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C. Fraser Smith: State of State House; charged atmosphere

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. stood before the General Assembly Wednesday and trashed the work that body has been doing for the last 50 years.

Maybe he didn’t mean to. Maybe he did.

Offering his first State of the State message, Hogan continued his attack on the O’Malley administration — the one he recently unseated.

He had not, on the other hand, defeated the Democratic senators and delegates who have shaped Maryland as much as any governor. Lawmakers tend to outlive executives. And most of them in Maryland are Democrats.

Proud Democrats, Democrats who feel they are always partners with governors.

So when Hogan suggested government was forcing people to flee Maryland, the reaction was quick and angry.

“He doesn’t understand,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. “We are the best state in the union. We have the highest income in the nation. And the least amount of poverty in the nation. This is a great state, and he better damn sight recognize it and stop condemning the wonderful people of the state.”

Miller went on: “The speech was politics at its very worst. He’s still campaigning. He tossed the idea of the governing into the toilet.”

What the new governor thought he was doing probably was “still campaigning.” He seemed to be addressing the solid majority of Marylanders who voted for change — and who sent many more Republicans to represent them.

As the speech went on, veteran Republicans found themselves standing and applauding more than most of them ever had.

Their new leader outlined a plan under which, it seemed, almost every identifiable group in the state would get some sort of tax break. Guaranteed applause lines.

But totally undoable, Miller said — particularly in a year when the governor has seemed determined to find more than a billion dollars in budget cuts immediately.

Before the speech Wednesday, one Republican with considerable experience in Annapolis spoke of the traps and sidetracking that almost inevitably lay in front of a new Republican governor. The trap that sprang Wednesday may have been somewhat earlier than the Hogan expected.

One of his allies said he thought Hogan’s speech was “conciliatory” — not throwing government in the toilet at all. And in fairness, he did not trash the people of the state. Worse, maybe. It was more a matter of calling out the ruling-class Democrats responsible for an anti-business agenda, another campaign theme. Once again, that attack works better when there is no ready push-back.

Hogan had been forewarned. He was part of the last Republican administration. He knew Democrats would be wary. President Miller, though relatively quiet until Wednesday had said, “We’re not going backward.”

Sen. James C. Rosapepe of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties said he thought the governor had been watching too much Fox News. He said the governor had indulged his far-right supporters with “red meat” — tax-cutting and muted but discernible blame-gaming.

The State House atmosphere seemed to have changed instantly. In truth, it had changed on Nov. 4 when Hogan was elected.

A long-time business lobbyist found himself almost relaxed with what he thought was the prospect of less heavy lifting — fewer Democratic bills to kill, fewer regulations to stifle.

A state employee union leader was at work already, hoping to repair some of the financial damage proposed by Hogan’s proposal of a 2 percent salary reduction.

A senator, concerned by Hogan’s decision to pull back anti-pollution regulations, was filing a bill to put the regulations in law.

And so, anyone standing in the State House’s august lobby Wednesday could imagine government going on briskly — and in full view.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.