Gov. Larry Hogan (R) will be the headliner Tuesday night at a fundraiser in York, Pa., for Pennsylvania state Sen. Scott Wagner (R) — a wealthy businessman who is running for governor in 2018.
Tickets for the cocktail-hour fundraiser, to be held at the Out Door Country Club, range from $100 to $25,000, according to an invitation published last week in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
That Hogan is parlaying his popularity at home into out-of-state appearances for fellow Republicans isn’t surprising. It’s reasonable to expect, if he is re-elected in 2018, that Hogan might want to elevate his profile and become part of the national conversation about the future of the GOP.
In fact, Hogan will head to the Wagner fundraiser shortly after arriving home Tuesday from the annual Republican Governors Association conference, held this year in Aspen, Colo. — where he has been in attendance since Sunday.
But does a Republican like Hogan, who is assiduously trying to portray himself as a centrist able to appeal to Democrats and independents in a blue state like Maryland, want to be associated with Wagner’s right-wing record and rhetoric?
Wagner has questioned climate change science. In a speech earlier this year to a natural gas industry group, he suggested global warming is attributable to the fact that the Earth and sun are moving closer together, rather than human activity.
“I haven’t been in a science class in a long time, but the Earth moves closer to the sun every year — you know, the rotation of the Earth,” Wagner was quoted as saying in an account of the speech reported by Pennsylvania NPR stations. “We’re moving closer to the sun.”
He added, “We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies. So is heat coming off? Things are changing, but I think we are, as a society, doing the best we can.”
Hogan, by contrast, has touted his record on clean energy and climate — although he has been reluctant to join a coalition of states and municipalities formed to reinforce a commitment to emissions goals after President Trump pulled the United States out of the international climate accord reached in Paris in late 2015.
Wagner is also a strong supporter of natural gas drilling.
“There’s a huge difference between an active environmentalist and an environmental activist,” he told the industry group. “I love the outdoors, I grew up around the outdoors, I love fishing — I am in favor of drilling on state lands.”
Hogan, on the other hand, signed legislation this year banning hydraulic fracturing in Maryland.
On other major issues, Wagner is a strong critic of the Affordable Care Act — so-called Obamacare.
At a tele-town hall in March, he called the law “a very large problem,” and lamented the impact of the rising cost of health care on businesses and their employees. “I very much want to see Obamacare get repealed,” he said.
Maryland officials, meanwhile, have scrambled to preserve Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid. Hogan last week signed on to a letter from a bipartisan group of governors urging the U.S. Senate to abandon its attempts to overturn Obamacare, and instead to focus on other ways of fixing the health care system.
Wagner this year co-sponsored a bill that would have banned abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy while offering no exceptions for rape or incest. The current Pennsylvania state law bans abortions after 24 weeks.
When he was campaigning in 2014, Hogan signaled his personal opposition to abortion but called abortion rights in Maryland and in the nation “settled law.” He has steered clear of legislation to impose any new restrictions on abortion in the state.
And if that’s not enough, Wagner was caught this spring on camera in an altercation with a video tracker from American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal “super PAC.” Hogan, by contrast, hugged a Democrat looking to defeat him, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker (D), in a video captured by Maryland Matters at the Crisfield crab feast last week.
So is there any political peril at home for Hogan to be stumping with Wagner just across the state line? Will Maryland Democrats, who have worked without much success to link the governor to President Trump, pounce on his association with a vocal conservative such as Wagner?
Andrew Brightwell, a spokesman for Hogan’s campaign, did not respond to an email requesting comment on Friday afternoon.
Despite Wagner’s more hard-core conservative positions, he and Hogan do appear to have some common political ground.
Hogan is no fan of the state teachers’ union. Wagner in 2015 declared, “If we laid off 10 percent of the teachers in the state of Pennsylvania, we’d never miss them.”
Broadly, Wagner’s rhetoric sounds a little like Hogan’s from 2014.
“A dysfunctional political system ruled by entrenched special interests and career politicians has saddled us with enormous debt, high taxes, a weak economy, underperforming schools, and embarrassing scandals,” the Wagner campaign says at the top of its website. “That’s why Pennsylvanians in droves have voted with their feet by moving to prosperous, well-run states.”
In a section on the economy on Wagner’s website, the campaign writes, “Fixing Pennsylvania’s economy starts with easing one of the most punishing tax and regulatory burdens in the country, because we are chasing businesses away from our state. As a business owner, Scott knows firsthand the hurt that overregulation and over-taxation puts on employers and forces them to close shop or move to a state with a better business climate.”
The website statement continues: “We must also put more money in the pockets of Pennsylvanians to invest in themselves and our economy. We do this by breaking Pennsylvania’s notorious 45-year streak of tax increases on everything from personal income and sales to gas and digital downloads.”
On Sunday, Hogan’s campaign sent out a fundraising solicitation with some of the same themes.
“The dog days of summer are upon us and when it is this hot, the best approach seems to be ‘less is more,’” Hogan wrote.
“When you think about it, I guess you could say our approach to government is ‘less is more’ … as in less taxing and less red tape. Since taking office in January 2015, our administration has:
- Slashed tolls at every single toll facility across Maryland for the first time in more than 50 years — saving families and businesses $270 million;
- Reduced or eliminated more than 250 fees;
- Halted 100 job-killing regulations;
- Passed three budgets in a row without a single tax increase;
- Cut taxes three years in a row, with tax, toll, and fee cuts totaling over $700 million; and
- Cut taxes for military retirees, repealed the rain tax mandate, and returned $200 million in refund checks to overtaxed citizens.”
Wagner, who owns a solid waste disposal company and a trucking business, is one of two wealthy Republican businessmen vying to take on Gov. Tom Wolf (D) — himself a wealthy businessman — next year. Although Wolf isn’t nearly as popular as Hogan, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the 2018 gubernatorial election in the Keystone State as “lean Democratic.”
Wagner has an interesting political history and, like Hogan, has not been in elective office for long. After becoming a major donor to Pennsylvania Republicans up and down the ballot in 2010, he tried to get the Republican nomination for a vacant state Senate seat in an early 2014 special election. When the GOP turned to a state representative instead, Wagner accused the party of “cronyism” and ran a write-in campaign for the seat. He won the seat with almost 48 percent of the vote against the Republican and Democratic nominees.
Wagner has seeded his gubernatorial campaign with $4 million from his own pocket.