By Barry Rascovar
When the clock strikes 12 tonight, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan will breathe a huge sigh of relief. With luck, the Maryland General Assembly – which has been increasingly aggressive in opposing the Republican chief executive – won’t return to Annapolis until next January.
There have been few reasons for Hogan to take comfort in his dealings with the state legislature this year – or indeed for the two earlier 90-day sessions.
Hogan and President Trump want to run things the way they did as private-sector real estate CEOs. Working cooperatively with a large, diverse and divisive legislature isn’t in their DNA. Nor is give-and-take compromise.
Yet that’s the very nature of the legislative branch, where no one ever gets 100% of what he or she wants. Lawmakers come to realize they must settle for a half-step forward or a partial victory while the opposition gains concessions that make tolerable what, in their eyes, could have been a truly bad law.
That sort of meeting of the minds hasn’t happened all that often during Hogan’s time in the governor’s mansion.
Going nowhere on bills
In many respects, 2016’s legislative session was the most miserable for Hogan. His No.1 objective – eliminating a paper-tiger of a law requiring transparency in ranking transportation projects – went nowhere.
He pilloried the Democrats’ “Protect Our Schools Act” designed to prevent conservatives appointed by Hogan to the state school board from stripping local school systems of autonomy to deal with underperforming schools.
The result? A humiliating defeat as the bill passed by large margins. The governor then vetoed the measure – as promised – only to see Democrats easily override the veto.
Hogan harshly assailed Attorney Genera Brian Frosh’s bill to expand his powers and allow Frosh to sue the Trump administration without first gaining the governor’s consent. That’s a huge increase in Frosh’s clout at Hogan’s expense.
Lawmakers also stripped Hogan and Comptroller Peter Franchot of their authority to dole out school construction funds in the humiliating “begathon” sessions imposed on school superintendents. The duo had withheld millions from Baltimore City and Baltimore County schools a year ago and that helped precipitate this session’s payback.
Hogan as Trump
In lawmakers’ eyes, Hogan came to symbolize President Trump, even though the two Republicans disagree more often than not.
Legislators approved language that would use state dollars to replace any federal funds taken from Planned Parenthood by Republicans in Washington. Maryland Public Television received the same assurances from Democratic lawmakers.
There were some areas of agreement in the State House, though.
Hogan and lawmakers worked together on a bill to stem opioid overdoses through treatment and prevention.
They found middle ground on a partial relief measure to help Baltimore City schools dig out of their deficit by tying this aid to school funds for Republican-voting counties with a similar lower-enrollment problem.
Broadsides and animosity
Hogan did a convenient flip-flop on banning hydraulic fracturing in drilling for oil and gas in Maryland to assuage environmentalists – a meaningless action since no such drilling takes place in Maryland or is likely any time soon.
But the governor kept hammering away at Democrats in the General Assembly with broadsides that only deepened the animus.
He was especially harsh of lawmakers indicted for a string of alleged wrongdoing, from campaign finance violations to local liquor board shenanigans to shady actions tied to the award of medical marijuana licenses to a payoff scam in return for promising passage of special legislation.
Yet when the legislature finally agreed on tougher ethics laws, Hogan was full of praise, though the result came nowhere near achieving what the governor had demanded.
Hogan did a good job working out differences on the state budget – largely because he proposed little that was new or controversial. He deserves credit for keeping a tight lid on spending as Maryland approaches a time of enormous economic uncertainty.
One thing the governor failed to do was formulate a comprehensive relief plan for beleaguered Baltimore City. Two years after the Freddie Gray riots, scant progress has been made. Hogan has been conspicuously absent.
He also has yet to take steps to prepare the state for what appear to be massive federal spending cuts that could cost Maryland and Virginia tens of thousands of jobs and create an enormous economic ripple effect.
So as legislators finish their chores and head for home, they can look back on a session in which they reversed roles with the governor. Lawmakers were the pro-active initiators of actions, not the chief executive, who became a reactive and largely ineffective objector.
It was not Larry Hogan’s best 90 days of work. That may be because his main focus continues to be winning a second term next year – not working out public policy deals with lawmakers.
For the rest of 2017, he’s likely to have Annapolis and state government all to himself.
That’s the way he likes it, especially as he moves into campaign mode to ease his way into another four-year stay in Maryland’s top elective office.