Steuart Pittman will straight up tell you. If you’re rich, he wants to raise your taxes.

“I understand not wanting to pay taxes. Most of us feel that way. But most of us don’t have the resources to hire lobbyists or pour large sums of money into political campaigns. The folks who do those things are the ones creating tax cuts for the wealthy and loopholes for their corporations. They change the rules to benefit their interests, and their wealth grows.”

That’s why the Anne Arundel County executive supports the Fair Share for Maryland Act. It would close corporate loopholes, require out-of-state corporations to pay the same taxes as local businesses and ask the top 1% of earners to pay more.

“They are all things that have worked well in other states, and polls show that it’s popular, but corporate lobbyists have rallied against it. It probably won’t pass this year.”

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What’s interesting is that his call for “stepping up” is made in the latest edition of his weekly newsletter to constituents. Over the past almost 14 months, he’s written dozens of essays and emailed them to 50,000 subscribers who signed up to get them.

They serve as a journal of sorts, often based on his calendar entries for any one week and exploring his priorities as the person elected to lead a county of about 590,000 people.

“It’s the direct, raw, and sometimes unconventional story the way I want to tell it,” he wrote in the first essay on Jan. 24, 2023. “It’s my take on what matters each and every week from the fourth floor of the Arundel Center.”

If it were just that, I don’t think I’d share what he’s written with you. Lots of elected officials send out constituent emails, most of it clumsy propaganda — usually benign, sometimes manipulative but rarely illuminating.

In reading these glimpses into Pittman’s mind, though, I’ve gotten to know him a few hundred words at a time. Somewhere along the way, the essays evolved from an official message from the Office of the County Executive to a letter from a friend.

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“I feel like people understand, at least, where I’m coming from on issues better if they understand me,” Pittman said in an interview Monday. “And, I also know that in order to keep people reading, I have to entertain them a little bit.”

He’s not the first public figure to strive for connection through rhetoric in service of a political agenda — or the only one trying today. From President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats in the 1930s and 1940s to Gov. Wes Moore’s disarming anecdotes in Maryland to the winking “outtake” at the end of President Joe Biden’s first campaign video — it can be very effective.

Pittman has written about taking a vacation with his wife and young sons, the death of a fellow horseman who had become a political adviser and finding the travel journal he kept on a trip after high school.

“I decided to go check out the world to prove to myself I could deal with it, so I hitch-hiked from Maryland to Los Angeles and up the west coast to Humboldt County, California where I got work on a dairy farm to pay for a Greyhound ticket to get me home just in time to enroll at University of Chicago,” he wrote “I’ll save those stories for the tell-all book when I’m no longer in office, but reading about it sure did remind me what it was like to be eighteen. That was a trip.”

In one, he admitted how angry he felt after being booed for supporting construction of an environmental center at Quiet Waters Park.

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“I was slipping. I could feel myself drifting off the path that had served me so well. I was seeing the conservation center opponents who had booed me off the stage at their meeting as the bad guys, the ‘I got mine and don’t want to share’ group, rather than as individual people who were acting on the information in front of them with goals not that different from mine.”

In others, he shares worries that sometimes mirror my own.

“There are ups and there are downs, and there is the occasional moment when the national or global news leaves me wondering if our local progress matters.

“But I always conclude that it does, just as the good work of every single human being on the planet does. Progress, compassion, and goodwill are contagious. They get noticed. They get replicated. So we do our best in the arena we’re placed in, and it raises the bar for humanity.”

Elected in his first bid for public office in 2018, Pittman has made the newsletters a diary of governing, filled with his views on fights over planned parks or discord on the County Council. Some topics, particularly restoring trust in government, come up again and again.

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“I do that partly because I fear that people are losing sight of that. And that’s one of our biggest challenges as a society,” he said.

He also writes on topics guaranteed to upset, such as the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. He visited a local synagogue and a mosque after it started in October and didn’t know how to bring people together.

“What I do know is that the synagogue on Sunday and the mosque today was where I belonged, and that every one of us finds opportunities from time to time to step outside our comfort zone and support someone who is experiencing trauma, loss, or the loneliness of exclusion.”

The Democrat wrote about how fear of offending traditionalists caused him to miss the first Annapolis Pride parade in 2019 and how his evolving understanding of the LGBTQ community convinced him to take part in 2022 and 2023.

He explored the roots of his family wealth in the labor of enslaved people and why he decided to talk publicly about it.

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“I did that because I’ve learned that both Black and white Americans are yearning to heal from the scars left by slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and voter suppression, and that sunshine heals.”

No matter how compelling I find them, of course, these essays are a channel for political communication without any real scrutiny. If you oppose Pittman’s views on government, you can’t use the same conduit to challenge what he writes.

The weekly newsletters were dreamed up by his communications director, whose job is to advance administration priorities. Pittman writes what he wants — a task he said he loves — to a self-selecting audience curated for him at taxpayer expense.

“I feel I can go deeper on something in writing if I can hold people’s attention and get them to read it,” he said.

Charm, it turns out, can be a very effective communications strategy.

The open rate, a measure of how many subscribers check out his emails, averages a very strong 46%-49%. Most responses are positive, his spokesperson said.

“Awesome letter,” one reader wrote about his Quiet Waters essay in an email released by his office. “This shows you are a human being with emotions and feelings and not just a political robot.”

Interest holds true even when he writes about divisive topics, such as curbing gun violence immediately after the June 2023 shooting in Annapolis that killed three people and wounded three others.

“Failure by lawmakers to regulate firearms — as they do cars, drugs, and just about everything else that has proven to be a threat to public health — is a failure of leadership and an act of cowardice, regardless of party affiliation.”

That essay generated 78 responses, more than any other, and included some strident criticism.

“Just an orange crate for you and others to preach and pander for votes,” one reader emailed. “This is your last term, keep being the ‘yes’ man for your superiors that think the way you do and maybe you will have a job when you leave the county.”

That’s OK with Pittman. Writers always appreciate hearing from readers.

“I really like talking to people and hearing from people who disagree with me,” he said. “It’s more interesting in some ways than people who agree.”

Rick Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. He writes about what's happening today, how we got here and where we're going next. The former editor of Capital Gazette, he led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the 2018 mass shooting in its newsroom.

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