Gov. Larry Hogan ends challenging year in remission and widely popular

Gov. Larry Hogan ends challenging year in remission and widely popular
Gov. Larry Hogan breakfasts at Jimmy's with Taylor Alexander of Flawless Damsels (right) and other business and community leaders. (Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan began his first year presiding over divided government by calling for bipartisanship. He ended it as Maryland's most popular politician.

Along the way, he created partisan friction, enacting populist policies that pleased many but also rankled Democrats as short-sighted. He was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer but, with treatment, is now in remission.


In his first year in public office, Hogan emerged as a gregarious and decisive leader, earning praise in particular for his handling of the unrest in Baltimore at a time when the city's mayor remained largely behind the scenes.

Hogan, 59, has also adopted policies that eroded good will with the Democrats who control the legislature, most prominently for refusing to release $68 million lawmakers set aside for schools. Even after the state developed a $500 million surplus, Hogan refused to budge.

The governor's tenure began in January with a widely praised speech urging "tolerance and mutual respect" in Annapolis.

"Too often, we see wedge politics and petty rhetoric used to belittle adversaries and inflame partisan divisions," Hogan said. "It is only when the partisan shouting stops that we can hear each other's voices and concerns."

But a few weeks later, in his State of the State address, Hogan delivered a speech that focused on the many ways lawmakers were failing residents. The shift in tone — "We have a lot to do, to get Maryland back on track and working again" — set the stage for a General Assembly session that was far from harmonious.

Lawmakers passed little of what Hogan proposed, defeating several of his tax bills and slimming down his signature charter school initiative to a modest plan. The legislature did, however, repeal a stormwater fee Hogan and others derided as a "rain tax."

The session ended in acrimony as Hogan unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Democratic leadership to push through more of his proposals. Democrats balked at Hogan's unwillingness to spend more on education. The argument ultimately continued for months, with Hogan accusing Democratic House Speaker Michael E. Busch of being an obstructionist and Busch saying the governor was short-changing children.

The governor turned to changes he could accomplish without the legislature, such as cutting tolls at the Bay Bridge and elsewhere.

Less than 100 days into his administration, Hogan was confronted with a crisis of the magnitude that defines administrations. As protesters demonstrated after Freddie Gray died in police custody, Hogan put the Maryland National Guard on alert. When riots broke out, he was poised to send troops into the city at a moment's notice.

His calm presence on television and on the streets led many to form a favorable view of him, polls later showed. Pundits praised him for his decisiveness.

In June, Hogan visited Asia with his Korean-born wife, Yumi, and was enthralled with Japan's maglev train that zips along at more than 350 mph. He promised to explore a project connecting Washington and Baltimore, a $10 billion enterprise that would shorten the trek to just 15 minutes.

Then he dropped a bombshell that made national news: Doctors said the lump he found in his neck while shaving abroad was cancer, one of more than 60 tumors dotting his body. Treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma required six rounds of chemotherapy and three surgeries.

Hogan put his battle with the disease on public display, working hospital halls like parade routes, cracking jokes about his bald head and limiting his public appearances to those that raised money or awareness for cancer organizations.

While in treatment, though, he continued what many considered bold policy moves.


He canceled the Red Line in Baltimore, forgoing nearly $1 billion in federal funds and calling the light rail project a "wasteful boondoggle." The money the state saved was sent to highway projects elsewhere in Maryland.

He abruptly closed the decrepit Baltimore City Detention Center without consulting city officials. Implicitly skewering his Democratic predecessor, he called the state-run facility "a disgrace" and "one of the biggest failures of leadership in the history of the state of Maryland."

In November, hours after meeting with his doctors, the governor announced he was "100 percent cancer free."

By then, several public polls had found an optimism boom in Maryland. A November poll for The Baltimore Sun and the University of Baltimore found that 63 percent of likely voters approve of the job Hogan is doing, higher even than Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the Democrat who is typically the state's most popular politician.