First in a series of profiles of candidates for governor
Republican Larry Hogan isn't pledging to turn deep-blue Maryland red if he's elected governor. He doesn't even hold out much hope for purple. He just thinks that if he can win his party's primary, he can beat the Democratic nominee and fundamentally change the way the state does business.
Since becoming the last Republican to jump into the 2014 governor's race in January, he has surged past his three rivals in both fundraising and the polls. The former Ehrlich administration official has done that with a methodical, tech-savvy campaign that has at times left his opponents fuming.
What Hogan hasn't done is tack hard right in a way that would make it difficult to scramble back to the middle if he wins the June 24 primary.
"I'm not going to make promises in a primary or a general election that I can't deliver on," he said.
That means Republican voters aren't seeing plans from Hogan to eliminate the personal income tax, as Harford County Executive David R. Craig and Charles County business executive Charles Lollar have proposed. He's not even trying to match the more modest tax reduction plan outlined by Del. Ron George of Anne Arundel County.
Instead, Hogan says he would cut waste that has been identified over the years by nonpartisan state auditors, as well as other unnecesssary spending to be ferreted out by outside watchdogs. Tax cuts would follow after spending reductions, he says.
"To say you're going to magically eliminate taxes is not that realistic, with the current makeup of the legislature and the requirement that we have a balanced budget," Hogan told The Baltimore Sun in an interview.
The General Assembly has long been overwhelmingly Democratic, and Hogan doesn't expect that to change. He insists he can work across party lines with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch in a way that avoids the harshly partisan wrangling that helped bring down his old boss, former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., after one term.
"I'm a different kind of personality. We have different personalities and different backgrounds," Hogan said. "I'm not a guy who's been in politics my whole life."
He leads by 15 percentage points in the GOP race, though many voters remain undecided, according to a new poll for The Sun published Sunday. It found Hogan has the support of 27 percent of likely primary voters, followed by Craig and Lollar with 12 percent each and George with 6 percent.
Hogan, who owns a real estate business, has run for public office only once one before. He took on Rep. Steny H. Hoyer in 1992 and gave him the closest race of his career before going down to defeat. The only time he collected a government paycheck was during the four years he served as Ehrlich's chief personnel recruiter.
Few Marylanders, however, have been as immersed in state politics over the last half-century as Hogan, 58. He was 10 when his father, Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., first ran for Congress, and 12 when his dad was elected as a Republican from a Democratic-leaning district centered on Prince George's County. The younger Hogan remembers being on the floor of the House with his father, now 85, when he was sworn in 45 years ago. The candidate is still proud that his father became the first Republican on the House Judiciary Committee to announce in 1974 that he would vote for the impeachment of Richard Nixon despite his past support of the president.
"I probably learned more about integrity in one day when my dad read that vote than most people learn in a lifetime," Hogan said.
The son would go on to help his father win election as Prince George's County executive in 1978, a position no Republican has held since. His success at the polls was fueled by a wave of anti-tax sentiment of the kind Hogan hopes to ride this year.
Hogan has continued his part-time involvement in politics ever since, serving in party positions, heading Maryland's Youth for Reagan in 1980 and serving as delegate to five Republican national conventions. In the early 1980s, he worked with a Democratic friend from high school, Timothy F. Maloney, to reform Prince George's County government through a change to single-member council districts — a move that weakened the Democratic Party organization that had controlled local government.
"Larry was very effective. He was a very hard worker," said Maloney, who went on to serve four terms in the House of Delegates. Maloney said he still counts Hogan as a good friend but supports Democrat Anthony G. Brown for governor.
For most of the past 30 years, Hogan has concentrated on building his business, the Hogan Cos., which specializes in helping businesses find the right land on which to build or offices to rent.
"I've been blessed to be fairly successful," he said
After Ehrlich's election in 2002, Hogan accepted an invitation from his old friend to join the administration. As appointments secretary, he said, he helped the governor fill thousands of jobs in the executive branch and the judiciary.
Not everyone was impressed by his record there. Ehrlich came under fire for many of his appointments — and not just from Democrats.
Among Hogan's critics is former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the longtime godmother of the port of Baltimore and an ardent Craig supporter.
"I have always been critical of his appointments in the Ehrlich administration and still am," she said. "Some of the people they sent to the port were awful. I saw firsthand."
After Ehrlich's 2006 defeat by Martin O'Malley, Hogan considered seeking the 2010 GOP nomination to challenge the Democratic governor. When Ehrlich decided he wanted to take another shot at O'Malley, Hogan stepped aside.
Within a year after O'Malley crushed Ehrlich in their 2010 rematch, Hogan launched Change Maryland, a conservative advocacy group. The organization, through which Hogan built a statewide following on social media, provided a running critique of O'Malley's economic policies.
Over the fall and into the winter, Change Maryland morphed into the Hogan for Governor campaign. Some of his opponents contend that was his plan all along, and that Change Maryland was a cover for his political activities that allowed him to fly under the radar of financial disclosure.
Hogan denies that, saying he made a final decision to run only in January.
Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College, said it would be naive to believe that Hogan launched the group with no idea of using it as an eventual political vehicle. He said Changed Maryland surprised people with its effectiveness.
"It was more successful at generating news stories and more successful at getting under the skin of the O'Malley administration than any other entity in the state," Eberly said. "Change Maryland kind of gave a voice to Republicans and independents who were frustrated by one-party rule."
So far, Hogan has stressed such unassailable priorities as "jobs, middle-class families and restoring our economy." He has avoided specific commitments or the type of 10-point plans favored by some of his rivals. For instance, he hasn't tried to match Craig's calls for the dismantling of some of Maryland's long-standing environmental laws. Nor does he promise to seek repeal of O'Malley's 2013 gun control law or to undo Obamacare in Maryland.
"It's federal law. We can't dismantle the federal law," Hogan said. He said he urged early on that Maryland join the federal exchange but that his words "fell on deaf ears."
Hogan lives in Anne Arundel County with his wife, Yumi, a first-generation American from South Korea and an instructor at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He said they met at an art show in Columbia.
"I guess I was more interested in the artist than the art," he said. They have three grown daughters.
If Hogan can win the primary, Eberly said he wouldn't count him out in November, despite Maryland's strongly Democratic tilt.
"He's got a good message for a general election," Eberly said. "It's going to be hard to paint him as extremist or out of step or out on the wings."
Maryland's next governor will earn $165,000 in the first year of office, with annual raises bringing the salary to $180,000 in the fourth year.
Wednesday: David R. Craig
Job: CEO, the Hogan Cos., a real estate firm
Experience: Appointments secretary, Ehrlich administration; founder of Change Maryland, conservative advocacy group
Education: B.S., Florida State University
Family: Married, 3 daughters
Running mate: Boyd RutherfordCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun