Republican incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan answers questions following the lone gubernatorial debate at Maryland Public Television in Owings Mills, Maryland, on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. (Photo by Brooks DuBose/Capital News Service)

By Brooks DuBose
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — The applause was raucous, snapping through a spacious hotel meeting room in Annapolis.

At a Maryland Municipal League conference this month, both candidates for governor spoke, but one was met with more enthusiasm. Much more.

The ovation was for Gov. Larry Hogan as he emerged from a side door and jogged to the stage with an ease that belied his 62 years.

“Four years ago, I promised MML that our administration would be accessible and responsive to you and your communities and in the areas of our state which had previously been ignored and neglected would no longer be forgotten,” Hogan said as the applause died down, “and we have done exactly what we said we would do.”

Some stood and clapped, showing their support for the popular Republican incumbent, who is seeking to become the first member of his party to win re-election as governor of Maryland in more than a half century.

For Hogan, a father of three and grandfather four, his first term in office was based on keeping the promises he made–as a businessman with little public political experience–on the campaign trail four years ago.

In 2014, few thought he could win as a significant underdog against then-Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D). Polls showed Hogan losing by double digits for much of the general election.

Facing long odds in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than two to one, Hogan ran a trim campaign predicated on a simple but potent message–no more tax increases, and more business-friendly policies–that he repeated constantly on the campaign trail.

“Forty consecutive tax hikes have taken an additional $10 billion out of the pockets of struggling Maryland families and small businesses, and it’s crushed our economy,” Hogan accused Brown in a debate in October 2014.

“You will hear people talk about ‘Larry Hogan is an accidental governor,’” said Mileah Kromer, associate professor of political science and director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College. “That ignores the fact that (he) has been able to find a message that really resonates with Marylanders who are not overwhelmingly progressives. … And maybe after a while, people got sick and tired of hearing his message over and over again. But on Election Day everyone knew what he stood for.”

On election night 2014, Hogan bested Brown by more than 65,000 votes.

“Maryland is open for business,” Hogan declared during his inauguration speech in January 2015.

Hogan’s first term

More than four years later, he is still preaching that same message of fiscal responsibility and business-friendly policymaking.

“Four years ago, Maryland was way off track and heading in the wrong direction,” Hogan said during this year’s lone gubernatorial debate, on Sept. 24, “I promised to put Maryland on a new path.”

Though Hogan’s message has not changed, he is no longer the underdog. He’s favored to win re-election by a significant margin against his Democratic challenger, civil rights activist and former NAACP President Ben Jealous.

Every poll conducted since Jealous won the Democratic nomination in June has shown Hogan winning by 15 points or more. (Hogan ran unopposed in the primary.) A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll from October had him winning by 20.

With more than $3 million on hand as of Oct. 21, Hogan’s re-election campaign is a well-oiled machine, pumping out campaign ads highlighting his first-term accomplishments, such as surpassing funding quotas for the state’s education system, cracking down on violent crime and, of course, cutting taxes.

Despite those funding efforts, teachers unions and Democrats in the state argue that the system is still underfunded, according to reports compiled by two commissions tasked with examining Maryland schools.

He released an ad highlighting his repeal of the “rain tax,” a law enacted in 2012 to tax Maryland jurisdictions for managing stormwater runoff–a federal mandate–that Hogan campaigned against four years ago.

The Republican Governors Association has pitched in, too, pouring more than $4 million as of late October, into ads labeling Jealous as a socialist whose proposals will destroy Maryland’s economy.

Though the 2014 election was Hogan’s first political victory, he has been attached to politics for most of his life.

The son of Republican U.S. Congressman Larry Hogan Sr., Hogan attended his father’s swearing-in ceremony in 1969 and repeated the oath of office along with him, Hogan told Capital News Service in 2014.

“I try to say I’m not a politician, but I was sworn in at 12,” he said at the time.

After a failed attempt to unseat Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5th District) in 1992, Hogan stepped away from politics. He met his wife, Korean-born artist Yumi, in 2001 and the couple married in 2004. She has three daughters, Kim Velez, Jaymi Kim Sterling and Julie Kim, from a previous marriage.

CNS was unable to speak to the governor for this story due to scheduling issues.

Hogan’s half-brother, Patrick Hogan, served two terms in the Maryland House of Delegates from 2002-2006 and 2010-2014.

Before becoming governor, Hogan served cabinet as secretary of appointments to former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich, a Republican, from 2003 to 2007.

Moderate governance

During his first term, Hogan navigated a state legislature with few political allies. The new governor made quick, albeit unlikely, friends with Comptroller Peter Franchot, with whom he serves on the Board of Public Works, along with state Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

Franchot is the state’s top financial officer and a Democrat known to be somewhat fiscally conservative.

He welcomed Hogan as a reprieve from eight frustrating years under Martin O’Malley’s administration. In that time, the state acquired an “unfortunate reputation of not being fiscally sound,” Franchot said.

