Came by to explain why he should be re-elected...


August 11, 1994|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

JOE CURRAN came by to explain why he should be re-elected attorney general. This time last year he was running for governor.

Boy, did he pick a bad stepping stone. Every man elected attorney general in the last 30-plus years has run for governor, and every one has failed miserably.

In 1966, Attorney General Thomas Finan was regarded by many as the favorite in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. But he came in a poor third behind the winner, George Mahoney, and U.S. Representative Carlton Sickles. Mahoney ran as an anti-open housing candidate and lost to the "liberal" Republican candidate, Spiro T. Agnew.

Finan's elected successor was Francis Burch. In 1978, after three terms as A.G., Burch formally entered the race for governor. He had been running and fund-raising for a year.

But he withdrew only a month after his formal entry as a candidate in the Democratic primary. He decided he was too much of a long shot. (Actually, that was the year for long shots. Harry Hughes surprised everybody by winning the nomination and then the election.)

Burch's successor was Stephen Sachs. In 1986, after two terms in the A.G.'s office, he ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against Mayor William Donald Schaefer. The mayor won with about 64 percent of the vote.

Now Curran. So the record is two badly defeated A.G.s and two who couldn't even enter the race.

Actually, it's no disgrace for an attorney general never to become governor of Maryland. In 226 years, only three have. (But William Pinkney Whyte was governor in 1872-1874, then became attorney general in 1887. Stepping stones lead down as well as up.) (The most famous and successful Maryland attorney general was Roger B. Taney, who stepped up to be U.S. attorney general, then up to be secretary of the Treasury, then up to the chief justiceship of the U.S.)

The three Maryland A.G.s who became governor served close together, giving the impression that a new pattern was emerging. They were:

Albert Ritchie, who was attorney general 1915-1918, then governor 1920-1935. Herbert O'Conor, A.G., 1934-1938; governor, 1939-1947. William Preston Lane, A.G., 1930-1934, governor, 1947-1951.

Now it's been 43 years since an ex-attorney general was governor. It's not just in Maryland. Only two present governors were elected after having been attorney general of their state. I asked Curran, "Why have attorneys general had such a poor record in rising higher and higher?" He said probably because to be a good A.G. you have to do what is right sometimes.

Right! Probably explains why no state attorney general ever was elected president, either. Till 1992.

Of course, Bill Clinton was only A.G. for two years, and, besides, in Arkansas they have a little different concept of doing right.

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