Eighteen months ago, Marylanders didn't know much about Larry Hogan. A businessman with little political experience except for what he picked up as the son of congressman and as a Republican Party insider, Hogan wasn't even the front-runner to win the GOP's gubernatorial nomination in the primary election. But as we all know now, he won not only the primary but the general election against a political machine that was used to getting its own way.
Now 11 months into his four-year term as Maryland's governor, he's anything but an unknown. In less than a year, he's taken strong stands against expanding the Red Line into Baltimore; decided not to release $68 million in education funds; and, locally, fought with the Carroll County Republican Party over the replacement of state Sen. Joe Getty, who went on to take a job in his administration. In a state that leans as much to the political left as it does, you might have thought he'd be off to a rocky start.
It can be debated as to why Hogan was elected governor in a state as blue as Maryland. Many will argue that Hogan's election was as much about the poor campaign run by outgoing Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's lieutenant governor, Anthony Brown, and the perceived arrogance that Brown was a shoe-in to win. But Brown lost, and lost convincingly. Citizens wanted a change. Here in Carroll County, where conservatives always have an easier time, Hogan got well over 80 percent of the vote.
Now more than a year after his election, after eight years of liberal O'Malley, a clearer picture, supported by a new Baltimore Sun-University of Baltimore poll released over the weekend, is emerging. According to the poll, a whopping 63 percent of Marylanders approve of the job Hogan's doing, even exceeding the job approval ratings for Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski who picked up a 61 percent rating. Remember, for the longest time, Mikulski has been viewed as the most popular of all statewide politicians. O'Malley, meanwhile, is only getting 7 percent of Marylanders to support his bid for president, the poll also showed. Hardly numbers a "favorite son" gets if a candidate expects to take the next political step.
The poll also showed that a majority of likely voters — 57 percent of them — think the state is going in the right direction. Compare that with 44 percent of likely voters when they were asked the same question near the end of O'Malley's term. For those in Carroll, the news makes sense. Here, it always seems like it was O'Malley and the one-sided state legislature that seemed out of step.
But to believe that Maryland is becoming more conservative is to fool yourself. Maryland voters in this poll are expressing support for a particular man, a man who eschews partisan politics. A man who five months into his term became the public face of a fight against cancer after being diagnosed with Stage 3 non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. In the long-term, Hogan's victory may be more akin to a market correction, to use Wall Street terminology.
But it doesn't change the voter's affinity for Hogan. What we find refreshing is that he is humble and lacks the arrogance we see in other politicians. People may not always agree with him, but so far, they seem to have faith that he's giving the job his best effort. For sure, no one who gets to this office can be completely apolitical — we harbor no belief that Hogan is a choirboy in that sense. But he has, at least so far, shown that his decisions are based in common sense and in the values he shares with many. With these traits in our governor, it only makes sense that Marylanders feel the state is going in the right direction. We agree.