Gov. Larry Hogan said he will endorse a primary opponent of a sitting Republican senator from St. Mary’s County, calling him “no better than any other Democrat we want to replace.”
The rift between the Republican governor campaigning for his own re-election and a member of his party comes at the same time he is seeking to expand the number of Republicans in the General Assembly to prevent some veto overrides. Hogan Thursday said he would endorse Jack Bailey over incumbent Sen. Stephen Waugh because of a disagreement on a veto vote, but observers say the feud runs deeper.
“A big focus is not to have a majority of people who can override every single veto, and this particular senator consistently worked with (Democratic Senate President Thomas V.) Mike Miller on issues and against our administration and against the people of his district,” said Hogan. “He’s voted to override vetoes, so there is no difference between him and any other Democrat senator we might replace.”
Hogan said Waugh voted to override one veto — a bill prohibiting colleges from asking about criminal histories on initial entrance applications — “and maybe two, but there were a lot of issues he was just way off on from his constituents, and I think most people in St. Mary’s and Calvert counties are going to be looking for somebody new.”
That “somebody new” is Jack Bailey. Hogan is expected to appear at a fundraiser for Bailey at the end of the month, and Thursday night the governor announced in an email that he was endorsing the GOP challenger over Waugh.
“The leaders of the caucus in the Senate said specifically he (Waugh) did not work well with them and he did not want us to endorse him,” Hogan said in an interview.
Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford counties and Senate minority leader, adamantly denied asking Hogan not to endorse Waugh or any other Republican senator.
“That’s the governor’s decision, and that’s who he’s going to endorse,” Jennings said of the endorsement of Bailey. “As minority leader, I work with Steve Waugh, and that’s who I’ll be working for in the election.”
Jennings said he thought “the time and energy could be better spent electing Governor Hogan and Steve Waugh and other Republicans. This is a distraction, and it’s their battle and I’m not getting involved.”
Hogan’s efforts come at a time when many expect he’ll attempt to increase the numbers of Republicans in the House and Senate by seven and five, respectively.
“I’m not wasting any time going after anybody,” Hogan said. “I’ve just decided to endorse the guy that had the best potential to represent that district and is not working against us.”
Waugh, for his part, said he was “baffled” and called Hogan’s statements “a prevarication. He said he has voted with the governor on 13 of 14 veto overrides.
“I’m confused why the governor is picking this fight,” Waugh said.
Hogan has repeatedly touted his willingness to work with Democrats, and over the last three months has talked about the bipartisan effort exhibited by the 2018 General Assembly session.
During a talk Thursday with students at Towson University, Hogan described himself as a results-oriented, plain-talking pragmatist rather than a partisan ideologue. He said he opposed partisan “purity tests” in which Republicans or Democrats should all be expected to adhere to a party doctrine.
“He criticizes me for working with Democrats while claiming his success comes from his willingness to work with Democrats,” Waugh said. “I’m confused.”
The dispute may not just be about one veto override but about Hogan’s irritation over private criticisms leveled by Waugh in Annapolis and in his district. The complaints mostly relate to a lack of coordination and fundraising assistance for much of the 14 members of the Republican caucus, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Waugh acknowledged that he has “privately criticized the governor.”
“I’m baffled as to why the governor is expending a great deal of time and energy to come to St. Mary’s County to a fundraiser for Jack Bailey but has not had a fundraiser for Del. Deb Rey or (Sens.) Ed Reilly or Bob Cassilly.”
“Any criticism I’ve leveled against the governor has been private and constructive,” said Waugh. “I’ve jealously defended the governor at every public event. I guess I don’t have to do that now.”
Hogan’s actions came as a surprise to some political observers such as Todd Eberly, a politics science professor at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
“It’s the anti-Trump acting like Trump,” said Eberly. “It’s a bizarre miscalculation. It does nothing to help him, and if this story continues to be covered it works to turn Democrats and independents off. It’s hard to imagine a legislator more in sync with his district. This shows a disturbing amount of pettiness that fundamentally contradicts the image he’s cultivated.”