By MICHAEL CHARLES
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland – Gov.-elect Wes Moore’s Cabinet choices so far signal that he may deliver on his promise to govern differently than the status quo, but observers say only time will tell if that will last.
“There was a time in Annapolis where people felt like … it was more common for legislators to become Cabinet secretaries, and by extension, for legislators to feel like they ran these agencies and they can have access to whatever information they wanted,” said Michael Ricci, Gov. Larry Hogan’s communications director. “That’s changed and I think Gov-elect Moore will have a similar commitment to trying to bring in outsiders and have more of a holistic perspective. It is a departure from what it was like for a long time.”
Ricci, who held a similar role under former speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul Ryan and John Boehner, said this trend began under Hogan and is being streamlined with Moore taking office. Of Moore’s 22 appointments, only Lt. Gov-elect Aruna Miller, soon-to-be Secretary of State Sen. Susan Lee and chief legislative affairs officer, former Del. Eric Luedtke, have legislative experience. “In Annapolis, a lot of it’s about egos, history and this lobbyist and that lobbyist. For (Moore), he comes in from the outside so he doesn’t have that baggage, he doesn’t have the weight of that,” Ricci said.
Both parties have echoed this sentiment.
“I think that’s why he got elected, people wanted something different. They wanted to change from what we’ve had over the last eight years. He is definitely different from what we’ve had. His perspective is different. His politics is different, and the way that he will govern will definitely be different,” said Del. Tony Bridges, D-Baltimore City. “Now I won’t say it’s too different from what other governors have tried to do, but I think the way that he’s bringing on folks and the names that we’re hearing so far, is a little more different than we’ve seen over the last eight years and certainly over the last two governors.”
Moore will be inaugurated Wednesday, holding the Bible of abolitionist, author and orator Frederick Douglass, who was enslaved in Maryland. Moore is the first black man to win election as governor of Maryland.
As of Tuesday, Moore has filled 20 Cabinet spots, leaving a handful of appointments remaining before Wednesday’s inauguration. The Gov-elect has said he wants to be deliberate with his appointments to build an administration that “looks like the State of Maryland.” So far, his appointments have brought 11 women and 10 people of color to state service.
While Moore’s Cabinet may end up being the most diverse in Maryland’s history, he is also shooting for a balance between individuals from the private sector and those with government experience, said Todd Eberly, associate professor of political science and coordinator of Public Policy Studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
“He’s surrounded himself with people in his Cabinet, in his inner circle, especially, who are very familiar with state politics. When you look into his extended Cabinet, he’s picked people that have experience in government but also experience in the private sector,” said Eberly. “Voters have sort of demonstrated, in recent years especially, that they rather liked the idea of having folks in government that have some experience outside of government so they can figure out a way to connect those two worlds.”
Two examples: Dr. Laura Herrera Scott, new secretary of Health, most recently was the executive vice president of population health at Summit Health. Earlier, she served as deputy secretary of Public Health Services for the Maryland Department of Health. Portia Wu was pulled away from her job as managing director of U.S. Public Policy at Microsoft to be secretary of Labor. Wu also has government experience serving as assistant secretary for Employment and Training at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Wu brings the kind of dual experience that is pivotal for a governor-elect who is well-versed in the private sector but lacks governing experience, said Eberly.
Eberly, a well-respected analyst of Maryland politics, said that based on Moore’s appointments and remarks throughout the transition process, he is setting a different bar for future Maryland executives. His emphasis on private sector experience and new perspectives in government is rhetoric that is often deployed by Republicans. So far, 12 of Moore’s appointments have private sector experience, with eight having worked in both government or a government agency and the private sector.
“We tend to view folks who come into government with private business experience and talking about business as something that has often been used by Republican candidates as a selling point. You don’t see Democrats, as often, making that pitch. Moore did and did it well,” said Eberly. “For instance, Republicans often say that they want people who have work experience, have been out there in the real world, who have business experience, and what they’ve gotten now is someone who fits that bill, but is a Democrat.”
Moore himself is a blend of experiences. He’s a veteran and nonprofit executive, but he lacks legislative experience. He was born in Takoma Park, Maryland. He graduated from Valley Forge Military College in 1998 and from Johns Hopkins University in 2001 before attending the University of Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. He later served as a captain and paratrooper with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, including leading troops into combat in Afghanistan. Moore also launched a business called BridgeEdU, designed to assist underserved college students, before becoming CEO of the anti-poverty Robin Hood Foundation.
Even though Moore’s party controls both the House and the Senate, Republicans are hopeful that, given his background and open mind, he’ll be more willing to cross the aisle and work with the GOP, said Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr., R- Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil, and Caroline.
“It definitely could be a benefit. Many of us would like to see government run more like a business in some aspects. Certainly, we don’t generate profits, but at the same time, private sector businesses are generally based on results, and that type of mentality can fit well into a government,” said Hershey. “Everything that he has alluded to in his pre-session speeches and conversations, he said he wants to be very inclusive of all of us. I will accept that, and at the same time, my response will be, ‘We look forward to working with you on those things.’”
Del. Caylin Young, D-Baltimore City, also said that a true combination of government and private sector experience will be constructive for implementing legislation across Maryland.
“When you have folk making laws that maybe don’t have an understanding of implementation, you run into drafting issues that do not provide for the necessary latitude for things to be implemented appropriately, whether it’s a matter of time and whether it’s a matter of structure,” said Young. “So when you have folks who run organizations, to partner with those policy wonks, who are usually the legislators, that’s when you can get the best product.”
As Inauguration Day approaches, the General Assembly is eager to learn more about Moore’s governing style. While political observers appear optimistic about the new perspective he brings, only time will tell how the 44-year-old will govern.
“ I think it’s an incredibly promising sign, the folks he’s reached out to, the fact that he’s surrounding himself by people with clear expertise,” said Eberly. “But of course, you never know how someone’s going to govern until they’re actually in that position. And that’s going to happen very, very soon.”