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As Long as We Remember...

October 3, 2012

State’s Political History Has A New Review

Kevin E. Dayhoff

“Maryland Politics and Government: Democratic Dominance,” written by Drs. John T. Willis and Herbert C. Smith, is an in-depth look at Maryland’s political identity.


Steeped in history and tradition, the dark wood paneling of McDaniel Hall on the campus of McDaniel College was the perfect setting for a recent book talk on the arcane, distinctive, and uniquely byzantine political history of the State of Maryland


The University of Nebraska noted that the reference book is “certain to set the standard for understanding the politics of Maryland for years to come…”


“There are fifteen chapters and well over 300 pages of text. Considering we submitted an 800-page manuscript, one has to marvel at the editorial acumen out there”… Dr. Smith said at the University of Nebraska.


“It’s truly a labor of love,” Dr. Smith says, “explaining that he and Dr. Willis have gone through a number of updates trying to capture a political system that is essentially a moving target,” according to an article on the McDaniel College website.


The long-awaited 432-page book, written by two longstanding friends of mine, was released on January 1, 2012, and is part of the Politics and Governments of the American States Series by the University of Nebraska Press.


Dr. Willis is the director of the government and public policy program at the University of Baltimore. He has served as Maryland’s secretary of state from 1995 to 2003 and is the author of “Presidential Elections in Maryland.”


Dr. Smith, the director of government relations at the college, has been a professor of political science and international studies at McDaniel College since 1973.


“Maryland, in all candor, is neglected, overlooked… In truth, sometimes Maryland voluntarily contributes to Free State foibles,” Dr. Smith remarked reflectively. Yet, “Maryland has saved the Republic not once but twice...once far from the borders of the Free State and once in its very heart, Baltimore…”


The authors explain the history in the context and perspective of the state’s demographic diversity, unique history as an original English colony, geographic extremes, and outright behavioral peccadillos.


According to the McDaniel College website: “The authors establish a ‘Two Marylands’ model to explain the dominance of the Maryland Democratic Party, which began just after the Civil War and continues 150 years later…”


The book covers such topics as the Maryland political identity and history, political parties, interest groups, and corruption, the state’s odd historic constitution, the three branches of government, the politics of high taxes, spending and big government.


In an interview with Maryland Reporter editor Len Lazarick, published in January, Dr. Willis provided some insight into the title of the book. “Well… [the subtitle of the book] has to do more with institutions. One of the interesting things about Maryland is the durability of its political and governmental institutions.


“And the structure of the party has been the same since 1827. And it has gone through a number of periods but still maintained its governmental control over the operation of state government…


“Although it happens to fit today because we are as the Gallop poll indicated, among the most currently Democratic states in the union… but it is more about the durability and the structure…”


Dr. Smith adds: “And we quote Frank Kent, [of the Baltimore Sun who wrote in 1911]… the history of Maryland politics since after the Civil War is the history of the Maryland Democratic Party…And it’s a quote that is still appropriate today…”


Over the years “The Democratic Party has changed as the actors within the Democratic Party…,” explained Dr. Smith.


Of course, for political scholars, this line of thought and historical commentary is much more profound than meets the eye of the casual observer.


A point of which was not missed by Mr. Lazarick, one of the intellectual deans of governance and political journalism in the state, who immediately adds: “This actually a very different Democratic Party that he was writing about in [the 1910s]…


“It’s a polar opposite today,” responded Dr. Smith. “The Democratic Party of the turn of the 19th – 20th century was profoundly conservative, borderline racist and states’ rights, supported segregation …”


“Borderline racist,” questioned Mr. Lazarick. “I think that’s a little kind…”


In the book talk event held recently at McDaniel College, Dr. Smith elaborated more comprehensively on Dr. Willis’ earlier Gallup poll reference, “How dominant are Democrats in Maryland?”


“Well, according to the Gallup Survey, Maryland is Number #1 followed by the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Hawaii. As an aside, the most Republican dominated states are Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, and Alaska.


“How many other partisan political assessments still hold after one hundred years? The Solid South, reliably Democratic has radically flipped. Yankee Republican New England is no longer Yankee or Republican…


“Yet Maryland stands...dominated by Democrats, then, now, and for the foreseeable future. To understand the basis of this dominance and its policy consequences…well, you just have to buy the book,” said Dr. Smith.


This book is a must for the library of anyone who studies or participates in the seemingly impenetrable byzantine enigmas and paradoxes that is contemporary Maryland government or politics.


Although the authors have been a key and critical component of the ideological and intellectual foundation of the Maryland Democrat Party for decades, the book is painstakingly and meticulously accurate.


For this political and economic historian, the book is a refreshingly non-partisan portrayal of the historical context of why Maryland is the way it is today.


. . . . .I’m just saying…


Click here to read an excerpt from Maryland Politics and Government:  Democratic Dominance. For more information on the book go to the University of Nebraska website here:


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