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Gubernatorial campaign hangs over 2018 Md. legislative session


Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Gov. Larry Hogan and House Speaker Michael E. Busch before the 2017 State of the State speech in February last year. (File Photo/Maximilian Franz)

Let the games begin.

Democrats in the legislature and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan will square off one more time in the last 90-day session before the 2018 election. Each side will likely look to make the case to voters about whose vision is best for Maryland as Hogan seeks to become the first two-term Republican governor since Theodore McKeldin.

“The real contest here will be the contest over priorities and Democrats trying to differentiate their priorities from the governor’s,” said Mileah Kromer, a political science professor and director of the Goucher College Poll. “He tries very hard to be above the politics and has the public perception that he is above partisan politics but he’ll likely continue to needle Democrats when possible.”

Not all the action affecting the session or the campaign that follows will happen solely in the State House or involve strictly the tension between the legislature and the governor, according to John T. Willis, a former secretary of state to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and professor of government and politics at the University of Baltimore.

Willis said the growing list of legislators — Democrats and Republicans — in the House stepping up to challenge senators will create its own tension.

“They’re going to be watching each other,” Willis said.

Divided government in Maryland is atypical and both sides will be looking to make their case to voters heading into November.

“Politically, as with the climate, it’s not going to get any warmer,” Kromer said of the next roughly three months.

That likely means not only more political histrionics and partisanship but also efforts by Hogan and legislative Democrats to put the other side in politically difficult spots, said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

“Typically it’s the session before the election year that is contentious,” Eberly said. “That’s not going to happen this year.”

Term limits proposed

Hogan wasted no time by firing a shot across the bow of the legislature on eve of the session Tuesday, proposing legislation that would impose term limits on lawmakers. The governor said his bill, which was not immediately available, would impose limits of two consecutive terms in each chamber.

The Maryland Constitution currently limits the governor to two consecutive terms. There are no limits on state lawmakers.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., currently the longest-serving Senate president in Maryland and in the country, declined to comment. House Speaker Michael E. Busch, the longest-serving presiding officer in the history of the House of Delegates, did not respond to a request for comment.

Legislative Democrats are already planning to establish their own tone on the session with the expected vote to override Hogan’s veto of a paid sick leave bill.


‘The real contest here will be the contest over priorities and Democrats trying to differentiate their priorities from the governor’s,’ says Mileah Kromer, a political science professor and director of the Goucher College Poll. (File Photo)

It’s not clear exactly when that vote will happen, but supporters of the bill promised an override early. More than enough Democrats in the House have already pledged to override Hogan. The Senate passed the bill by veto-proof margin of a single vote, so supporters and opponents of the measure believe any attempt to sustain Hogan’s veto will occur in that chamber.

“This is an issue that really encapsulates the entire session leading into the election,” said Kromer.

Hogan has not had much luck in sustaining his vetoes and Democrats will want to continue that trend on this priority issue for them and then use it to energize voters to turn out against Hogan in November.

Wide range of issues

The battle to establish whose vision for Maryland is superior will be a mulligatawny soup of issues ranging from funding schools, the budget, legislative ethics, marijuana policy, violent crime in Baltimore and legislative efforts to strip rapists of parental rights.

Hogan and lawmakers will also have to balance the budget, including a legislative priority to eliminate 100 percent of the structural budget gap in the coming budget year.

“The budget will be very important,” said Willis. “(The governor) can’t go back to a tough-on-crime policy and do criminal justice reform as well. The reality is you’ve got things that are at odds with each other.”

President Donald Trump, as last year, will loom large over the session.

“I would suggest to you that what happens in Congress or doesn’t happen in Congress will have just as much impact in the fall as what happens in Annapolis,” Willis said.

Lawmakers and Hogan will find themselves having to respond to federal policies, including the recently passed tax reform bill and concerns about the future of a health insurance program that covers more than 140,000 children in the state.

Hogan last month said he plans to offset the effects of the federal tax restructuring that will hurt Marylanders who deduct their property taxes on the federal filings — a deduction that is capped under the new tax law.

“Everyone says that the rich should pay more taxes until it’s the rich who vote for them, then it’s the constituent they have to protect,” said Eberly. “But Democrats have to be worried of doing anything that potentially helps the governor portray it as a tax cut.”


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