In Md. history, GOP governors rarely come along Theodore R. McKeldin was the only Maryland GOP governor to be re-elected.

October 30, 1998|By William J. Thompson

ELLEN R. Sauerbrey is elected governor of Maryland on Tuesday, she will become only the sixth Republican chief executive in state history and the first since Spiro T. Agnew was elected in 1966. Indeed, electing a GOP governor is a rare occurrence in Maryland.

After the Civil War, the Democratic Party, under the Gorman-Rasin machine, controlled Maryland politics for 30 years. 1895, "good-government" Republicans and independent Democrats ended machine dominance by electing Lloyd Lowndes as Maryland's first Republican governor, along with GOP control of the General Assembly.

Lowndes' administration oversaw passage of a Baltimore City charter bill and an "immigration law," designed to encourage people to move into sparsely settled areas of the state. Although The Sun praised the Lowndes' administration as "one of the best and most successful in the history of the state," he served only one term. Republican factionalism and scandal led to Lowndes' defeat in 1899 by Democrat John Walter Smith.

For the first decade of this century, Democrats controlled the governorship and legislature. In 1911, Phillips Lee Goldsborough, former state comptroller and longtime Maryland GOP leader, was elected governor over Arthur Pue Gorman Jr., son of the post-Civil War political boss, attributable to a bitter Democratic primary -- not the last time that intraparty conflict would help to elect a Republican.

Among the highlights of Goldsborough's term: Despite a Democratic-controlled General Assembly, a comprehensive education law was passed, establishing mandatory school attendance, uniform school terms, teacher certification and gubernatorial power to appoint boards of education. Although Goldsborough's administration was judged later as conservative and on the whole beneficial, he declined to run for re-election in 1915 (he later served a term in the U.S. Senate from 1929 to 1935).

In 1919, Democrat Albert C. Ritchie won the first of an unprecedented four gubernatorial terms, defeating Republican Harry W. Nice by 165 votes -- the closest governor's race in Maryland history.

GOP New Dealer

Fifteen years later, in 1934, Nice again sought the governorship against Ritchie, who was seeking a fifth term. Adopting the campaign slogan "Right the Wrong of 1919," and running as a moderate New Dealer against one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's most persistent Democratic critics, Nice defeated Ritchie by 6,169 votes.

From the start, Nice's administration contended with economic problems, with an aggressive Democratic legislature that watered down relief legislation and criticized his excessive use of state funds to refurbish the executive mansion. Nice would be placed in nomination for vice president at the 1936 Republican National Convention, the first GOP governor in Maryland accorded that honor.

Although Nice said repeatedly that he would not seek a second term, in early 1938 he ran for re-election, in the process alienating GOP supporters, whom the governor denounced as "ingrates." Despite an 11th-hour promise of up to 10,000 new jobs, a Baltimore Harbor bridge and a highway between Baltimore and Washington, Nice was soundly defeated by Herbert R. O'Conor, the Democratic attorney general.

The Democrats retained control of the governorship from World War II until 1950. That's when Theodore R. McKeldin, the former GOP mayor of Baltimore, defeated incumbent Democrat William Preston Lane Jr. by capitalizing on voter anger over enactment of the sales tax. Ironically, McKeldin raised the sales tax while governor.

Curley Byrd's defeat

In 1954, McKeldin defeated former University of Maryland President H.C. "Curley" Byrd (who won a contentious Democratic primary), in an election with racial overtones, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in public schools.

McKeldin was succeeded by Democrat J. Millard Tawes, the longtime state comptroller. In 1966, Spiro T. Agnew, the Baltimore county executive elected four years earlier against a divided Democratic Party, defeated George P. Mahoney, who won the Democratic gubernatorial primary by running an anti-open housing campaign with the slogan, "Your Home is Your Castle; Protect It."

Agnew's two years as governor saw progressive action on fiscal policy, executive reorganization, environmental pollution and civil rights -- all achieved through a close working relationship with the Democratic legislature.

Agnew's liberal support turned against him by April 1968, after he denounced Baltimore's African-American leadership in the wake of post-Martin Luther King assassination rioting. As a result, Agnew came to the attention of the GOP presidential nominee, Richard M. Nixon, who selected the governor as his vice-presidential running mate and narrowly won the 1968 presidential election.

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