For more than six years, he has served as Maryland’s nose-to-the-grindstone lieutenant governor, the man perhaps best-positioned to offer himself to voters in 2022 as the logical heir to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.’s legacy.
But Boyd K. Rutherford (R) has opted instead to “ride into the sunset” when he and the governor leave office 20 months from now.
In an interview with Maryland Matters on Tuesday, Rutherford said he lacked the burning desire necessary for the rigors of a campaign.
“I didn’t want it bad enough to put my family through that,” he said.
Rutherford would have entered the Republican primary contest as the early favorite, particularly if Hogan were strongly in his corner. His decision not to run opens the GOP race and will undoubtedly impact the decision-making of other potential candidates.
Although he has had a long interest in the day-to-day functioning of government, particularly in the areas of procurement and efficiency, the 64-year-old lieutenant governor was a relative newcomer to politics.
Prior to joining Hogan’s ticket in 2014, Rutherford spent years in high-level administrative posts, serving as head of the Department of General Services for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and as Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the second Bush administration.
“I didn’t start out to be more than the lieutenant governor. I didn’t start out to be the lieutenant governor, quite frankly,” he said with a chuckle.
Rutherford is married and has three grown children. None of them were in favor of a gubernatorial bid, he said.
“The family was not that supportive of the idea,” he acknowledged. “My wife never really was crazy about the lieutenant governor position anyway. And so, when it came time to make this decision… they were not enthusiastically willing to support it.”
“I could persuade them to come along, if I really wanted it bad enough,” he added. “But I don’t want it bad enough.”
Rutherford and Hogan have overlapping views when it comes to politics — and both have been fierce critics of former President Trump.
But unlike the quotable, sometimes pugnacious governor, the wonky Rutherford’s passions center around governmental operations, as evidenced by the series of videos he dubbed “Mundane — But Meaningful.”
Members of the Hogan cabinet know to expect a grilling on the days Rutherford chairs Board of Public Works meetings.
“Boyd is a nuts and bolts guy,” said state Sen. Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore) a year ago, after Hogan put Rutherford in charge of day-to-day operations of state government so he could focus on pandemic response.
“He definitely is the appropriate person for doing exactly what the governor has him doing right now, and that’s running the state.”
Late last year, before consulting with his family, Rutherford said he was inclined to run. He warned Hogan’s chief of staff, “There’s going to be times when I’m going to have to separate from the governor [on an issue].”
“She said, ‘yeah, just let me know, if you can, beforehand,’” he said.
Republicans have won three of the last five gubernatorial elections in Maryland — in each case with a center-right candidate who could generate cross-party appeal.
Rutherford said he will leave it to pundits to determine what impact his decision not to run means for the party’s chances for 2022. But he said the basic formula remains the same.
“A Trump-ish Republican is not going to win,” he said. “It would be very difficult to be on the far right and win.”
State Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman and former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele are among the Republicans thought to be contemplating a bid for governor.
Asked if his decision not to run is final, Rutherford said he doesn’t expect to change his mind.
“You should never say never. I’ve said ‘never’ to a lot of things before that I’ve turned around and done the opposite,” he said. “As of this moment, I don’t think that that’s going to be the case in six months, no.”
“When this time is up, in a year-and-a-half, I’m ready to ride off into the sunset. I’ll be fine.”