The Maryland Democratic Party has hired a veteran political strategist to spotlight what it called rampant instances of self-dealing and political exaggeration by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).
Zach Hudson, who most recently served as communications director for Senate campaigns at American Bridge 21st Century, a Super PAC that supports Democratic candidates, will lead the “Hogan Accountability Project.”
He previously worked as director of communications for now-Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.).
The goal of the project, Hudson said, will be “to hold [Hogan] accountable and tell the truth” — and to expose the “contrast” between the governor’s claims about being a “bipartisan dealmaker” and his record.
It comes amid growing speculation that the governor will run for president in 2024.
“While he goes on national television to talk about bipartisanship, the real Larry Hogan is a partisan bully who has vetoed important legislation like police reform and overseen one of the weakest pandemic recoveries in the nation,” said Maryland Democratic Party Chair Yvette Lewis in a statement.
“The truth is: Maryland is falling behind while Larry Hogan uses the Governor’s office to advance his political career,” she added.
The “accountability” effort represents the party’s latest attempts to take on one of the most popular governors in state history — someone whose durability has been a consistent source of frustration for Democratic activists in majority-blue Maryland.
Because Hogan is term-limited, Republicans suggested that the real goal for Democrats is to tarnish the eventual GOP nominee in next year’s election, particularly if it is someone who aligns themselves with Hogan.
“I think they know that anybody running for governor under his banner, and promoting the same ideas that he promotes currently, could win,” said Doug Mayer, an Annapolis-based Republican strategic and Hogan adviser. “That’s what this is about.”
“They know that the governor’s brand is successful… and that scares the living crap out of them,” he added.
Hudson said the party will cast a broad net, drawing attention to Hogan’s decision to kill a long-planned subway line in Baltimore City that qualified for hundreds of millions in federal funding and his vetoes of dozens of progressive-minded bills that the General Assembly approved.
Democrats also hope to breathe new life into long-simmering questions about Hogan’s business dealings and personal wealth.
“There’s also a lot of conflicts of interest and issues around ethics and corruption that I think are going to be explored more in the coming months as we hold him accountable,” Hudson said.
But if the Maryland Democratic Party can substantiate allegations that Hogan has engaged in “corruption,” it wasn’t apparent on Tuesday.
Democrats have alleged for years that the governor ordered transportation improvements in Prince George’s County to boost the value of parcels owned by his real estate development firm, called HOGAN — but those complaints have gone nowhere.
Hogan’s sprawling real estate firm is run by his brother, and the governor operates under an agreement approved by the ethics commission after he took office in 2015.
A Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group filed a complaint with the commission more than a year ago over the road improvements in Prince George’s, but the panel has disclosed no action.
Despite Hudson’s talk of “corruption,” Hogan is not the subject of any publicly-disclosed investigation, nor has he been charged with wrongdoing.
“Given that there are Maryland Democrats currently under actual corruption investigations, this stuff just comes across as amateur hour,” said Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby (D) and her husband, City Council President Nick Mosby (D), are under federal investigation regarding their finances.
“They’re recycling stuff that didn’t stick two years ago, which would seem to suggest that they’ve got nothing new,” said political science professor Todd E. Eberly. “They’ve been trying to put a dent in [Hogan’s] gravity-defying approval rating for the better part of six years, and nothing has worked.”
A press release put out by the party on Tuesday accused Hogan of purchasing “a palatial mansion at a discount,” in January, “in a questionable real estate deal.”
Pressed about the allegation, Hudson referred a reporter to a Baltimore Business Journal story that reported that Hogan and his wife Yumi purchased the $1.1 million Davidsonville home for less than the original asking price.
Mayer, the Hogan adviser, called the addition of a full-time Democratic staffer “an expensive hire,” meaning that “someone somewhere wanted this to happen.”
“This effort is rather comical,” he said. “Are they just realizing that the governor is popular and it’s their job to do something about it? … If I was a donor to the Maryland Democratic Party, I would certainly start thinking about asking for my money back.”
Eberly, the politics professor and author at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, called the project a high-risk play.
“If you’re hiring somebody and the whole thing is, ‘we’re going to hold Hogan accountable,’ and it accomplishes nothing at all, then the question is: Did Maryland Democrats not have better things to spend their money on.”