Gov. Wes Moore shakes hands with former Gov. Bob Ehrlich at the signing of a bill into law renaming the Port of Baltimore on April 9, 2024. (Kiersten Hacker/Capital News Service)

Gov. Wes Moore put on an unusual celebratory bill signing the day after the legislature closed April 8. He repeatedly emphasized bipartisan support for his own agenda — 26 out of 26 administration bills over two years — and many other bills he was about to sign.

“In Maryland we don’t just talk partnership, we move in partnership,” said Moore. He illustrated his partnership by welcoming former Republican Gov. Bob Ehrlich. The two joked around as Moore signed a bill enshrining in law an executive order by Ehrlich naming the Port of Baltimore for the late Republican Congresswoman Helen Delich Bentley, a longtime advocate for the port as a reporter and federal official.

Republican legislators have been welcomed at many Moore functions, especially the Republicans who represent the two sides of the collapsed Francis Scott Key bridge. GOP leaders report that the Moore administration actually listens to what they have to say — although they don’t necessarily get their way. They were particularly happy with Moore’s strongly stated opposition to major tax hikes this session and his priorities “to make Maryland safer, make Maryland more affordable, make Maryland more competitive.”

With the partisan dysfunction and hostility 30 miles down the road at the Capitol, bipartisanship has long been a popular theme with former Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. At a stop in Howard County for his U.S. Senate campaign April 14, Hogan told me:

“I can have a really big influence in the (GOP Senate) caucus and also in trying to forge bipartisan compromise, which I did on the infrastructure bill that just got passed and which I did for eight years with a 70% Democratic legislature.”

Former Gov. Larry Hogan speaks with Randy Marriner, chairman and founder of Manor Hill Brewing, at a campaign stop in Howard County in April. (Maryland Reporter photo by Len Lazarick.)

Hogan’s bipartisanship was largely achieved by accepting Democratic legislation he could not change and stopping the things he could. He vetoed a record number of bills, most of which were overridden by the lawmakers, and allowed an even bigger number of bills to take effect without his signature.

The truth is that the vast majority of the hundreds of bills passed in the General Assembly get votes from members of both parties, ofttimes unanimously.

Better than gridlock

Bipartisanship is certainly better than partisan gridlock. But what about the nearly one million of us Maryland voters — 994,529 to be precise — who are not registered with either major party and have no say in the duopoly that controls our elections?

Those are actually some of the key voters to whom anti-Trump Hogan, certainly out of step with many in his party, is aiming his bipartisan appeal. That may be true of Moore as well. We are almost one in four voters, 24% of the electorate.

I got a postcard the other day from the Howard County Board of Elections telling me that I wouldn’t be getting a sample ballot because there was no one I could vote for. In the nonpartisan Board of Education race, the incumbent in my district is the only candidate and will move on to general election. 

The person who will likely represent me in Congress in the 3rd Congressional District will likely be determined by Democratic primary voters in Howard and northern Anne Arundel counties. With 22 candidates in that primary, five of them legislators, it is conceivable that the winner and the ultimate member of the House of Representatives will be chosen with less than 25% of the vote from about half of the eligible voters. 

If money in the race proves to be the deciding factor, the majority of the campaign money of the winner will have come from people who don’t live in Maryland.

The big money

Former U.S. Capitol police officer Harry Dunn has raised $3.774 million from over 100,000 people across the nation, only about 5,000 of them from Maryland, his campaign says. Based on reports filed with the Federal Election Commission April 15, this is almost $1 million more than the combined total raised by all the other Democrats in the race. 

This staggering sum reflects the celebrity Dunn gained at congressional hearings, TV appearances and a bestselling memoir. He was the face of all the officers who fought the angry mob of Trump supporters that assaulted the Capitol Jan. 6, 2021. It also reflects the more recent political phenomenon where a huge volume of smaller internet donations replaces large sums from major donors.

Despite having $1.7 million cash on hand on March 31, Dunn was poor-mouthing his campaign in an email to supporters for his failure to raise $300,000 more in the first weeks of April.

Second place in the fundraising game went to Sen. Sarah Elfreth of Annapolis with $915,000 raised and $565,000 still in the bank. But she is also being backed by the United Democracy Project, a pro-Israel super PAC (political action committee) that has funneled over $1 million into TV ads and mailers supporting Elfreth. These “independent” ads are hard to distinguish from those produced by her own campaign.

The influx of the UDP spending has led Dunn and other candidates to protest the “dark money” flooding into the contest. Super PACs do not have the same donation limits and disclosure requirements as the candidates themselves. 

The ads in the race so far are positive, introducing the candidates and emphasizing who they are and what they have done such as Dunn’s defense of democracy at the Capitol and Elfreth’s passage of 84 bills as the youngest woman ever elected to the state Senate. While different issues are emphasized, there are no significant policy differences.

“Democracy is on the ballot right now,” Dunn told a house party in April. “There’s so many issues right now that all 22 of us agree on all of it. Voting rights, lower health care costs, women’s right to choose. We all agree on those issues. However, if we do not have a functional democracy, what do those issues matter? We don’t even have a say right now.”

There are nine Republicans running for the House in the 3rd. Only two have reported raising any money. Of those, Berney Flowers, a retired Air Force officer, has raised a mere $36,000 and spent most of it. 

If democracy is really on the ballot, how come so few of us are actually allowed to choose our next representative?