Flaw in Picking No. 2

July 24, 1994

When voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1972 resurrecting the office of lieutenant governor, they didn't realize it contained a serious flaw. Now that flaw is glaringly obvious. And it needs fixing.

The selection process is all wrong. Candidates for governor are forced to select running mates so early in the campaign that the best politicians usually reject these partnership offers. So the gubernatorial hopefuls turn to their second-best lists of retiring lawmakers, lesser-known local officials and hardly-known non-office holders.

Look at this year's group of No. 2s: Of the seven top candidates for governor, only one found a running mate who didn't fit on a runner-up list (Helen Bentley's choice of state Sen. Howard Denis). The rest settled for retiring office holders -- state Sen. James Simpson (on Mickey Steinberg's ticket), state Sen. Bernie Fowler (on American Joe Miedusiewski's ticket) and Carroll County Commissioner Julia Gouge (William S. Shepard's running mate) -- or non-elected officials -- ex-police chief Paul Rappaport (Ellen Sauerbrey's partner), Justice Department official Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (Parris Glendening's teammate) and lawyer Barbara Kreamer (Mary Boerger's running mate), a former delegate.

It's been tough finding a first-rate lieutenant governor in prior BTC elections, too. Mr. Shepard couldn't persuade anyone to run with him in 1990, so he asked his wife, Lois, to join his ticket. And in 1978, Harry Hughes was desperate for a partner at the filing deadline. He chose an obscure Prince George's politician, Sam Bogley, who proved an embarrassment for the governor during Mr. Bogley's four years in office.

There's got to be a better way of picking a No. 2. And there is. Just follow the pattern set in presidential elections. The political parties nominate a candidate for president -- and only then does a running mate enter the picture. After the party picks a No. 1, the presidential candidate announces his choice of a running mate, who is confirmed by the convention.

It's a system that works. No desperation selections. No lack of desire to take the job by the party's best candidates.

Why not adopt the same sort of system for Maryland? Let voters pick gubernatorial nominees in the Democratic and Republican primaries -- and then let the nominees name their own running mates. It would vastly simplify the current process and avoid the kinds of second-best choices for lieutenant governor so prevalent this year.

The candidates for governor ought to give serious consideration to proposing such a plan come January. It makes so much sense. And it would give Marylanders first-rate candidates for lieutenant governor rather than the undistinguished list confronting voters this year.

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