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The Tentacle


June 30, 2005

Moving the Primary Date - It's Déjà Vu All Over Again - Part 2

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Westminster - Most all Marylanders were proud when Gov. Spiro Theodore Agnew (born Spiro Anagnostopoulos) was elected vice-president of the United States in 1968. (The second Marylander to hold such a high office if you include John Hanson, the 1st President of the United States, November 5, 1781 to November 4, 1782, under the Articles of Confederation.)

Governor Agnew served as Richard Nixon's vice president from January 20th, 1969, until October 10th, 1973, when he resigned. (He was the second vice president to resign from office. The first to resign was John C. Calhoun, who resigned to take a seat as a U.S. Senator.)

Marvin Mandel, the Speaker of the House of Delegates, was elected governor in a Special Session of the Maryland General Assembly on January 6th, 1969, after Governor Agnew resigned to become vice-president.

This action made the pre-filed House Bill 11, in the 1969 Maryland General Assembly, a problem. What was once "in the voters' best interests" was no longer in the voters' best interests because Marvin Mandel, a Democrat, was in office.

In the pre-filed House Bill 11, the primary date was to be changed in order to give the Democrats a better chance of regaining the State House in the election of 1970. It had nothing to do with what was in the voters' best interests and everything to do with what was in the Maryland Democratic Party's best interests.

No doubt, clothed in the bright light of beneficently acting in the voters' best interest; so that the voters can have more time to come to know where the (Democratic) candidates' stand on the issues; or become more familiar with the issues; or once they get to know us all over again, they'll come to like us again; the last (1966) election is not a trend, it was a fluke.

Well, the gubernatorial election of 1966 was not just a fluke; it was a sheer disaster for the Democrats. All hell broke loose.

After a bitter, divisive Democratic primary in 1966, on November 8, 1966, the day before his 48th birthday, a little-known Republican named Spiro Agnew, with the support of many liberal Democrats, defeated Dixiecrat George Mahoney. Baltimore County Executive Agnew was elected governor by a margin of 81,775 votes over his Democratic opponent in a three-way race.

Mr. Agnew's victory in the general election was really decided in the bitterly disastrous 1966 Democratic primary. Baltimore contractor George Mahoney, a perennial candidate who had lost six previous governor and Senate campaigns, ran on an unmistakably pro-gun, anti-open-housing platform with the slogan, "Your home is your castle - protect it:" transparent code words against fair-housing laws. Riding a white backlash, Mr. Mahoney eked out a narrow win against seven more liberal hopefuls.

Following the primary there was a considerable defection of Democrats to Republican Agnew's camp; many others simply sat out the election, or backed the independent candidacy of Hyman Pressman, the Baltimore City comptroller.

County Executive Agnew was considered a liberal-to-moderate Republican when he launched his bid for governor in 1966. A supporter of "open housing," he made a conscious effort to get African-American votes. Race was an especially big issue in Maryland back then; just two years earlier, George Wallace ran a pro-segregation campaign in the state's Democratic presidential primary and won 43 percent of the vote.

To put the election of 1966 in even better context, most of the media attention that year was focused on the race for governor of Georgia, where the Democratic candidate was Lester Maddox, famous for handing out pick-axe handles to fight integration at his restaurant, then closing it rather than allow it to be desegregated.

Mr. Maddox had defeated Jimmy Carter and former governor Ellis Arnall in a bitter primary to face Republican Howard "Bo" Calloway in the general election.

We will skip, for the sake of time, the additional chaos, that as far back as June 1965, Governor J. Millard Tawes, had begun a concentrated effort to address whether or not the 1867 Maryland State Constitution needed to be modified.

According to Chapter 501 of the Acts of 1966, a special referendum was held on September 13th, 1966, in which it was decided by the voters to call a constitutional convention, which culminated in the ratification of the 1968 Maryland Constitution on May 14th, 1968.

Additionally, to add to the chaos, in the early 1960s after the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decisions making equal population the basic requirement for both houses of state legislatures, the justices applied the "one man, one vote" rule to a Maryland case and declared our Maryland legislative districts unconstitutional.

In 1965, the General Assembly adopted a plan retaining a senator for each county in spite of great population variances. Only after the Maryland Court of Appeals voided this plan did the General Assembly shape a plan with districts of substantially equal population, which the court accepted in l966.

In the face of this mess, the Democrats felt they needed as long a primary as possible in order to try to make amends with the voters. To make things even more interesting, if that were possible, the gubernatorial election of 1966 marked the culmination of a 20-year struggle over legislative reapportionment in the state. For the first time, the suburbs dominated both houses of the General Assembly.

In Part Three tomorrow we will explore the popular media myth that the popular media would have you believe, that the primary has only been in September for the last four decades, since September 13th, 1966.

Yes Virginia, you are right. A primary does not belong in the spring. We will look at how the Democrats always react badly whenever the few Republican governors in Maryland have been elected and why a primary in the spring is not popular with the voters, but very well may play into the hands of the Republicans.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at: kdayhoff@carr.org



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