It’s easy for journalists to be infatuated with Wes Moore.
The newly minted Maryland governor looks like one of central casting’s better creations. His big, boyish grin masks a ruggedly handsome appearance that Hollywood reserves for superheroes. On the political stump, Moore had a military bearing borne of his time at the Valley Forge Military School and months spent leading troops as an Army captain in Afghanistan.
Moore, a Democrat, took to the capitol steps in Annapolis to give his inaugural address after being introduced by Oprah Winfrey, whose imprimatur is sought by many but received by precious few. Moore gave a high-sounding speech that could have been written by Aaron Sorkin, the creator of The West Wing, a television series about a fictional Democratic president that aired on NBC for seven seasons.
“To Governor [Larry] Hogan,” he said to his Republican predecessor who was seated nearby, “we are grateful and thankful for the kindness that you and your team have shown throughout this entire transition period.” And then, mustering words that an elected official of one party rarely uses these days when talking about an officeholder from another party, he said to Hogan: “Thank you for eight years of great service to a state that we both love.”
It’s talk like that, were he alive today, that might make H.L. Mencken — Baltimore’s 20th-century iconoclastic journalist — take back his criticism that, “A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”
Moore is off to a good start in the increasingly seamy world of American politics. His route to Maryland’s governorship has left him mostly untarnished by the political wars that rage across the nation. This was his first run for elected office. Until now, his resume has been that of a military man, an investment banker and nonprofit CEO.
His come-from-nowhere political rise is the kind of story that journalists love. But it also is one that should make reporters closely watch Moore’s performance in office. A newbie to the world of Maryland politics, his inaugural address was full of big ideas.
“I’m asking you to believe that our policies can be as bold as our aspirations. …. We do not have to choose between a competitive economy and an equitable one. …. We can attract and retain top industries like aerospace, like clean energy, like cybersecurity, and raise the minimum wage to $15 to help folks feed their families. .... Maryland can be the best place for employers and employees,” he said, drawing cheers and applause from his audience.
Let me be clear, I want Moore to succeed. In this nation’s 246-year history, he is just the sixth African American to serve as governor of one of its states. The first was Oscar Dunn of Louisiana, who after becoming the nation’s first Black lieutenant governor in 1868, served 39 days as governor when the incumbent was out of state recovering from a boating accident.
Dunn’s successor as lieutenant governor, P.B.S. Pinchback, also was Black. He became acting governor for 34 days after that same governor was impeached. In 2008, David Paterson, then New York’s lieutenant governor, assumed the state’s governorship when the state’s governor resigned.
Just two Black men were elected governor of a U.S. state before Moore took office. The first was L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia. He was elected to a single four-year term in 1989. Deval Patrick, who was first elected in 2007, served two terms as governor of Massachusetts.
Moore differs from these men in that he spent virtually no time in the political arena before becoming governor — something that may prove to be both a blessing and a curse. The journalists who cover Maryland politics may get a quick indication of this as the state’s 90-day legislative session got underway a week before Moore was sworn in as the state’s 63rd governor.
In doing so, they must remember that even in covering an elected official who is as refreshing as Wes Moore, the role of the journalist is to be a watchdog, not a lapdog.
DeWayne Wickham is the public editor for The Baltimore Banner.