Md.'s Gov. Hogan must find footing with Trump

Op-ed: Maryland's governor must find his footing with Donald Trump to protect the state's interests.

Gov. Larry Hogan appears to be struggling harder than most coastal elites to come to terms with Donald Trump's victory.

You cannot blame him, I suppose. He did what a Republican politician in a Democratic state had to do. He bobbed. He weaved. He ducked. He dodged. He cast a write-in vote for his dad. It was a performance worthy of a Daytime Emmy nomination, premised on the theory that Hillary Clinton would be elected the 45th president of the United States.

Then the improbable happened.

In the weeks since Mr. Trump's victory, Mr. Hogan has continued to bob, weave, duck and dodge. He called for unity. He encouraged everyone to take a deep breath. He avoided Mr. Trump at the Army-Navy game. He announced he will attend Mr. Trump's swearing in. He said he has not talked to Mr. Trump since the election. Then, despite evidence to the contrary, he settled on this gem: "Things are going to be great."

It is becoming downright uncomfortable watching Mr. Hogan, whose north star is polling data, struggle to define his relationship with Mr. Trump, who mustered barely one in three votes cast in Maryland.

The premise underlying Mr. Hogan's performance before the election was simple. He could say he was disgusted with national politics and focused on Maryland because the campaign had little impact on the state. With Mr. Trump preparing to take office, that premise is gone because the incoming administration will make countless decisions that will directly affect the state. If Mr. Hogan is truly focused on what is best for Maryland, it is time for him to engage Mr. Trump instead of awkwardly trying to avoid acknowledging he exists.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, another Republican who did not support Mr. Trump, recently had a "polite" and "cordial" conversation with the president-elect. If Mr. Hogan is not yet ready for a phone call, he could take a page from Mayor Catherine Pugh's playbook. With her new letterhead fresh from the printer, Ms. Pugh signed a letter to Mr. Trump asking for federal investment in Baltimore City.

Hillary Clinton crushed Mr. Trump in Baltimore, so you do not need a poll to understand there was no political upside for Ms. Pugh to make the ask. She did it because she understands the president of the United States can help — or hurt — the city, and sometimes politics has to take a back seat to public service.

If Mr. Hogan follows Ms. Pugh's lead, he should make sure Mr. Trump understands the risks his agenda poses to Maryland's economy.

First, Mr. Hogan should ask Mr. Trump to use a scalpel, not a hacksaw, as he cuts federal spending. When the federal government gets a cold, Maryland gets pneumonia. Five of the state's 10 largest employers are federal installations, and four more are heavily dependent on federal spending. Nearly one in five working Marylanders are in government jobs. In spite of Mr. Hogan's talk of diversifying Maryland's economy, the state remains disproportionately reliant on the federal government, which means wholesale federal cuts will disproportionately hurt our economy.

Second, Mr. Hogan should ask Mr. Trump to develop a replacement for the Affordable Care Act before he repeals it. Maryland hospitals contribute nearly $30 billion annually to the state's economy and employ more than 100,000 people. Like any major institutions, Maryland's hospitals need stability, and a repeal without a replacement will destabilize the health care system. Like cuts to the federal government, reckless action on health care will ripple through our economy.

Mr. Hogan is fond of reminding anyone who will listen that he is a very popular politician. The Trump era will put that popularity to the test, as Republicans enact policies that are popular in places like Wyoming and the Dakotas, but come at the expense of Maryland's economy. If Mr. Hogan is the post-partisan his supporters claim, he must find his footing with Mr. Trump, put public service ahead of politics and stand up for Maryland. Because now, unlike before the election, Mr. Trump can help — or hurt — the state.

Pat Murray is a former executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party and a former aide to the presiding officers of the Maryland General Assembly. His email address is patrickhmurray@gmail.com.

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