Portions of this article appeared in a column in July’s Business Monthly serving Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
By Len Lazarick
Gov. Larry Hogan was surely joshing on Monday when he told reporters that “maybe in a year or so we’ll think about re-election.”
Hogan hasn’t officially launched his re-election bid, but next year’s campaign has clearly been on his mind for a long, long time. He’s explicitly talked about his second term and been aggressively raising money to achieve it.
In the same BWI Marriott ballroom a week apart in June, he gave speeches that were a preview of that re-election campaign.
First, Hogan touted his record to a packed house of close to 700 business people for the annual luncheon of Maryland Business for Responsive Government.
The following week, he addressed the not-quite-so-packed annual Red White and Blue dinner for the state Republican Party, an event Hogan has skipped a couple of times.
Democrats and pundits have argued that Hogan has actually been running for reelection for many months, with every public step calculated with an eye to 2018.
Open for business
Hogan’s speech to MBRG — an event he noted that drew much smaller crowds in the O’Malley years — he took credit for “one of the greatest economic turnarounds in the nation.”
“We’re open for business,” Hogan said, the slogan he put on highway welcome signs the day he was sworn in. Like the rest of the messaging, Hogan has repeated much of this speech many times before. He even still gets a laugh from the time-worn joke that Maryland’s welcome signs used to say “What in your wallet?”
Hogan cited three balanced budgets in a row with no new taxes, along with some cuts in tax and fees, and a major rollback in tolls. New highway projects got underway and he provided record spending on education.
(Fact-checks: Some projects were possible because a cut in the gas tax he proposed got nowhere. The record school spending happens every year because of mandatory increases that Hogan has not cut. He also claims that he submitted the first balanced budget in a decade, meaning it was “structurally” balanced going forward. The previous budgets submitted by Gov. O’Malley were all technically balanced.)
Like all governors and presidents, Hogan takes credit for improving the economy. He called it “an exciting economic resurgence” and cited rankings that moved Maryland up from the bottom of states in job growth to near the top. His communications staff provided the links to publications and studies to back up his assertions.
Plus, Maryland has “the second lowest percentage of people below the poverty line,” along with the highest median income in the nation, Hogan said. All true based on government data. The Democratic Party dices the economic stats differently, as the Washington Post’s Josh Hicks reported this week.
An eight-minute video prior to his GOP speech included poignant reminders of his battle with cancer in touching hospital scenes not seen before. It was the kind of video you see at political conventions before a candidate’s big speech.
There was some exaggeration and stretches in his speeches. All were within the previously acceptable range for politicos before the master of hyperbole occupied the Oval Office had blown those standards off and made exaggeration and fake news part of our daily diet.
In neither speech, did Hogan once mention President Donald Trump, even by inference. Had Hogan attended the Red White and Blue dinner two years before, he could have heard Trump in person make one of his first campaign appearances, long before he was taken seriously by the Republican establishment.
Trump and his policies are the elephant in the room for Hogan that could undermine all his good news and high ratings in opinion polls.
After months of prodding by Democrats and progressives to take a stand against Trump on the environment, immigration, budget cuts, the Paris climate agreement and you-name-it, Hogan finally issued a statement critical of the Senate version of repeal-and-replace for Obamacare.
“We know the current system needs to be fixed but the proposals that are being considered in Congress do not work for Maryland,” said Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse.”Congress should go back to the drawing board in an open, transparent and bipartisan fashion to craft a bill that works for all Americans.”
Both the U.S. House and Senate versions of repeal-and-replace will produce major financial stress for the ballooning Medicaid program in Maryland. This health coverage plan for lower-income people enjoyed a major expansion through the Affordable Care Act.
Hogan’s statement was far too mild for Democrats’ palates. They’ve been demanding that Hogan dish out some hot sauce. That has largely been provided by Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh, who has gone after Trump with a vengeance, using new authority the legislature gave him over Hogan’s objections.
Dodging a bullet
Hogan dodged a bullet on Tuesday’s announcement that the General Services Administration was abandoning plans for a new FBI headquarters in either Maryland or Virginia. Had the announcement been that it would be built in Virginia, Hogan would have been blamed for not working hard enough to lure it to Maryland.
Instead, Maryland’s Democratic U.S. senators and representatives vowed to fight the decision, as they have resisted the Trump administration on so many other issues. They need little prodding from Hogan to do the state’s bidding in Washington.
According to a Baltimore Sun, Hogan was more critical of the FBI decision than he has been on most Trump administration moves, but had unkind words for the unpopular Congress as well, calling it “typical” Washington dysfunction.
“I’m frustrated with our leaders in Congress and I’m frustrated with the administration’s position,” he told reporters. In the online version of the Sun story, two Democratic candidates for governor do take shots at Hogan for failing to snag the FBI.
Hogan can just hope that congressional Republicans continue having trouble getting their act together on health insurance, taxes and other issues so that they don’t dump huge problems in his lap as he bids for reelection.