From Periodic Petulance to Conciliatory Mien: Almanac of American Politics on Hogan

Today Maryland Matters offers a profile of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) from the newest edition of The Almanac of American Politics, the classic political reference book for political junkies of every stripe.

And in case you missed it, click here to read the advance copy of the almanac’s view on Maryland’s changing politics, demographics and economics, which we published Monday. 

In June 2015, after barely five months in office, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan called a press conference on a hot summer afternoon to share the news that he had just been diagnosed with “a very advanced and very aggressive” form of cancer: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It had been discovered in late stage 3, when survival rates for that type of cancer are normally in the 50 to 70 percent range. Seeking to lighten the mood in the room, the affable Hogan wisecracked, “The best news is that my odds of getting through this and beating this are much, much better than the odds I had of beating Anthony Brown.” The quip underscored that Hogan’s surprise victory in deep-blue Maryland over Brown — lieutenant governor under Hogan’s Democratic predecessor, Martin O’Malley — ranked as one of the major upsets nationwide in 2014.

Hogan went on to beat cancer–and, since then, his political as well as physical health has been little short of excellent: He has defied political gravity in a state where Democrats enjoy a 2-1 registration edge. The humor and candor he exhibited during 18 weeks of enervating chemotherapy treatments helped to define him to his constituents, establishing an upbeat relationship with voters that persisted throughout his first term: Polling regularly put his approval ratings at or above 70 percent. It culminated with Hogan being reelected in 2018 by a double-digit margin over former NAACP national president Ben Jealous, making him the first Maryland Republican governor since Theodore Francis McKeldin in the 1950s to win a second term. In the wake of his reelection victory, there was widespread buzz about Hogan as a possible 2020 primary challenger to President Donald Trump — which the governor did little to discourage. But, following more than six months of speculation, he opted against an insurgent presidential bid.

Notwithstanding periodic demonstrations of petulance toward opponents — some critics have likened Hogan to belligerent ex-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, an early mentor — the current occupant of Government House in Annapolis generally exudes the conciliatory mien of the proverbial nice guy next door. Hogan’s policy agenda has remained tightly focused on pocketbook issues. After blasting O’Malley for “40 consecutive tax increases” over eight years, Hogan boasts of holding the line on further hikes — even as many of his tax cut proposals have gone nowhere in the Democratic-dominated General Assembly. At the same time, he has studiously avoided riling Democratic and independent voters by steering clear of efforts to roll back or dilute liberal social policy initiatives enacted on his predecessor’s watch.

Hogan is the first Maryland governor in the modern political era without prior experience in elected office, buttressing his claims to not being a career politician. Such self-depictions by Hogan, a successful real estate broker, underplay the degree to which he grew up immersed in politics. As a teenager in the Washington D.C. suburb of Prince George’s County, Hogan spent weekends on Capitol Hill where his father, Larry Hogan Sr., served in the House. The elder Hogan achieved national attention in 1974 as the only Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to vote for all three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon. In 2016, after announcing he would neither endorse nor vote for Trump, the governor said he wrote in his father’s name on his presidential ballot, six months before the elder Hogan’s death at 88.

By the time of the Nixon impeachment proceedings, the younger Hogan was in Florida, where he had moved with his mother following his parents’ divorce. He graduated from Florida State University before returning to the Washington area to work briefly as a congressional staffer, and then for his father: The elder Hogan was elected Prince George’s County executive in 1978, and the younger Hogan served as his intergovernmental liaison aide. He took time out to run in a 1981 special election when his father’s former congressional seat came open, finishing second in a 12-way Republican primary for the seat ultimately won by Democrat Steny Hoyer, now House majority whip. In 1992, Hogan made a second bid for Congress, challenging Hoyer after the latter’s district was significantly redrawn. Hoyer was reelected, but by the narrowest margin of his career, 53%-44%.

Hogan’s real estate firm foundered in the wake of a series of bank failures in the early 1990s. After declaring personal bankruptcy in 1994, he rebuilt the Annapolis-based business. In 2002, he helped Rep. Robert Ehrlich, whom he had known for more than two decades, become the first Republican elected governor since Spiro Agnew in 1966. Hogan took a leave from his business to serve as Ehrlich’s secretary of appointments. Ehrlich was ousted by O’Malley in 2006, and Hogan contemplated running in 2010 before stepping aside for an unsuccessful comeback bid by Ehrlich. A year later, Hogan began laying the foundation for a 2014 run by founding Change Maryland, an anti-tax group. He won a four-way Republican primary with 43 percent.

Hogan started the general election behind in the polls by double digits. Brown’s collapse was largely attributed to what was seen in Democratic Party circles as one of the most poorly run campaigns in recent state history. A former Army officer ill at ease on the stump, Brown confidently assumed the huge Democratic edge in voter registration would sweep him into office. But, in a difficult year for Democrats nationwide, tepid turnout in Democratic bastions such as the city of Baltimore and suburban Montgomery County proved insufficient to make up for landslide Hogan margins elsewhere. Hogan won, 51%-47%. (Brown staged a comeback in 2016 by winning a seat in Congress.)

