EASTON — Republican Larry Hogan and Democrat Peter Franchot met up Monday in this historic Eastern Shore town for a tour of downtown businesses and a public show of bipartisan holiday spirit.
The governor-elect and the state comptroller — who will hold two of the three seats on the powerful Board of Public Works when Hogan takes office Jan. 21 — were cheerful and chummy as they went from store to store, spreading the word that Marylanders should patronize their local small businesses.
The display of goodwill, while free of politics on the surface, sends a powerful signal about the way Hogan intends to govern and the way Franchot intends to use his vote on the board — at least in the short term.
John T. Willis, a political scientist at the University of Baltimore, found the event an encouraging sign of bipartisanship coming to Annapolis.
"There is an opportunity for Maryland to show the country you don't have to work like Washington, D.C.," he said.
The tour of Easton and Cambridge was arranged after Franchot invited the newly elected Hogan to accompany him on one of his periodic "Buy Local" tours — intended to celebrate local businesses and along the way boost the tax revenue Franchot is responsible for collecting.
Hogan said he appreciated the invitation and the friendly start to his work with Franchot at the board.
"I'm very much looking forward to a great relationship with him," Hogan said. "I think he's going to find an ally in the new governor."
Franchot has been a critic of Gov. Martin O'Malley's economic policies, sounding at times more like Hogan than his fellow Democrat.
The comptroller has frequently been on the losing end of 2-1 votes as Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp has generally voted with O'Malley. The treasurer is elected by the General Assembly and is seen as the Democratic-dominated legislature's voice on the board.
Franchot predicted "a new day" on the board, which votes on the award of billions of dollars in state contracts as well as such matters as land sales and purchases and legal settlements. The board also has the power to review cuts in the state budget proposed by the governor between General Assembly sessions when there are revenue shortfalls.
"I am looking forward to a positive relationship," Franchot said. "That's not to say there won't be disagreements from time to time."
Willis said Hogan would have a much easier time governing with Franchot as an ally on the board.
"It's a unique institution, unique to Maryland and important to a governor's agenda," he said. While a comptroller and treasurer can't act on their own, they can team up to thwart a governor's will on significant matters.
Alan Wilner, a retired judge who wrote a history of the Board of Public Works in the 1970s, said there have been times in state history when a governor presided over a board with two political opponents.
"There were periods when there were partisan divisions on the board and that became a problem," Wilner said. He noted that most of the matters that come before the board are not partisan, but added: "They can be made partisan if the parties want to do it."
The last Republican governor, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., also served with two Democrats on the board, Kopp and the late Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. However, Ehrlich assiduously courted Schaefer, who became a reliable ally.
Like Schaefer, Franchot represents the moderate-to-conservative aide of the Democratic party. He argues that O'Malley went too far in raising taxes and increasing spending and debt. However, Franchot is no Schaefer, who had already served two terms as governor and was clearly in decline during his last term as comptroller. Franchot, vigorous at 67, is widely believed to have his eyes on the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.
"He's at the top of my list," said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College.
One thing Franchot and Hogan have in common is that they won office in stunning political upsets, Franchot over Schaefer in 2006 and Hogan over Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown last month.
Since his first election Franchot's image has morphed from that of a Takoma Park liberal to a moderate-to-conservative guardian of the public purse in the mold of the late Comptroller Louis Goldstein. Franchot has relentlessly courted the more conservative parts of the state while appeasing the liberal base of the Democratic Party with his stands on social issues.
Franchot was the only statewide candidate to win more than 1 million votes last month as he cruised to victory with 63 percent of the vote. He even won some rural counties where Hogan crushed Brown, including the two on the Eastern Shore that Franchot and the governor-elect visited Monday: Talbot and Dorchester. Franchot ended the election season with almost $1 million in his campaign treasury.
As the two men toured Easton, they were accompanied by Santa Claus, known locally as George Jackson of nearby American Corner, who led the two officials in singing "Jingle Bells" at the Sailor clothing store on North Washington Street.
"I say to every Marylander: Be a patriot. Get off the Internet and shop at these businesses," Franchot said as Hogan made it clear he shares the sentiment. Both men underscored their commitment to local businesses by making purchases at several of the stores they visited.
They spent about 90 companionable minutes visiting Sailor, Shearer the Jeweler (where Yumi Hogan bought her husband a watch) and MayaBella Pizza (where Hogan bought Franchot a root beer), as well as several other shops in Easton's historic section.
Eberly said Monday's event — literally retail politics — was good for both men.
"They've got sort of an overlap in their agendas," he said. "That not only helps Hogan, but it helps to boost the profile of Franchot."
The Morning Sun
How long the warm feelings between Hogan and Franchot can last is an open question. Franchot gave a hint when asked about his interest in the State House.
"The next two years the emphasis is going to be on governing and getting the job done," the comptroller said.
Eberly said two years is about how long he gives any alliance.
"If and when Hogan starts to make some of the tougher and controversial choices, that's when you would see Franchot begin to assert himself," Eberly said.
Joining the tour was outgoing state Sen. Richard F. Colburn, a Republican who has represented Easton for two decades. He said the show of unity was what voters want to see, but he wasn't sure how long the good feelings could last.
"It'll be interesting to see if and when Peter Franchot is running for governor in three years if this relationship will still have the holiday spirit it has today," Colburn said.