John Astle is Reading the Tea Leaves

In one of the more surprising announcements of the General Assembly session so far, State Senator John Astle is looking for a way out:

The Annapolis mayoral race grew on Tuesday with Maryland Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis, confirming a run for mayor.

While Astle hasn’t filed for the race yet, he discussed his intentions Tuesday. He plans to file in a few weeks and continues to flesh out his election platform.

Astle has been in politics for decades, beginning his General Assembly career in 1983 as a delegate. He joined the senate in 1995 where he continues to serve.

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He ran for Annapolis mayor in 1981 where he lost by 243 votes.

The fact that a career politician who has been in or running for office for over three decades is deciding to run for office is hardly surprising. However, the timing of this announcement is rather peculiar and you can see the long-term implication of what’s going on here.

John Astle has long been a target of Republicans looking to pick off his seat in the Senate. We at Red Maryland have long documented Astle’s history, particularly his history of having the back of Democratic leadership on procedural votes (the votes that often matter) while still voting against final passage on bills related to crime, guns, taxes, and a host of other issues. That voting history, and the fact that Republicans are again targeting his seat, is why Astle makes this announcement.

Democrats across Maryland are reeling, and it appears that Republicans are well poised to pick up seats in the General Assembly. Of particular note related to this is that Astle already has a credible opponent, former Delegate Ron George, who announced in 2015 and has already raised over $100,000 for his run against Astle. Astle is not going to be able to rely on Democratic help to get him across the finish line in 2018 as Democrats will also likely have to play defense for Senate Seats in Districts 3 (Ron Young is vulnerable), 32 (constant Ed DeGrange retirement rumors), 37 (ditto Jim Mathias, and 42 (a more conservative district where Jim Brochin is running for Baltimore County Executive). The idea of  running a race against a popular, well-funded, well organized opponent like Ron George isn’t particularly appealing.

So instead of focusing on running for re-election, Astle bolts. He decides to run for Mayor of Annapolis once more. Not that the race is an easy one for Astle, either. He faces a primary opponent who has been running for some time, as well as a popular Republican incumbent Mayor Mike Pantelides (who is already lapping the field in this thoroughly unscientific Capital poll). But demographics and voter registration numbers tend to lean toward Democrats in Annapolis city-wide elections, making a campaign against Mayor Pantelides more winnable for Astle than a campaign against George, even though Pantelides has to be considered the favorite.

So what happens in 2018? If Astle wins, he resigns and a new Democrat with no knowledge about the district or much name ID gets appointed to replace Astle; it won’t be a Delegate as the only Delegate serving District 30 is House Speaker Mike Busch. If Astle loses, he likely doesn’t run for re-election, not looking forward to the idea of running two separate campaigns in consecutive years. Either way it means that either a Democratic blast from the past or the habitual liar and former Republican turncoat Don Quinn winds up running against a motivated, well-financed, experienced and motivated Ron George.

So what’s the ultimate takeaway from Astle’s announcement? It’s that Democratic incumbents in the General Assembly are starting to see the writing on the wall. They are starting to see that the voters are shifting against them, that their opposition to Governor Hogan and his agenda is backfiring. It means that ultimately John Astle will wind up the first, but far from the last, incumbent Democrat to walk away from the field prior to the 2018 election. John Astle is a career politician who knows how to read the tea lives. How many from his party will follow him out of the State House?

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