Frank DeFilippo: Hogan’s Biggest Foe Is the Velocity of History

There’s a discernible hint in the campaign’s airborne message that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is showing concern despite the advantages of incumbency and the benefits of money and exposure that flow from it. And well he should, though the analogy may not be precise, considering the upsets and urgency of change that are upending politics and politicians in urban centers across the country. Georgia, New York, Florida, Massachusetts, and even Chicago, are object lessons in caution. In each instance, the changes were driven by young liberal voters anxious to advance their progressive agenda for America. Here in Maryland, Ben Jealous, the Democratic candidate for governor, embraces many of the elements that produced stunning results elsewhere – a 2-1 Democratic majority, two densely populated urban areas with majority black populations, a 33 percent statewide black population which is a third of the Democratic vote, a 10 percent (and growing) Hispanic population and the onward rush of demographic and generational change. Maryland Democrats are hoping to seize the moment.  Frank A. DeFilippo As important as the state’s self-contained dynamics is Maryland’s location. It is joined at the hip with the nation’s news center in the country’s fourth largest media market. Every thunderclap out of Washington, D.C., has an immediacy in Maryland that produces instant reaction. Front-runners usually try to duck debates to avoid giving opponents unnecessary exposure or risk a major flub. Hogan initially agreed to two, Jealous demanded five and they settled for one. Any way it’s parsed, the voters have been denied a close look at their next governor under pressure. Add to the mix that the Republican in the White House, President Trump, has a 60 percent disapproval rating in the latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll and only 36 percent approval. And most polls, along with other campaign-year mathematics, strongly favor Democrats to make sweeping gains as out-parties usually do in midterm elections. And former President Obama has joined the effort, hoping his personal popularity will be a source of human motivation for Democrats to reject the Trump tweetocracy. Lump it all together and Hogan has cause for a case of the heebie-jeebies, even though the polls posit a different view. And while the anger may not be aimed at Hogan directly, a scattershot disgust is trained on incumbents and establishment politicians of all stripes. Hogan’s own polls must show it, too. Or else why would Hogan be sinking millions into television ads and saturating the Internet with postings about his programs and accomplishments if not for worry? Yes, he has the money, but this intensity is usually reserved for late in the campaign. And again, yes, he would say, if asked, every smart politician runs a little scared, especially because being so far ahead in the polls creates its own kind of vulnerability – a big target on the back. And why would Hogan be attempting to piggyback onto a uniquely Democratic accomplishment, the “lock box” on casino proceeds for education, when he fought the idea as the Democrats proposed it, kicking and screaming, during the recent General Assembly session? The “lock box” was fashioned as a constitutional amendment by Democrats for two reasons: First, to draw school boosters to the polls in November, and, second, to by-pass the governor and go directly to the voters so he couldn’t veto it.  Hogan came up with legislation to create a “lock box” separate from the Democrats’ constitutional amendment, but in a Democratic legislature, lawmakers opted for the Democratic proposal. And now the governor’s TV ad claims it as “The Hogan lock box initiative.” To borrow the Fact Checker’s rating system, award Hogan four Pinocchios for intellectual property theft. The one important ingredient that polls cannot detect is voter turnout, and that has been the critical factor in upset after upset this volatile election season. Most recently, Ayanna Pressley, a 44-year-old black Boston City Council member, upset by nearly 10 points the 10-term incumbent, Rep. Michael Capuano. This occurred in a congressional district that was once represented by President John F. Kennedy and House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill in one of the most segregated cities in America. In a solid New York Democratic congressional district that is now majority Hispanic, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 28, decapitated Rep. Joseph Crowley, a veteran lawmaker and the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives. In Georgia, part of the solid “Deep South” where Lester Maddox once handed out axe handles as a symbol of segregation, Stacey Abrams, a Yale Law School graduate, became the first black woman ever to be nominated for governor – anywhere. Abrams, an entrepreneur and writer, is the former minority leader of the Georgia House.  Andrew Gillum  In Florida, the brash young mayor of Tallahassee, Andrew Gillum, 39, was nominated by Democrats as their candidate for governor with the endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and heavy turnouts in Dade and Broward counties, two of the state’s most populous and diverse. In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, has withdrawn from the city’s reelection pool after serving two terms and saying he would run for a third. Emanuel was driven from office by controversies over the city’s policing practices, a divisive teachers’ strike, Chicago’s soaring murder rate and seething unrest in the black community that caused a loss of support. A dozen or more candidates are seeking the office, including several African-Americans. All of the winning candidates represent the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as does Jealous. While those victories do not relate directly to Hogan, the energy that propelled those candidates to historic wins does pose a threat to what earlier appeared an easy second term for him – especially the element of uncertainty. It’s one of the campaign’s toothsome twists: Jealous wants to provide health care for everyone and Republicans labeled him a socialist. Hogan would like to eliminate taxes for pensioners and Republicans called it “aspirational,” as reported. Calling Jealous a socialist is reminiscent of the American Medical Association’s fight against Medicare in the 1960s when they labeled the idea “socialized medicine.” Today, Medicare is America’s most popular and successful government program. Hogan’s tax proposal borders on bait-and-switch. Aspirational means he’d like to do it but knows he can’t, kind of like making the pitch by withholding the product. Where Jealous may have gone too far in search of an attention-grabber was his proposal to reduce the state’s sales tax from 6 percent to 5.75 percent at a cost to the treasury of $150 million-$193 million, depending on who’s doing the accounting. He has proposed raising taxes to underwrite other programs but now wants to cut the sales tax, which is the state’s second largest source of revenue. The last governor to cut a major tax unnecessarily, and with no one clamoring for it, was Gov. Parris Glendening (D) in 1996. He gave himself an election-year gift of  10 percent income tax cut and shafted his successor with the unpaid bill. In cutting the income tax, Glendening not only created a deficit but he also failed to fully fund his own Thornton education program and left the fiscal mess for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) to clean up along with the tab for the last-minute purchase of $60 million worth of voting machines two weeks before he left office. The biggest threat to Hogan is not so much what he did or didn’t do, or the political strength of his opponent. His most menacing enemy is the velocity of history and the terrible swift force of a moment whose time has come. He is dead center in the path of a movement that has all of the elements of success in Maryland. It is on the broad shoulders of the voters and not the political parties or their candidates. It’s all about voter turnout. The rest is background noise.

Frank A. DeFilippo
Frank A. DeFilippo is an award-winning political commentator who lives and writes in Baltimore. DeFilippo has been writing about the comic opera of politics for more than 50 years. He reported on the Maryland General Assembly for 10 years before joining the administration of former Gov. Marvin Mandel (D) as press secretary and speechwriter. Between times, he was a White House correspondent during the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and he has covered six national political conventions. DeFilippo is the author of Hooked, an alleged work of fiction, and an unpublished manuscript, Shiksa: The Rise and Fall of Marvin Mandel.

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