By William F. Zorzi
Maryland Democrats gave no quarter to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. for his State of the State speech Wednesday, particularly candidates in attendance aiming to take his job next year.
After hearing the 22-minute-long speech to both houses of the General Assembly – his fourth and final such address of the term — each candidate present dismissed the Republican’s calls for bipartisanship as a sham and proceeded to deconstruct the litany of accomplishments he claimed in the House of Delegates chamber.
“It’s nice that you’re throwing in ‘bipartisanship’ as a nice little talking point, but it’s another misleading statement,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat running for governor. “I couldn’t help but notice a certain disconnect between the words and the actions that we have seen.”
And the gubernatorial candidates did not give Hogan a pass for attempting to distance himself from President Donald Trump, who delivered his State of the Union address to Congress and the nation Tuesday night.
“I was hoping to hear the governor [offer] a strong rebuke about what’s going on with the president,” said Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, invited guest to the annual event and gubernatorial aspirant. “Because, you know what? President Trump is hard on Maryland, but what we find is that Larry Hogan is soft on Trump.”
Yet the loyal minority toed the GOP line for their governor, who will face one of the Democratic hopefuls in November, when Hogan tries for a second term.
“We really are changing Maryland for the better,” said Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Harford County Republican and House minority whip. “Governor Hogan’s done a great job of governing from the middle, understanding that Maryland is the middle temperament state.”
Szeliga singled out what the administration has touted as Hogan’s record on public education.
“I was a little disappointed when Governor Hogan talked about our accomplishments in education that the Democrats were not really willing to acknowledge all the good things Governor Hogan’s done in that area,” she said.
But the Democratic candidates for governor – predictably – were buying none of it.
Education. Environment. Opioids. Mass transit.
Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.
Hogan had nothing to offer to the Democratic candidates in the audience.
“I think the governor’s very good at pointing fingers, but not good at providing solutions,” said Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz, another annually invited guest and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful.
“So, there are no solutions about mass transit – we’re still stuck in traffic. There’s no solutions to improve our schools – and by the way, our schools used to be No. 1 in the nation; now we’re just middle of the pack. There are no solutions to help Baltimore in terms of creating jobs and improving those schools, only blame,” Kamenetz said.
“You know, the role of the governor is to lead,” he added. “I don’t see that leadership taking place, just a couple of pats on his own back.”
One Democrat who seemed to be not quite as harsh was someone who has led the state before, from 1995 to 2003 — former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who referred to Hogan’s remarks on gerrymandering, term limits for legislators and new highway construction.
“Some of the purely what I would call procedural and political things … I agree [with], and some of which I do not,” Glendening said.
For instance, he said, “There’s too much gerrymandering, and we ought to seek a solution to that. Other states are doing it.”
On Monday, in fact, Hogan signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in a Maryland case before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the state’s gerrymandered 6th Congressional District as unconstitutional, joining two former California governors, Gray Davis, a Democrat, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican.
Meanwhile, Glendening said, “I think term limits would be a mistake for legislators, and I’ve seen what happens in other areas, both local and other states, where they have term limits.
“On the bigger issues, I think he’s right on some of them, certainly the battle against the opioids and things like this,” he said. “But on others, I think he’s wrong, very wrong, particularly the idea of the $9 billion to simply add more roads and expand them.”
State Sen. Nancy J. King of Montgomery County delivered Democratic legislators’ official rebuttal to Hogan’s State of the State address, but spent much of her time speaking about the goings-on in Washington, rather than the governor’s last three years in office.
“In the General Assembly, we find ourselves in the challenging position of defending Maryland against the irresponsible actions of our president and the Republican-controlled Congress – while trying to build on our state’s remarkable strengths,” King said.
Hogan’s party affiliation with Trump seemed to be the common lightning rod, repeated time and again by Democrats.
Asked for his reaction to Hogan’s speech, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, the mild-mannered Democrat from Montgomery County, said this:
“I hoped that he would lay out a plan for how he was going to protect Marylanders from the president, the president who is spewing hate, sowing fear, dividing the country, attacking civil rights, undermining environmental protection, undermining consumer protection, blowing up our health care system.”
Instead, Frosh said, “what we got was a lot of platitudes interspersed with some misinformation.”
But what about Hogan’s attempts to distance himself from Trump?
“I thought that was kind of empty,” Frosh said. “I mean, you know, saying he’s not for what’s going on in Washington. The question is, what’s he for?”
Bruce DePuyt contributed to this report.