AFSCME Chief: Hogan’s Governing Style Is Announcement, Acclaim, Inaction

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) takes off his mask as he prepared to speak at a State House news conference in April. Screen grab from a pooled video feed.

On March 12, Governor Larry Hogan closed Maryland’s schools to protect our state from the spread of COVID-19. It was a bold – and in retrospect – wise step.

In the days since, Governor Hogan has made mostly good decisions. He has said the right things. But, as is too often the case with his bumbling attempts to manage Maryland’s government, we are in the midst of a slow-moving disaster.

Last month, Hogan was widely celebrated for securing 500,000 coronavirus test kits from South Korea for $9.5 million, with the help of his wife Yumi. Almost a month later, thousands of articles have featured or mentioned Hogan’s South Korean caper. But not many of those 500,000 tests have been put to use – fewer than 1%, or approximately 3,950, according to Hogan’s spokesman.

This latest belly flop represents an established pattern for Hogan. We get a highly publicized announcement, followed by acclaim – followed by inaction and the absence of follow-through.

Two weeks ago, facing growing criticism for the rising number of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, Hogan ordered mandatory testing for patients and staff in long-term care facilities. But Joe DeMattos, president of the association that represents Maryland’s nursing homes, reported that the state has supplied very few tests for Maryland’s 52,000 nursing home residents and staff – leaving them scrambling to do what the governor ordered.

On March 27, a few days before Governor Hogan issued his stay-at-home order, I sent the governor and his agency leaders a letter alerting them that many of the men and women they were requiring to report to work, putting their lives at risk, were not being supplied with personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, gloves and hand sanitizer.

Weeks after my letter to the governor, most corrections officers, health care workers in state hospitals and juvenile services staff are still struggling to have proper and adequate PPE on the job.

And, as one might suspect, few state employees have been tested for coronavirus.

Parallels to other episodes of Hogan’s mismanagement are numerous, but two are illustrative:

• Federal prosecutors opened a criminal investigation into Blue Flame Medical, a medical supply company started in late March by a Republican fundraiser with no relevant experience. Through a contact in Hogan’s office, BlueFlame received a $12.5 million state contract to supply face masks and ventilators. The state paid the GOP fundraiser’s company half upfront – about $6.3 million – and received nothing in return. This comes a few months after a criminal investigation began into a $750,000 grant from Hogan’s Opioid Operational Command Center that was used to buy a country club.
• The new unemployment website launched by the Hogan administration crashed early and continues to delay processing claims, leaving desperate families, whose breadwinners have lost jobs, scrambling to buy groceries and pay bills. More than 1,100 frustrated applicants signed up for an online oversight hearing this week. Earlier this year, a malfunctioning payment system held up millions of dollars owed to 2,500 doctors, hospitals, clinics and other facilities that provide mental health and addiction services.

In other states, governors and mayors of both parties are making good decisions, saying the right things and also getting their governments to produce results. In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has been able to offer free coronavirus testing for all of his city’s 10.1 million residents.

In Maryland, we’re left to hope that someday our essential state workers will have protective equipment and we wonder when more than a tiny fraction of the much-celebrated South Korean test kits will ever leave their warehouse.

Times are more serious now, and stakes are much higher than a few months ago.

But Larry Hogan’s management is still placing us all at risk.

— PATRICK MORAN

The writer is president of AFSCME Council 3 Maryland.