Rascovar: Larry Hogan is very popular, but why?

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By Barry Rascovar

For MarylandReporter.com

As Gov. Larry Hogan, Jr., starts packing for the friendship/business-development trip to Israel that every Maryland chief executive takes, he can gloat about his crafty propaganda pronouncements that have him sky-high in popularity polls.

Expect more “good news” announcements. There always are when a governor’s entourage makes an economic prospecting tour. These visits don’t take place unless made-in-advance deals are set for unveiling during the VIP procession.

Hogan has become a master of positive image-making. He’s got a cheerful public persona, a hearty laugh and a back-slapping camaraderie.

He also recognizes Marylanders are fed up with politicians who flood the airwaves and newspapers with press releases and public utterances. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s declining popularity stemmed in part from citizen fatigue with his constant campaigning and propagandizing.

These days, people want elected leaders to leave them alone. Staying out of the news is as much a reason for Hogan’s strong poll numbers as anything else.

Popular side issues

He’s also latched onto tangential issues that sound good to people at first glance. He cut tolls – always a winner with voters – a bit. He lowered some government fees. He ordered schools not to start classes before Labor Day. He held back millions from Baltimore City and Baltimore County for failing to air-condition all school classrooms immediately.

Every one of those actions brought a resounding huzzah and another rise in Hogan’s numbers. At this early stage, he looks like a shoo-in for re-election.

That’s the positive side of the equation.

Here’s the rub. He’s got an abysmal relationship with Democrats who run the General Assembly. Worse, he seems determined to keep it that way into his next term.

Despite phenomenal popularity figures, Hogan can point to few legacy achievements. That’s due largely to his stubborn refusal to seek compromise.

Unfinished business

Yes, he closed the Baltimore City Jail – but he has yet to demolish the eye-sore because he tried to use funds intended for Baltimore-area universities for the jail tear-down. Nor did he bother to consult with community or city leaders.

Yes, he helped end the 2015 Baltimore civil unrest by sending in the National Guard and touring some riot-torn streets. But since then he’s been an absentee leader.

As for a rejuvenation package to aid the state’s most distressed jurisdiction, Hogan has turned a blind eye. Baltimore’s horrific poverty and crime problems remain the albatross around Maryland’s neck – and Hogan is taking the silent, “benign neglect” approach.

Yes, he signed a bill reforming the criminal justice system for low-risk offenders, but credit belongs to Chief Legislative Officer Christopher Shank for that effort at reaching across the aisle to find common ground.

The governor talks about joining hands and singing from the same hymnal but in truth he’s a hard-nosed, partisan Republican who seems to relish insulting Democrats.

Negotiating isn’t in his vocabulary unless it is 100% on his terms. His legislative agenda has been thin on substance and thick on un-passable conservative ideology.

Thin agenda

No wonder Democrats in the legislature have buried much of his agenda. Last session, the governor even ordered his staff not to work with lawmakers behind the scenes to hammer out differences.

There’s been no education package from Hogan in two years, no environmental package, no health-care package, no natural resources package, no economic-development package, no energy package, indeed no comprehensive proposal except the criminal justice bill.

He killed Baltimore’s $3 billion mass-transit expansion but has yet to put in place his so-called replacement – a modestly revamped bus system.

Instead, Hogan has focused on minutia, like feuding with Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz over that county’s dwindling number of schools without air-conditioning.

He also humiliated and bad-mouthed the long-time and much-praised director of the state’s school construction program, prompting his resignation.

He has refused on occasion to let foes of his administration’s plans speak at Board of Public Works meetings. Clearly, he doesn’t like to hear criticism.

He issued his executive order mandating that local school systems begin fall classes after, not before, Labor Day without consulting affected educators who overwhelmingly oppose the move. They say this imperils students’ ability to prepare for national placement tests and could mean an end to spring and winter school breaks.

Appeal to voters

It’s been a curious year and tw0-thirds, indeed.

Hogan has picked his issues carefully, keeping in touch with his conservative base, appealing to voters’ base instincts on marginal matters and blaming Democrats for anything and everything that has gone off-track in Maryland.

