Hogan taking heat for Taney statue removal

Erin Cox
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to remove a controversial Confederate-era statue from the State House grounds has prompted a backlash within some facets of his Republican base.

The Facebook comments on the social-media-savvy governor’s page came fast and furious this week, as one-time supporters turned his posts about job gains and ribbon cuttings into hundred-person-long chains calling the Republican governor names.

Even some of his most ardent supporters have spoken out against him, baffled that their “common sense” champion reversed course.

In a blog post bluntly titled “Governor Hogan is wrong on this,” conservative blogger Greg Kline of RedMaryland wrote, “I am, and remain, a proud and unabashed apologist for Governor Hogan … But this. I don’t get this.”

Hours after the Hogan administration presided over the pre-dawn removal of Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney’s 145-year-old statue on Friday, Kline said he can’t explain away Hogan’s shift. The governor called the removal of historical statues in 2015 “political correctness run amok” but said this week “it was the right thing to do.”

“I would have sworn on Monday, if you asked me, that this governor would have never done this," Kline said Friday. "I woke up today feeling a bit confused."

Compared to the online vitriol aimed at Hogan’s Facebook page, Kline’s criticism is muted.

“He sided with the liberals,” wrote one critic. “I lost a lot of respect of you,” wrote another. “One term Larry, what a disgrace,” said a third.

A fourth, writing in all caps, demanded Hogan’s immediate resignation in the comments section of every item the governor has posted this week, including photos of First Lady Yumi Hogan celebrating a new boutique that employs people with autism.

Hogan joined a national groundswell reconsidering Confederate monuments that have become a rallying point for white nationalists. The violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend started as a rally against the removal of a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The Taney statue on the east lawn of the State House has been controversial since it was installed in 1872. Taney, Maryland’s only chief justice and former attorney general, is best remembered for writing the infamous Dred Scott decision that upheld slavery and argued blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Efforts to take down the statue, however, have been opposed by many in both political parties who see the State House as a living museum and the statue as a sign of how far the state has come.

Hogan dismissed calls to remove Taney after the 2015 mass shooting in a black Charleston, S.C., church, questioning when efforts to replace monuments would stop.

But after Charlottesville, Hogan backed calls to remove it.

“While we cannot hide from our history — nor should we — the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history,” Hogan wrote in a statement Tuesday.

That shift, though welcomed by many Democrats and some Republicans, was not universally well received by his supporters.

Some posted on Facebook to tell Hogan they removed bumper stickers bearing his name. Another person commented on a photo of Hogan reclining on an Ocean City bench, quipping “maybe I’ll sit on that bench during the next election.”

Hogan’s spokesman Doug Mayer acknowledged the onslaught of criticism but declined to comment on it specifically.

"If the events of the last several weeks have taught us anything, it is that we want to focus on what unites us and not what divides us,” Mayer said.

While some GOP leaders declined to comment on Hogan's position, House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga said she was "proud" of the governor. Szeliga said when she read the Dred Scott decision at the urging of a constituent, she was appalled that it compared slaves to merchandise and described black Americans as unworthy of human rights.

"We just need people to read that decision," said Szeliga, a Baltimore County Republican.

Hogan’s support among Republicans has been near unanimous since his upset win in 2014. Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College, said Hogan’s approval rating among Republicans in her last poll was 91 percent.

She called the recent displeasure with Hogan a “flash in the pan,” and said Republicans would likely still come out to support him in the 2018 election. What, she asked, were their alternatives?

“Are they ready to vote for Ben Jealous?” she said, referring to one of the governor’s more progressive Democratic challengers.

“It seems clear that it upsets his base,” Kromer said of the Taney statue removal. But she said voters will always care more about the economy and education than statues.

Hogan’s support is so broad among Republicans, she said, “He has very, very, very far to fall.”

The governor is not the only public official facing heat for his position on Taney’s statue.

Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller abstained from a vote by the State House Trust on whether to take it down. He said later in a letter to the governor that the four-member panel should have voted after a public hearing, rather than by email.

When Baltimore Sen. Joan Carter Conway heard her presiding officer sat out the vote, she was “taken aback.”

“What does that mean, Mike didn't vote?” said Conway, a Democrat. Conway, a committee chair, has also held leadership posts in the Legislative Black Caucus, which has long advocated for Taney’s statue to be removed.

She said she’s gone many rounds over the years with Miller about the propriety of a variety of Confederate statues on public grounds in Maryland.

“We're not saying take them down and break them into pieces and give every neo-Nazi a relic,” Conway said. “We're just saying put them someplace else. They don't belong on public property.

“He has a lot of conservatives in his district,” Conway said of Miller’s Southern Maryland home. “Maybe he's placating his constituents?”

Miller, who through a spokesman declined to be interviewed about the statue, also outlined several arguments in his letter for why Taney should stay.

He defended what he called Taney’s "complex history.” Miller noted that Taney freed slaves during his lifetime, comparing him favorably to George Washington, who freed them only after his death.

"We all know that the inflammatory and derogatory language and holding of the Dred Scott decision created great and lasting wounds in our Country and incited rather than avoided a Civil War," Miller wrote. "And yet, many do not know that Roger Brooke Taney also served with distinction in many State and National Offices."

Sen. William C. Smith, Jr., a first-term lawmaker from Montgomery County and member of the Black Caucus, said Miller’s position does not resonate with him.

“I can understand where he's coming from, I just don't agree with it,” Smith said. “Taney's legacy has been litigated for over a hundred years now.”

The monument's removal “is something that we've got to applaud, and I appreciate that I will no longer have to walk past the statue on my way to the chamber,” he said.

ecox@baltsun.com

twitter.com/ErinatTheSun

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