Doug Gansler: The goldilocks candidate for Maryland governor?

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

Editor’s note: Maryland Matters reporters sat down with some of the candidates for governor at the recent Maryland Association of Counties conference. Interviews with these candidates have appeared over the previous few days. And we will bring you interviews with other gubernatorial contenders as the campaign unfolds. 

Former Maryland attorney general Douglas F. Gansler (D) is no stranger to crisis.

He was Montgomery County state’s attorney during the “Beltway sniper” crisis of 2002. He was attorney general during the Great Recession, which had a powerful impact on on the institutions he regulated and the mission of his office to help struggling Marylanders remain financially solvent. And his 2014 campaign for governor faced multiple crises — some of his own making.

As Gansler sees it, “there are three profound crisis situations that are affecting Maryland right now — COVID, climate and criminal justice.” With his 23 years as a prosecutor and 16 years as an elected official, Gansler, 58, believes he has the right level of experience and perspective to confront the major challenges facing state government today.

“I’m the only [candidate] with experience in government, with the practical experience of tackling problems like these,” he said during an interview last week in Ocean City, where he was attending the Maryland Association of Counties summer conference.

He doesn’t use the phrase, but in Gansler’s view, there’s a Goldilocks aspect to his candidacy — and he has a level of experience that’s just right. Several candidates in the Democratic primary have never run for office before. Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) has been in office for 35 straight years.

“There’s another candidate that’s been the tax collector,” Gansler says of Franchot. “But I’m the only candidate with practical, progressive governing experience.”

Gansler is also dismissive of his novice opponents, who, he says, “don’t know the difference between an indictment and a conviction.”

With experience comes a fluency with the issues, Gansler believes, and, given his eight years as attorney general, the state government’s lawyer, a rare familiarity “with all 56 units of the executive branch.” Gansler also has supporters sprinkled across the state and does not need to build name recognition the way some of the candidates do.

On climate, Gansler boasts that during his eight years on the job, he became known as “the environmental attorney general…the environmental attorney general of the United States.”

He created the Environmental Council for the National Association of Attorneys General, and as an attorney in the private sector, he has advised cities and states to sue fossil fuel companies for their role in creating global warming.

Gansler vows to see the offshore wind energy projects to their completion, and says “the arguments against them are ludicrous.” He compares opponents of offshore wind — who are almost exclusively based in Ocean City — to people who opposed the emergence of automobiles during the horse-and-buggy era.

Gansler wants to widely expand electric vehicle charging stations — the Maryland Energy Administration on Thursday announced a $3.7 million expansion of EV charging stations — and calls their placement “an environmental justice issue,” because they need to be evenly distributed throughout the state.

Gansler is promoting mass transit on the campaign trail — including reviving the proposal to run light rail along Interstate 270 in Montgomery and Frederick counties, building a transit line from the Branch Avenue Metro station in Prince George’s County to Southern Maryland, and exploring a “Red Line concept” in Baltimore. Gansler hesitates to discuss the Hogan administration’s proposal to widen I-270 and the Capital Beltway because he represents a consortium that may sue the state after losing a bid for the highway expansion project.

Gansler has also spoken out against a controversial major development proposal in Trappe, a small Eastern Shore town. And speaking of Eastern Shore environmental challenges, Gansler wants to explore the possibility of converting chicken waste to energy.

“We have in 2021 the technology available to create a non-fossil fuel carbon-neutral source of power,” he said.

On criminal justice issues, Gansler notes his long history as a reformer, including heading the Montgomery County NAACP’s criminal justice subcommittee and serving on the board of the NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice. Gansler says he was the first state’s attorney in Maryland to put every police shooting in front of a grand jury, created the first domestic violence docket in the state’s history, and established the first drug court in Montgomery.

But he also acknowledges that at a basic level, people just want to feel safe. And he argues that government policy must continue to prioritize public safety. That’s especially critical in Baltimore City, he said, where the community’s sense of safety will lead to economic growth, which will lead to wider and more equitable prosperity.

Gansler said he is looking forward to working with local stakeholders in Baltimore and bringing in state and national experts to discuss the city’s challenges on transportation, affordable housing and more.

“The one answer we don’t want to hear is, ‘that’s how it’s always been done,’” he said. “Everything is on the table.”

Gansler’s defeat in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary still stings. Gansler believes that unlike then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, the Democratic nominee, he would have beaten Republican Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. that fall.

Gansler says he hears regularly from Democrats who tell him he has the best chance of prevailing in the general election next year. And that’s also part of his pitch to Democratic primary voters, after two unexpected terms of Republican rule.

“We need a Democrat who’s not only going to win the primary but win the general,” he said.

Click here to read our interview this week with Republican Kelly Schulz. Click here to read our interview this week with Democrat John King. And click here to read our interview with Democrat Wes Moore.

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