For the past three years, Maryland has experienced an unprecedented crime wave of political corruption. The only comparable period in memory would be the 1970s, when a governor was jailed and a sitting U.S. vice president (who had served as governor and
The sequence of scandals is subtly and slowly undermining trust in government as well as putting a sordid label on modern Maryland politics. The scandals also raise the question about how much corruption is below the surface and how deeply established it is in Maryland government. If the people at the top are cheating, what passes for acceptable practices among the rank and file? The scandals come at a particularly inopportune time for Maryland politicians, forming a backdrop of hostile public reaction to
The first to fall was former Baltimore
One of Baltimore's most principled business leaders in recent times had a saying that he used to keep his troops in line: "Don't let me see you with chalk on your shoes." This CEO ran a stock brokerage, and as we know, the finance industry is prone to abuse and cheating. He had to be zealous in protecting his firm's good name. "Chalk on the shoes" meant "do not even get close to the out-of-bounds line." Stay well within the playing field, where it is clear to everyone that you can be trusted and where you can never be accused of violating the rules.
The question about Maryland politics is not how many politicians are technically guilty of headline-grabbing crimes but how many Maryland politicians have chalk on their shoes. Where does the corruption, nepotism and cheating at the edges begin and end?
There is a moral and ethical leadership vacuum in Maryland, starting at the highest levels. In 2002, state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Millerbegan the modern era of slots gambling by taking from the president of the Maryland
In 2006, Gov. Martin O'Malleyspent heavily and went into debt to defeat a Republican incumbent. In the months following the new governor's win, Maryland businessman and developer William Rickman coordinated contributions from his numerous business holdings to help the governor retire campaign debt. Less than three years later, after the governor had robocalled Marylanders urging them to vote for the slots referendum, Mr. Rickman received the first slots license granted in Maryland. Some people are just born lucky. In the election cycle of 2010, Mr. Rickman's network, utilizing more than 15 separate names, again combined to become the governor's largest single contributor. After Mr. O'Malley became head of the
The Maryland "one-party" state is a singularly anachronistic and self-destructive form of government that serves well the expensive, short-term needs of those who fund political campaigns. Lately, the Maryland system has produced more political felons than it has inspiring leaders. The problem of righting the Maryland ship is a complex one. There are many needed fixes, including lobbying reform, campaign contribution reform, the breaking of the "money for political favors" links between Annapolis and interest groups (such as state employees, trade unions and teachers), and more. In this creaking system, real political power is concentrated in the hands of a few, and their livelihoods and their longevity in office depend upon these unholy alliances. In the face of widespread corruption and convictions, there has been no outcry for reform from senior politicians, and there will be no change from within.
We need a new generation of leaders who will remember their oath to serve "without partiality or prejudice" and who will lead by principled, personal example. We need women and men who know how to stay in the middle of the field and keep the chalk off their shoes. Politicians fear a determined electorate even more than they worship contributions and power. Whether Marylanders will ever rise from their slumber and demand more from their government remains to be seen.