Tom Coale: Hogan the Handyman

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By: Tom Coale

When Larry Hogan produced an upset victory to become the 62nd Governor of Maryland, he did so with a clear, but limited, mandate - curtail spending and cut taxes. Having repeatedly emphasized that the election of 2014 was not about social issues and that he was “just a businessman” trying to bring “fiscal sanity” back to the state he loved, Candidate Hogan branded himself with myopic focus and singular purpose – he was here to fix leaks and tighten pipes.  He was Maryland’s fiscal handyman.

After being hired, Hogan threw himself into the task of fixing the structural deficit immediately.  He used the time between his election and inauguration to prepare an estimate, hire a bipartisan team of moderates to his crew, and continue his laser-focus on one thing – Maryland’s broken budget.  And in pursuit of that goal, the creative destruction that comes with putting the state’s fiscal house in order may be excused as being all part of the fiscal clean-up Larry Hogan was contracted to do.

But in the early weeks, Hogan’s agenda has expanded far beyond the drudgery of budgets and gored bulls.  The handyman took a tour of the house and decided there was much more do to than merely fix budgets.

First, Marylanders found the handyman in their bedroom, when barely 24 hours into his administration, Hogan was accused of pulling back popular progressive policies on LGTB issues by omitting “sexual identity” from his Executive Order outlining prohibited forms of discrimination and rescinding regulations that would have prevented health care providers who receive Medicaid from discriminating against patients on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

After Equality Maryland sent out a sternly-worded press release lamenting this apparent change in policy, Hogan's office quickly issued a revised Executive Order that included protections for transgender Marylanders and explained that the Medicaid regulation was pulled in a wholesale sweep of 11th hour regulations published, but not yet implemented, by the outgoing Governor.

Then voters found Hogan in the back-yard, changing environmental policy.  Unlike what may be excused as “clumsy inattentiveness” on LGTB matters, the drastic shift on the environment was not a mistake.  Following through on promises made to Eastern Shore agricultural interests during the election, Hogan cancelled new regulations supported by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science that would have limited the amount of phosphorus flowing into our bay from fields over-saturated with chicken manure. Excessive phosphorous expands algae “dead zones” that starve oxygen from aquatic life, kill seafood harvests, and further poison the Chesapeake Bay.  This was a far cry from the candidate who issued TV commercials lauding his plan to clean up the Bay.

Paired with the withdrawal of smog-reducing regulations on coal-powered plants intended to improve Maryland’s air quality, Governor Hogan has expressed environmental policy that ranks clean air and the Chesapeake Bay somewhere behind agricultural and corporate interests.  This is more than fixing the budget.  This is changing the way we experience our state.

And it won’t be too long before our fiscal handyman turns his eyes to our security system, disabling recently passed gun laws.  During the campaign, there was extensive coverage by John Wagner with the Washington Post of candidate Larry Hogan’s hush-hush promises to the gun rights crowd that while he wouldn’t be able to openly oppose new gun control laws, he would loosen standards to allow greater access to concealed carry permits.  Marylanders have yet to see what Governor Hogan has in store for public safety, but can presume that this is one more “off the table” issue that will find itself in play before the end of the year.

While the Governor’s early executive actions certainly don’t merit the “suddenly hardline conservative” title hoisted by left-wing publications like The Nation, they show it is impossible to hire a Governor to only do one job.  Our Republican Governor intends to govern like a Republican; in and out of those gloomy black budget books. Maryland’s constitution favors strong Executive powers and we can expect Governor Hogan to use them extensively as he attempts to maneuver around an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature…and an overwhelmingly Democratic public. The question is how much Maryland voters, who elected President Barack Obama with a 26% margin and are just as likely to vote blue in 2016, will tolerate from their budgetary handyman.

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