Alternative Facts of the Week: Governor's race edition

Looks like we’ve got some competition in the business of attempting to chronicle the Alternative Fact of the Week. Just as we began our Thursday morning ritual of culling through seven days’ worth of lies from the Trump administration and beyond, Gov. Larry Hogan’s campaign blasted email inboxes across Maryland with 24 purported falsehoods by Ben Jealous in the 24 hours since he had become the Democratic gubernatorial nominee. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then we thank you for the compliment, Governor Hogan.

But in keeping with the why use a flyswatter when you’ve got a bazooka philosophy of Mr. Hogan’s re-election effort, he appears to have sacrificed quality in the name of quantity. There are no whoppers on the order of “Obama tapped my phones,” and several of the items are just differences of opinion about what’s possible or desirable. It’s not “false” for Mr. Jealous to say, “As governor, I will not rest until Medicare for all is law” just because you think it’s unachievable and a bad idea.

Some things are a matter of interpretation. Did Mr. Hogan fail to keep his 2014 campaign promises to cut taxes, as Mr. Jealous asserts? It depends on what you thought he meant when he said he would roll back as many O’Malley tax increases as possible. If you expected that he would try to reverse former Gov. Martin O’Malley’s broad-based sales, income tax, cigarette or alcohol tax increases, or that he would make more than a quickly abandoned effort to reverse the gas tax increase before gladly spending all the money it generated on road projects, then you might see Mr. Jealous’ point. If you expected Mr. Hogan to cut tolls, eliminate E-Z Pass fees, exempt some retirement income for veterans and public safety personnel, and claim credit for long-standing programs like Maryland’s film and cybersecurity tax incentives or for $240 million the Supreme Court ordered the state to return to taxpayers who had been overcharged, then feel free to cry foul on Mr. Jealous’ claim.

The same goes for Mr. Jealous’ general attempt to argue that Mr. Hogan has not sufficiently stood up to the Trump administration. If you consider not endorsing or voting for President Trump; publicly objecting to his proposals to cut Chesapeake Bay cleanup funding, drill for oil off the Mid Atlantic Coast or repeal the Affordable Care Act; suing the EPA over clean air; and decrying the policy of separating families at the border to constitute standing up to the president, then you’re Team Hogan on that one. If your standard for resisting the president is getting arrested outside the White House, as Mr. Jealous was during an immigrant rights demonstration last year, then no, Mr. Hogan doesn’t measure up.

There are a couple of specifics in the Hogan campaign barrage that are worth noting. The first quotes Mr. Jealous as saying, “Larry Hogan, you aided and abetted Donald Trump when you invited Education Secretary Betsy DeVos into our state and [by] expanding vouchers and not fully funding our public schools.” The Hogan campaign counters that the governor has fully funded Maryland’s education formulas (which is true since his first year in office, when he did not fund a component of them that was at the time considered optional but which is now mandatory) and that his support of aid for some students at private and parochial schools puts him on the same side as leading Democrats like Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch. It is true that the idea had been floating around before Mr. Hogan got to Annapolis and that Mr. Miller had long supported it. (Mr. Busch came along only reluctantly.) But it is also true that Mr. Hogan tried to expand it beyond an initial pilot program before questions about its effectiveness had been settled.

The second is Mr. Jealous’ claim that “Mr. Hogan, Larry, you have aided and abetted Trump when you stood shoulder to shoulder with Attorney General Sessions heeding his call to return to the failed war on drugs to create new mandatory minimum sentences.” This one we’re going to call mainly on the governor’s side. Yes, he did propose “truth in sentencing” legislation this year and eventually did get behind an omnibus crime bill that increased penalties for certain offenses in ways that may or may not actually increase public safety. But he’s no drug warrior. Unlike Mr. Sessions, he supports medical marijuana, and he’s kept an open mind on eventually legalizing it for recreational use. Most pertinently, his administration was deeply engaged in crafting a 2016 criminal justice reform bill that represents a major step back from failed drug war policies. Consequently, Maryland led the nation in the rate of decline in its prison population last year, part of a long-term trend that has seen the number of sentenced inmates decline from more than 23,000 a decade ago to under 19,000 today.

As for Mr. Hogan’s attacks on Mr. Jealous, we’d call out one in particular. “If you liked Martin O’Malley,” Mr. Hogan said Wednesday, “you’re going to love this guy.” Say what you will, but Mr. Jealous is very different from former Governor O’Malley. Legalizing marijuana and reducing the prison population were not exactly high priorities for a governor who clung to a “more arrests, less crime” philosophy throughout his terms despite public sentiment and actual evidence. Mr. O’Malley did not support single-payer health care as governor or as a presidential candidate and this year noted the inability of any individual state to enact such a system. Mr. O’Malley held down tuition increases; he didn’t propose making college free. Mr. O’Malley raised taxes to pay for existing programs and to cope with the recession. He did not, for the most part, propose an expansion of the state government’s role. In fact, we’d say whether you liked Martin O’Malley policy- or personality-wise would be a very poor predictor of your feelings about Ben Jealous.

All that in just the first couple of days since the primary. We expect it’s going to be a busy season for alternative facts.

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