Hogan Passes Torch to Cuomo, Reflects on Role of Governors and Trump in the Pandemic

Maryland Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said on Wednesday that his year-long stewardship of the National Governors Association was marked by a determined, coordinated push from executives of both parties to battle COVID-19.

Their efforts — and their willingness to prod federal leaders — saved lives, he said. 

“We have looked to each other for ideas, advice and for help,” Hogan told his colleagues on the opening day of the NGA’s summer meeting. “We have worked across party lines together and —when it really mattered — we have spoken with a unified voice.” 

Hogan’s tenure thrust him into the national limelight. 

His trust in the advice offered by leading public health experts, his willingness to mix it up with President Trump, and his message discipline combined to make him the public face of the nation’s embattled governors.

His persona has led to speculation he will seek the White House in 2024, a scenario that would have seemed far-fetched just six months ago. 

Hogan “has become known for a professional response to the nation’s biggest crisis in decades,” said University of Mary Washington political science professor Stephen Farnsworth. 

“His profile nationally could create an environment for a very prominent role in the Republican Party’s future, particularly if the Donald Trump vision of Republicanism is rejected by voters in November.” 

Hogan’s comments — in a skillfully-edited video and in his live, scripted remarks — offered subtle but unmistakable contrasts with President Trump’s approach to the pandemic.

The video featured photos of him wearing a mask — something Trump has been loathe to do. He stressed bipartisan problem-solving. And he repeated the advice of public health experts — “wear a mask, stay six feet apart, outdoors is safer than indoors.”

Hogan wore his trademark purple tie for the occasion. 

The NGA’s summer meeting was held online due to the pandemic. It was originally set to take place in Portland, Maine. 

Just as the pandemic came to define his tenure at the NGA, it also dominated his final hours as chairman, which included a virtual handoff to incoming chairman Andrew Cuomo, the Democratic governor of New York. 

Hogan recounted how the nation’s governors were forced to set up testing operations, scramble for PPE amid a global shortage, and stand up contact tracing programs. Also: how the NGA led the fight for additional financial aid to cash-strapped states and localities. 

Without ever naming the president, Hogan claimed the NGA “convinced the federal administration to invoke the Defense Production Act to produce ventilators and swabs and to make more life-saving supplies available to the states.” 

“The National Governors Association has been more relevant and more effective than it has ever been before,” he said of his tenure. “Our swift, early and aggressive actions and our unified efforts have helped to save lives.” 

On Tuesday, Hogan announced the creation of a six-state compact to expand the use of “point-of-care” antigen tests that deliver results in less than half an hour. In many parts of the country, people are waiting more than a week for test results, by which point they may have passed the virus to others. 

The governor said the six states in the compact — three led by Democrats, three by Republicans — would encourage pharmaceutical firms to move forward with large-scale production, with economies-of-scale benefits to participating jurisdictions. Additional cities and states are expected to join in the effort, he added. Joining Maryland in the compact are Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, and Virginia.

The governor’s announcement and his comments at the NGA gathering came just hours after President Trump was widely criticized for an Axios interview during which he struggled to defend the national response to the pandemic.

Trump’s lackluster reaction to the nation’s skyrocketing death toll — “it is what it is” — was widely panned. 

Cuomo said the organization will continue to prioritize the coronavirus fight during his year as the organization’s chairman.

During a pre-recorded video, several governors praised Hogan for his leadership. “Thanks, Larry,” many said in their tribute. 

“The pressure was on and when the pressure is on, you can see what a person is really made of,” Cuomo said. “And you really rose to the occasion. … You’ve been a friend to us through this impossible past year.” 

Hogan will serve as a member of the NGA’s nine-member executive board for the next year. His status as the organization’s immediate past-president, his new memoir, and his willingness to call out the White House for its failures makes it likely he will remain a cable news fixture in the months to come.

Infrastructure initiative falls flat 

When Hogan took the reins of the NGA last summer, he planned to make the nation’s beleaguered infrastructure his signature issue. 

He held a series of meetings around the country on how to boost investment — particularly private investment — in infrastructure projects. He also traveled to Australia. 

In a release on Wednesday, Hogan touted “four pillars to identify and promote state best practices in infrastructure” — among them, relieving congestion, “eliminating red tape and integrating smart technology,” protecting critical infrastructure from disaster and cyber threats, and “leveraging private sector investments.” 

For a variety of reasons — including some beyond his control — his infrastructure push failed to move the needle. 

Among the factors: 

— The pandemic caused the economy to crater, drying up revenues needed to fund new infrastructure;

— The president has shown no interest in making good on his campaign pledge to rebuild the country’s crumbling roads and bridges or to modernize its power grid;

— Construction of the Purple Line, the rail line in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties being built through a public-private partnership, is at risk of collapse due to a dispute over cost overruns, and his plan to widen two highways in the Washington, D.C. suburbs has proven controversial;

Farnsworth said it’s not Hogan’s fault that his infrastructure initiative fell flat.

“President Trump doesn’t take advice,” he said. “And he certainly doesn’t take it from Republican governors who have criticized him.” 

Perhaps because of this, a video highlighting Hogan’s infrastructure initiative was moved from the public portion of the meeting to a private section.

In that video, later released by Hogan’s office, he announced that he has funded an NGA staff position to “study and research” the issue through 2023.

A spokesperson for the organization later told Maryland Matters that funding for the position would come from more than two dozen firms — including several prominent financial, design and construction companies, some of whom are bidders on Hogan’s highway P3. 

Among the companies providing funding to NGA’s infrastructure initiative: Amazon, Cintra, Clark Construction, Fluor, IFM Investors, Meridiam, TransUrban and Whiting-Turner. 

During one of the meeting’s several technical glitches, the NGA’s executive director, who was moderating the event, appeared to lose track of the proceedings. Then the infrastructure video rolled for a few moments. 

Hogan jumped in and helped move the proceedings along, telling the audience, somewhat inexplicably, “We weren’t going to show the infrastructure video.”

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.