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(Illustration by Maximilian Franz)

Hogan’s second time around ‘is not going to be as easy as last session’

If Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ever got a honeymoon, Democrats may be looking to end it and knock the first-term governor down a peg or two over the next 90 days.

Hogan enters the second session of his term as one of the most popular governors in the nation, riding a wave of modest improvements to the economy, a successful battle with cancer and helping restore order in the wake of the riots in Baltimore. Despite that, members of his own party say they believe this is the year Democrats will become more political.

“We’re coming into this session with the Democrats are going to override five of his vetoes and right at the start they’re coming in on a negative tone,” said Sen. J.B. Jennings R-Baltimore and Harford Counties and Senate minority leader. “I think that it’s not going to be as easy as last session. I think this session will be much more partisan. It doesn’t need to be.”

For Jennings and others, the veto override attempts expected soon after the session begins Wednesday will be a bellwether for the rest of the session that ends in April. The votes are seen as partisan, since the Democratic-controlled legislature almost never moves to override vetoes of a governor of the same party.

I hope I’m wrong,” Jennings said. “I’d be more than happy to eat those words. I hope that the governor, the speaker and the (Senate) president all work together with the legislature as a whole to move this state forward. There’s no doubt in my mind that Governor Hogan is going to bend over backwards to be as facilitating and do everything he can to work with the legislature.”

House Speaker Michael E. Busch said some give and take is to be expected between the legislature and the governor.

I’ve never viewed it as being bad,” Busch said. “I think we’ve had a good rapport. I don’t wish the governor any ill will. I’ve had disagreements with (Parris) Glendening and (Martin) O’Malley,” he said, citing two previous Democratic governors.

But then there are those possible veto overrides.

“People voted for these things,” Busch said. “We’re going to sustain maybe 90-some vetoes that the governor made. There are six we’re going to separate and see if there is the political will to override those.”

What’s gone before

Legislative leaders and Hogan enter 2016 with a set of baggage.

“Eight-five days into session, we were passing things unanimously,” said Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., R-Montgomery. “It was the governor was the one who ran out of the honeymoon suite with the ice bucket. We’re still waiting for him to return with the ice. It’s going to be up to the governor to see if that continues. To me, the overall strategy of the Republican Party is conflict, is fomenting conflict wherever they can. They do it in Congress. They do it with the president, and (Hogan) is trying to do it here.”

Hogan enraged many Democrats with what some saw as a divisive campaign speech doubling as a State of the State address.

Democrats quickly killed the governor’s bill to alter the controversial stormwater management fee, killed a number of his other proposals and substantially altered a bill to expand charter schools. And they are still smarting over Hogan’s decision not to spend $68 million in education funding they authorized.

“All of us came down here, we got elected to serve our constituents,” said Del. Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore City and chair of the House Appropriations Committee. “I’m going to be the first to say to you that I was very dissatisfied with the way last year ended. I’m very dissatisfied, you know, to have a situation occur where $68 million of education money was not spent. We don’t want to govern that way. I don’t want to govern that way.”

Busch locked horns with Hogan during the session and refused to introduce Hogan’s supplemental budgets — a pro forma move.  Democrats responded to Hogan by fencing off millions in funds meant, among other things, to restore a 2 percent raise to state employees that Hogan had eliminated as well as the supplemental aid to counties for education.

Hogan later called Busch’s move “a petulant and unprecedented act” and retaliated by using his line-item veto to delete $2 million from the capital budget for Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, a favorite recipient of state aid from Busch. It’s a veto that is almost certain to be overturned within the first few days of the session.

Hogan in the limelight

In the last nine months, Hogan has taken center stage as the legislature has been out of Annapolis on a daily basis.

The governor’s decision to kill the $2.9 billion Red Line dismayed many Democrats. And even when Hogan has offered proposals most Democrats like – such as a $700 million plan to eliminate vacant homes and encourage redevelopment in the city – there has been some grumbling.

“I don’t believe government by press conference is effective,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said. “For example, this announcement about Baltimore City. It should have been discussed with the people who are voting on the budget, by the people who represent Baltimore City so they have an opportunity to discuss it and present alternative views before it’s announced as a policy. There should be public hearings. There should be debates. It’s a democracy, not a dictatorship. The governor proposes the legislature disposes. ”

For his part, Miller said he remains friends with Hogan and promised that there would not be a repeat on the issue of supplemental budgets with the Senate taking first crack at the governor’s budget plan this year. He said he doesn’t expect an increased level of partisan rancor.

“I know this governor. I’ve known him for a long time,” Miller said. “If people come here to fight, they should resign from office, they shouldn’t even be here, and those people focused on just getting re-elected, they shouldn’t be here.

“Here’s the issue: I study government. I study history. There are four states right now with a Republican governor and a Democratic General Assembly. Those three other states are not functioning well at all. My job is to make government work, to bring people together and make positive things happen. ”

‘I still love them’

Hogan has made some attempts to build bridges with Busch and others. He’s attending a basketball game with Miller this week. In December, the governor and the Speaker attended the Military Bowl in Annapolis.

Hogan, for his part, said he is optimistic even if he does offer a somewhat revisionist view of the last year.

“Certainly we’re not going to agree on everything. People elected me because they want some checks and balances they wanted us to go in a different direction so we’re going to have some natural friction because their first order is to protect the status quo and keep things the way they are and we’re here to change things and move Maryland in a better direction. As far as on the personal level, I’ve always felt you don’t have to — you can disagree without being disagreeable. How we’ve been over the past year, you don’t see us throwing rocks or calling names or being overly partisan. We’re going to try to work with anybody.”

Hogan held out some hope that the honeymoon, if it existed, will continue.

“I think we’re going to have a great session,” Hogan said. “I don’t think the honeymoon is over. It’s not over for my part. You can tell Mike and Mike I still love them.”