Frank DeFilippo: Hogan Joins Pantheon of Md. Politics’ Literary Lions

The cover of Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr.'s book, "Still Standing." Image via An America United

More than just a few years ago, the Board of Public works approved the publication of the Public Papers of Spiro T. Agnew as he had requested, as governor, before departing Annapolis to become vice president.

The BPW engaged a University of Maryland Ph.D. to do the job of sorting out and selecting Agnew’s masterworks of prolixity that were worthy of publishing form.

When the two-volume set of books rolled off the presses, a pair was boxed and mailed to Agnew at the small private office he rented in Severna Park after being ejected from the vice presidency after pleading guilty to a charge of tax evasion. Days later, the unopened package was returned to the State Archives mail room. It was stamped, “Addressee Unknown.”

The same fate met much of the books’ press run. Cartons of the unsold Agnew papers were remaindered to some state warehouse reliquary where they might still be hanging out, unsold and unread.

Harry R. Hughes, governor, 1979-1987, commissioned a biography, “My Unexpected Journey,” which, like many of the genre, was Hughes’ determination to get his side of the story on the record and the account of his unlikely election against the polls, pols and odds.

Martin O’Malley, governor, 2007-2015, has a couple of books under his belt as well as a guitar slung over his shoulder. Maryland’s troubadour-governor has written “Smarter Government,” his new prescription for efficiency based on his old idea of data-driven, wonk-y style government.

Marvin Mandel, governor, 1969-1978, wrote “I’ll Never Forget It: Memoirs of a Political Accident From East Baltimore,” contributed to Maryland’s political canon a collection of insider anecdotes and his argument against the federal prosecution and conviction that sent him and five buddies to jail.

Joseph D. Tydings, House of Delegates and U.S. senator as well as Maryland’s U.S. attorney, gave his biography, “My Life in Progressive Politics,” a contemporary label to bring his politics of the 1960s-70s into line with the rages of 2020. The noun, “progressive” was intended to capture the contemporary audience, whereas the word “liberal” was more appropriate to Tydings’ record and times.

J. Millard Tawes, governor, 1959-1967, proudly displayed a volume presented to him by Bennet Cerf, publisher and founder of Random House, at the dedication of the firm’s distribution center in Carroll County. It was an attractive book, bound in red leather and embossed in gold, “What I Know About Politics,” by J. Millard Tawes, governor of Maryland. The numerous pages between the covers were totally blank.

Another entry for Maryland’s political bookshelf is a work in progress, a biography of former U.S. Sen. Daniel B. Brewster.

And now comes Gov. Larry Hogan (R), whose selective inventory of himself and his brand of “change” arrives on bookshelves on July 28, preceded by network drumrolls and more information than you already know about the coronavirus pandemic, an added adventure courtesy of a delay in publishing.

Hogan is writing history on the fly. It appears, from the early fluff, to be a quick take on passing events, with the elastic story of his middle-aged life threading the narrative together, notably his cancer survival, usually a very private matter but one which he enthusiastically shared in the run-up to his reelection.

Governing is a form of autobiography. It says what a person believes, how they apply those principles and how voters accept them. More often than not, the judgments and conclusions — and whose they are is critical — wind up between book covers (and sometimes coverlets). History is best left to historians.

There are superb volumes, written by others, on Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Kennedy and Johnson. Each of these men, it should be noted, not only have written books, but they each wrote their own history.

Then there are the drooling 300-page love letters by and about Trump, who couldn’t close a door, let alone a deal. (Trump pardoned fraudster Conrad Black, for example, who wrote a fawning book about him.)

And now there is the pending work of, or on, Hogan, of Maryland, a memoir, defined vaguely as a history written from personal knowledge, soon to probably be popular among the growing legion of anti-Trump Republicans, for sure.

So biography, autobiography and memoir are essentially the same kind of labor except for the different hand that may write them, in Hogan’s case the writerly political commentator Ellis Henican, a free-lance Boswell.

The great social critic Louis Mumford offered a definition of statuary that applies equally to books: “Monuments are so we’ll always remember, and memorials are so we’ll never forget.” (Are you listening, Luddites?)

Hogan has indicated that the appearance of the book is timed to keep alive his interest in running for president in 2024 as he relinquishes the chairmanship of the National Governors’ Association to Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, another potential candidate for president. Hogan has also said he has no interest in running for Congress in 2022 as his term-limited tenure as governor comes to an end.

Hogan is not alone in expressing interest in the presidency in 2024 or in writing books as a career-advancement exercise.

Hogan has been openly critical of Trump and his policies, but not defiantly so, though he has gone so far as writing in his father’s name for president in 2016, and again says he will not vote for Trump in this year’s election. Hogan recently stated forcefully, though, that he will not allow Trump to bully Maryland into acting against its own best interests.

Hogan is more interested in restoring the Republican Party to its natural orthodoxy of free market economics and low taxes, kind of resembling the manifesto of “Change Maryland” that he won on in his unexpected victory in 2014.

Politico maintains a running count of political figures it believes are in line as contenders for president four years from now. Hogan’s name is not on the list — yet, as it eventually may or may not be. Four years out, and with 2020’s showdown not yet resolved and Trump’s future unsettled and unraveling daily, the list seems far-fetched, but anything’s possible, especially if it attracts reader attention.

A sampler among those on the list who, like Hogan, have written books advancing their ambitions: former South Carolina Gov. and U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley; former Georgia candidate for Governor Stacey Abrams; President Trump’s number one son Donald Jr.; Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis; Cuomo; California Gov. Gavin Newsom (book in progress); and others not on the list but who have written books, or books have been written about them, and expressed interest in the presidency in 2024.

As a footnote to Hogan’s dreamscape, four of the last seven presidents since 1976 have emerged from the ranks of the nation’s governors – Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

It wasn’t always that way. During the early 1970s, governors moaned that the U.S. Senate was the cradle of presidential candidates, and they blamed it directly on the media. While the governors were doing the nation’s heavy lifting and innovation, they argued, television cameras were focused on Washington and the tele-grooming of senators. (Mandel, as chairman of the National Governors Association, published an essay on the subject in Harper’s magazine, or, sifting through the cobwebs, was it The Atlantic?)

For one of the original 13 colonies that played an important role in the nation’s early history, Maryland has not fared too well on the list of presidents, compared to, say, neighboring Virginia and northerly Massachusetts.

The closest the state has ever come to the presidency was at a time before the revolution when America had no president. John Hanson, a Southern Marylander, as president of the Continental Congress, assumed the role of president by default. Some historians claim Hanson was America’s first president while others chuckle at the idea.

Agnew was a heartbeat, or was it a frightening palpitation, away from the presidency and would have achieved it if his greedy little hands could have resisted those white envelopes.

And consider the fate of Martin O’Malley. He wrote a couple of books. He ran for president. And the rest, as they say, is an asterisk in the in the history books.

Are you paying attention, Larry Hogan?