“I think the governor has brought the state back to the middle,” Franchot said in an interview with Capital News Service. “It’s a much more Maryland tradition.”

One of Hogan’s most-touted accomplishments is reining in taxes, tolls and fees that had increased under O’Malley, Franchot said.

In his first term, Hogan successfully reduced some tolls by $2 per ride, while cutting fees for services like birth and death certificates. Though he has called for an end to an estimated 40 tax increases, his most noteworthy repeal was of the “rain tax.”

“We’re no longer seen as having an inexhaustible appetite for raising taxes. It’s a moderation of the state’s fiscal limits that I credit Governor Hogan with,” Franchot said.

In June 2015, just five months after being sworn in as governor, Hogan announced he had been diagnosed with an advanced form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He underwent several rounds of chemotherapy–in the process losing his trademark silvery-white coif–which required Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford to at times stand in for him at meetings and other public events.

“The cancer diagnosis gave a lot of people a second look at who he was,” said John Dedie, a political science professor at the Community College of Baltimore County. “A lot of people–many families have to go through a situation like this and saw him more in a positive light.”

By October 2016, Hogan had received his final chemotherapy treatment and was deemed cancer-free. He received treatment earlier this year for a non-life-threatening form of skin cancer.

Hogan has not gone without criticism in his first term.

Some legislators have said Hogan has enacted Democratic policies simply to win re-election. For example, in the 2018 legislative session, Hogan signed three bills to address gun violence, another that banned conversion therapy for minors, and one to provide funding for thousands of students to attend community college tuition-free.

Hogan’s budgetary and legislative power is limited due to the veto-proof majority Democrats hold in the General Assembly. Any bill that Hogan vetoes, Democrats have overridden, while Hogan has simply chosen to not sign other bills as a sign of protest, allowing them to become law.

In 2018, the state Senate overrode Hogan’s veto of a Democrat-led proposal to expand sick leave to small businesses. Hogan had proposed a similar, more moderate expansion that didn’t receive a vote.

“We have been so effective that we have forced (Hogan) to govern like a Democrat,” said former gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County) at a forum in April.

Hogan has also avoided picking fights on some social issues, like abortion and contraception, stating that he would not enact any policies that would inhibit a woman’s right to choose. In 2016, he signed a bill to make contraception cheaper.

In 2017, the governor was sued by the ACLU after his staff deleted Facebook comments calling for Hogan to condemn Trump’s Muslim ban. The suit, which claimed he was censoring free speech, was settled earlier this year.

In response to a record number of murders in Baltimore last year, Hogan approved a bipartisan bill to increase penalties against repeat offenders, which some critics called regressive and racially biased.

Hogan was criticized for scrapping the Red Line, a planned transportation project in Baltimore, which would have received substantial federal dollars. He has instead proposed a billion-dollar plan to widen roads in the state’s population centers outside the city.

Hogan has also combated the growing opioid epidemic in the state, providing additional funding to prevent overdoses and suing opioid companies. He also declared a state of emergency on the issue in January 2017.

When the two debated in September, Jealous was quick to point out that Hogan had made a promise to make the declaration on the first day of his administration, but waited two years to do so.

Bipartisan approval

In addition to Franchot, other Democrats have embraced the governor.

One of them, state Sen. James Brochin (D-Baltimore County) endorsed Hogan–the first time he’s ever endorsed a Republican–because he was frustrated by the past two administrations whom he called “blatantly partisan.”

With Hogan, “the public policy matched the rhetoric,” Brochin said in an interview with Capital News Service. “I’ve been a Democrat my whole life, but this was not a tough call at all.”

Brochin praised Hogan’s efforts to establish a committee to end gerrymandering, implementation of the justice reinvestment act, which put state funds toward lowering prison recidivism rates and extending the ban on hydraulic fracking in the state.

Since his upset victory, Hogan has boasted high approval ratings throughout his first term–polls have shown him at between 60 and 70 percent approval for the better part of three years. Some Democrats have also come to like the governor, with more than 30 percent indicating they support Hogan over Jealous, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll from October.

He has managed to shed most if not all association with President Donald Trump, despite Democrats’ efforts to link the two.

Hogan has made a point to contrast his brand of politics to those in Washington, D.C.

In the final question of the debate in September, Hogan doubled down, calling the president “his own worst enemy” and pointing out times he stood up to the administration, such as when Trump sought to cut funding for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay or the president’s “zero tolerance” policy against immigrants.

“I was the only governor in America to withdraw troops from the border when he was separating families. So there’s not a whole lot of things that I have in common with the president,” Hogan said at the time.

Linking Hogan to Trump has not worked as well as some Democrats would have hoped, Kromer said, not only because of his policy decisions, but also his temperament.

“Where Trump is a ‘tweet-storm’ kind of guy, you know, instant reaction, Hogan is the kind of guy that’s going to go back to his media team and craft a careful public response,” she said. “It comes across as being really even-handed. Hogan needs to be a moderate to appeal to moderate voters and Trump has helped him to look like a moderate.”

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