Richard J. Cross, III: Of Hogan, Negan, and the Politics of The Walking Dead

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Hogan, Duquette, & Baseball Bat
Image Source: Office of the Governor of Maryland

Recently I have been thinking about the controversial season finale of a long-running televised drama.

In the show’s final moments, a group of protagonists are confronted by a lethal new nemesis. Self-righteous and buoyed by past wins against morally inferior adversaries, this band of heroes lives behind the walls of a sheltered city. They regard themselves as the only true source of hope for individuals struggling for daily survival in a challenging environment.

The nemesis is a charismatic interloper who wields a baseball bat as a symbol of his power. His ability to communicate helped him build his own rival army of followers not beholden to the status quo. Attempts by the protagonists to defeat him using proven methods have failed, leaving them frustrated by, and ultimately subjugated to, his authority.

Just to avoid any confusion…no, I am not talking about The Walking Dead. The drama in question here is the conclusion of the 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly.

Like The Walking Dead’s Negan, Governor Hogan has effectively used charisma and shrewd messaging skills to build a diverse coalition of followers. And while Hogan does not often brandish a baseball bat, he does wield the biggest stick a governor can carry: Approval ratings hovering around seventy percent.

Like the Alexandrians on the show, the members of Maryland’s Democratic political establishment exist in a bubble community: Annapolis, where insular special interest politics and arcane partisan squabbles unfold apart from the lives of most Marylanders.

They have long bested their rivals in the minority party – including the last GOP governor – by employing methods such as media grandstanding, public relations stunts, exploitation of racial and gender politics, contrived veto fights, and bogeyman politics intended to demonize opponents.

They are ardent believers in their own principles, and regard others with a different political worldview as being misguided if not deficient. Indeed, the last Democratic governor once dismissed state Republicans as “an aberrant strain of DNA.”

In other words, if you do not see the world as they do, and ascribe to their same proposed high-minded and costly solutions, you must necessarily be wrong.

Just as the Alexandrians took up arms against Negan, the Maryland Democratic establishment aggressively attacked Hogan during the 90 day legislative session. However, the old wedge politics have not worked, and Hogan is now emerging from the session with approval ratings higher than when it started.

Some Maryland Democrats may now be forced to confront two unpleasant truths.

First, the current Republican governor may not in fact be the fluke they judged the previous Republican governor to be.

Second, the lessons learned from decades of monopoly rule over Maryland politics and institutions may no longer be applicable given modern realities.

So, what could Maryland Democrats do to avoid the unpleasant fate of their counterparts on The Walking Dead?

First, they can develop and embrace new leaders, both in the ranks and upper hierarchy of the legislature and in local offices across the state.

The Democratic establishment typically gravitates towards recycling partisans with a decade or more of elective experience. In other words, when choosing candidates for higher office, the monopoly likes to promote its own.

Embracing candidates with real life backgrounds in business or civic activism may put the party in closer touch with its own espoused values.

Second, they should embrace opportunities to enhance transparency and further political reforms. By blocking redistricting reform, Maryland Democrats may have extended their hegemony over legislative races, but in the end this may prove to be a short-sighted strategy.

Polls show that redistricting reform enjoys strong support among citizens. As the civil rights movement and other insurgent populist initiatives have demonstrated, ultimate credit in politics usually belongs to those who were first to stand up for doing the right thing.

Third, Democratic leaders should take a sanguine view as to why their once unassailable monopoly has lost two of the last four gubernatorial campaigns. It was not exclusively because of bad candidates or the whims of the national political climate.

Also relevant was an opportunity created by the pervasive belief that patronizing leaders in Annapolis were more interested in imposing their own solutions from above than listening to ordinary Marylanders.

Maryland remains a solidly blue state. Given his emphasis on compromise, avoidance of partisan squabbles when possible, and focus on addressing agnostic tax and spending concerns, Governor Hogan seems to understand this reality.  His path to reelection likely requires following the same course.

As for Maryland’s Alexandrians, circumstances have forced them to leave past glories behind and embrace the kinds of new strategies, solutions, and ideas needed to reinvigorate their moribund majority.

Change is never easy, but often necessary, in politics. For many Maryland politicos, failing to embrace change risks a change in status from political survivor to political zombie.

Richard J. Cross III is a former Capitol Hill and Annapolis press secretary and speechwriter. He resides in Baltimore. His e-mail address: .

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