By Julie Baughman, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS – Comptroller Peter Franchot prides himself in being what he calls, "a fiscally responsible, progressive Democrat." This trait will give him an edge if he decides to enter the 2014 gubernatorial race, he says.
"I believe that I have a different approach to (the governor's) responsibilities because I've been comptroller for six years and seen, on a daily basis, the economic data," Franchot said.
The comptroller serves on the Board of Public Works, the Board of Revenue Estimates, and the Board of Trustees of the State Retirement and Pension System, collecting state taxes each year. He also monitors the Register of Wills offices.
In addition to aspiring to be a breath of fiscal fresh air, Franchot makes a point to, "get out of the bubble in Annapolis," more than the other potential Democratic candidates, he said.
The Economic Truth Tour is Franchot's most recent venture outside the capital. He is visiting private-sector businesses across the state and taking the temperature of some less publicized economic contributors.
"It's the No. 1 impediment from Maryland getting back to the prosperity that it used to have. We treat the private sector like they're the enemy," Franchot said, at a recent stop on the tour in Hurlock.
"The prosperity that we're accustomed to in Maryland is not being achieved right now," Franchot said.
The tour began on Sept. 11 in Montgomery County at the Manna Food Center and continued later that month at the B&G Foods canning plant in Hurlock. Franchot also visited Channel Marker, an Easton company dedicated to providing prevention and rehabilitation for those with mental health illnesses.
Hurlock Mayor Joyce Spratt was present at the B&G Foods tour stop for the comptroller's visit. She had nothing but praise for Franchot and is in full support of his running for governor.
"I'm totally ready to do anything it takes to get him into that governor's chair," Spratt said. "He's the only person in Annapolis that can get us out of this (economic) mess we're in."
Spratt said the thing she appreciates most is the honesty and integrity with which Franchot carries out his business in the state. She said he never fails to make an effort to meet with her when he's in the area in order to discuss any issues her town might be facing.
"He has the best chance of turning the state around," Spratt said.
Franchot said that both parties, "are not really talking about the real economy that I see here in Maryland."
"When the party blows the whistle and calls everybody in to support casino gambling, that's not the Maryland I signed up for," Franchot said. "I'm more than happy to put my hand up and say, this casino idea, much as it's supported by the Democratic leadership, is a real negative for the state of Maryland."
"And people like it," Franchot added.
Franchot's is one of four names being thrown around the Democratic Party as potential gubernatorial candidates. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman have also been mentioned.
In an August press release, Gov. Martin O'Malley tacitly endorsed Brown.
"…I urge Anthony to continue his public service and pursue the greatest level of public responsibility," O'Malley said, in the statement. "More than any other public official, Anthony Brown has my complete trust in his ability to serve the best interests of Maryland."
Though he has made no serious commitment to the 2014 race, Franchot says he is feeling the pressure from his colleagues and friends.
"I show up at work every day with a smile on my face. I really like my job, however, the economy is in such trouble that a lot of Marylanders have pulled at my sleeve and said 'Would you please run for governor because we think you can bring us back to the center, to the middle, on fiscal policy, put all the social policies aside for a moment, and just look at the fiscal issues,'" Franchot said.
"So I'll take a look at that. I'll make a decision at the end of the year," he said.
Franchot began his political career working for Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey from 1980-1986, then spent 20 years serving in the House of Delegates on the Appropriations Committee before becoming comptroller in 2006.
A 64-year-old resident of Montgomery County, Franchot is well known throughout the political world for his less than conventional views on many hot-button issues.
"The main contribution I would bring is my independence," Franchot said. "I don't know why I'm independent, but I'm independently elected … (it) gives me the power to stick up for my taxpayers and I really appreciate them and I look to them to continue that."
Blair Lee, political columnist for The Gazette newspapers, thinks that the fiscal independence displayed by Franchot has the possibility of hindering his ability to win.
"Peter Franchot has decided to carve out a niche as being the moderate, pro-business, anti-gambling, sort of independent comptroller," Lee said.
The independent mindset Lee describes is clear in Franchot's actions as well as his politics. Unlike most of his peers, he rarely wears a tie and he is one of few Democrats in the state who actively reach out to the Republican corners of predominantly Democratic Maryland.
He was even spotted wearing sunglasses during a recent Board of Public Works meeting - not because he was bored, but because he had laser eye surgery the previous day.
"He's a bit of a maverick in the Democratic Party," Lee said. If Franchot runs under his current independent and progressive persona, "I think that will elect Anthony Brown," Lee said.
"I'd be betting at that point on Brown because of the makeup of the Democratic primary vote," Lee said.
In Maryland, a large percentage of the Democratic electorate is African-American. Because Gansler and Franchot are both white potential candidates from Montgomery County, Brown would have an edge as not only the single African-American candidate, but also the only candidate from Prince George's County.
Dallas Pope, the Republican sheriff of Talbot County, who was present at the Channel Marker truth tour stop, said he has known Franchot for many years on a personal and professional level and applauds the work he's done.
"He has been very attentive and very responsive to public safety needs," Pope said. "He has followed through."
Pope was unsure how Franchot would do if he entered the gubernatorial race, but he stressed that he continues to have a relationship with him.
"Whether he'll be comptroller in two years or not, that's his decision," Pope said. "Our partnerships are bipartisan."
Franchot is still unsure whether he will be a contender in 2014, but if isn't, he has a backup plan. He would try and maintain his current title.
"I'll run for comptroller. I love the job," Franchot said.
This is one of five stories that on potential gubernatorial candidates in Maryland.
See past stories in the series:
- Howard County Executive Ulman a Possible Gubernatorial Contender in 2014