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Welcoming Gov. Hogan's bureaucracy-oscopy

Welcoming Gov. Hogan's bureaucracy-oscopy
Larry Hogan was sworn in publicly as governor Wednesday amid heavy snow flurries. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

OK, so he's not much of a speech-maker. Larry Hogan's inauguration address was 100 Snore Street, Annapolis. But glorious speechifying is not what Marylanders voted for when they made Hogan our governor. What they voted for was:

The candidate who wasn't Anthony G. Brown.

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A successful businessman who criticized taxes and the size of Maryland's government.

A Republican who came across as politically moderate (a rare bird in these times).

A guy who had never schmoozed his way into elected office before and who spent three years building a grass-roots organization that became the foundation of his campaign. Far more than his opponent, Hogan showed that he really wanted to be governor.

Marylanders did not vote for a man who made jaw-dropping speeches. Of course, when I look back on recent governors, there isn't a Mario Cuomo among them.

Harry Hughes was "mild-mannered," the epitome of dull, clean competence.

William Donald Schaefer? The man's legacy includes many completed projects — light rail, Camden Yards, "Reach the Beach" — but he hardly ever spoke in completed sentences.

Parris N. Glendening? Wonkish smarts, but ask anyone what they remember about his first inauguration 20 years ago this week, and it's probably that awkward moment when he made Sgt. Marcella Diehl of the Maryland National Guard sing "You Are the Wind Beneath My Wings" to his wife. Oy gevalt. It might have been the longest 31/2 minutes in state history.

And then Bob Ehrlich came along, and then Martin O'Malley. Between them, I can't remember a single moment of rhetorical grandeur.

So maybe soaring prose is not what we want — or should ever expect — from governors.

But it seems to be particularly true of Hogan. When it was finally his turn, Wednesday in Annapolis, Hogan spoke of "leveraging assets" and "growing the private sector" and "casting aside the status quo." And then there was this: "Starting today, let me say loudly and clearly: Maryland is open for business."

As an inauguration speech, it constituted good Chamber of Commerce breakfast remarks.

But that's what Maryland voted for: An all-business businessman who will go to Annapolis, promote business and look skeptically at the state government.

And that's good.

Sending Hogan — an outsider but for a brief stint as appointments secretary in the Ehrlich administration a decade ago — to Annapolis is like hiring a house inspector. The man asserts that state government is too big, that taxes are too high, that the state is spending beyond its means. So now Hogan has a great opportunity to get inside and provide us with evidence to back up those claims.

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I think that's a good thing, a bureaucracy-oscopy.

If Hogan is truly a moderate, levelheaded businessman, he should be able to conclude, once and for all, objectively and fairly, whether Marylanders have the quality of life we deserve for the taxes we pay — or if we're being ripped off by a bloated, inefficient government that needs a good chop. We all await his findings.

Loud and clear in Hogan's inaugural address were flourishes of campaign rhetoric, particularly references to Maryland's economy being flat and in need of reinvigoration.

We heard a lot of this last summer and fall, when Hogan made this oddly shaped province sound like a backwater from which hordes of well-tanned millionaires, silver-haired retirees and beleaguered businesses had fled. Painting that bleak picture was part of his strategy as a candidate.

But now Hogan has to govern. Now he gets to see government in all its elements — the university system, environmental protection, corrections, social services, transportation, utility regulation, courts, schools — how it all functions and how much it all costs.

He thinks he can manage Maryland better than O'Malley did. He slammed O'Malley for raising various taxes and fees as he steered the state through the worst economic collapse since the Depression and the downturn in federal spending that followed.

Wednesday, Hogan said Maryland needs a "renaissance."

There are a lot of business owners who agree, and plenty of workers who think the whole country needs a renaissance, especially when it comes to wages.

But this is Maryland, not Dystopia.

The quality of life here is pretty good. I could cite median household income — in some surveys, the highest in the nation — but that's not the only measure. There are things, tangible and intangible, that make Maryland a good place to raise a family, to get an education, to get a career started, to get decent health care, to enjoy nature, the arts or big-time sports. You can be part of an eco-culture tied to the world's largest estuary, engaged in urban revival or rural farming, or content in a safe suburb with decent public schools and good golf courses. Progressive policies have created opportunities for thousands of people here.

Like it or not, believe it or not, government and taxes made much of that possible. Governor Hogan is about to see that, and soon.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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