Laslo Boyd: Larry Hogan's Way

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By Laslo Boyd

The new governor managed to get elected in 2014 while revealing very little about himself.  The key to his success was reminding voters that he was not Anthony Brown.  Other than repeating constantly that Martin O’Malley had raised taxes over forty times during his eight years, Hogan’s campaign was stunningly devoid of content.

January 2015 started with Hogan signaling that he would not be Bob Ehrlich.  There was much talk about a new era of cooperation and bipartisanship in Annapolis.  Many commentators and even some Democrats became absolutely giddy at the prospect of a governor who seemed friendly, someone you might have a beer with, a non-politician with a common touch.

Hogan’s State of the State message put a damper on the era of good feelings, filled as it was with partisan rhetoric and a tone of confrontation.  Yet, as proof that Democrats wanted to make the relationship with the Republican governor work, most forgave him that speech as an aberration.   Everyone agreed that the budget would be the main order of business, a perspective reinforced by Hogan’s modest legislative agenda.

Deliberations over the budget started out well enough.  An initial version marked up by the Democratic leadership won overwhelming support from legislators of both parties.  House Appropriations Chair Maggie McIntosh found enough cuts in the Hogan budget to allow the possibility of restoring a pay increase for state workers, education funding based on geographical costs, and a Medicaid cut.   While only the Governor can insert money in the budget, the legislature can negotiate and suggest.  It looked at that point like the McIntosh version of the budget would enable everyone to claim victory.

However, even as the outlook for the budget looked promising, there were signs that relationships might not be so cordial after all.   Hogan started bragging, one day suggesting that Miller and Busch were parroting him on their concern with the state’s business climate, and on another claiming that he had done more for the Chesapeake Bay in six months than Martin O’Malley had done in eight years. 

The General Assembly, for its part, rewrote Hogan’s badly conceived charter school bill, leaving it a pale shadow of the original.  His repeal of the “rain tax” won approval, but the commitment to stormwater abatement was reinforced.  There was sparring over aid to private schools, the size of the additional contribution to funding pension obligations, and a number of minor tax bills.

Still, the tone of public comments continued to sound collaborative until Hogan introduced a first, then a second, and then a third supplemental budget.  Rather than repurpose McIntosh’s cuts to Democratic priorities, Hogan doubled down on his original budget proposals.   

Despite the early talk about collaboration and bipartisanship, the last few days of the General Assembly session saw no compromise from the Governor, no bridging of a gap that never seemed all that large.  There had been plenty of room for everyone to claim success and, perhaps more importantly, establish a secure basis for a positive relationship going forward.  But, by Sine Die, none of that had survived.

How can Hogan’s stance at the end of session be understood?  Did he, as some Democrats have argued, refuse to take “yes” for an answer and snatch “defeat from the jaws of victory?”   Or did he make a very calculated political decision to have a confrontation with the Democratic controlled General Assembly?

Much has been made of both Hogan’s lack of political and governmental experience and his success as a businessman.  Did the end of the session show Hogan’s lack of political experience and misunderstanding of how to negotiate with independent political actors?

Hogan has made numerous references to what he perceives as a mandate coming out of the last election.  Given the lack of specificity of his campaign, that’s a tricky argument to make.  He may be indulging in the same error that Bob Ehrlich made, which was to think that he won rather than that his Democratic opponent lost.  In Ehrlich’s case, that made him overestimate his own political strength.

Hogan may be making the same mistake.  He may be taking his press clippings too seriously and misjudging the political resources that Busch and Miller have available to them. 

Hogan also seems to have a streak of petulance.  Take his reaction to Senator Rich Madaleno’s letter urging him to boycott Indiana as a response to the anti-gay legislation that was enacted there.  Hogan didn’t like a reference Madaleno made to his wife and claimed that he stopped reading the letter at that point.   He then had his press person describe the letter as a “stunt.”  That’s quite a statement from a leader of the party that coined the term “rain tax.”  More importantly, the issue is a real one and could have given Hogan a chance to demonstrate that Republicans are not the party of gay bashing.

Hogan has unnecessarily dug himself a hole with the leadership of the General Assembly.  He may still find a compromise on the budget although right now that seems unlikely.  However, if he doesn’t make a more serious effort to work with the General Assembly, it’s going to be a long four years, and definitely not eight years.

In the midst of the post-mortems on the session, one off-hand remark by Senate President Miller deserves highlighting.  Miller played good cop for much of the 90 days, but did point out that he and Busch had “been gentle” with Hogan.   The Governor would do well to recognize that the presiding officers have other options available.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.