So far it is a formula for short-term success. Hogan may become the first Republican to serve two gubernatorial terms in Maryland since Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin did it in the 1950s.

But McKeldin, a liberal Republican who would be drummed out of the party today, amassed a spectacularly successful record in office thanks in large measure to his ability to work with the Democratic legislature.

Hogan is heading in the opposite direction.

He may rival hapless Republican Gov. Harry Whinna Nice (1935-1939) for his paucity of lasting accomplishments during his time in office. (Nice’s main contribution was changing the architectural style of the governor’s mansion from Victorian to Georgian.)

Where’s the beef?

Hogan came into office with great promise and optimism that it might be time for a different approach to governance. But rhetoric has not been followed by visionary action.

Where, for example, is the promised major de-regulation plan that frees businesses and individuals of unnecessary and expensive bureaucratic red tape?

Where is the elimination of waste and inefficiency from state agencies?

Where is the downsizing of the state’s work force?

Where is the smaller but smarter state spending program?

Time is on Hogan’s side, though.

He still could recognize that cooperation yields more than constant confrontation.

He could get serious about bringing sound Republican principles to Maryland government rather than blindly following bellicose conservative proposals that stand no chance of becoming law.

Hogan has the opportunity to demonstrate what sensible Republican governance means. He has yet to do so in any meaningful way, which is a shame because it could be a lasting legacy.


Barry Rascovar’s blog is www.politicalmaryland.com. He can be contacted at brascovar@hotmail.com

  • Rick Williams

    OMG, unfrickingbelievable how Barry can try to explain why Larry Hogan shouldn’t be so popular. He rehashes all his anti-Hogan bilge from the past year, but totally misses the point about why our governor is so popular and Martin O’Malley wasn’t: No new taxes and attempts to cut taxes Dems rejected.
    It’s Dems like Barry and the two Mikes who like to pick fights with Hogan. If Barry thinks Hogan is “a bellicose conservative” he clearly doesn’t know many conservatives. Barry pines for the old days of Rockefeller Republicans. Ain’t gonna happen.
    Larry has had 20 months with an obstructionist legislature. He’s got 28 months to go. Five months ago Barry praised Larry for appointing Bobby Neall to come up with a plan to reorganize state government and now he blames him for not getting the job done.
    Hogan promised a revamped Baltimore bus system, something ex-Mayor O’Malley never attempted with that mess of an MTA, and blames him for taking time to consult with the community about the plans.
    Barry complains that Hogan hasn’t cut government, yet the unions complain about understaffing in prisons, hospitals and juvie jails, and Dems complain of education cuts. Which is it, Barry?
    Hogan shuts that hell-hole of the city jail, which ex-Mayor O’Malley allowed the prisoners to take over, and Barry whines that Hogan hasn’t found the money to tear it down. And Hogan didn’t consult the current mayor Barry himself called a failure just two weeks ago. What crapola.
    At least Barry concedes that Hogan is likely to get reelected cause he panders to us dumb voters. How about this as a lasting legacy for eight years of Republican government? No new taxes, more jobs, more business startups.
    Barry clearly wants another Democrat governor. I think he’s got at least a six-year wait.

  • charlie hayward

    Hogan may view legacy building as paradoxical, after having seen O’Malley’s experience.

  • Dave Moe

    I would respectfully point out that working with the Democrat leadership in the Maryland General Assembly in a two way street. Given the Democrats sponsorship of legislation mandating various programs and funding as opposed to negotiating with the Governor doesn’t bode well for your “working together” wish.

  • Guest

    Rascovar has gotten ridiculous in his personal vendetta against Maryland’s most popular governor in decades. Put it to rest Barry, perhaps you need to retire the keyboard and find a profession where you don’t have to stretch the truth just to get your personal agenda in writing.

  • Vidi

    Barry Rascovar is entitled to his views even though they are out of sync with 70% of Marylanders.!

  • Dale McNamee

    Barry is beyond incapable of understanding things…

    Then, he writes his tripe !

  • TAR

    Barry calls himself a journalist. What a joke.

  • Guest

    Yawn. . . Know who really sounds the same?