Anthony Brown's hands-on approach
Lieutenent governor straddles executive, legislative experience in session; mum on gubernatorial bid
ANNAPOLIS In a year in which his boss's legislative priorities stalled or significantly altered, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) can claim victories for moving two of the administration's priorities largely intact.
Brown, a former delegate who has the benefit of bringing bills to a group of his former colleagues in the legislature, helped muscle through measures to establish a health care market for small businesses and uninsured individuals as well as one that criminalizes child neglect in Maryland.
The lieutenant governor leans on his experience as a former member of the House Judiciary Committee to shepherd through the legislation.
"I don't want to believe that I'm just working with the executive branch," Brown, 49, said. "If I can make sure that I'm working with the legislative branch, I've got two bites of the apple."
Other administration measures including a ban on septic systems, the creation of an offshore wind farm and a business investment program were either abandoned or significantly scaled back by lawmakers during the 90-day session.
Technically, advocating the administration's priorities is not part of Brown's job description. In fact, all the state constitution says about his job is that he replaces the governor, if necessary.
In writing their own description of the job, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and Brown agree that Brown is responsible for keeping the administration focused on economic development, health care and higher education.
"I take that constitutional duty very seriously," Brown said. "That's why the governor and I have forged one of the strongest partnerships between a governor and a lieutenant governor that anybody who watches Annapolis has seen in a long time."
While Brown's and O'Malley's bond is strong, others have shared similar relationships, said John T. Willis, a political science professor at the University of Baltimore and former secretary of state under Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D).
He points to the political union between Gov. Harry R. Hughes (D) and Lt. Gov. J. Joseph Curran Jr. (D) in the 1980s.
"They had a close personal relationship and a philosophical relationship predicated on many more years of experience than when O'Malley and Brown started out," Willis said.
Brown has worked on reshaping the lieutenant governor's office, House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Dist. 30) said, playing more of a key role than many of his predecessors.
"He was one of the brightest guys I've come across," Busch said. "Thoughtful in the way he went about problem solving. I knew that if he stayed in the House, I wanted to move him up in leadership."
Brown's preference for picking a few key issues isn't unique to him, though, Willis said.
The notion of assigning subject areas to the second-in-command parallels changes in the vice presidential seat at the federal level, Willis said.
Brown won't say if he is planning a 2014 campaign for the governor's mansion, but does admit he feels his leadership style is best suited for the executive branch.
Brown, originally from Huntington, N.Y., was first elected in 1998 to the House of Delegates, where he served as majority whip.
"When you spend a lot of time preparing to do something, the appeal to [do] that [for] which you're preparing becomes even greater, and I enjoy serving as lieutenant governor," he said.
"I am term limited, I do believe that my public service years are not numbered, and I'll be looking for other ways to continue to serve the people of Maryland, there's no doubt about that."
Willis points out that nationally, fewer than 30 percent of lieutenant governors who run for governor win.
In Maryland, where the contemporary No. 2 position has existed only since 1970, no lieutenant governor has ever won a gubernatorial race.
Initially, a lieutenant governor might be the front-runner, but "he has to build his own independent political base," Willis said.
Brown, who has two children, also served five active-duty years with the U.S. Army and was deployed to Iraq in 2004 while serving in the legislature.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O'Donnell has said that Brown is a good soldier in Maryland government as well, taking his marching orders, but that he could be hurt because he doesn't challenge his superiors.
Even though he's noncommittal on where he will campaign in 2014, Brown said he wants to use the sometimes-nebulous office of lieutenant governor to craft his political persona.
"Whether it's one position over another, as we get closer to 2014, we'll figure out what exactly is the best and highest use of the skills and the ability that I have to serve the people of Maryland," Brown said.
But even with his efforts on the legislative front, it remains to be seen if Brown can transcend the lack of exposure the lieutenant governor tends to receive. That would especially be the case if he is pitted against other, higher-profile Democrats rumored to be gubernatorial candidates, such as Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler or Howard County Executive Kenneth S. Ulman, said Busch, although he did not identify those individuals by name.
"The question is, are those issues big enough catapult him into a role to be the executive of the state of Maryland," Busch said.