do not select their running mates until after they have secured their party’s nomination.

In Maryland, the lieutenant governor’s role is largely functionary, and not many voters dwell on who that person is when they cast their vote in the gubernatorial election. But the role is significant, as the lieutenant governor steps into office automatically should a governor become incapacitated or otherwise be unable to fulfill their duties. Then all eyes would be on the lieutenant governor.

Therein lies the issue. The elected position seems inconsequential on the surface, but it suddenly could take on enormous significance.

Due to the wide range of issues that government is forced to address, it is critically important that the most qualified and “leadership-ready” person be in the governor’s seat.

That is the primary reason the GBC has supported this legislation.

Any number of highly qualified candidates choose to file in competitive races for governor or other significant elected positions such as U.S. Senate, House of Representatives, attorney general, comptroller, county executive — and the list of offices could go on. Many who are unsuccessful in those campaigns would make excellent running mate choices by each major party’s primary winner.

This year there are 10 Democratic candidates and four Republican candidates that have filed to run for governor in the July 19 primary, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

Those candidates include a former Maryland secretary of commerce, a former Prince Georges County executive, the current state comptroller, a former attorney general for Maryland, a former secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, current and former state legislators, an official who served in the Obama administration and the former CEO of a large anti-poverty foundation, just to cite a few examples. Some are household names; some are not.

A strong argument can be made that should any of these candidates fail to win the primary they would carry enough qualifications to adequately serve in a high level electoral role and could strengthen the ticket for each party’s winner.  The current candidates that have been selected to run as lieutenant governor would also be available for consideration by the successful gubernatorial primary candidate.

By pushing the running mate selection until after the primary, the pool of candidates would become broader and stronger and provide the voters with the very best candidates for the top elected executives in our state.

Hopefully, the Maryland General Assembly will continue to explore this option as an election reform for future gubernatorial elections.

After all, voters should be able to rest assured that should unforeseen circumstances occur the lieutenant governor could be well equipped  to  assume the top executive seat and the state would be in very good hands.

Donald C. Fry is president & CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee.