Former Maryland Governor Harry Hughes passed away at 92 earlier this month. I had the honor of meeting Gov. Hughes through a friendship with his daughter, though most who are familiar with him know his political career. Elected in 1978, he took over a state government that was defined by two famous scandals of preceding Maryland governors, Spiro T. Agnew (President Nixon’s VP) and Marvin Mandel. Soon, Gov. Hughes’ name was synonymous with integrity, as his leadership restored constituents’ faith in their government. He was widely regarded as a fair, bipartisan, and decent man, committed to humble service.
Gov. Hughes was considered by friends and political analysts to be too shy and restrained to lead a successful campaign. And yet, he won the Democratic primary in an upset over the Acting Governor and won the election in a landslide victory with 71% of the vote. Marylanders clearly had faith in him to do the right thing at the right time.
During his two terms of service as Governor from 1979 to 1987, Gov. Hughes was an early champion for the environment and specifically, the Chesapeake Bay, forging an agreement with the Governors of Virginia and Pennsylvania and the Mayor of DC to restore its health and protect its future. He fueled improvements in public education, economic development, tax relief, the corrections system, and transportation. And he was an outspoken supporter of civil rights.
His legacy of work in Maryland lives on. He was the father of Maryland’s current tax code, and the agreement for the Chesapeake Bay is still in place nearly four decades later.
Not without challenge or issue, Gov. Hughes was weighed down with the savings and loan crisis. Yet, he worked swiftly and tirelessly with the legislature to form a state agency that helped nearly all depositors recover their money.
Despite all of that tremendous service to the citizens of Maryland, Gov. Hughes was most proud of restoring integrity to the political process and to the state’s government. “It’s an intangible, but very important,” said Gov. Hughes in 1987 to The Associated Press. Stephen H. Sachs, Maryland’s attorney general elected in 1978 along with Gov. Hughes, once said, “I think his greatest legacy will be that he restored the state to political sanity, not just by being honest, which was not a bad place to start, but with appointments, the openness, the candor.” (Gov. Hughes’ obituary, The Washington Post.)
Perhaps what the United States needs now more than ever is leadership like Governor Hughes. Honest, respectful, collaborative, hard-working, and unburdened by ego, recognition or reward.