Why Hogan is so popular

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By Laslo Boyd

For MarylandReporter.com

Hogan-baldPoll after poll shows Governor Larry Hogan with stunningly high approval ratings among Maryland voters.

He had done a skillful job of building on what was widely seen as an upset victory in the 2014 election to position himself as a formidable candidate for reelection in 2018. What are the ingredients of his popularity?

For one, Hogan ran a campaign that took advantage of voter fatigue with eight years of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley. Perhaps even more important was the remarkably inept campaign run by Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.

Rather than run on the positive accomplishments of the prior eight years, Brown ran a timid, apologetic campaign that never offered an effective rebuttal to Hogan’s focus on increased taxes and regulation and a “hostile” business climate.

Additionally, because Hogan’s campaign was light on any specific policy proposals, he was able to take office with a relatively clean slate and an absence of concrete expectations.  At the start of his term, there was widespread applause for his moderate, non-confrontational tone even among Democratic legislators.

Maintaining narrow focus

In office, Hogan has maintained the relatively narrow focus of his campaign, emphasizing his desire to roll back taxes and fees and improve the state’s business climate.  Under his own authority, without the need for General Assembly approval, he reduced a number of fees, most notably road and bridge tolls.  Those actions were highly visible and popular returns to voters even as they undercut the stability of Maryland’s transportation funding.

More significantly, Hogan has painted a political bulls’ eye on Baltimore City as a means of appealing to his conservative constituents in other parts of the state.

His decision to eliminate the Red Line light rail project in the City–although seen by some analysts as the most damaging decision to the economic health of Baltimore in decades–played well in other regions.  By calling the project a “boondoggle” when he cancelled it, he reinforced the bias that expenditures for the city are wasteful and even corrupt.

Moreover, the cancellation had the additional political benefit of enabling Hogan to transfer the unused transportation funds to highway projects in other parts of the state.  You can certainly expect to see more such reallocations of state resources between now and 2018.

Communicating well

Hogan has also made good use of the attention automatically given to all communications that emanate from the Governor’s Office.  He has an active social media effort that enables him to bypass traditional media and connect directly with supporters.  His use of Change Maryland, an organization that he originally set up when he ran for office, has continued as a mechanism for getting his message out.

Hogan has also shown real skill in using his platform as governor.  While he has certainly had confrontational moments, he gets praise every time he delivers a conciliatory message.  Most recently, his State of the State Address was applauded for its bipartisan appeal.

Yet, weeks later on the C4 Show on WBAL radio, he delivered what can only be described as a highly partisan attack.  That close juxtaposition of moderate and hostile messaging has happened before and has left observers puzzled about which is the real Larry Hogan.

The answer can probably be best explained by using the words of Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio.  To paraphrase the Florida Senator, Larry Hogan knows exactly what he is doing.

He knows what he is doing

In terms of popularity and positioning for the 2018 election, Hogan is very pleased to be seen as fighting with the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly.  Legislators are not well understood by most members of the public and make an easy foil for a popular chief executive.

In Hogan’s view, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch are going to put up obstacles to his reelection anyway, so why wait to engage them in a public dispute.

You could certainly argue that a fight with powerful legislative leaders will make it difficult for Hogan to get much of his policy agenda passed, but he probably does not see that as a real problem.

First of all, Hogan undoubtedly believes that Miller and Busch would make it difficult for him under any circumstances.  More significantly, however, Hogan really does not have an ambitious legislative agenda anyway.

As he noted in his radio interview, Hogan can hardly wait for the end of the General Assembly session so he can govern the state without the interference of the legislature.  For one, he will continue to take whatever actions he can under his administrative authority, most notably in the realm of reducing bureaucratic regulations.

Second, he will use the Board of Public Works to push other decisions, knowing that at this point Comptroller Peter Franchot looks like close to an automatic vote for anything Hogan proposes.

Engineering a standoff

The third part of the Hogan strategy is actually the most important.  The governor will propose tax reductions in the near certainty that the General Assembly will reject them.  The standoff will form the foundation of his reelection platform and his call for the election of more Republicans to the General Assembly.

So far, Larry Hogan has been very successful in devising and implementing a political strategy that places him in a strong position for the next election.  Democrats have the challenge of figuring out an approach for dealing with Hogan that is more than obstructing his public objectives and avoids falling into the trap he has set for them.

This may be the greatest challenge that Miller and Busch have faced in their many years of leadership.

  • RossPass

    Kick butt hogan.

  • David Taylor

    You and every other commentator have missed the main reason Hogan is so popular. The electorate has realized that the two dictators, Mike and Mike, support policies that will keep them in power and not what is good for the citizens of Maryland. Even moderate Democrats have caught on to the ruse.

  • Sean Ritchie

    Mr. Boyd,

    It is clear by your writings and view points that you are not a bipartisan reporter, rather just another liberal who claims to be neutral. Hogan does not have a narrow focus, you and your fellow Democrats do. You speak of Hogan’s decision to eliminate the Red Line as damaging to Baltimore City’s economic health yet neglect to state the benefit to the rest of the State. You and your fellow Democrats sole focus is your precious “Charm City” that is Baltimore City. The Red Line would benefit Baltimore City yes, but at the expense of the rest of the State as they are paying for it, not the residents of Baltimore City. As far as transferring the funds in the transportation account to other parts of the State, why is that a bad idea? Would it be because you and the Democrats only care about your beloved Baltimore City? Those funds were collected from the taxpayers across the State yet you want Baltimore City to be the main if not sole recipient of the benefits. I for one think it is about time the rest of the State benefit from the tax dollars we give to the State, of which this State has one of the highest tax rates in the Nation.

    With respect to his communication, you chastise him for using social media and give specific details but when it comes to talking about his “partisan” attacks on radio you speak in very general terms. This is a tactic used by the liberal left. And to your point of Hogan knows exactly what he is doing I agree….he is uniting ALL Maryland residents unlike any Governor in recent memory. The only reason I can see for your attack is that you are upset that the Democrats can not do the same.

    Mike Miller and Mike Busch have served this State poorly and their time has passed. During their tenure the State has lost more jobs, the median income has decreased, taxes are higher than ever, and the State has record levels of deficits…is this what you call leadership? Hogan in one year has started to reverse these trends yet you see that as a negative? Hogan does have an ambitious agenda but you and your fellow liberals will not report it and don’t care to hear it. And let me ask you this question; why is his goal of reducing government bureaucracy a negative thing? This reduction would eliminate some of the wasting of tax dollars that Democrats are known for, but heaven forbid the tax payers use their money to better themselves, instead Democrats want bigger, evasive and wasteful government.

    Hogan is purposing tax reductions because he knows that the rest of the State is tired of funding Baltimore City’s inept leadership. Instead he realizes those taxpayer can use the money locally and let the residents of Baltimore City pay for their own mistakes.

    Let me point out one more hypocrisy of the Democratic Party in Maryland. Under O’Malley and his regime they stole, yes I said stole, funding from the Teachers Pension Fund to pay for their and their cronies pet projects. The Pension fund by law must be funded to 75% of its liabilities and prior to O’Malley taking office it was 80%+. Within the first few years the Democrats stole from the fund and at the end of their regime it stood around 50% funded. What I find curious is the teachers and their unions are usually very loyal Democrat supporters, yet O’Malley and the Democrats still stole from them. If the Democrats would steal from their friends and supporters how can anyone in the right mind trust them with anything?