In 2014, Democrats in Maryland had been used to being in control of state politics. Having experienced eight solid years of an outgoing democratic governor, and the past forty plus years with only four years of republican control in the Governor’s Mansion; the true blue state of democratic politicians hadn’t a worry in the world politically, especially given that their party controlled a super-majority of both chambers in the Maryland General Assembly.
But they got their world turned upside down with the election of Larry Hogan for Governor in 2014. A fiscally conservative republican who ran on one issue, and one issue alone – democrats tax citizens way too much. Running commercial after commercial of the forty plus taxes levied by the democratic administration of Governor Martin O’Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, Hogan easily defeated the man who sought to become Maryland’s first African American statewide elected official.
Instead, not only did democrats incur a Hogan administration that would stay in place for the next eight years, but they also had to endure a Republican President in 2016 that made George W. Bush look like a welcoming relief. To answer those woes, democrats from across the state sought to elect a progressive leader who they felt would usher in a new generation of democratic leaders. She was the wife of one of the most outspoken congressmen to represent the great state, and someone the left-wing of the party felt secure in getting behind.
However, not even a year after being elected to the post as chairwoman of the MD Democratic Party, Maya Rockeymoore-Cummings – whose husband Congressman Elijah Cummings had just passed – chose to resign the role as their party leader to try and replace her husband in Congress. So the party leaders had to go back to the drawing board and find someone who could stick around long enough to not only win back the White House in 2020, but someone willing to work hard through 2022 to help the party take back the governor’s mansion.
And that person was someone that the party had come to rely on in years past, Yvette Lewis. The Prince George’s County native, who served as the party chair for the final four years of the O’Malley administration, was chosen once again this past weekend to lead her party into the future. However, unlike before when she served with a democratic governor and popular democrat in the White House; Lewis now must serve as the party’s leader for at least the next two years, as the GOP reigns supreme here in Maryland.
And while it was under Lewis’ reign as party leader when the GOP took back control of the governor’s mansion in November of 2014, her departure from the party leadership didn’t come until March of 2015, when she voluntarily decided to step down to spend more time with her family. And while it didn’t appear as if party bosses pushed her out, it certainly appears as if they were the ones who convinced her to come back as party leader after the departure of Rockeymoore-Cummings. A prolific fundraiser and someone who captured the hearts and minds of party loyalists from across the state, Lewis appears to have the full backing of the party’s more moderate establishment leaders.
And while the progressive wing of the party may be disappointed in the departure of Rockeymoore-Cummings, who they helped shepherd in by defeating Kathleen Matthews – the incumbent party leader who was backed by the party bosses; they seem content with Lewis being the new party leader, especially knowing that they have one of their own as her right-hand man, the party’s first vice-chairman, Senator Cory McCray.
With both wings of the party satisfied, this dynamic duo can truly make inroads into tackling some of the larger deficiencies that the democratic party has been facing over the past few years. And that seems to have already began during the short 26-day reign McCray had as interim party boss, when he noticed out-of-control spending initiated by the Rockeymoore-Cummings administration. McCray took action and began reining in spending by firing some of the high-priced consultants being paid to do services for the party that weren’t necessary – especially for the price they were charging.
“People may question my decision, but as a longtime small business owner and someone who sits on the Senate’s Finance Committee, my first priority is always towards being a good fiscal steward of people’s money, and I couldn’t sit back idly and do nothing when I realized that the party was spending more than we were bringing in,” McCray said at the time, after releasing a detailed report to members of the state central committee.
As it relates to Lewis, McCray says that her track record speaks for itself – as it relates to raising money on behalf of the party. “Say what you want, but it all comes down to money at election time, and being able to raise the necessary capital to remain competitive is vital to any campaign, whether it be for a candidate or a party; and Yvette certainly knows how to make a dollar out of fifteen cents.” Lewis was credited for raising over $5 million for the party over the four and a half years she held the reigns of party leadership.
And on Saturday, Lewis spoke to the short window Democrats have before next year’s election, and was very no-nonsense after winning back her seat in dramatic fashion. “We have a short window to get this done, a very short window, and every minute we spend not focusing on winning is a minute lost,” said the new party leader. Taking the opportunity to welcome Democrats who’ve strayed, and those that have stayed, Lewis got to work almost immediately after being elected this weekend and began straightening out the party’s finances while looking to work with McCray to begin mapping out a political strategy for 2020, 2022 and beyond.
And while Lewis remains popular amongst the establishment democrats, and McCray fully embraced by the party’s progressive wing, it is their ability to walk in different circles that distinguishes these two democratic leaders. Both seem comfortable, and welcomed, in both wings of the party, as well as being able to sit down with party leaders from the Republican side of the aisle. And with these two dynamic democrats at the helm, the democrats can rest assured that the party of Andrew Jackson will start counting the Benjamins over the coming months as they look to take back control of both executive branches of government over the next two years.