For Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), it must have been close to heaven: 700 cheering business leaders jammed into a ballroom Tuesday afternoon, just hours after a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll brought him reams of good political news.No one chanted “Four more years!” Hogan’s fourth annual “State of Business” address, sponsored by Maryland Business for Responsive Government, was officially a nonpartisan affair.But former state Sen. Francis X. Kelly Jr., an insurance executive, left no doubt that he would be leading the crowd in a chant of “Four more years!” if only he could.“Now, he’s running again,” Kelly said, introducing the governor. “This isn’t a political event. But every damn one of you should vote for him.”The crowd at Martin’s West banquet hall in Woodlawn leaped to its feet.Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. meets with admirers before his fourth annual “State of Business” address Tuesday in Woodlawn. Photo by Josh Kurtz“Look around this room – it looks like we’re sold out and it looks like Maryland is open for business again,” a triumphant Hogan said as he took the stage. “What do you think?”Clearly he was buoyed by the Post poll – and why not? The poll not only showed him with leads of anywhere from 10 points to 24 points over the seven Democrats seeking their party’s gubernatorial nomination in the June 26 primary; it also showed him with a 71 percent job approval rating – and admiration not only from his fellow Republicans but from Democrats and independents as well.Hogan mentioned the poll on a few occasions, at one point joking, “The bad news is, there is 6 percent of the population that strongly disapproves of the job we’re doing, and every one of them is running for governor [on the Democratic side]. I don’t know much about them, but every one of them would take us back to the way we were.”That was not a reference to the Barbra Streisand-Robert Redford romance.Hogan then launched into his standard stump speech. In fact, but for a few fresh statistics and anecdotes, it was strikingly similar to the speech he delivered at last year’s MBRG luncheon.He paid tribute to his cabinet – “working every day for you.”He paid tribute to “my dear friend” Ellen R. Sauerbrey, the erstwhile lawmaker and two-time GOP gubernatorial standard-bearer, who was instrumental in launching and sustaining MBRG through its lean years.“She was actually elected governor in 1994,” Hogan said, referencing Sauerbrey’s 5,993-vote loss to Democrat Parris N. Glendening (many Republicans believe the dominant Democrats stole that election).He took the audience for what he called “a trip down memory lane,” when Maryland had seen “43 consecutive tax increases,” and almost half the population wanted to leave the state.But Maryland, Hogan said, just had its best year for business in 10 years. Its best year for job growth in 15 years.Maryland is near the top, he said, on national and regional lists for job growth. Taxes and fees have been cut. Regulations, too. Minority-owned businesses are thriving. STEM education has gotten a boost.The state is making major investments in education and transportation, Hogan continued. The proposals to widen Interstate 495 and I-270 “represent the largest public-private transportation project in the world,” valued at $7.6 billion, and the state is negotiating with the U.S. Department of the Interior to buy the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, so that key north-south thoroughfare can be widened as well.And then there is the possibility of Amazon coming to the state. Hogan called it “the biggest economic development opportunity in the nation,” and said the state could see 100,000 jobs and a $17 billion boost to the economy if the shipping and merchandise giant moved its second headquarters to Montgomery County.And before it ended, Hogan vowed to be back, four more times.“I look forward to doing this for another four years,” he said.There were very few people in the audience – even in this Democratic state – who had reason to doubt him. Though a few privately worried about irrational exuberance.Hogan’s reelect numbers in the Post poll, while now over 50 percent (a few ticks up from previous surveys), still did not top 55 percent, and those mid-50’s showings were against the least-known Democrats. Among the more established challengers, the governor was at or just over 50 percent.At around the same time Hogan was speaking, the seven leading Democratic candidates for governor were taping a televised forum, offering a different assessment of Hogan’s tenure [see related story].Trailing the governor by a 50 percent to 40 percent margin in the poll – the best showing of any Democrat, though well within the margin of error – state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. tweeted Tuesday: “Plain and simple: if you want a Democrat who can compete and beat @LarryHogan, I’m your candidate.”(Madaleno, it must be said, was at 6 percent – good for fourth place – in the Democratic primary matchup. And while former NAACP president Benjamin T. Jealous was leading with 21 percent, undecided still topped the field, with 39 percent.)Hogan tried to assure the crowd that he was taking nothing for granted – and that he expected more progress in a second term.“We are just getting started,” he said. “There is more work to be done.”[email protected]
Founding Editor Josh Kurtz is a veteran 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 was an editor at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, for eight years, and for eight years was the editor of E&E Daily, which covers energy and environmental policy on Capitol Hill. For 6 1/2 years Kurtz wrote a weekly column on state politics for Center Maryland and has written for several other Maryland publications as well. Kurtz regularly gives speeches and appears on TV and radio shows to discuss Maryland politics.