When I’m interviewing a politician, sometimes I learn more about them when we’re not talking about policy or politics.
One of my favorite questions to ask politicians — or really anyone — is about their hobbies and their passions. When the leading candidates for governor sat down with me for interviews this spring, I asked them what makes them tick when they’re not working. I only had one rule: You can’t say family or faith. Those are too common, and besides, most people love their family if they’re lucky.
Here’s what some of them had to say.
Peter Franchot: ‘Walk more, eat less’
Peter Franchot insisted on talking about family and grandchildren, despite my rule.
“I am looking forward to, at some point in my life, reinventing myself as a grandfather,” he said. He also was sure to note that he’s been married for 42 years.
I pressed for more and the Democratic state comptroller offered this: He walks. He walks a lot.
Every morning, rain or shine, Franchot said, he likes to walk in his Takoma Park neighborhood. He listens to music, greets neighbors walking their dogs and communes with nature a bit. The long morning walks, he says, contribute to his average of 16,000 steps a day.
“I have a mantra, which is ‘Walk more, eat less.’ And I don’t drink alcohol anymore even though I was the chief alcohol regulator. And I think I feel better, and will — knock on wood — live longer,” he said.
John King: Volunteering for good causes
John King was stumped — legitimately stumped — when I asked about his hobbies.
“Wow,” he said, pausing to think. “But you can’t say family? That’s so hard.”
King, a Democrat and former U.S. secretary of education, talked about organizations where he volunteers on the board of directors, including the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He said his wife teases him for being on so many boards.
“I’m kind of a policy nerd,” King confessed, which I knew already. A prime example: For Halloween last year, King and his family dressed up as policy proposals. King hung a three-month calendar around his neck and marked off dates to show parental leave. To underscore the point, he carried a baby doll in his arm.
Doug Gansler: A love for lacrosse — and books
Anyone who meets Doug Gansler will find out quickly what his passion is: lacrosse.
The Democratic former attorney general of Maryland played lacrosse as an undergraduate at Yale University, is deeply involved in a Baltimore City youth lacrosse league (though he lives in Montgomery County) and continues to play in an adult league. Gansler wants to parlay his love for lacrosse into a win for the state by lobbying the NCAA to make Baltimore the permanent home of the women’s and men’s final four championships each year.
“I want to make it more like a festival weekend of lacrosse,” Gansler said.
Besides lacrosse, Gansler is an avid reader and has been in the same book club since 1989. Ever the lawyer, he keeps the book club’s strict rules, including starting on time and staying on topic. “I won’t let side conversations happen,” Gansler said.
Kelly Schulz: Grandchild and gardening
Kelly Schulz, the Republican former secretary of commerce, tried to break my no-family rule, too, and spoke glowingly of her infant grandson, whom she’s lucky enough to see frequently because he lives nearby. “He is really what keeps me going. Honestly. I mean, that’s not even like political bullshit.”
Adorable grandson aside, Schulz also finds relaxation in the garden. “I love to dig in the dirt,” she said.
She experiments with different plants and flowers and even likes pulling weeds.
“I don’t like to wear gloves, I just like to touch the dirt with my hands,” she said. “It’s something that is very centering and you can just focus on that one thing.”
Wes Moore: Drawn to nature
Wes Moore, a Democrat and former nonprofit executive, likes to escape into nature, preferably out on the water, for relaxation.
“I love hiking, love fishing, love being on the water. Which is very odd because, you know I grew up as a city kid. My wife finds it fascinating that I love the outdoors as much as I do,” Moore said.
Moore spent most of his childhood in the Bronx and thinks his time at a military boarding school and later serving in the Army helped hook him on the great outdoors.
“If I could, I would spend just as much time as possible just sitting there on the water. … It’s my peace in every single way and every single definition. Paddling, kayaking, swimming. I just want to be out there,” he said.
Tom Perez: Baseball and coaching
Tom Perez, a Democrat and former U.S. secretary of labor, said he used to run marathons, but two knee replacements put an end to that and he switched to bicycling.
He also loved to coach basketball and baseball when his kids (now grown) were little.
“One of my main memories of my dad — and I don’t have a lot of them — but he would come to my baseball games,” Perez said. “So I figured if I dropped dead tomorrow at least these kids will remember that I coached them.” (Perez was 12 when his father died from a heart attack.)
As a baseball fan, he claims allegiance to the Boston Red Sox on account of having attended college at Brown University and law school at Harvard University.
Clearly mindful that he was sitting in downtown Baltimore while discussing baseball, he offered this to those who wear the orange and black: “The thing that I have 100% in common with Baltimore Orioles fans — and I used to be an Orioles season ticket holder with some friends — is that we have a universal dislike, hatred, I will use the word, for the New York Yankees.”