Opinion: Lack of experience will make it difficult for either Cox or Moore to lead as Maryland governor

Published 8/3/2022 6:00 a.m. EDT, Updated 8/8/2022 8:58 a.m. EDT

Dan Cox and Wes Moore.

Maryland voters are looking at a kind of election that we have not seen in well over a hundred years.

With the primary elections over, Democrats have nominated Wes Moore and Republicans have nominated Del. Dan Cox. Both men are unique in that neither has any state public sector executive branch experience.

Wes Moore’s time in the public sector has been limited. Moore served in the 82nd Airborne during the war in Afghanistan, earning the rank of captain. While Moore’s military service is both admirable and honorable, serving as a leader in the military is much different from leading in the executive branch of civilian government, even at lower levels. Military service creates its own esprit de corps, trust in leadership and shared training toward a singular objective. The presence of a chain of command within the military is far different than the limited command and control that a cabinet secretary has over his employees, to say nothing of a governor trying to influence policy and department leaders from the top. He also also was selected to be a White House fellow and served as a special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Dan Cox’s public service has been limited to one term in the House of Delegates and two years as the president of the Secretary Town Commission. None of his service includes any executive-level experience.

Their executive-level service in the private sector leaves much for Maryland voters to desire, too.

For four years, Wes Moore was CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, an anti-poverty nonprofit based in New York City. The Robin Hood Foundation has been criticized for its “ineffectiveness at its stated mission of alleviating poverty in New York City despite massive fundraising successes” as well as a lack of transparency surrounding its grant-making programs. Hardly the kind of leadership success that would bode well for taking control of a large state government apparatus that already struggles with transparency and effectiveness.

Wes Moore, Democratic Gubernatorial candidate, speaks to supporters at R. House on July 19.

Dan Cox’s private sector executive experience is limited to running his sole proprietorship law firm. While Cox has clearly been able to run his firm and feed his family, it is hardly a large-scale executive operation. And the decision-making that Cox has made with some of the cases he takes on and his execution of those cases is alarming. (His 2020 lawsuit against Gov. Larry Hogan, for example, included spelling errors and erroneous citations). The fact that his law firm was reportedly “not in good standing” with the state during his campaign is also troubling.

Neither candidate is helped by his running mate in the area of executive-level experience. Particularly alarming is the experience of Gordana Schifanelli, who had a law firm that was reportedly not in good standing and an investment firm that was noted for “dishonest and unethical practices.”

Maryland voters are being asked to choose between two major party candidates who are underqualified for the job. The most experienced candidate and perhaps the most qualified for executive leadership? Libertarian candidate David Lashar, who served in roles including the Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff of the Maryland Department of Health.

What makes this election historic is that the two major party candidates lack prior public service experience running a large government agency or department. The last time that happened in Maryland was in 1895, when Republican Lloyd Lowndes Jr., a former one-term member of Congress, defeated Democratic businessman John Hurst.

Dan Cox, a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, greets supporters during a primary election night event on July 19, 2022 in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Voters will choose candidates during the primary for governor and seats in the House of Representatives in the upcoming November election.

Since then, Marylanders have elected two governors without significant executive experience — Harry Nice in 1934 and Bob Ehrlich in 2002. The men, both Republican lawyers, came to the governor’s office with limited to non-existent executive level experience. And both served only one term before being defeated for re-election by a Democrat with executive experience.

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The most interesting case of a governor who came to the office without executive level experience was Marvin Mandel. Mandel, the speaker of the House, was elevated to the office of governor in 1969 after Spiro Agnew became U.S. vice president. Mandel ended up being a transformational governor. He recreated the office of lieutenant governor, reorganized and streamlined the executive branch to become more efficient and created the idea of a Maryland trade ambassador to bring jobs and businesses to the state as well.

While Mandel brought scandal and shame upon the state — and actually handed power over to Lt. Gov. Blair Lee for part of his term — Mandel is arguably the most important Maryland governor in the last century.

But why did he succeed where Nice and, arguably, Ehrlich failed? He had served more than fifteen years in the House of Delegates prior to his assumption of the governor’s office, including five as speaker of the House. Mandel was already well attuned to the nature of state government.

Dan Cox’s years of ineffective service in the House of Delegates and Wes Moore’s lack of public sector experience cannot compare.

This election will be a historic election. But the one most likely to affect voters in the long run will be the low levels of experience the next governor brings to the office. That will make it difficult for either candidate to lead.

Correction: This story originally stated that Moore’s public service was limited to the military. It has been updated to reflect that he served as a White House fellow for a year, working as a special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

Brian Griffiths is a conservative activist and former Republican. He is the publisher of The Duckpin and a regular contributor to The Banner. Brian can be reached at brian.griffiths.media@gmail.com or on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok.

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