Republican primary voters are blessed with the deepest field of candidates they've had for governor in a generation — four men who each bring compelling stories to their quests to replace Gov. Martin O'Malley. David Craig is the teacher turned legislator, mayor and county executive. Ron George is a one-time soap opera actor who is now a state delegate and (literally) a Main Street business owner. Larry Hogan is a former state cabinet secretary and son of the first Republican congressman to announce that he would vote to impeach Richard Nixon. Charles Lollar is a Marine and businessman who has done more than a little preaching along the way.
All four of them promise action on what is probably the most important and unifying desire among Republican voters, which is to rein in spending and taxes. In evaluating the options, voters should have two questions for each candidate: Can he get elected, and can he deliver on his promises once he is? Two of the candidates can plausibly answer yes to each of those questions: Larry Hogan and David Craig, and Mr. Hogan stands out as the stronger choice.
Both Mr. George and Mr. Lollar have brought energy and ideas to this race, and we wish to acknowledge their contributions. Mr. George has experience in how to work within the constraints of a Democratic legislature, and his campaign platform combines a small businessman's sensibility with a real caring for the less fortunate and a focus on revitalizing Baltimore that is welcome from a Republican candidate — too often, members of his party have seen advantage in running against Baltimore rather than for it. Mr. Lollar's passion and dynamism give him cross-party appeal, and his time as a Marine and business executive have provided him with leadership and problem-solving skills. However, Mr. George has not so far shown an ability to mount the kind of campaign that would be needed to be competitive state-wide with what is likely to be a very well funded Democratic opponent. And Mr. Lollar, we fear, would quickly discover that his experience had not prepared him for getting things done in a political context, much less one in which the other party can stymie his every move.
That is, or should be, Mr. Craig's chief advantage in this race. His years as a delegate and senator in Annapolis and his solid record as Harford County executive provided him with a reservoir of good will across much of the political spectrum in Maryland. He has built a record as a moderate, sensible and pragmatic leader. Unfortunately, he has spent much of this primary campaign squandering that reputation in an attempt to win over a segment of the electorate that had greeted him with suspicion: the far right in the Republican base.
He urged the repeal of Harford County's stormwater management fee, which he as executive had introduced, after complaints about the so-called "rain tax" became popular on the campaign trail. He would not only undo the gun control laws Mr. O'Malley championed last year but would repeal previous ones, effectively introducing a gun show loophole into Maryland law where none existed before. And he has made not just the reduction of the personal income tax but its complete elimination the centerpiece of his tax plan. That's not just implausible politically and fiscally; it's a bad idea that would, in a best case scenario, ensure that the poor and middle class foot proportionally more of the bill for government services than the rich.
That said, Mr. Craig does have more direct experience in managing a government than any of the candidates opposing him. He has crafted budgets and done the hard work of balancing the many competing interests a chief executive must consider. Unfortunately, some of his platform belies that experience — for example, his pledge to pay for his tax plans by requiring 3 percent across-the-board cuts from all agencies. It's simply bad management to cut as much from low priorities as from high ones, or to cut just as much from effective programs as from wasteful ones.
Mr. Hogan's experience in managing a government is not as direct as Mr. Craig's. He was the appointments secretary under Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., which means he was in charge of vetting candidates for high administration posts, judgeships, boards and commissions. That put him near the seat of power but not in it. However, he has demonstrated during the campaign a good sense of what a Republican governor could accomplish in Maryland and how to go about it — earned in no small part by seeing how and why things went wrong during the Ehrlich administration. Moreover, he has selected as his running mate Boyd Rutherford, a man with extensive managerial experience in the state and federal governments. He would be an excellent asset in a Hogan administration.
Mr. Hogan's platform is about one issue and one issue alone: improving the economic climate in Maryland. We would like to hear more developed views from him on a broader array of issues, but he has certainly picked an important topic to focus on; even the top Democratic leaders in Annapolis have made it a central cause in the last year. Moreover, his platform would make it hard for his opponent in the general election to paint him as a radical. He is a moderate on social issues, and his plan on taxes and spending — to find savings in the budget and then begin rolling back the O'Malley tax increases in a way that both helps the middle class and encourages job creation — is remarkably similar to, and perhaps even more modest than, that of one of the leading Democratic candidates, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. It also has the virtue of making sense fiscally and politically.
Given the competitive Democratic primary and the possibility of O'Malley fatigue, Republicans have a rare opportunity to mount a real challenge to Maryland's dominant political party this fall — provided they pick the right candidate. Not only does Larry Hogan have a chance to win in November, but he also presents the possibility of bringing real change to the state government and not just a repeat of the pointless bickering that characterized the Ehrlich years. He has our endorsement in the Republican primary.
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