In his eighth, and final, State of the State address, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) laid claim to historic investments in education, transportation and public safety, casting himself as someone who has delivered on bold promises he offered as a candidate.
Speaking virtually from the historic Old Senate chamber in the State House, Hogan made repeated use of the campaign slogan — “Change Maryland” — that propelled him to an upset victory in 2014. He said the state’s economy has “come back from the brink,” having weathered a historic pandemic more skillfully than most other states.
“Our mission was to change Maryland for the better, and tonight, I’m proud to report that we have done exactly what we said we would do, and because of that, the state of our state is strong — by any measure, stronger and better than it was when we began our mission,” said Hogan, whose term ends next January.
The governor said his administration has been able to accomplish goals “despite some formidable and unforeseen challenges.”
Hogan’s last few years in office will be marked by the state’s COVID-19 response, including efforts to increase hospital capacity and build a statewide testing and vaccination infrastructure.
And while Hogan touted the way the state “stepped up and rose to the challenge by bringing to bear the entire arsenal of government and public health,” he glossed over missteps in the state’s response, including controversial contracts, the struggle to process unemployment claims and a cyberattack that crippled the Maryland Department of Health in early December that has been shrouded in secrecy.
“We have now spent nearly two years fighting this virus and it has taken far too much from us, including, sadly, 13,316 of our fellow Marylanders. But tonight there is hope, because with swift and decisive actions and the vigilance of Marylanders, I’m pleased to report that we have turned back another dangerous variant of COVID-19,” Hogan said, before announcing that the state’s latest 30-day state of emergency will expire Thursday.
Hogan told Marylanders on Wednesday evening that they “must all learn to live with this virus, not to live in fear of it,” and continued his call to keep businesses and schools open.
“We can’t let it continue to dictate how we live our lives,” he said.
The state’s public health response will continue apace, he said.
In the Democratic response to Hogan’s address, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) acknowledged that rough days are still ahead.
Smith said that “where the instruments of government fail or where there is no leadership from the administration,” his party will continue to fight for guaranteed paid time off for vaccinations, the mass distribution of test kits and support for health care workers.
Smith also offered an assessment of Hogan’s tenure, saying that Maryland’s public school rating decreased, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal transit investments were left hanging after he canceled the Red Line in Baltimore, and that the executive branch is facing “a record” number of employee vacancies.
“I think it’s safe to say that after seven and a half years in office, you now own the problem as governor,” Smith said.
“Your government has become considerably less efficient and less responsive,” he continued. “This translates into real economic and societal loss for real Marylanders.”
During this legislative session, Hogan said he would continue to pursue his top legislative priorities: eliminating the state’s tax on retirees’ income, incentivizing business growth and enacting stringent criminal justice policy.
Hogan said action is need on criminal justice to quell the homicide rate in Baltimore, which has consistently surpassed 300 murders annually over the past several years, pointing toward city leadership as the limiting factor.
“The reality is, no matter how much money we invest or what state actions we take, Baltimore City will not ever get control of the violence if they can’t arrest more, prosecute more, and sentence more of the most violent criminals to get them off the streets,” he said.
Lawmakers have already expressed concern about Hogan’s crime-fighting initiative.
Hogan has re-introduced legislation to publicly track judicial sentencing information and impose mandatory sentences for people who have been repeatedly convicted of firearms offenses, as well as another measure to create a council to oversee funding for police departments in 2022.
Senate Democrats plan to announce a criminal justice package during a news conference Thursday morning.
Smith said the party’s priorities include regulating “ghost guns,” and looking at staffing levels at parole and probation services, judicial transparency and behavioral health initiatives.
In his address, Hogan railed against the national movement to reallocate funds from police to other community services that began after George Floyd’s murder in May 2020. “The reality is that our police are underfunded and under attack,” he said.
The governor introduced his “Re-Fund the Police” initiative in October, pledging to dedicate $150 million to fund law enforcement and crime response programs.
At the end of his speech, Hogan called for bipartisanship during his final days in office.
“To those who say that America is too divided, that our political system is too broken and can’t be fixed, I would argue that we have already shown a better path forward,” he said. “And if we can accomplish that here in Maryland, then there is no place in America where these very same principles cannot succeed.”
However, Hogan also slammed lawmakers for not taking up redistricting proposals drawn by his Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a multi-partisan panel he convened to draw up congressional and state legislative maps.
The redistricting proposals put forward by that panel didn’t advance out of legislative committees, and lawmakers instead passed maps created by a panel convened by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).
The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission aimed to keep as many voters in their current districts as possible, whereas Hogan mandated that the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission start from scratch and not consider where incumbents live.
“These maps make a mockery of our democracy,” Hogan said. “Fortunately, the courts — not the legislature — will be the final arbiter.”