Gov. Hogan’s Top 5 Cabinet Members

By Josh Kurtz

Maryland Commerce Secretary Mike Gill stood in front a roomful of business leaders the other day and urged them to chant for Gov. Larry Hogan’s re-election (see here). Nobody chanted, but plenty of people applauded. Now that’s a loyal Cabinet member.

Hogan clearly prefers the nine months when the General Assembly isn’t in session to the three months when the lawmakers are hanging out in Annapolis. He doesn’t have to share the spotlight, and legislators don’t have the megaphone they do during the 90-day session to criticize him.

Yet, as Hogan moves increasingly into campaign mode ahead of the 2018 election, his Cabinet can be an incredible asset — amplifying his message on a variety of fronts, and moving across the state to reach out to targeted audiences on his behalf. The Cabinet members, of course, also help run government on a day-to-day basis – and a government is only as good as its people.

So who are the stars of Hogan’s Cabinet? How do they go about their business – and how are they poised to help him?

Maryland Matters queried two dozen people who follow state government closely to help us compile this list. Narrowing it down to the top five wasn’t easy. Still, the suggestions of most of our respondents were generally aligned.

The one noteworthy exception, where opinions differed drastically, was over Dennis Schrader, the acting secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Some State House observers described him as a hard-working, loyal and canny administrator who has learned from his experiences holding a variety of roles in federal, state and local government. Others complained that Schrader, who took over DHMH at the end of last year after Hogan abruptly jettisoned his predecessor, Van Mitchell, is a political hack who is way out of his depth when it comes to health care policy – at a time when drastic changes could be coming to the national health care system.

That debate will continue to rage in the months ahead, with Schrader’s status somewhat unclear – and Hogan likely to formally resubmit his nomination to the state Senate next year after it stalled in the final days of this year’s session (see here).

In the meantime, here are the consensus Fab Five of the Hogan administration:


1. **Ben Grumbles, Maryland Department of the Environment: If anyone in the Hogan Cabinet helps the governor strike the balance that he needs between being pro-business and a good steward of Maryland’s land, air and water, it’s Grumbles. Environmentalists don’t always agree with him, but they admire him, and he’s careful to keep the lines of communication open. And there’s no doubting that the former head of the water office at U.S. EPA under President George W. Bush knows his stuff.

Secretary Pete K Rahn Official Photo

2. **Pete Rahn, Maryland Department of Transportation: There’s nobody more steeped in his agency’s policies – and the corresponding debates at the national level – than this guy. After all, he’s held comparable positions in two other states, New Mexico and Missouri. Transit advocates aren’t happy with Hogan administration priorities, but Rahn is accessible to critics and pretty good about explaining why the administration does what it does.


3. **David Brinkley, Department of Budget and Management: Considering there’s a Republican governor and a legislature with Democratic super-majorities, the budget process since Hogan has taken office has been pretty harmonious – especially this year. Brinkley, a former member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, deserves a good bit of the credit. He has kept his head down, worked closely with the numbers-crunchers in the administration and the legislature, and largely stayed away from political battles.


4. **Kelly Schulz, Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation: What she lacks in pure policy chops she makes up for in her ability to sell Hogan’s priorities – and her relationships with former colleagues in the legislature, particularly on the House Economic Matters Committee. She’s especially good in one-on-one meetings, and it’s easy for her to promote Hogan’s pro-business agenda, because she fervently supports it.


5. **George Owings III, Department of Veterans Affairs: There is no greater advocate for veterans in the state of Maryland, period, than this Vietnam War veteran and former member of the House of Delegates who previously held the same Cabinet post under GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich.  And he’s managed to survive at a time when Hogan seems to be relying less on seasoned Annapolis insiders than he was when he first took office.

**Honorable mention: Gill, for his smarts, hard work and cheerleading abilities, and General Services Secretary Ellington Churchill, who is smart and innovative in a position where he could just be a paper-pusher.

Josh Kurtz
Co-founder and Editor Josh Kurtz is the leading chronicler of Maryland politics and government. He began covering the State House in 1995 for The Gazette newspapers, and has been writing about state and local politics ever since. He later became an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, and spent eight years at E&E News, an online subscription-only publisher of news websites covering energy and environmental issues. For seven of those years, he led a staff of 20 reporters at E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill and in national politics. For 6 1/2 years he wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz has given speeches and appeared on TV and radio shows about Maryland politics through the years.


  1. I used to have respect for you and your writing but your sexist description of Secretary Schulz has spoiled my opinion of you. First off, what policy chops do you think the Secretary lacks and why is that the first thing you say about her? That’s demeaning. In other words you’re calling her stupid, unprepared to do her job, incapable of understanding “complex” labor issues. Look how you compare her to the others: In George there is no greater advocate, for Pete there’s nobody better, David saved the budget, Ben is a smartypants respected by the opposition, but Secretary Schulz you tell us makes up for her lack of policy chops with a great personality, i.e. her relationships. Gill even gets a shout out for his smarts and hard work. Second, where did you find this picture? Why is she the only Secretary not in the official Secretary picture? It’s on her agency homepage. Are you that lazy you google ‘Secretary Schulz pictures’ and decided to use the first available? It’s on her website! Come one man. She’s a Secretary. You didn’t use unofficial pictures of anyone else, why is that? You don’t think your readers want to see one of the men in a casual shirt but it’s okay for Secretary Schulz because she’s a woman, is that it?
    Finally, I’m willing to bet that every Cabinet Secretary fervently supports the Governor’s agenda. Duh! A majority of Marylanders support the Governor’s agenda. What kind of description is that of a cabinet secretary. She supports the boss’s policies! woo hoo she’s the 4th best Secretary!

    I’m rarely offended and never call another man sexist and misogynistic, but I am here. This is unacceptable.


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