Economically troubled Baltimore, the state’s largest city, yielded Hogan’s first major crisis when, in April 2015, rioting broke out following the death of a black man, Freddie Gray, while in police custody. Hogan later complained that Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, failed to return his phone calls for two hours as the rioting spread. When he did reach her, Hogan — according to an interview with Washingtonian magazine two years later — gave Rawlings-Blake an ultimatum. He told her he had two draft executive orders in front of him–one saying he was declaring a state of emergency and deploying the National Guard “at the request of the mayor of Baltimore,” the other that he was doing so on his own authority. “But either way, we’re coming in,” Hogan recalled telling Rawlings-Blake, adding, “She calls back in 14 minutes and she says, ‘Since you have a gun to my head and since you are going to do it anyway, I guess I’ll ask you to come in.’”

Hogan faced some trying times in dealing with the Democratic-controlled legislature, with Democrats complaining that Hogan’s first “State of the State” — normally a blueprint for governing in the year ahead — sounded much like a stump speech from the 2014 campaign. During his second year in office, Hogan labeled leaders of the state teachers’ union “thugs” for criticizing a decision on school funding, and compared state legislators pushing bills to limit his powers to college students on spring break.

But several leading Democrats said Hogan became more conciliatory during the second half of his first term–whether to strike a contrast to the new presidential administration 35 miles down the road, or to defuse criticism as he geared up to run for a second term. To be sure, Hogan has still been combative at times. In early 2019, as the Democratic supermajorities in both houses of the legislature were balking at moving on a couple of Hogan’s crime-related bills, the governor snapped, “This seems to be like the most pro-criminal group of legislators I’ve ever seen.” But, after finding his vetoes overridden on a number of major pieces of legislation early on — ranging from the restoration of voting rights for felons on parole or probation to a requirement that utility companies rely more on renewable energy sources — Hogan increasingly sought to compromise or pre-empt Democratic moves on high-profile issues. Throughout his first term, he faced off against a couple of savvy, strong-willed legislative leaders in long-serving Senate President Mike Miller and House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch. However, the death of Busch — the longest-serving House speaker in Maryland history — at the end of the 2019 legislative session, coupled with Miller’s uncertain future following disclosure of his metastasized prostate cancer, could strengthen Hogan as he pursues his second-term agenda.

During the 2014 campaign, Hogan favored hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to tap into natural gas reserves in western Maryland; he said the state was “sitting on an economic gold mine.” In 2015, he reluctantly allowed a two-year moratorium on fracking to become law without his signature. In 2017, he announced he would support a permanent ban even before legislation reached his desk — making Maryland the third state, after New York and Vermont, to prohibit the practice. After initially opposing a 2018 ballot question on a constitutional amendment requiring the state to spend tax revenue from casinos for education, he shifted to support of the measure.

In 2014, Hogan was endorsed by the National Rifle Association and received an A- rating, with the group citing his “support and commitment to the Second Amendment.” But four years later, he joined legislative Democrats to support three gun-control measures — including a ban on bump stocks, which enhance the firing capacity of semi-automatic weapons. And, in response to a verbal challenge from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jealous, Hogan said he had no plans to accept donations from the NRA or fill out the group’s election year questionnaire. Jealous–fueled by support from several large labor unions and the Democrats’ energized progressive wing — won an eight-way race for his party’s nomination with nearly 41 percent, placing 10 points ahead of Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker, who was the choice of much of the state party establishment but suffered from mediocre fundraising and an inability to energize the rank-and-file electorate.

Jealous emerged from the Democratic primary with his campaign treasury drained while Hogan–unchallenged for renomination–started the general election flush with cash, ultimately outspending Jealous by 3-1. In addition, the Republican Governors Association spent $3 million on a TV ad campaign that started soon after the primary. Jealous was a supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ left-wing challenge for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, and, in his bid for governor, espoused statewide versions of such Sanders proposals as “Medicare for All” and debt-free college tuition. Making his first run for elected office, Jealous soon exhibited his inexperience. He cursed at a reporter who asked a question at a news conference, and made little apparent effort to expand his base beyond party progressives.

Hogan won, 55%-44%. While Jealous, vying to be the state’s first African-American governor, won the black-majority jurisdictions of Baltimore city and Prince George’s County, pre-election surveys showed Hogan pulling one-third of the African-American vote — double his showing four years earlier.   Amid heightened attention from national media outlets, Hogan–a month after winning reelection — spoke before a Washington right-of-center think tank critical of Trump, declaring, “compromise and moderation should not be considered dirty words.” The program for his January 2019 inauguration was seen as a shot across Trump’s bow: Former Gov. Jeb Bush, who had opposed Trump for the 2016 Republican nomination, spoke, and Hogan’s speech was prepared with assistance from Mark Salter, a long-time aide to the late Arizona Sen. John McCain. Hogan also made a March 2019 trip to Iowa, where the first delegates to the 2020 Republican National Convention will be chosen — ostensibly in his capacity as incoming chairman of the National Governors Association. After initially saying that “it makes no sense” to challenge Trump unless the president was significantly weakened within his own party, Hogan — on a visit to New Hampshire in March — said he was seriously considering a primary challenge, and announced plans to travel to 16 other states. However, in early June 2019, Hogan announced he would not run for the 2020 presidential nomination — while announcing formation of a national advocacy group “in order to continue to be a leader in the national conversation about where our nation needs to be headed,” according to a statement from the organization, An America United. He did not rule out a White House bid in 2024, telling the Washington Post, “I believe there’s going to be a future in the Republican Party beyond President Trump.”

Copyright @ 2019 The Almanac of American Politics. This feature was provided by and is included in The Almanac of American Politics 2020 edition set to be released August 2019. To learn more about this publication, visit www.almanacofamericanpolitics.com.

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