By Bruce DePuyt
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan declared on Wednesday that his policies have reinvigorated the state of Maryland, reversing years of economic decline and overspending.
“Maryland truly is open for business,” Hogan (R) told state lawmakers gathered for his fourth State of the State address. “We’ve had the fastest job growth in the mid-Atlantic region and one of the strongest economic turnarounds in America.”
Although he has frequently clashed with leaders in the Democratic-led General Assembly, Hogan praised Maryland for having a political culture where “the best ideas rise to the top based upon their merit, regardless of which side of the aisle they come from.”
“We have made progress with courage and with clarity of purpose,” he said. “And our citizens are more pleased with the job that we are doing and the direction that we are heading than they have ever been before.”
Hogan, who will face voters in November for the first time since his upset victory in 2014, has frequently criticized national leaders of both parties for being unwilling or unable to reach across the aisle, a likely theme of his re-election bid.
He called on state lawmakers to protect taxpayers from the impact of the federal tax overhaul. He urged action against potential spikes in health insurance premiums, and he advocated for “mandatory minimum” sentences for gun crimes and “truth in sentencing” legislation.
Declaring that “no child should have to pay the price for the mistakes of adults who have failed them,” Hogan called on lawmakers to approve two pieces of his education agenda, one of which would change a school system ranking formula, and a second bill that would create an “investigator general” to root out corruption and ineptitude at the local level.
Seated in the gallery next to Hogan’s wife Yumi was Karen Dolch of Salisbury, whose son Chad, a 29-year-old U.S. Army veteran, died from an opioid overdose in December. Hogan held up a photo of himself, Chad and his mom, saying, the state must continue the fight against the opioid epidemic “for all the lives cut too short and all the families that will never be the same.”
Lawmakers stood in unison to endorse Hogan’s call for action on illegal drugs — and a second time when he praised the assembly for “finally” approving legislation preventing men from seeking parental rights for children conceived through rape. The House gave final approval to that long-stalled legislation minutes before the State of the State, and Hogan promised to sign it “the moment it reaches my desk.”
Hogan’s address felt like a State of the Union in miniature at times. While Republican lawmakers stood to applaud the governor frequently, Democrats often responded with tepid applause — or none at all. One notable exception was Baltimore County state Sen. James Brochin (D), who stood and applauded frequently.
While Hogan’s call for “an end to partisan gerrymandering” was warmly received, his push for televised floor sessions and legislative term limits was not.
The House galleries were stocked with administration officials and the governor’s family and friends, leaving few spaces for the general public.
Staring back at Hogan as he spoke were at least three of the Democrats hoping to unseat him in the fall, including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno (Montgomery). All panned the governor’s remarks, saying his proposals skimped on specifics, that he failed to condemn President Trump’s comments regarding immigrants and that he took credit for policies he once opposed.
Kathleen Matthews, head of the Maryland Democratic Party, said Hogan was “heavy on the rhetoric and light on the details.” She accused him of trying to “rewrite history in an election year.”
Immediately after the speech, Hogan, led by aides and Maryland State Police bodyguards, walked down the back stairs from the House to the State House basement, where he bumped into the exiting former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the Baltimore County Republican who led the state from 2003-2007.
“Governor, I really appreciate you being here,” Hogan told him.
“Governor Ehrlich led the cheering,” said one Hogan aide from the hallway by the stairs.
“When you’re surrounded by enemies,” Ehrlich said, trailing off.
Both governors then walked out of the State House.
William F. Zorzi contributed to this report.