Bryan P. Sears//January 8, 2019
//January 8, 2019
The start of the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session Wednesday marks the unofficial start to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s second session — his swearing-in is a week later. Maryland hasn’t seen a two-term Republican governor since Theodore McKeldin.
Hogan, though, is promising to stay the course he established during his first four years in the office on the second floor of the State House.
“There’s no ‘now it’s a second term so we’re going to do something new,'” said Hogan during an interview with The Daily Record. “If people wanted something new they’d probably have voted for (Democratic gubernatorial nominee) Ben Jealous. We’re going to keep making progress on the same things we’ve been focused on for four years. We’re just going to do it for four more.”
Hogan, who was already a very popular governor, will enter the new term with some of the highest approval ratings he’s seen.
A poll from Annapolis-based Gonzales Research and Media Services found Hogan’s approval numbers at 77 percent.
“People seem to be happy with the direction that the state is heading,” said Hogan. “Why would we change directions? Same thing applies for the second term. I want to keep heading in the same direction focused on the same types of things but make more progress.”
Hogan survived in a year of a blue wave. The governor called the 2018 election nationally a repudiation of the president and the current state of Republican politics.
Hogan, by virtue of his victory in Maryland, said he expects to be part of the national conversation about the future of his party.
Chris Christie comparisons
Rightly or wrongly, Hogan has been subject to comparisons to Chris Christie of New Jersey, another Republican two-term governor.
Democrats in campaign mode attempted to paint Hogan as the second coming of a bombastic Christie with visions of the White House dancing in his head at the same time that he is unfettered by another statewide election.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., who counts Hogan as a long-time friend, said he doesn’t believe Hogan will morph into Christie.
“He told us that this morning,” said Miller, describing a recent breakfast with the governor during an interview. “He indicated that he recognized that he was very popular with people but he also indicated Republicans were unsuccessful in their ‘Drive for Five’ and we need to work together in a bipartisan fashion. Both (House Speaker Michael Busch) and I agree with him.”
Hogan, as with Christie, can be blunt and is not afraid of throwing sharp elbows at sacred cows of the Democratic Party including the largest teachers’ and state employees’ unions in the state.
And Hogan’s jokes about a presidential run aside, he does have a legislature that is more progressive and less Republican than before the 2018 election. A plan to expand the Senate by five Republicans — enough to thwart veto overrides — failed.
Hogan attributed much of his success in his first term to being a good goalkeeper.
“We stopped all the bad things that the legislature wanted to do,” said Hogan.
Stopped is a relative term.
While he did manage to change the controversial stormwater management law he effectively branded as “the rain tax” and another transportation bill he hated and dubbed “the road kill bill,” the legislature, in hockey parlance, has also gone to the top shelf and the five hole on him.
In the last four years Hogan was not able to stop the legislature from passing a mandatory paid sick leave bill. He has seen the vast majority of his vetoes reversed.
But lawmakers have also shied away from tax increase proposals even in a year where they are looking at a $4.4 billion plan to increase education spending.
“That’s because we’re playing goalie and stopping those bad things from happening that the people in Maryland don’t want,” said Hogan. “That’s one of my biggest successes as governor was playing great defense. That’s why they elected me governor, to restore some balance to an out-of-control legislature.”
With fewer Republicans and a larger Democratic caucus, Hogan is more intent than ever in blocking shots.
Again, he’ll rely on an old standby — social media. Hogan has proven an adept and effect user of the platforms.
“We have to use the bully pulpit,” said Hogan. “An overwhelming majority of Marylanders agree with me and not with them. When we put pressure on them we can sometimes convince (Democratic legislators) that their ideas are not always the best. ”
A strong majority
Hogan won’t be alone in his efforts to shape the agenda. Despite losing the governor’s mansion for the second consecutive time, Democrats remain the overwhelming majority in the legislature.
“Last fall, the voters were clear,” said Sen. Jim Rosapepe, D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel and chair of the Senate Democratic caucus. “Many of them liked the governor. But they loved our progressive values. That’s our job this session. That’s the job we’re going to do.”
Leaders in a legislature with more Democrats than in 2018 will also look to move the needle on issues, including expanded funding of education and school construction.
“How are we going to do that?” said House Speaker Michael Busch during a party luncheon in Annapolis Tuesday. “We’re going to take control of (education funding) recommendations from the Kirwan Commission. We’re going to build schools. We’re going to duplicate what we have in Baltimore city with 21st Century Schools. We’re going to do that in every county in the state of Maryland. This is a party that takes (education) seriously.”
Busch and other Democrats will also seek to increase the state’s minimum wage, control prescription drug and health care costs, make college more affordable and increase pay for teachers.
“It’s a great opportunity for Democrats to take control of the policy initiatives,” Busch said of the coming session and term. “If the Senate and the House work together, we will drive the policy for the next four years. If the administration can divide us it will be unfortunate. But we’re going to hang together, work together, play together as Senator Miller used to say, and make Maryland a great place for everyone, every Marylander.”