As he travels the state promoting his second campaign for governor, former Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) does little to hide his disdain for his Democratic primary rivals. The state is facing three major crises, he tells voters — COVID-19, criminal justice, and climate change — and he’s the only candidate with significant experience on the criminal justice and climate fronts.
“It’s going to take them a long time to learn government and how to govern,” he says in an interview.
Never mind that his opponents include the state comptroller, who has held office for 35 consecutive years, and a former Prince George’s County executive and state lawmaker, and two members of President Obama’s cabinet.
Gansler, who turned 59 last month, feels the same way when he hears his foes discussing the existential threat to the planet.
“They know they’re supposed to say something about climate change,” he says. “They know what it means. But they certainly have not waded into that space. It’s a priority for me, for when I’m governor, to make Maryland an East Coast leader in fighting climate change.”
Gansler cannot resist an additional jab: “You don’t find the answers on how to fight climate change in a book.”
As the state’s attorney general from 2007 to 2015, Gansler was an aggressive litigator against polluters. He prioritized enforcing state environmental regulations, and came to every General Assembly session armed with a new proposal for environmental legislation. He convened an environmental council within the attorney general’s office, which his successor, Brian E. Frosh (D), retains to this day, and conducted almost two dozen audits on the health of Maryland’s rivers.
As an attorney in private practice since he left office following his first unsuccessful run for governor, Gansler has advised cities and states on how to sue the fossil fuel industry for environmental damages. Just as significant, Gansler prides himself on being ahead of the curve when it comes to discussing the imperative of meeting the state’s climate challenges and putting the issue before voters and fellow policymakers.
“It used to be something only groovy lefties used to talk about,” he observes. “Now it’s part of the mainstream dialogue.”
Gansler is an ebullient campaigner, an easygoing jokester who will weigh in on any subject, whether he’s asked to or not. Sometimes such impudence can get him in trouble. But it’s hard to deny his commitment to the environment and associated causes, and it’s clear he’s thought about how to use the tools of government to make Maryland a cleaner place — and less vulnerable to the ravages of a warming planet.
Earlier this fall, Gansler released an ambitious 32-point plan for combating climate change in the state — a sign, he says, of how bleak the situation is and how all-encompassing the approach must be. But it also buttresses his belief that “there’s not a panacea, one silver bullet, to fight back against climate change.”
Gansler proposes a wide range of remedies, from converting the state government’s vehicle fleet from fuel-powered to electric within five years, to converting poultry waste into renewable energy, to increasing funding for schools that are heated and cooled by geothermal energy. Like most Democratic candidates, he says he’d make sure the state is doing more to promote renewable energy industries, boost mass transit, and work with regional partners to address Chesapeake Bay degradation.