I’ve been going to the Maryland Association of Counties Summer Conference off and on since 1975. The MACo (MAY-co) confab has been a fixture on the summer political calendar for over 50 years.
It has been long debated whether having all the local officials from around the state travel to Ocean City in the middle of August — its most crowded time — is worth the time and expense.
I’ve argued both sides of that. Some years ago, I was in a TV segment questioning its value. But overall, I think it’s a good idea for local elected and appointed officials to exchange ideas, get training and to meet up with state leaders, including the governor’s cabinet.
I go pretty cheaply. As working press, I get in for free – not the $350 to $500 that outsiders pay. Registration now comes with a free and pretty substantial continental breakfast. I’ve long stayed at the 1950s-era Maridel Motel right next to the convention center. $220 a night on weekends, compared to $300 to $400 a night in other nearby venues. This year, I even hitched a ride down the ocean and took the packed public bus to a reception that wasn’t within walking distance. The elected and appointed officials do not stay at the 2-star inns, so their overall expenses for three and half days easily amount to $2,000 a head.
This year MACo reported its largest attendance ever, 3,600 people registered. The exhibit hall has been expanded to twice its size – your state tax dollars at work.
What are the advantages of MACo?
You want a word with the governor? Gov. Larry Hogan is all over the place. He hosted a reception for 1,000 people at Seacrets club Wednesday night. He worked the boardwalk, he spoke to a packed hall Thursday morning, he spent Friday morning at the exhibit center and Friday evening at the crab feast.
Everywhere, he posed for pictures with anyone and everyone. Check out the event photos on his official website. Hundreds, no thousands of photos, with big shots and complete strangers, white, black, brown, old and young.
He loves it. I mentioned to him at the crab feast that he’s been remarkably lucky that none of these thousands of photos have backfired politically. No scandalous shots with child pornographers, swindlers, crackpots and crazies. Or at least none that were much noticed. He shrugged it off, pointing out that if you get your picture with anyone and everyone, it doesn’t much matter.
Finally, on that last night at the crab feast, when I saw Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford standing together greeting people and posing, I asked for my own photo for their final 150 days in office. The governor, who often reminds me of my early stories about his Change Maryland organization 10 years ago, recalled that I had done the first story that mentioned the possibility that Rutherford would be his LG. He and Rutherford were cabinet secretaries in the Ehrlich administration.
Hogan said they hadn’t thought about it – I’m not sure I believe that — and then they did. Even though Rutherford initially told me he wasn’t interested in the job, he became one of the most engaged and powerful lieutenant governors.
Then you got your potential next governor – Democratic nominee Wes Moore. He spent two whole days at MACo, going to multiple receptions, having his own very crowded fundraiser, then working the exhibit hall where he ran into Hogan in a friendly exchange. He was also all over the crab feast, but not the next day’s sparsely attended candidate’s forum.
Hogan has continued to trash the Republican nominee for governor, Del. Dan Cox, who beat Hogan’s chosen successor, former Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz. Schulz was briefly present in O.C., attending the annual come-one-come-all-it’s-free party at Ropewalk hosted by Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, who has a free ride to re-election this year.
Schulz got a lot of commiseration and sympathy but seemed to be in good spirits a month after weathering the loss.
I had never seen Cox in person, and he did show up for the candidates forum that closed the MACo conference Saturday.
Despite all of Hogan’s trash talk, including questioning whether Cox’s was “mentally stable,” Cox came off his 10 minutes on stage sounding no way as crazy as his opponents claim. But he is definitely of the libertarian bent.
The attorney general nominee on the Republican ticket, Michael Anthony Peroutka, also sounds completely reasonable even while his positions may be far from the mainstream.
He held up pocket-copies of the U.S. and Maryland constitutions, making clear that he believes Hogan’s lockdowns, mask mandates and vaccination requirements clearly violated the state constitution. Cox sued Hogan over them in 2020 but lost in federal court.
For many Dems and some Republicans, Moore is Hogan’s presumptive successor. The Moore folks want to tamp down such talk and the complacency it breeds, while beefing up turnout, in places like Prince George’s County. Among 10 candidates, Moore got 47% of the vote in the majority Black county where primaries are the deciding vote.
But at an event like MACo where all the state cabinet secretaries are required to be on hand and every department has a booth in the exhibit hall, there was also talk of a Moore cabinet. How about Senate Budget and Tax Chair Guy Guzzone, D-Howard, for budget secretary? suggested one rumor. Or Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Chair Paul Pinsky for environment secretary? said another.
After eight years of Republican rule, Dems are licking their chops to take over but there will be lots of competition for the top jobs in the presumptive Moore administration. But first Wes Moore has to win in November, which is why he spent two days glad-handing local leaders working the crowds at MACo.