Dutch Ruppersberger, the 21-year congressman and longer local Democratic representative, has announced his intention to retire, and from one conservative politically active citizen, I say, “Well done, Congressman.”
I have been more than an acquaintance to Dutch. I have moderated several of his political debates, written and spoken positively of him in public discourse, taught and served as a colleague of his excellent sister at Towson University, Carol Norton Ruppersberger, and had him introduce in my class in 2018, the then-about-to-be Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.
In The Baltimore Sun’s article reporting his retiring, Dutch calls himself a moderate and describes how he is not one of those who doesn’t get along with Republicans and wants to shut down the government: “That’s not me,” he says plaintively. Dutch is one of those rare people whose self-praise significantly underestimates his excellence.
When he came to my class to introduce Rep. Pelosi, he throughout the pre-event and the event itself worked to make it a smooth speakership, avoiding any self-referential demands or even requests.
A significant moment in evaluating Rep. Ruppersberger: When I hosted one of his debates during a race for Congress, his opponent brought up a disparaging claim that he would not have had the opportunity to challenge in that clash, as her contribution was to be the last one in the debate. This violated the unspoken rule that in a debate the final speaker is not to make new claims with or without new evidence.
I looked over at Dutch and he communicated non-verbally that this was not fair. I signaled to him that I would take care of it, and I stated unambiguously that his Republican opponent had played dirty pool and that this was an abrogation of the understanding of a debate. Dutch privately thanked me and did not demand the floor, as he could have. Parenthetically, this debate was another example of his dedication to political fairness, as he was far ahead of his opponent and didn’t “need” to debate. Take note, debate-averse President Joe Biden and likely challenger, former President Donald Trump.
Almost 20 years ago I moderated a debate between Dutch and my friend Jimmy Mathis. Dutch didn’t need to debate him either, but he did unhesitatingly.
Integrity, the highest value in human affairs, will suffer a blow upon Dutch Ruppersberger’s retirement, but if all politicians can take note of him, we can begin to re-establish that quality critical but largely absent from good democratic leadership today.
I don’t often write highly of politicians’ integrity in Maryland, and this is the third such writing recently, after Robert L. Ehrlich and Ivan Bates.
All good people who want good government will miss Dutch.