Sticking With the Union: Hogan, Jealous Cozy Up to Labor Leaders

Minutes after Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) gratefully accepted the endorsement of the International Association of Firefighters in front of the State House Monday morning, his Democratic challenger, Benjamin T. Jealous, was also appearing with a union leader – on Facebook Live. Hogan’s appearance unsurprisingly got greater attention than Jealous’ chat with Cheryl Bost, the incoming president of the Maryland State Education Association – and was a rarer occurrence. The IAFF is a coveted endorsement, and while the union tends to be bipartisan on a national level, it has been decades, at least, since a Republican gubernatorial candidate has won its blessing in Maryland. Recently, Hogan also picked up the endorsement of the State Law Enforcement Officers Labor Alliance and some building trades unions. “Having the support of cops and firefighters and first responders means an awful lot to me,” Hogan said. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) picks up the endorsement of the International Association of Firefighters Monday. Photo by Josh Kurtz  The event outside the State House, with dozens of firefighters in attendance, standing near a shiny red fire truck, coincided with the release of another list of current and former Democratic officials who have chosen to endorse Hogan rather than Jealous for governor, bringing the total to about 50. Jealous fans have correctly noted that the lion’s share of Democrats lining up behind Hogan are older, whiter, more male, more rural and more conservative, than today’s typical rank-and-file Democrat. In fact, all but one of the 13 endorsements announced Monday were from men. But the endorsements from the union and from the Democrats help drive a favored Hogan narrative, that he has operated in a bipartisan fashion and would continue to do so in a second term. Michael B. Rund, president of the Professional Firefighters of Maryland, praised Hogan for “putting politics aside” and promoting the union’s priorities – emphasizing public safety, working to combat the state’s opioid crisis, and passing the “Hometown Heroes Act,” which enables military veterans and retired first responders to exempt the first $15,000 of their annual retirement income from state taxes. Hogan – who has so far laid out few specific policy proposals for a second term – said Monday that he would push to exempt 100 percent of their retirement income if reelected. “That is not just good economic policy for Maryland, it’s the right thing to do for our brave first responders,” he said. Union leaders said the endorsement would help mobilize the union’s 10,000 active members and retirees in Maryland behind Hogan’s candidacy, and that the IAFF was likely to set up an independent expenditure campaign on the governor’s behalf. In a conversation with reporters after the endorsement event, Andrew Panetlis, regional vice president for the IAFF, allowed that the union had no beef with Jealous, and that Hogan was the beneficiary of a “friendly incumbent policy” that favors incumbents in the endorsement process, especially if it’s a close call between an established officeholder and a challenger. But that nuance won’t matter on campaign literature. Every union that has endorsed Hogan so far backed his Democratic opponent, then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, in 2014, and more could follow. Hogan on Monday promised the firefighters that, during a second term, he would continue to have an “open door” for them, and that their union would have “a seat at the table.” Which is precisely one of the teachers’ union’s primary beefs with the governor. Maryland State Education Association leaders claim they have reached out to Hogan repeatedly to meet – in formal invitations, at public events, and through Keiffer Mitchell, a former Democratic lawmaker and senior adviser to Hogan – without success. In fact, Hogan characterized MSEA operatives as “thugs” in a Facebook post two years ago, something that continues to rankle labor leaders. There are about 81,000 public school teachers in Maryland. “Unlike our current governor, I don’t think you’re a union thug, nor is any other teacher in our state,” Jealous told Bost during their 15-minute Facebook Live chat Monday. For most of their conversation, Jealous was content to let Bost make the union’s case against Hogan, and she was only too happy to oblige. The MSEA offered Jealous critical support during the crowded Democratic primary and will be among his most steadfast supporters in the general election. Bost, a teacher at Mars Estates Elementary School in Baltimore County, hit Hogan on funding issues, on mandating that the school year begin after Labor Day, on the state’s decision to boost government aid for private and parochial schools, and more. The union has long quarreled with Hogan’s contention with he is funding education at record levels. “Gov. Hogan says we’re fully funding education, and I have to say, my blood pressure goes up when I hear that, because we’re using 20-year funding formulas to say that,” Bost said. “It’s not meeting the needs of our students to fund it that way.” Scott Sloofman, a campaign spokesman for Hogan, called the union’s criticism “worn-out talking points,” adding that the Hogan administration has supplied a record $25 billion for K-12 education so far and that the “lockbox” ensuring that state gambling proceeds go to education will provide an additional $4.4 billion over a decade. “Before the governor was even elected, the political operatives running the teachers’ union have been miscategorizing his education record,” Sloofman said. Educators and policymakers are looking to the forthcoming recommendations of the so-called Kirwan Commission, which is investigating how to maximize school funding, as a way to bring the state’s education ranking – once No. 1 during former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley’s (D) tenure, according to Education Week, and now at No. 6 – back to primacy. (Ahead of Maryland: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut.) Jealous called Kirwan “a once in a generation opportunity to fund our schools,” and has promised to make much of the school spending windfall available for teacher raises, if elected. “We’re all coming together to make sure teachers are respected and paid better, to make sure every kid gets a great education, to make sure that schools are fully funded and that every classroom has the resources they need to make sure every kid emerges ready for a career, ready for college,” he said. “We can do it.” Bost referenced the recent teacher-led political movements and work stoppages in conservative states like Oklahoma, Kentucky, West Virginia and Arizona, which have resulted in greater spending commitments for public education (and falling poll numbers for the Republican governors). She called them “Red for Ed,” and wonder whether they’d have to be duplicated in Maryland. “It’s much better,” Jealous replied, “to take back the governorship than go on strike.” jkurtz@marylandmatters.org

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.

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