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Josh Kurtz: Hogan v. the Teachers’ Union, Again

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) at a Board of Public Works meeting. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

If ever we needed a reminder that Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. is a Republican – and a standard Republican, not the “different” kind of Republican that so many Democrats seemed so enamored of in 2018 – it’s his decision to raise money off his opposition to the Kirwan Commission.

As The Washington Post outlined last week, Hogan’s newly reconstituted Change Maryland Action Fund, a spin-off from his campaign committee, has developed an aggressive fundraising and advocacy regimen to promote Hogan’s agenda. Already, as we reported earlier this month, the political action committee has been raising money off his spat with the General Assembly over repeat offender anti-crime legislation.

Unbound from campaign finance laws that no longer apply to him because he’s no longer a candidate for state office, it appears as if the governor can raise an unlimited amount of money – with few, if any, disclosure requirements.

And as the Post suggested, opposition to Kirwan – or at least to the “revenue enhancements” that will be required for the annual additional $3.8 billion outlay to pay for the commission’s desired reforms – will be a major part of Hogan’s strategy.

This is noteworthy for a variety of reasons.

For starters, it serves as a reminder of Hogan’s formidable political and branding skills.

As the new Goucher Poll revealed this week, most Marylanders, while amenable to the concept of paying more to support public education, don’t really know what the Kirwan Commission is all about. So it’s a perfect time for Hogan to swoop in and label it a well-intentioned but naïve enterprise certain to lighten Marylanders’ wallets.

Last week, Hogan’s spokesman Michael Ricci took to calling the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education as the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission.”

Democrats are predictably complaining that Hogan isn’t offering solutions for buttressing Kirwan – or public education in general. And they aren’t wrong.

If Hogan has any interest in getting into a room with education advocates, policy leaders and legislators, rolling up his sleeves and hashing out compromises – and a path forward to achieve some of Kirwan’s very laudable goals – we haven’t seen much evidence.

Yet Hogan once again seems to have the bully pulpit and the upper hand when it comes to framing the debate and marketing his position and his opponents.

Hogan relies thoroughly on the argument that he’s provided “record investments” for K-12 public schools during his tenure – never mind that these expenditures are mandated by state law. His interest in the Kirwan Commission – which surely is running the most meandering process in Maryland policymaking history – is limited to the participation of his Budget secretary, David R. Brinkley, and a few well-timed potshots.

Former University System of Maryland chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan and his fellow commissioners did themselves no favors last week when a commission workgroup met behind closed doors to discuss funding options.

This only guarantees that whatever revenue proposal eventually emerges from Kirwan and promoted by Democratic leaders of the General Assembly will be labeled the product of a “backroom deal” by Hogan.

And this fits in nicely with Hogan’s long-time demand for “accountability” from educators, which sounds tough and appealing but is nebulous (and, some education advocates would say, punitive).

In the end, for Hogan, what it really comes down to is opposition to the teachers’ union and its leaders and allies. Hogan hates them, and the feeling is mutual.

And who, more than anyone, is agitating for the Kirwan reforms and the full investments required to make them work? The teachers’ union.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what this is about. Remember when Hogan called union leaders “thugs” a few years ago? Remember when Hogan and the union were in court over an apple image during the 2018 campaign?

And who else, besides Hogan, hates the teachers’ unions? Almost every other Republican leader in the U.S.

So as Hogan ponders his political future and sheds the carefully-crafted cloak of bipartisanship, which he wore so tightly as he sought reelection but no longer needs, the teachers’ union, and its priorities, represent a very convenient foil.

Just reminder #1,047 that, no matter how many times he criticizes President Trump or takes centrist positions on environmental policy or keeps up his bromance with select Democrats like Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot, Hogan is, gulp, a real Republican. And Democrats, even with their policy victories and veto overrides, still haven’t figured out how to beat him.

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Josh Kurtz: Hogan v. the Teachers’ Union, Again