ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Larry Hogan once again called on lawmakers to work with him in a bipartisan fashion and avoid Washington-style politics while at the same time calling on the Democratic-led General Assembly to pass all his major initiatives.
Hogan, in a State of the State address that ran slightly under 23 minutes, revisited his first year in office after a campaign that criticized the tax increases of the previous administration and pledged to rehabilitate the state’s reputation for how it treated businesses.
“Time and again, we have chosen to engage in thoughtful and civil debate,” Hogan said. “We have risen above the fray of partisan politics, and we have chosen to seek common-sense bipartisan solutions to the serious problems that faced us. We are living up to the great potential and promise of our state, and together, we are changing Maryland for the better.”
But that bipartisan spirit Hogan touted felt somewhat diminished in the House chamber as applause fell mostly along party lines.
Outside the chamber, reaction to the speech similarly fell mostly along party lines, with Republicans applauding what could be Hogan’s last State of the State address if he fails to become the first Republican governor since Theodore McKeldin to win re-election. Democrats criticized the speech as “divorced from reality,” campaign rhetoric or light on policy.
“The governor’s speech was more of a campaign statement, more of a way to characterize his administration in a way that’s favorable to him in an election year and really is divorced from the experience (Democratic legislators) have had,” said Del. C. William “Bill” Frick, D-Montgomery and House majority leader. “The references to bipartisanship are certainly very welcome, but it felt a bit like Donald Trump calling for unity after having been a divider.”
Outside the chamber and in email reactions following the speech, Democrats repeatedly attempted to link Hogan to Trump, a continuation of their practice of the last year.
Frick said the “real show of bipartisanship” came in a session before Hogan’s speech in which the House gave unanimous approval to a bill that allows women who conceive a child as the result of an alleged rape the ability to strip parental rights from their alleged rapists.
Hogan also supported that bill and mentioned it in his speech Wednesday.
Republican lawmakers praised Hogan’s speech and said Democrats were reaching in their search for election-year contention.
“I think you really have to search to find something wrong in the governor’s speech,” said Stephen S. Hershey Jr., R-Upper Shore and Senate minority whip. “The governor has been very strong in his bipartisan efforts. This is nothing like you see in Washington, D.C.”
One of Hershey’s Democratic colleagues in the Senate agreed.
“I think mixed government works, Republican governor and a Democratic legislature has worked,” said Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County. I think we’ve been a lot less partisan than they are in Washington.”
Hogan observed the annual Annapolis ritual in workman-like fashion but took a victory lap of sorts, touting previous initiatives to lower taxes and tolls and increased hiring.
“Through internal struggle and outward chaos, we have not faltered,” Hogan said. “We have made progress with courage and with clarity of purpose, and our citizens are more pleased with the job that we are doing and the direction that we are heading than they have ever been before. ”
The speech contained no overarching theme, new initiatives or charges. Instead, the governor continued to call for bipartisan effort and re-announced legislation and programs he rolled out in recent months.
Hogan used the speech to call on Democrats to pass his version of paid sick leave despite lawmakers voting earlier in the session to override his veto of their plan.
Other already announced priorities included:
- An expansion of the Hometown Heroes tax credit to include correctional officers and to fully eliminate taxes on military retirees.
- Legislation requiring that academic performance be counted as 80 percent of a school’s composite score as part of the state’s efforts to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.
- Legislation creating an independent inspector general who would focus on school systems.
- Tougher organized crime legislation focused on gangs and drug dealers.
- Classifying human trafficking as a violent felony.
- Creation of an independent redistricting commission.
- Passage of legislation creating two-term limits for lawmakers.
- Passage of a bill requiring the legislature to stream live video of all House and Senate floor sessions.
“It’s the thinnest legislative package I’ve seen here in my 16 years,” said Brochin, the Baltimore County Democrat. “It just is.”
Brochin said he would have liked Hogan to bring more focus on efforts to continue to improve the Chesapeake Bay as well as for fighting the opiate addiction crisis.
“It’s not enough to have one treatment center in Baltimore City. I would have liked to see regional treatment centers so we can start having treatment on demand,” Brochin said.
Hogan devoted a significant portion of his speech to the issue of addiction through the story of Chad Dolch, an Army veteran who spent 15 months in Iraq.
“When Chad returned home, he struggled with PTSD and addiction,” Hogan said. “He went through some difficult times, but then Karen says he got clean and was turning his life around. I had the opportunity to meet Chad when I spoke at his graduation from welding school.’
The governor was contacted late last year by Dolch’s mother Karen, who sent the governor a picture of Hogan with her and her son on that graduation day.
“In her letter, Karen wrote that on December 17, Chad tragically died at the age of 29 after overdosing on heroin that was mixed with morphine and fentanyl,” Hogan said. “She wanted to honor Chad by showing us that, when we talk about this crisis, we are really talking about fighting for all the Chads and the Karens out there – for all the lives cut too short and all the families that will never be the same. That’s why no matter how hard it is, we cannot ever give up this fight.”
Brochin applauded that part of Hogan’s speech as “genuine.”
“It was a good way to put a picture on the opioid epidemic,” Brochin said.
In his first State of the State, Hogan, fresh off an election victory, angered Democrats with his description of the state and its flagging economy and high taxes — all reasons that Maryland elected just its second Republican governor in roughly 50 years, he said.
In years past, other governors have used the speech to focus on themes or goals for the 90-day session from Democratic Govs. Parris Glendening’s environmental rallying cry to Martin O’Malley’s use of lofty prose and Irish authors or even Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s use of the speech to chide Democrats for their lack of respect for him.
Some argued that if the speech lacked flash or sizzle, it also failed to provide Democrats intent on defeating Hogan with any ammunition for campaign ads.
“It’s a speech that has already been forgotten and for (Hogan) that’s not a bad thing,” said one veteran Democratic operative.