Don­ald Trump is no Harry Hughes

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By John W. Frece John W. Frece, who re­tired in 2014 from the U.S. EPA, is a for­mer State House bureau chief for The Bal­ti­more Sun and co-au­thor of Gov. Hughes’ au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “My Un­ex­pected Jour­ney” (His­tory Press, 2006). His email is jwfrece@gmail.com.

An im­pres­sive group of vet­eran Mary­land po­lit­i­cal lead­ers gath­ered in Eas­ton a cou­ple weeks be­fore Thanks­giv­ing to cel­e­brate for­mer Mary­land Gov. Harry R. Hughes’ 90th birth­day. Al­though the heart­felt trib­utes to Gover­nor Hughes’ life and ca­reer could not have been more sin­cere, the evening seemed tinged with an un­mis­tak­able and heart­break­ing recog­ni­tion of what we as Amer­i­can cit­i­zens have lost in our just con­cluded pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Gover­nor Hughes was right­fully praised for cham­pi­oning the pro­tec­tion of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and Mary­land’s en­vi­ron­ment more broadly; for his steady, bi­par­ti­san stew­ard­ship of the state’s fis­cal af­fairs dur­ing a pe­riod of se­vere bud­get cuts from Wash­ing­ton; for his prin­ci­pled sup­port for the con­sti­tu­tional con­cept of sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers; and for his early recog­ni­tion of the evil in­her­ent in racial and re­li­gious hate crimes. Faced with the stark re­al­ity of fed­eral bud­get re­duc­tions un­der Ron­ald Rea­gan that tore away the safety net for Amer­ica’s most vul­ner­a­ble cit­i­zens, Gover­nor Hughes forged a bi­par­ti­san agree­ment with the Gen­eral Assem­bly to use state dol­lars to con­tinue the most im­por­tant ser­vices threat­ened by the fed­eral cuts.

But to those in the birth­day party au­di­ence of about 100, those were not the most mean­ing­ful — or even the most rel­e­vant — words used to de­scribe Harry Hughes. The more im­por­tant words that were ut­tered through­out the evening by a half-dozen dif­fer­ent speak­ers were the ones that de­scribed the val­ues that this na­tive of the Eastern Shore brought to Mary­land’s po­lit­i­cal life: hon­esty, in­tegrity, fair­ness, com­pas­sion, hu­mil­ity and re­straint. In a word, ci­vil­ity. This was a po­lit­i­cally at­tuned au­di­ence. It in­cluded a pair of for­mer U.S. se­na­tors from Mary­land; Mary­land’s at­tor­ney gen­eral and at least two of his pre­de­ces­sors; a for­mer Mary­land gover­nor and a for­mer Mary­land first lady; a cur­rent high-rank­ing mem­ber of Congress; a siz­able group of for­mer state leg­is­la­tors, Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can alike; sev­eral judges; for­mer Cab­i­net sec­re­taries, ap­pointees and staff from the Hughes ad­min­is­tra­tion; sev­eral prom­i­nent en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­ers; and even a cou­ple of re­tired state troop­ers who once proudly served on the gover­nor’s se­cu­rity de­tail. To this group, the con­trast be­tween the de­cency of Gover­nor Hughes and the in­de­cency of the cam­paign run by our new pres­i­dent-elect could not have been more stark.

The cel­e­bra­tion was even mo­men­tar­ily in­ter­rupted by a tele­phone call from the vice pres­i­dent of the United States, who just wanted to wish the gover­nor a happy birth­day — one de­cent man tak­ing the time to send good wishes to an­other de­cent man.

Just as our pres­i­dent-elect won in an up­set two weeks ago, so Harry Hughes won the gov­er­nor­ship in an up­set in 1978. Three weeks be­fore the Septem­ber 1978 pri­mary, Harry Hughes’ cam­paign hov­ered at 4 per­cent of the vote, hope­lessly trail­ing Act­ing Gover­nor Blair Lee III, whose cam­paign had nearly 40 per­cent of the vote in a four-way race. But thanks in large part to the strong en­dorse­ment by both The Bal­ti­more Sun and the Evening Sun, vot­ers were re­as­sured that it was safe to vote for the man who had re­signed as state sec­re­tary of trans­porta­tion rather than go along with a sub­way con­tract he feared was cor­rupt. Mr. Hughes roared from be­hind to beat Lee, Theodore Vene­toulis and Wally Or­lin­sky in that fa­bled pri­mary and went on to eas­ily win the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion and then re-elec­tion four years later.

But win­ning an up­set elec­tion is the only com­par­i­son that can be made be­tween Mary­land’s for­mer gover­nor and our na­tion’s pres­i­dent-elect .

Given the mean-spir­ited, rude, racist, lewd, crude, in­sult­ing and ly­ing be­hav­ior our coun­try has wit­nessed and en­dured over the past two years, it is hard to imag­ine when or whether we will ever see such a fine and de­cent po­lit­i­cal leader as Harry Roe Hughes come our way again.

Mary­lan­ders were lucky to have a man of Harry Hughes’ char­ac­ter to be a state leg­is­la­tor, Cab­i­net sec­re­tary and gover­nor. Those of us who know him are lucky to have him as a friend.

Our coun­try can only hope that some­day we may have a man or woman with such qual­i­ties and ci­vil­ity as our pres­i­dent.

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