Maryland’s low-key lieutenant governor embraces his dryness.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Sitting behind his desk with a history of the Board of Public Works and binders full of state code nearby, Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford wants to make one thing clear: He’s not dull.
“I prefer the term wonky,” the Republican said in a recent interview, his voice low and somewhat somnolent.
Whatever the right adjective is for his personality — boring, dorky, bland — Rutherford, 60, is embracing it and having fun as he and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) make their case for a second term in November.
In an otherwise deeply Democratic state, the Hogan-Rutherford ticket will test whether a focus on bread-and-butter issues in a time of bombastic national politics can prevail, even as President Trump makes his own, distinctly different approach central to the GOP brand.
Hogan, then a pugnacious and hard-charging conservative activist, tapped Rutherford as his running mate in 2014, eager for a partner willing to take on the unglamorous parts of governing a state. Rutherford’s assignments have included chairing commissions on regulatory and procurement reform and a task force on the opioid epidemic. When Hogan was being treated for cancer in 2015, his low-key deputy filled in at public appearances, upping his profile a bit.
Now, as part of Hogan’s bid to become the first Republican governor reelected in Maryland in 60 years, the governor’s office is spotlighting some of Rutherford’s work with a new video series called “Mundane (But Meaningful).”
“There are quite a few regulations that serve no purpose other than to stand in the way of citizens, businesses and government working efficiently,” Rutherford, sporting a gray sweater, says to the camera in the first installment about regulatory reform.
Classical music, perhaps appropriate for PBS, hums in the background.
Rutherford says he wasn’t too keen on the series — proposed by Hogan’s communications staff — until he read the script. A chance to talk up the basic government procedure that consumes his daily work seemed appealing to him.
Ever the nit-picker, he corrected an improper reference to the title of the Maryland code in the script.
“Some people don’t know about these things,” said Rutherford, glancing over at Hogan’s press secretary, Shareese Churchill, who was sitting in on the interview, and swiveling to grab a binder from the floor nearby. “See, this is the procurement section for the Maryland code of regulations.”
Doug Mayer, head of the governor’s communications office, says the video series is designed as a fun way to catch the attention of people in a din of media and information.
“It is a running laugh line in our office that lieutenant governor has a reputation for being boring, which really isn’t true when you get to know him,” Mayer says. “He’s also a very humble person who has no problem poking fun at himself to educate the public or get the message out.”
In other words, boring can sell.
One of the most popular viral campaign ads of 2016 featured a Republican county commissioner candidate droning about tax rates and light-rail capacity as his wife and neighbor’s eyes glazed over. Rutherford’s video hasn’t done quite as well, but it had garnered a respectable 23,000 views as of Saturday.
Born in the District, Rutherford was a political independent as a young adult, joined the Democratic Party to vote in the primaries that almost always determine who will hold local office, and — after becoming disillusioned — registered as a Republican when he was in his late 30s.
He served with Hogan in the Cabinet of Maryland’s last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.
An attorney by training who has worked for several companies, he also held various federal government posts under President George W. Bush and was chief administrative officer of the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011.
He’s a fiscal conservative who would much rather talk about the Board of Public Works — a panel of the governor, treasurer and comptroller that meets twice a month to vote on major state spending — than culture wars or internal party divisions.
And part of what he’s looking to highlight in the video is how little Republican governance in Annapolis resembles Republican governance in Washington.
“The difference between what we do here and what happens down the road is we are working to get things done,” Rutherford said.
Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, says the governor’s office is smart to embrace Rutherford’s dryness.
“Now that they are running for reelection, I think one of the things they want to do is remind voters why they voted for Hogan-Rutherford in the first place: low-key, quiet, competent management,” Eberly said. “It really does highlight a stark contrast with the cult of personality that comes out of the Trump administration.”
As he prepares to hit the campaign trail again, Rutherford says he feels comfortable making a case with nothing but “facts, facts, facts.”
“It will be very different,” Rutherford said. “Because this time I will be there as lieutenant governor, and not there as Boyd who?”
Information from: The Washington Post, http://www.washingtonpost.com